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Why didn’t anyone tell me that my preschooler would experiment with words that are off-limits?

Preschoolers tend to use the most devastating words they know, often in public. Your preschooler has learned how powerful words can be and how useful they are when she wants to get your attention.

A child's first swear word is usually something she overheard from a parent or learned from a friend. Preschooler's have developed enough to recognize the emotion that often accompanies certain words. Your child is a little scientist, testing out new things she's learned just to see what happens. She will discover and learn about limits by testing you over and over again. While this is a normal stage of development, swearing is not a behavior that any parent wants to see continue. 

What can you do?

  • Keep a straight face. The reaction your child receives from you and other family members can reinforce the use of these words. Try not to laugh or react with anger. Stay calm and ignore the behavior. Often ignoring the behavior will help put a stop to it.
  • If your child continues to use words that are off limits or potty talk, explain how words can upset people.  Firmly, but calmly set limits "you are not allowed to use that word." Don't offer explanations for the word or go into a lengthy discussion about why your child should not have said it. You can calmly let your child know that you don't like those words and neither do other people.
  • Offer "clean" alternatives. Sometimes teaching her another new and fun word can be a good distraction. If she is mad, bored or frustrated, teach her the words to better express her frustration.
  • Be careful about what words you say in front of your child, they are great imitators and will repeat everything you say at very inopportune times.

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