Q&A: 2 1/2-year-old swearing

Pam writes:

"Can you help?  I do not know what to do or where to turn. My 2 ½ year old seems to be swearing constantly, at home and in public situations play group, shopping etc.  I have tried naughty spot, explaining that mummy does not like those words and it upsets me and even smacking I am ashamed to say – to no avail.

What can I do – help!!"

If it makes you feel better, we've all been there. And, of course, felt like horrible parents because our precious little one sounds like sailor.

I've got two suggestions. The first is to stop swearing yourself (and get other people in your house to stop swearing, too), if you can. (Read my tale of woe here, at the bottom of the post.) If you can do it, it might cut down on his urge to swear, of at least he won't know as many swear words.

The bigger suggestion, though, is to ignore it. At that age kids don't have any idea what they're saying, so the difference between an actual swear word and any funny-sounding word (like "underpants") is only determined by the reaction of the adults around him. The more you react, the more he'll keep swearing to get a rise out of you. Think about it--if you could absolutely freak out your partner just by saying a certain word, wouldn't you do it again and again and again just to get a rise out of him? I totally would, which is probably why I enjoy 2 1/2-year-olds as much as I do.

You can ignore it every time he says a swear word, and within a few days I'll bet saying those words will lose its appeal. Or, you could decoy him with some other, innocuous words, to see if you can get him to switch to those instead.  Pick a word or two that he says every once in awhile, and the next couple of times he says those words, give him a big "No, we never say that word!" reaction. I bet he'll switch from "@#%*!" to "biscuits!" faster than you can get out the soap to wash out his mouth.

(If your problem is a preschooler using "potty talk," here are the suggestions to stop that. It's harder to stop with older kids who know what the words mean.)