Child Using Foul Language
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Child Using Foul Language

Jan Faull, MEd, advises a parent on what to do when her formerly well-behaved child curses at her.

The Roots of Rebellion

Q: After spending a weekend at a friend's house, my 11-year old daughter cursed at me when I asked her to do the dinner dishes. A few days later when I told her that her room needed cleaning she was defiant and told me to clean it myself. This is new to me, and very unlike her. I have checked in with other moms I know and they are having similar problems. What's a parent to do when her previously well-behaved child becomes a foul-mouthed little tyrant?

A: There are two factors contributing to your child's use of foul language: budding adolescence and popular culture.

As a soon-to-be-adolescent, your daughter is using this language to express her growing need to rebel against the household routine and the chores she's expected to complete. Kids are constantly exposed to inappropriate, gratuitous foul language that is glamorized in movies, music, and television. And among your daughter's peers, a smart mouth is seen as cool and nervy rather than disrespectful or improper.

It's important to keep your emotions in check when your daughter hurls a foul word your way; you'll only escalate the situation by turning tyrannical yourself or yelling. And telling her, "Don't ever speak to me that way again," will be a waste of your time because you can't control what comes out of her mouth. So what should you do?

Keeping Your Cool, Standing Your Ground

I would suggest trying any of the following lines the next time your daughter uses unacceptable language:

  • "The conversation is over for me. I'm willing to discuss any topic with you but not when you swear."
  • "I can't be with you when you swear."
    Then, leave the room.
  • "In our family swearing is not allowed."
    Turn and walk away.
  • "Those words are disrespectful and crude. I don't swear at you and I don't expect you to swear at me."
    Then, leave the room.
  • "I don't like the words you're using. I'm going out for a walk so I won't hear them. When I return, I expect the dishes to be done."

Do not over- or under- react to her behavior. By not responding disapprovingly to her newly-acquired vocabulary, you tacitly endorse the use of this language. Remain calm and stick to your resolve regarding her completing the chores assigned to her.

If your daughter has always done the dishes after dinner, let her know that you expect her to continue doing so, regardless of her language. The same goes for keeping her room clean. Understand that she will still probably pout or foot-drag about doing her chores, but that's okay.

Curbing the Urge

In terms of disciplining the new and troubling behavior, if your child receives an allowance, consider docking it fifty cents every time she uses a swear word. This method is effective with children who are motivated by money. If money isn't her motivator, take away other things incrementally instead: Limit the time she can be on the computer, cut back on her phone use, roll up her bedtime, etc. She'll eventually get the message.

As children negotiate the developmental years they push for more control over their own lives. You are at a crucial time in your growing child's life and you need to find ways to positively support her need for independence. By doing this -- and not trying to control every little thing she does -- you will encourage her to develop into a capable, competent person.

So let her choose her clothes (within reason), let her pick hairstyles, and her extracurricular activities (maybe she wants to be a soccer goalie, not a ballerina). Give her free reign to decorate her room to her tastes, and don't try to control how she spends her allowance. Begin allowing her to venture out on some safe excursions with her friends to the local park or mall without adult supervision.

By encouraging positively empowering behaviors in your daughter, your foul-mouthed little tyrant may blossom into a confident, savvy and capable teen -- even when she is at home.