Hearing your little one master a new word is a great feeling. Hearing them repeat the expletive you accidentally dropped when you slammed your fingers in the car door is not.
Children learn a great deal by mimicking the behaviour of their family, so if you let a string of expletives fly when you’re angry, they will probably pick it up.
A survey by parenting magazine My Child found 85per cent of children have used a swear word by age four and that more than 80per cent of parents say their kids learnt it from them.
So while you can restrict the words kids learn from television, films and computer games by not allowing them to watch, if you swear in front of your children, chances are they will swear as well.
Clinical psychologist Mark Donovan says it’s important to be consistent in what you let your children hear – there’s no point banning movies with a few naughty words if you swear within earshot.
‘‘It’s like if you hit the accelerator and brake at the same time, it doesn’t really make sense,’’ he says.
‘‘With little kids, four and under, you want to model as much as possible appropriate language usage, including when you’re frustrated or drop something on your foot. Model for your child a word or phrase, like ‘oh sugar’ or ‘oh golly’, so you’re modelling it for your child when they drop something on their foot.’’
He says familial behaviour is the biggest social influence for children under five, so they are likely to copy this rather than what they see on screen. But once kids hit school, how their friends use language will be a greater influence.
‘‘Peer influences would have a very strong sway as an accelerator towards swearing,’’ Donovan says.
Many young children aren’t ‘‘swearing’’, they’re just repeating something they heard without any idea of its meaning.
‘‘Most children will try words out and sometimes will accidentally strike upon a swear word and then it’s really a matter of how the adult responds to that, whether it’s going to be repeated regularly,’’ he says.
For preschool children, he suggests ignoring the word and redirecting the conversation, because a strong reaction will encourage them to reuse it.
Older children will benefit from a conversation about what certain profanities mean and what words are and aren’t acceptable in their family.
He recommends setting up a system that rewards positive use of language but has negative consequences for inappropriate language if you are concerned about your child’s swearing.