Swear words and children

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Parenting Parents who do not want their child to use bad words should first eliminate them from their own vocabulary

“Y ou smelly sloth”! “You budding Homosapien”! I was sitting by the window sipping tea and watching children play during the short break when I heard these words. I looked down and saw two boys from class six in a fight.

One boy was screaming these words at the other. I could not contain my curiosity.

It was beyond my comprehension why anybody should be using these words. I went down, pacified the boys and asked where he had learned these words. Very sheepishly the boy told me that he was in the habit of using swear words and his mother , in order to get him out of this bad habit, gave him these words to use instead. She said these are harmless words and will not hurt anybody! Wow!! What therapy!

Parents and teachers are horrified at the ease with which children blurt out swear words “Oh, shit!” utters five-year-old Nisha while retrieving a crayon from under the desk. When Varun gets pushed by his classmates while playing football, he turns around and snarls “F…. you”. When parents hear their children mutter swear words under their breath, their first reaction is to blame the school. But schools say most children pick up bad words at home!

By the time a child enters kindergarten or school, his initial language and approach to it is already developed say psychologists. According to them, a lot of a child's learning takes place through a process called ‘imitation'. Parents become role models for children without the parents even realising it.

A child learns most of his initial mannerisms and behaviour from the family. He picks up language from what he hears at home, from friends and other family members.

Research too shows that when a child sees an adult handling frustration and anger with swear words, he does the same when caught in a similar situation. In fact, he uses it at the first opportunity. He does this without understanding the meaning or feeling inhibited.

The influence of the peer group is another factor in children's language. From about the age of four, there is a growing need for playing and conversing with children of approximately the same age.

In his peer group, the child learns to give and take. Once the child learns to identify with children of his own age, parental identification become less pronounced and he grows into peer society and its culture. He apes his peers in order to fit into the group. In case where the family influence is stronger than peer group, the child is able to resist it. .

Dr. Bina Mohapatra, Clinical psychologist and Department Head at the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad, says that most four letter words are used by children in the age groups of four to six years. They usually do not understand the meaning. But when it becomes a habit with older children, then parents must seek professional help.

After interviewing the parents and the young adult, the psychologist will do a behaviour analysis to elicit why such behaviour occurs, what are the antagonising factors in his environment, is he under pressure, is he simply trying to get attention, or simply trying to satisfy some unfulfilled need?

She will then design a package that will empower the individual to modify his behaviour pattern to be socially acceptable, manage anger and to express his needs in an appropriate manner.

Dr. Bina says parents who do not want their child to use bad words should first eliminate them from their own vocabulary.

They should refrain from using swear words, especially when in anger. She also stresses the fact that being parents does not give them the privilege or the right to use obscene language.

Often, the more a child is told to stop using foul words, the more determined he gets to use it.

The correct way then to deal is by talking to the child. Help your child overcome the habit by encouraging him to express himself and articulate his feelings.

The child has to be told that abusive language is not an acceptable social behaviour.

In some cases, give the child a replacement word. Choose an impressive and harmless word from biology and tell him he can use it!


Remedial Educator




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