Is it okay to swear around children?

A potty mouth has never really been considered an attractive trait, even if almost all of us are guilty of a few choice swear words here and there. So, it’s hardly surprising that swearing in front of your children is widely deemed as ‘not a good idea’ in most parenting manuals. But is it okay to swear around children on occasion in certain circumstances?

Children swearing unexpectedly can often result in shock-based hilarity and uncontrollable laughter from parents and any other surrounding adults. And let’s be honest, the younger the child and the more ridiculous the context, the funnier it becomes.

We all know that laughing is not what you’re meant to do, as this only reinforces the behaviour – cementing an inappropriate word or phrase in their emerging vocabulary. And as much as you can encourage against it, we all know not being allowed to do or say something makes doing it all the more enticing. Even without creating a temptation, scolding a child for using words they don’t know the meaning of can seem harsh and confusing for them.

Certainly, if you don’t want your child to swear, you should refrain from swearing in front of them especially when they reach the “repeat everything mummy or daddy says pretty accurately” age. Try not to be too hard on yourself though, sociologists and psychologists alike argue that rare instances of profanity are hardly going to be permanently damaging to your child. The substitutes of ‘oh sugar’ and ‘fudge’ don’t always cut it and sometimes nothing but exclaiming a swear word can express our frustrations. After all, perfection especially when it comes to parenting, is a nigh unachievable goal. 

It’s also important to remember the role of socialisation in a child’s upbringing. Children are learning all the time, and not all socialisation is intentional. Indeed, when adults have their guards down these may be the very moments they are making the biggest impressions on their children. I know that hearing my own father swear for the first time is one of my clearest memories of him growing up – much to his reluctant amusement. 

Science has confirmed my own experience, with specialists unanimously agreeing that Children are most likely to learn to swear when people who they feel a connection with – like parents, media stars or peers – use swear words. 

Swearing, whether it’s children or adults, will always divide opinion but the important thing is that children understand the context for their behaviour. Swear words have power because of their shock value and because they are ‘taboo’. The social cues through which children learn, teach them that swearing with peers elicits laughter and attention but that using those the same words with parents and teachers can result in punishment.

Swearing on the playground causes little harm in most instances but that’s worlds away from swearing at a teacher. Children need to be taught how to behave in various social situations and different contexts. 

There’s no magic bullet for getting rid of a swearing habit but extinction (ignoring unwanted behaviour) is considered to be the most effective route. A toddler can search your face for a reaction to an inappropriate word and whilst it’s hard not to crack a smile, this is your best bet at discouraging a new favourite swear word.

Regardless of how hot you are on swearing when it comes to your children, as soon as they reach school they’ll establish a pretty extensive profanity vocabulary. Knowing when it’s okay to swear and when it’s not is what’s important. We all know that dropping the shopping or stubbing a toe often demands the use of the f-bomb but, as long as your child knows not to shout it out in class or use it in their first job interview, then they’ll probably be okay!


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