Talking crap: How to stop a swearing toddler

Kinderling News & Features

Has your toddler become a potty mouth? Kinderling listener Felicity recently asked Kinderling Helpline for advice after her two-year-old started using bad language, much to her horror. She wrote:

“Help! My beautiful, sweet two year old has discovered swear words. It’s horrendous, but he thinks it’s funny. I’ve tried ignoring him, I’ve tried reasoning with him, I’ve tried telling him it’s naughty and it makes mummy sad when he does it, all to no avail. 

How can I explain to a two-year-old that it’s really not acceptable language? I know he thinks he’s just being cheeky and doesn’t understand what he’s saying but I’d be mortified if he said it at childcare or in front of his Nana.” 

Our Kinderling Helpline expert Chris Minogue says it's common for kids to get a kick out of cursing, given the attention it often gets. She suggests two approaches to help Felicity discourage her son’s profanities. 

Listen to Chris on Kinderling Conversation:

1. Don’t react at first

“Generally speaking, we would say ignore it - don't respond to it in any way,” Chris advises. “[Their swearing] probably started out of shock and maybe someone laughed at him when he said it... so he’s a bit confused about whether he’s having fun with you or if it’s wrong.” 

2. Calmly address the issue

If the four-letter-words keep flying, Chris advises communicating directly that bad language won't be tolerated. Try to be clear, composed and unemotional - this will take the confrontation out of your instruction and remove any ambiguity. 

And if it persists? “Very calmly take him by the hand and sit him in [a time-out], and just give him a few minutes,” Chris suggests. “Sit there, then get down on his level and say ‘we do not use that word in our house.’ And then just bring him back to play again."

Do you have your own question? Contact Kinderling Helpline now so we can help, and tune in Mondays at 12pm.

Check out Chris' book Bringing Baby Home on the Pan McMillan website