“Let’s name the giraffe — —- and the gorilla —-. My Mommy and Daddy say those names. I like them. Then they can be the Mommy and Daddy animals and we can name the kids Sweetie and Cutie, ok?” Feel free to fill in the blanks. This long-winded 4-year-old innocently plays with a peer, whose eyes are as wide as saucers as he looks around the room to see if a teacher has heard what many children refer to as “potty words.” Between the ages of 18 and 24 months, children go from knowing approximately 15 words to 150! The question is, how do children learn include such inappropriate language and what does one do to stop it? As found in the article “Children Are Swearing More Often, At an Earlier Age,” (Psych Central News, 2010) Psychologist Timothy Jay conducted a study concluding that nearly two-thirds of adults that have rules about their children swearing break their own rules in front of their young ones. In fact, .03- .07 percent of an adult’s daily speech is filled with 1 of the 70 common taboo words in the English language. As one can conclude from the observation of the 2 preschoolers naming their animals, such “potty words” are no longer only for Mommy and Daddy. “By the time kids go to school now, they’re saying all the words that we try to protect them from on television. We find their swearing really takes off between (ages) three and four,” says Jay.
What’s a parent to do? First and foremost, stop swearing! Child Development research tells us that children are learning and exploring constantly, especially under the age of 5. As parents, you are your child’s first teacher- no matter how much you spend on their education! One parent shares that any time anyone in the house says a “bad word,” they have to drop a quarter in a jar. While that may be an appropriate consequence for a teenager dropping quarters from their weekend pay check, a 4-year-old’s primary source of income is coming from Mom and Dad’s own wallet. A 5-year-old shares with his teacher, “When I say bad words, I get hot stuff in my mouth and I go to time out.” That sort of “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality sends mixed messages. Children learn through observing the behaviors of the world and those in it. They want to be “just like” those they look up to, which is typically those who love and care for them at such young ages. It may not just be Mom or Dad, but even “Uncle Joe” who comes over every holiday with presents and a whole mouthful of new vocabulary to share! Never be afraid to enforce the quarter rule on those “potty mouths” visiting for the day! After all, it’s your child’s mind at stake!
Luckily, Jay concludes the previously mentioned article by stating that while children are using the same swear words they hear from the adults who love them, they do not know all that adults know. In short, they often misuse them because they do not understand the meaning. Take advantage of every teachable moment with the special children in your life by teaching them words worth knowing. It won’t be long before they are in high school and know the meaning of words you have never heard of. Flush those “potty words!” Keep it clean!