The Cursing Kid

By Dr. Susan Bartell

kid screamingQuestion: My 4-year old has just started cursing, so much so that the other parents have commented on his language and will not allow their children to play with our son. Now I’m concerned that he won’t be allowed in preschool. How can I teach my child not to curse?

Answer: When a child curses this much he does it for two reasons: first because he is copying his parents or older siblings (which you’ve indicated is the case), and second, because he is getting attention for cursing-even if it is negative attention. In fact, in most cases, it is both these issues. In order to successfully change his behavior, it is therefore important to address both issues.

The first is probably the most difficult to change-you (and older siblings) must stop cursing in front of him. If this is difficult for you, then all members of your family need to help each other by reminding each other not to curse, and stopping each other when you do. Explain the seriousness of the situation to siblings (that expulsion from school is a possibility).

You will also need to monitor the TV and movies your child watches with great care to ensure that it contains NO cursing (not even a little bit!) The best way to guarantee this is to pay strict attention to ratings-for both TV and movies—and not allow him to watch anything about a PG (or even better a G) rating.

In order to address the second issue, you will need to shift the type of attention he receives-both at home and in school. Explain to him that saying those specific curse words is not nice and he needs to stop. Talk to him about other words he can say instead-practice these often. At the same time, set up a behavior chart (both at home and in school) that rewards non-cursing behavior. For example, if he doesn’t curse all morning he gets a sticker, and another for not cursing in the afternoon. At the end of the week, if he has earned twelve of the fourteen stickers (two for each day, seven days a week), he can earn a small but meaningful prize (rent a video, stay up late, play with a friend). Picking the prize is important because it must be very meaningful to your child or it won’t motivate him.

If you eliminate the cursing for him to mimic; are consistent with the reward chart and you also frequently remind him about what words to use instead of cursing, the cursing behavior will stop quite quickly.

As you can see, helping your child to stop cursing depends in large part on your motivation. You need to stop cursing and you need to work at changing his behavior. A four-year old can’t do it alone. The sooner you get on board, the less likely your child will be to get kicked out of school.or ostracized from friends!

Other Parenting Articles

Help! My Kid’s a Bully

My Child’s Acting Out

Teaching Responsibility: Rewards & Incentives