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Oh Sh#%! Da*& it! F#@*7! Hearing these words pop out of the mouth of a preschooler (or anyone else) can make hair stand straight out of one’s head. Needless to say, it usually happens at an inopportune moment such as a social gathering, in class, or at the dinner table! The 2-year-old shouting “Stupid head” or “Butthead” at passing cars usually triggers an instant alarm of fear as the parent realizes this could result in a carpool expulsion. Children are fascinated with “bad” words, and learn them quicker than their assigned vocabulary words. The initial response of laughter that the child receives is usually more than enough to fuel continuous repetitions of the offending language. The worst part is this negative behavior will take exponentially longer to break!

The issue raised is not just limited to curse words. Bathroom or potty language and words which EtiKids refers to as S-wordsM (stupid, sh*t, sucks, and shut up) can also be a problem faced by a parent or teacher. Older children may think it is “cool” to use words that describe bodily functions and noises, while younger children mimic what they hear. Sometimes repeating bathroom words is a way to get a reaction or gain attention. Realize it is a way of experimenting with language. So, if trying out new words and learning how to communicate are part of learning social skills and manners, what is the best way to re-train a potty mouth child?

Displaying a lack of interest is the simplest tactic to phase out incessant repetition of naughty expressions. Without strong feedback, most preschoolers won’t bother repeating these terms. Why bother if you can’t get a rise out of parents?

Ask the child what the word means. Discourage use of words whose meanings are unknown. Explain why some words are offensive and hurtful to other people. X-rated vocabulary and forbidden words are not “cool” and can be banned by parents because they are inappropriate in almost all situations.

Restrict bathroom words to the restroom. After a while, the child typically finds it tiresome to run back and forth to the lavatory just to talk about bodily functions and spill out potty words.

Control word categories that are on the fringe. Growing up, the use of "S-words" was not tolerated. These expressions included: stupid, sh*t, sucks and shut up. Although the latter has become an acceptable phrase of surprise (or synonym for no kidding), telling someone to “shut up” is perceived as rude and insensitive.

Monitoring TV programs can limit some exposure to words with derogatory meanings such as “butthead”, which became popular terminology following MTV's programming. Remind children that using insulting words or expressions can become a habit, slipping out without any warning and be embarrassing for everyone.

Although the word hate has different meanings, we mention it here. It can be used in a spiteful manner and is a learned behavior. Shouting “I hate you!” to a parent is universal to children all over the world. A little 4-year-old friend repeated her mother’s favorite quote, “Hate is a very strong word, and we should never use it!” The More You Know public service campaign, (NBC 2003) reminded us, "Hate is a four-letter word. So is love. Which word will you teach your child?"

Finally, the very best way to diminish the use of negative words is to set a positive example for children. Replace curse words with alternative phrases such as “Darn it! Dang! Good Grief! Geepers Creepers! Rats! Shucks!”

Let us know your favorite expression! Or most inappropriate story. :) Contact us at Dear Julie or info@etikids.com with your stories.