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Parenting Dilemma: What To Do When Your Child Uses ‘Bad Words’

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Yesterday, during his evening play time the four-year-old was trying to teach a female friend of his to sing “Bala bala saithan ka saala” and the expression on the girl’s mother’s face was tell all. For a fraction of a second I had contemplated hiding behind the nearest bush but then I just let the feeling pass, nodded at the mother and walked away. How to react when my son uses a socially inappropriate word is a parenting dilemma I come face to face with often.

Key Takeaways

  • We have these conversations about good words and bad words with our son on almost a daily basis.
  • As their interaction with the outside world increases, there is a time when they start adding to their vocabulary words you don’t want them to know.
  • Strike a conversation with your little one in a neutral zone explain in your way what is acceptable and what is not.

During a short conversation back home, it was revealed that an elder kid in the school bus had enlightened the young man with the head shake and the catchy rhyme and he naturally felt the need to pass on the information and make others wiser. We have these conversations about good words and bad words with our son on almost a daily basis. These are unavoidable because at his age his vocabulary is increasing almost on an hourly basis whereas his ability to judge between appropriate or inappropriate is not. If a “bad word” slips out of our lips we apologise. I still remember the day he first used the word “S**t” when he was unable to open the sliding door to walk into the balcony. I was more amused that he knew where to appropriately use the expression.

If a “bad word” slips out of our lips we apologise.

Listening to your little one speak is a very interesting exercise, the miss pronounced words, the stuttering are all very amusing. However, as their interaction with the outside world increases, there is a time when they start adding to their vocabulary words you don’t want them to know. So, we as parents are face to face with certain socially awkward moments when they use such words. And once it happens it can leave the parents a bit unsure. It is said a typical four-year-old child will have about a 1,500–1,600-word vocabulary and this goes on to 2200 words by the time they are five. Children are very keen observers so I think it is impossible for them to not pick up a few foul words. You may try to protect them from television, online content or adult gatherings but children learn from their environment, and it is impossible to isolate them from it.

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Once they start going to a school they pick up all sorts of words. And every time they learn something new, they repeat it to see the reaction around it. They have no idea about what they are saying. In her book, ‘Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing,’ (2013) Dr Mohr says, “The surprising preponderance of swearing in everyday language probably explains why the majority of children know at least one obscene word by the age of two.” So we as adults need to admit that we are also part of the problem.

Once they start going to a school they pick up all sorts of words. And every time they learn something new, they repeat it to see the reaction around it. They have no idea about what they are saying.

The challenge remains how to handle the situation when you are in such a socially awkward spot. In my experience confrontation never works. It only reinforces the word and it will be reused to get a reaction out of you at every possible instance. Let the moment go without a reaction. Chances are they will drop the word in a few days, kids are fickle-minded. If not, strike a conversation with your little one in a neutral zone and explain in your way what is acceptable and what is not. Explain it to them that they can come to you and ask what a word means before using it. Chances are that you will succeed in making them see your point.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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