This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Should We Swear In Front Of Our Kids?

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Amy Conley Wright:

The other day, my toddler son came home from childcare saying “piss poo”. He is one of the younger children in his classroom and clearly he heard this phrase from an older child he admired. I couldn’t help laughing at this unexpected outburst, which reinforced this behaviour – thus cementing the phrase in his emerging vocabulary. Now he goes around muttering “piss poo piss poo pissy poo” under his breath as he goes about his business.

Is this a bad thing? Should I scold him for using words he doesn’t know the meaning of? Should I discourage him from using swear words and refrain from swearing in front of him?

Image source: Theconversation.com
Image source: Theconversation.com

How do children pick up swear words?

Socialisation is the process whereby people learn the types of behaviours, values and other attributes that are necessary to participate in the groups to which they belong. Childhood is of course the most intensive period for socialisation, as children learn what they need to know to be adults.

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.

Several methods are associated with the process of socialisation but perhaps the most powerful is the observational method – imitating the behaviour of a role model. The highly successful public service announcement “Children see, children do” from the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect reminds adults that their behaviours speak louder than words and to model positive behaviours.

They’ll pick it up here anyway. Image source:  www.shutterstock.com

Children are most likely to learn to swear when people with whom they feel a connection – like peers, parents or figures in the media – use swear words. While children may not immediately begin to mimic bad words, they are learning that swearing is a socially acceptable behaviour.

As soon as children can speak, they can swear. Researchers Kristin and Timothy Jay found that children’s vocabulary of swear words expands rapidly from ages 1-2 to ages 3-4, in parallel to the general explosion in language in the toddler and preschooler years. Their research found that by the time children began school at age 5, they already knew 42 taboo words.

Does it matter if they swear?

Everyone will have their opinions on whether or not it matters if people, especially children, swear. The important thing is that children understand the context for their behaviour.

Swear words have power because they are taboo and have shock value. Children learn through social cues that using a swear word with peers may elicit laughter and attention, which encourages them to use a swear word again. On the other hand, using the same swear word around teachers or parents can result in a punishment. In this way, children internalise awareness of the taboo nature of certain words with certain people in certain contexts.

There may be little damage from swearing in the playground, but thinking they can swear at their teacher is another matter entirely. Children need to be taught, through modelling appropriate behaviours, how to behave in various social situations and different contexts.

How to discourage children from swearing?

Parents may inadvertently encourage swearing. The operant method of socialisation suggests that a behaviour is more likely to occur again when it is reinforced.

Reinforcement is an action that takes place after a behaviour that encourages that behaviour to occur again. Giving attention to a child after they swear can reinforce the behaviour, particularly if the child is swearing to get the reaction of shock and horror on mum’s face.

A natural tendency can be to yell at a child who swears. Yelling can be a punishment that discourages the behaviour it follows. But, at the same time, yelling is also modelling a behaviour about how to react to the undesired behaviours of others. Yelling can also model poor emotional regulation around handling strong emotions.

A better method of socialisation for parents looking to discourage swearing is extinction. Extinction essentially involves ignoring undesired behaviours. By using extinction, a parent may be able to gradually reduce an unwanted behaviour by not giving a reaction or attention that may unintentionally encourage a behaviour.

This works best in combination with reinforcement of desired behaviours. If a child has developed a habit of swearing, the parent can ignore comments the child makes when swearing, but give attention when comments are made without swearing or when a non-offensive word is used as a substitute (like “sugar” for another s-word). This shows the child that the parent’s attention is still available, and that it is not the child being ignored but the behaviour.

Extinction is not a magic bullet for swearing. At first, children may swear more aggressively to get attention. Using this method of socialisation requires persistence and consistency, preferably by the many important adults in a child’s life, including relatives and teachers.

The key is to keep praising polite communications by the child and to ignore the swearing, so they get the message about what is acceptable behaviour. I can tell my toddler is searching my face for a reaction when he brings out “piss poo“. Not cracking a smile when he does this can be a challenge though!

Should I swear in front of them?

Regardless of whether you swear in front of your children, they will have a fairly extensive profanity vocabulary from a fairly young age. The important thing they need to know is when it’s okay to swear and when it’s not.

The role of the parent here is to model the appropriate behaviour. No parent is a saint and we’re all guilty of dropping the f-bomb when stubbing our toe or when the shopping bags split. As long as your children know the f-bomb is not appropriate language to take to their first job interview, then they’re probably going to be okay.

The Conversation

About the author: Amy Conley Wright is Senior Lecturer in Social Work & Member of Early Start Research Institute at University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Deepak Kumar

By Amrit Mahapatra

By Syedstauheed

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below