Ensure your language sets a good example for your child.

How to Teach Children Not to Use Inappropriate Words

by Rebekah Richards

It's hilarious when your friend's toddler babbles something R-rated, but less cute when your own child repeats inappropriate language, especially in public. Whether they get it from TV, older siblings, other kids, or your own not-so-great moments, it's easy for little ones to pick up swear words or potty language that makes you cringe. But no matter how mortified you are, clamp down on that freak-out reaction -- making a big deal of a bad word will just encourage your toddler to say it again.

Don't swear around your kids or use slang you wouldn't want them to repeat. Better yet, get in the habit of not swearing at all, so when you stub your toe or burn dinner, your reaction is G-rated.

Discuss language choices with other caregivers, including your spouse and relatives. Asking them to keep their vocabulary appropriate when your child is around reduces the chances your little one will be exposed to colorful language.

Supervise and limit the time your child spends watching TV and movies, which often contain language and messages that are far from kid-friendly. In addition, check that children only watch age-appropriate material with friends and other caregivers.

React firmly but calmly when your little one says something inappropriate. For example, tell your child, "Please don't use that word." If someone else's child uses inappropriate language in a situation where you are in charge, gently explain that "We don't use language like that in this house." Don't say anything judgmental about inappropriate language that you wouldn't want her to repeat to others.

Ask your child if he knows what a bad word means. Kids often repeat words without understanding their meaning. If necessary, explain what the word refers to and why it's inappropriate in this situation. For example, explain that curse words can hurt other people's feelings.

Suggest and model alternate words that children can say when they're angry. For example, kids can say "Rats!" or they can use a silly made-up word. You can also teach kids strategies to cope with anger, such as taking deep breaths or counting backward from 10.


  • Don't punish your child if he's just repeating something he heard elsewhere. If he repeatedly uses words he knows are wrong, however, consequences may be appropriate.
  • If your child points out that he has heard you swear, don't lie. Instead, explain that you sometimes use inappropriate language, but that you try not to because it's hurtful and offensive.
  • Almost every kid will curse sometimes, so don't feel like you're a bad parent when your child drops a dirty word. However, how you react to bad language makes a big difference.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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