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Behaviors At Home

The Swearer

Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

There is no doubt about it. If a child wants attention, he or she need only use abusive language.

This child may use swearing to hide a low self-concept.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

This child may be trying to maintain relationships by using swearing to make people aware of him or her.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

The child may feel he or she belongs to certain groups if he or she swears. It may be very normal to swear in his or her group.

The need to hold some kind of authority is met by the use of abusive language. The shock value is power.

Swearing shocks, and thus the swearer is noticed.

Actions to Take
  • Before attempting to change a child behavior, try to understand what is causing that behavior. Then establish two plans. First, decide how to meet or compensate for the need being expressed by the undesired behavior. Second, know exactly what behavior you want to replace the misbehavior. Then tell your child.

  • Determine why this particular child swears.

  • Control your anger.

  • Force yourself to look beyond the words being used. If you hear your child using language that is shocking to you, it would be a good idea to find out first whether this language has the same meaning to children as it does to you. Sometimes what is rough language to your ears may be the ordinary, easy way to express feelings in your child's peer group. This doesn't make such language correct, but it does give some clues regarding how to bring about change.

  • Use this response when a child swears: "I know you're upset or you wouldn't have said that—but let's not say that anymore." This simple statement can prevent a discipline situation from developing. It's called the "Caution-Warning" technique. This form of parent action allows your child to know that you are aware of the situation—and gives him or her a second chance to respond. If your child continues swearing, which is unlikely, he or she is aware of having erred twice and is doubly responsible for the action. In the meantime, parent control and dignity can be maintained.

  • Don't take swearing personally, in terms of good and bad, or offer any value judgments. This strategic action stance is vital, not because such things are right or wrong, but because swearers won't listen to these rationales.

  • However, say privately and firmly, "Your behavior is absolutely unacceptable in our home." Relate that swearing disturbs. Explain how it's an emotional and negative experience for many.

  • Put your child on the defensive by asking why he or she swears. Then deal with those reasons in a helping way. This may sound like a shallow approach, but it isn't. As a beginning, this line of private communication is a must.

  • Two strategic action techniques can be effective in reducing swearing: using signals and finding substitute words. Tell your child you will give a signal when his or her language is inappropriate, rather than accept it—and that you expect him or her to pick up on and respond to the signal. This will tip the swearer off, and save him or her and others further embarrassment.

  • Sit down and talk about the words the child uses. There are usually only a few. Then provide substitute words or phrases. Like it or not, if you don't take this action, you will not reduce swearing. Substitute words can be nonsense words or words like "phooey" or "darn." It's very difficult to break a habit without a substitute. Substitute words for the swearer are similar to gum for the smoker who is trying to break the habit.

  • This habit took time to develop. Change won't come overnight. Therefore, look for gradual improvement.

  • Always say, "This problem can be solved if we work on it together. And this lesson may prove to be one of the best things you ever learned when it comes to finding success in the world of work."

  • Remember, swearing is not necessarily a discipline problem. So punishment is not the key to changing behavior.

  • Be aware that some children intentionally swear as a defensive means to protect themselves from you when their behavior violates rules. If they swear, they may get the parent or teacher angry and out of control. Then the behavior that caused the confrontation is forgotten and child and adult are on common ground: The adult is wrong and the child is wrong.

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.