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growing up: early elementary

Kids and Cursing

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

We've all laughed at the funny things our children say when they don't get the meaning of a word quite right. We smile and recognize that it's through repeating unfamiliar words that kids expand their vocabularies. Not surprisingly, profanities are learned the same way. But when one of our children suddenly spits out an offensive word, laughter isn't our first response.

When it happens to you?and it will?don't overreact or despair. New behaviors and words are like free samples in a candy store; kids want to try them all just to see what happens. A strong reaction from you might increase the fascination with the new word.

Instead, try to explain the word's meaning in a matter-of-fact way. You might even look it up in the dictionary together. Explain why it's not appropriate to use such words. Encourage your child to ask you about the meaning of a word he doesn't know, especially if he senses it might be a swear word.

But it's also essential to move beyond simply explaining offensive words. Your child needs to understand why you don't approve of swearing. Talk about the difference between taking God's name in vain (look up Exodus 20:7 together) and using common vulgarity, while explaining that your family doesn't do either. Help your child see that using these words is another way of saying cruel things about people or God.

Since swearing is often a response to anger or frustration, help your child find other ways to express her feelings. Let your child know that it's okay to get angry but it's never okay to say hurtful or offensive things to other people. Talk about "gray areas," as well. For example, is it okay to say "darn" or "shoot?" Be clear and consistent about what you find acceptable. If, after talking with you, your child continues to curse, be ready to dish out the consequences.

Resist the temptation to interrogate your child in an effort to find out where he heard the word. He probably won't even know. Children hear profanity from TV, on the playground and at relatives' homes. Monitor your child's surroundings as much as possible. This might include turning the TV off in the middle of a show because of bad language, asking your children's friends to use clean language when they play at your house or encouraging your child to play with friends who don't swear.

Above all, be aware that your example will have the most impact on your child. Watch your own words and you'll be more likely to help your kids do the same.

?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Teacher, mother of three

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