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Why grade-schoolers use bad language
Now that your child is in elementary school, watches TV on his own, and listens to the radio, your ability to monitor what he hears — and says — has plummeted. By this age, he's also figured out that there are words so mean and powerful that grownups usually reserve them for really frustrating moments, like losing their keys or getting rear-ended at a stoplight. What's more, grade-schoolers are beginning to develop sexual awareness and may use foul language to fit in with their peers.
What to do about swearing
Keep your cool. It isn't just toddlers who try out bad words to get a rise out of their parents; your seemingly mature grade-schooler is perfectly capable of goading you into an angry reaction as well. If you lose your temper, though, you're playing right into his hands. Instead, calmly and matter-of-factly remind him that certain words are off-limits.
Be specific. "Don't ever use language like that!" doesn't work as well as something more precise, such as "We don't use that word in this house," or "That's an offensive word; please don't use it where others have to listen to it."
Invoke consequences. If your child won't stop the salty talk even after being warned, then it's time for disciplinary tactics. Stay calm and respond swiftly: "Saying that word means you can't watch any television today." Other privileges that might be revoked are playing computer games, going to the mall, or that weekend playdate with the friend who thinks it's hilarious to teach your grade-schooler language that would make a sailor blush.
Swearing jars work well in some households — a quarter goes into the jar every time someone blows it, and the collected proceeds are earmarked for a charity. Whatever you do, though, be consistent. Don't chuckle at your child's quick tongue one day and punish him for it the next. If you stick to your guns about swearing, it'll be easier for your youngster to learn what you expect of him and what's appropriate.
Suggest alternatives. Explain to your grade-schooler that instead of swearing when he's mad, he could punch a pillow. Or have him make up his own colorful epithets. A perfect example is the Captain Haddock character in the Tintin comic books, who's always muttering expressions like "Blistering barnacles!" At the very least, suggest less-offensive alternatives, such as "crud" and "darn."
Choose your battles. If your grade-schooler and his buddy are merrily swearing up a storm together in his room with the door closed, you may just want to pass on by and quietly bring up the incident with your child after his friend goes home.
If it sounds as though the swearing is mostly one-sided — or if one child is calling the other foul names — you need to intervene right away. Explain that it's not okay to direct offensive or hurtful language, including some that is common on many school playgrounds, at another person: "b——" and "a———," for instance. (Even in the early grades, using words like these to tease other kids can lead to formal sexual harassment complaints, which can escalate into litigation involving the school and the harassing child's family.)
If your youngster and his friend are within earshot of a younger sibling or sitting in the back of the car grossing you out as you drive, you can and should enforce specific, matter-of-fact rules about swearing: "Those words are not allowed where anyone else has to listen them," or "That's not acceptable language. If you say it again, I'll have to take you home."
Establish house rules about swearing -- and follow them yourself. Barring gutter talk from your child won't hold up if every other word you utter during a phone conversation turns the air blue. When you set up these rules, explain to him that they may differ from the rules at church, school, or Grandma's house. If you're comfortable with it, there's nothing wrong with letting on that the house rules are breakable when someone slams his finger in the door. At this age, your youngster will likely be satisfied and charmed by the explanation that if he cheapens his epithets by flinging them around all the time, he'll have nothing available to him in those rare instances when he could really use a good, old-fashioned curse.
Don't be shy about enforcing these rules with your grade-schooler's friends as well. A simple "We don't allow that language in this house," delivered in a grave, I-mean-business voice will probably startle his buddy into momentary silence and convince your own child of your seriousness.
Look for signs of trouble. A sudden increase in foul language -- or cursing that no amount of guidance seems to curtail -- may be a cue that something's wrong. Your child could be carrying around a lot of anger about a recent divorce or illness in the family, for instance, or be upset about something that's going on at school or in other areas of his life. If the swearing doesn't ease up, or if it's accompanied by aggression or inappropriate sexual behavior, seek professional help.