4 Tips for Breaking the Cycle of Preschool Cursing

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Image via Katie Hurley

Preschoolers are sweet, innocent, fun, and engaging. They learn new skills at an alarming rate, and they seem to pick up new phrases overnight. Even the quiet ones listen carefully to the language that surrounds them and mimic interesting words and phrases. 

While all of this learning is fun to watch, it can be shocking when a preschooler repeats undesirable words and phrases. Yes, sometimes preschoolers curse.

Sometimes little kids stumble upon bad words purely by accident, as in through rhyming. They are working on language constantly, and sometimes words sound interesting. Others times they hear an older sibling or parent curse and think it’s funny. Regardless of the cause of the unpleasant language, little kids aren’t trying to hurt or offend anyone in the process. After all, they are only working on verbal skills.

Here are 4 tips for breaking the cycle of preschool cursing.

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Don’t overreact

If you become overly embarrassed or make a scene every time your child curses, there’s a good chance the behavior will be repeated. 

Preschoolers respond well to positive reinforcement, but they also respond to negative reinforcement.  

Your child will quickly learn that bad words are good words to use when he or she wants attention.

Remain calm and quietly redirect your child in the moment.

{ MORE: Battling Bad Behaviors }

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Image via iStock

Avoid laughter

Parents love to joke about the embarrassing things kids say when they’re out in the world, but it’s important to maintain your composure in front of your child. If you laugh out loud when your child curses, and then tell all of your closest friends about the incident, your child will think the behavior is funny. Funny words are worth repeating, right? 

{ MORE: What To Do When You Just Can't Set Your Crying Baby Down }

Preschoolers don’t pick up on sarcasm, and they view the constant retelling of the incident as a positive. Naturally, they will repeat the behavior in front of a crowd in an effort to make people laugh.

Don’t laugh. 

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Model appropriate language

If you say it, your kids will say it. Yes, parents experience frustration at times, but we have to watch our own language and choices. It’s perfectly acceptable to verbalize feelings of frustration, but use appropriate language when you talk about frustrating situations.

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If you happen to let an undesirable word slip, and you’re certain that your child heard you, apologize and talk about it. Tell your child what you should have said instead. Be honest. Even parents make mistakes.

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Image via iStock

Provide funny alternatives

When kids get into a loop, it can be hard to get them out of it, particularly if they are being reinforced for the behavior. Consider providing some funny alternatives to change the word choice.

Preschoolers are often known to be jokers, and funny words can trigger laughter in both kids and adults. Come up with some funny replacement words and phrases and exaggerate your responses to those words to show your child that funny doesn't have to be bad.  

{ MORE: 4 Santa Controversies: Where Do You Fall in the Santa Debates? }

What are some of your tips for ending the cycle of preschool cursing?

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4 Tips for Breaking the Cycle of Preschool Cursing

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I will remember these tips! I myself replaced ‘it’ with funny words! I remember my 3yr old nephew doing the curse police job for his parents. When he hears it, he’d say: Hey, Mama/Papa! That’s bad! Say sorry! 🙂 he won’t let go until you say so 🙂

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