Dear Melissa – My Child Uses Bad Language. Help!

Dear Melissa,

I admit that sometimes I use less than proper language. Unfortunately, my daughter has picked up a few of my bad habits. Yesterday, I heard her say “shit” when she dropped a cracker on the floor. She is 7 and I worry that other people will judge her, and me, if I don’t do something fast. Help!



This is a fairly common concern of my clients. I tend to be the parent who considers all words acceptable as long as they are not insults. However, time and place can make a difference as to how you are perceived by others so I understand why a parent would worry about “bad language”.

The first thing I usually say is that children copy others in their lives. You may need to change your habits in order to change your child’s habits. Also look to those who are often around your family. It may be worth a quick chat to explain that you are trying to be careful of language in front of the child.

Some children like to get a reaction from you so if you flip out, they may continue the behavior because you showed that big reaction. If you feel it cannot be ignored, then have a chat about other ways to express feelings without using the words which some may deem offensive. I have made it a point to tell my own children to not use certain language if at a job interview, out in public, or when meeting someone new. You do not know what others believe about language until you get to know them so we try to avoid offending simply because we assume others believe the same as we do.

Another idea that has helped former students living with Oppositional Defiance Disorder is using a silly replacement word. Not only does this take away the issue of offending others, but it also often makes us laugh if we choose a funny word. Try using words like “snickerdoodle” or “well toast my marshmallow”. My students often collapsed into laughter when they used these words and then their mood was lifted and the issue of language choice was addressed.


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