When Young Children Start Using Bad Language
Every parent knows that kids have a tendency to say the strangest things at the most inappropriate times. But what happens when your child picks up on some bad language? Young children can be exposed to inappropriate language from several sources; an older sibling, TV or even their own parents who may occasionally slip up. Usually young children don’t understand that a given word is “bad” or “good”, they just repeat words they hear because that’s how they get to learn about social interaction and develop their language skills. If a word gets attention (encouragement or punishment) that sends a message that your child is doing something right he’s most likely to repeat it to get your attention.
If your child has picked up a few inappropriate words don’t guilt yourself. Children are exposed to so many sources of language and information it’s quite rare that a child won’t hear any bad language while growing up. There are many things you can do to prevent your child from acquiring bad language and redirecting him to more appropriate words.
What you can do:
- Be a role model. Watch out for your own language in certain situations. Words can slip out when we’re angry or frustrated like when we’re stuck in traffic or someone cuts us off while driving.
- Monitor what your child is watching on TV. Avoid shows that could contain inappropriate content so that your child isn’t exposed to inappropriate language.
- Don’t give extra attention when your child uses a bad word. As we mentioned children often repeat inappropriate words because of the attention they get. Calmly but firmly let your child know that this word is not OK and show him how to better express himself if he’s feeling frustrated or upset.
- Let your child know that words can be hurtful when he/she calls someone a bad name. Try to help your child understand that some words can make people feel bad.
- Avoid labeling your child as bad when he uses inappropriate language. It’s important to make it clear that it’s the language that is bad not your child. Always give your child an alternative. It may be obvious to us as adults but remember that your child is still learning all the Dos and Don’ts of social interaction.
- Give an age appropriate response. Young children most often repeat words without knowing their meaning. To them repeating bad language holds the same value as repeating any other word that got attention. Don’t over react by punishing your child or shouting, this will only make your child focus on these words and let him know this is an effective (although negative) way of getting your attention.
- Praise more appropriate words and actions done by your child. You don’t have to go overboard but giving your child a smile or saying “that’s nice of you” lets her know she’s on the right track and that what she’s doing is encouraged.
These are just some suggestions to help make your life easier. You have to decide what works best with your child and family. Remember to follow through and be consistent. Patience is important especially when you change your behavior, it will take time for your child to respond and get used to the new pattern.
Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.