Warning: Some of the stories that follow include crude language.
When your kids start to talk, dignity and decorum can go out the door. Just ask Circle of Moms member Allie R., whose kids love to repeat any rude words they overhear. Her 3-year-old daughter, for instance, grabbed hold of a phrase she heard Allie use with her son when he pushed his diaper down too far in the back. Now wherever they go, her little girl calls everyone and everything "butt crack."
Here, Circle of Moms members share some strategies for curbing your kids' blurts.
1. Ignore It
Sometimes the best way to discourage embarrassing and rude language is to pretend you didn’t hear it. Since small kids love to repeat words that get a reaction from adults, your non-reaction takes the fun away and the problem resolves. Michelle S. is one mom who used this “Don't react," method with her kids, and says, “It worked.”
2. Confront It
Other moms say that ignoring rude language is a recipe for hearing more of it. Alexandra G., for one, says that "I know that lots of people say just to ignore the behavior, but . . . that told [my son that] it was okay to say it so he would continue.” She now takes the exact opposite approach: direct confrontation. Her 4-year-old "just doesn’t think about it sometimes," so when she hears him say something rude, she always says, "I beg your pardon?" Then she gets him to repeat what he said and reports that "Nine times out of ten, he won’t repeat it to me because he knows that he should not have said it." This approach seems to work best with kids who already have an inkling that what they are doing is wrong.
3. Give Your Child Alternative Words
When children start punctuating their conversations with words that make you wince, Josie T. and other moms suggest inserting substitutes.“I replace the word she says with a word that sounds like it,” says Josie. "For example, when my little one said ‘Oh sh*t!’, I simply just repeated back to her ‘Oh Shrimp,’ [and] after a few times it caught on. Now every time she hears my father-in-law say it, she says, ‘Papa oh shrimp!"
Candyce K., whose son was blurting out “not-too-kosher things" in the supermarket aisle told him to use 'shingles," and 'snap' in place of sh*t' and 'cr*p,' and reports that her son's now in on the game: "He's gotten to the point where he'll come and whisper to me, asking if a certain word is rude."
Ella B. suggests using humor to break the cursing cycle. She says kids "are looking for fun with language," and that you can use this to train them away from a rude language habit by replacing the bad words with nonsense words that are silly and safe. They key is to laugh a lot when your kids use these words, to reinforce that they are the acceptable ones. When they use rude words, she adds, "don't do anything except say something like ‘that one isn't funny.’ I'll bet they'll turn around and try to make you laugh again with one of the safe, funny words."
4. Explain How Words Can Hurt Feelings
Young kids are exploring their worlds and the people around them, and this includes how others react to what they say and do, says Tiffany F. When she hears people use inappropriate language in front her her daughter, she tells her, “that isn't a nice word and [it] is mean to say. . .because it can hurt people’s feelings." She then gives an example of a word that might hurt a child’s feelings and, using a "stern voice and serious face,” tells her daughter not to use mean words.
5. Model and Explain "Naughty vs. Nice" Words
Unless parents tell their kids which words to keep to themselves they can expect to be embarrassed in public at some point, says a Circle of Moms member named Laura. That’s why it's important to run down the naughty and not nice checklist in the privacy of your own home, before a public display of potty mouth. “I would try just explaining to them that it’s a naughty word and we shouldn’t say it,” she says, adding a key point: “I tell them that mommy shouldn’t either.”
Sarah M. agrees: “My daughter picked up a few of my, um, choice vocabulary words. When it happened, I didn't get mad, didn't get upset, certainly didn't punish. I explained. I told her that there are certain words that are for adults only, and that even then, they're not good to say." She was careful to acknowledge her own misstep to her daughter: "I apologized for saying it, and said that I'd try not to in the future, and that she shouldn't say them either."
Leading by example is the best way to go on the offensive against an undesirable behavior, agrees Circle of Moms member Trina. "The best way I have found is to not say stuff in front of them that I don't want them to say and I try to monitor what they see on TV."
How do you curb potty mouth?
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