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© 2010 By Deborah Beasley

“Oh, no!  You didn’t just say what I think you said!”

“Did that nasty word come out of your mouth?”

Where did you ever learn a word like that?”

Watch your mouth!”

There is a first time for everything, and the first time a parent hears their child utter a curse word can produce a reaction akin to a deer in the headlights look.  This is followed in rapid succession with one or more breathless phrases from the list above, which is immediately followed by something like:    “To the naughty chair!”  Or, “Go to your room until you can learn to speak with a civil tongue.”  Or, “You and your potty mouth are grounded!”   

 What do you do when your child suddenly spews those forbidden words? Here are seven ways parents and children learn that good communication is a two-way street.

  1. Turn your gasp into a deep calming breath.   Allow yourself the emotional space to address your child while calm, cool, and collected.  Keep your face calm, your voice cool, and your wits collected!  Whatever you do, don’t laugh; you may be setting yourself up for a repeat performance!
  2. Don’t over react.   When your little angel utters those first shocking words, don’t be surprised, be prepared!  Young children acquire language by mimicking what they hear.   They do not equate a sound or word as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but simply as sound. Therefore, chances are good anything spoken within the hearing of a young child will become fair game for her to pronounce.   This includes profanity. 
  3. Be clear on how you would like your child to express himself.  Replace undesirable words with those you do want your child to use.   Help him to rephrase his emotions and express himself in a way which is more acceptable to you.  
  4. Maintain your perspective.  Remember, a single word does not make a paragraph.  Consider your child’s age and level of emotional maturity.  A five or six year old understands when a word is not nice, but he likely does not recognize the meaning or impact on those around him.   Help him understand that words can be hurtful or offensive to others and damage friendships. 
  5. 5.       Consider the source.  The three most common are:  home, peers, and the media.  A child’s first social interactions come within the family, but kids are influenced by much more than what they see or hear at home.     Parent’s will want to take a second look, or listen, to the language content of their kid’s favorite TV shows, music, and movies.   A parents guiding presence when at the playground will go a long way to encourage good choices.
  6. Reinforce the parent/child relationship by your authenticity.   The old saying, do what I do not what I say, doesn’t hold sway with today’s kids.  They are way too smart and can spot a parent’s incongruent actions a mile away!    Parents will want to model good communication skills for their children, be genuine and consistent in responses and expectations, and keep the doors of communication open.
  7. Lastly, don’t ignore the emotion behind the words.  The choice of words may be less than desirable, but what is she really trying to say?  Today’s kids are under enormous social pressures.  Support your child by spending time each day reconnecting.   Give her ample opportunities to share those pressures with you while spending time together.  She will learn she can turn to you with any concern.

Children learn best which direction to travel through observation and experience.  When nasty words fly from those sweet little lips, teach them to choose their words wisely.  When parents do the same, children quickly learn that good communication is a two-way street.