“Let’s name the giraffe — —- and the gorilla —-. My Mommy and Daddy say those names. I like them. Then they can be the Mommy and Daddy animals and we can name the kids Sweetie and Cutie, ok?” Feel free to fill in the blanks. This long-winded 4-year-old innocently plays with a peer, whose eyes are as wide as saucers as he looks around the room to see if a teacher has heard what many children refer to as “potty words.” Between the ages of 18 and 24 months, children go from knowing approximately 15 words to 150! The question is, how do children learn to include such inappropriate language and what does one do to stop it? As found in the article “Children Are Swearing More Often, At an Earlier Age,” (Psych Central News, 2010) Psychologist Timothy Jay conducted a study concluding that nearly two-thirds of adults that have rules about their children swearing frequently break their own rules. In fact, .07 percent of an adult’s daily speech is filled with 1 of the 70 common taboo words in the English language. As one can conclude from the above observation of 2 preschoolers naming their animals, such “potty words” are no longer only for Mommy and Daddy. “By the time kids go to school now, they’re saying all the words that we try to protect them from on television. We find their swearing really takes off between (ages) three and four,” says Jay.
What’s a parent to do? First and foremost, stop swearing! Child Development research tells us that children are learning and exploring constantly, especially under the age of 5. Parents are their child’s first teachers. One parent shares that any time anyone in the house says a “bad word,” they have to drop a quarter in a jar. While that may be an appropriate consequence for a teenager who loses quarters from their hard earned paycheck, it is not developmentally appropriate to take a coin from the piggy bank of a 3 year old. A 5-year-old shares with his teacher, “When I say bad words, I get hot stuff in my mouth and I go to time out.” That sort of “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality sends mixed messages. Children learn through observing the behaviors of the world and those in it. They imitate behaviors of those who love and care for them. In addition to avoiding using such language in front of young children, when children do try out those “potty words” inform them that it is not a respectful thing to say. Provide them with appropriate ways to express feelings verbally or physically, such as stomping their feet or taking deep breaths. If said child decides to keep those dirty words coming, ignore the negative behavior and redirect to something new.
Children are going to hear inappropriate words- it’s a part of growing up in 2012. Use teachable moments to imitate respectful behavior and vocabulary, and you’ll be raising a healthy child with a clean mouth!
Carissa Knoles holds a BGS in Children and Families from the University of Michigan. She also has over 6 years experience working in NAEYC Accredited Early Childhood programs and is pursuing further education in Early Childhood and Music Therapy. Carissa is the secretary of the Metro Detroit Association of the Education of Young children in addition to providing music enrichment programs in the Metro Detroit area. Working as an advocate for Early Childhood Education through both music and leadership is a dream come true for Carissa. You can find out more about Music with Ms. Carissa by visiting www.mscarissarocks.com!