All of a sudden, you hear your little angel say ‘that’s stupid’, or ‘I hate you’. You wonder where those words came from. What is the appropriate reaction? Believe it or not, it is not to immediately get upset or yell.

Where does your child learn bad language?

You are not the only one in the life of your child right now. He meets cousins, siblings, older relatives and friends. He may also be watching unsupervised television. Some of these people use bad language and your child may first hear it from them. He may also have overheard you using some choice words yourself, especially when you thought he was out of earshot.

Should you punish your child for using bad language?

When you hear a bad word or phrase from your child, don’t dwell on it initially. You may say, ‘well, I love you’ when your child says he hates you. Or ‘ouch, that hurt me’, and leave it at that for the time being. If it happened in public, avoid the temptation to reprimand your child immediately in a bid to show others that you do not approve of bad language from your child. Later when he is calmer and tensions are diffused, and especially when it’s just the two of you so he knows he has your undivided attention, bring up the subject and tell him how pained you were. This may mean postponing the conversation until your child has slept, eaten or rested. At this time, try to understand what the bad words he used mean.

Your child may use bad language because of these

A toddler may have been saying to you that he was frustrated but did not have the vocabulary to express it, while an older child may have been saying he had just had a fallout with his friend at school and was feeling terrible. Once you understand what it was your child ‘mis-said’, you can then assist him to deal with it in a better way.

Children like to test their limits. They are often trying to see what they can get away with, so you should not condone bad language. However, in doing so, you should also not overreact. Be firm when you talk about it, then let it go. Do not give it more attention than necessary, because your child relishes attention from you, even if it is negative attention. Realising that bad language gets your attention will make him think that it is worth repeating. Children would also love the fact that they can switch your mood whenever they please. Getting angry when they use bad language will reinforce it when they see how easy it is to push your buttons. They just get so giddy with power they want to experience it over and over again.

Give your child some examples, and grace

Mirror good communication by not using hurtful or swear words yourself, and when your child does, be the adult and try to understand the issue beneath the bad language instead of getting angry. Your child doesn’t really hate you when he says so. He just doesn’t have the right communication skills yet to express whatever it is that is bugging him.

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