"F--- You, Mom!" How to Stop Your Child
from Cursing in Your Home
|Don't pick up that bar of soap yet! James
Lehman, MSW has great advice for parents on what to do when their child has a
foul mouth, from generalized cursing to verbal abuse.
You: "Why didn't you do your homework?"
Your child: "I hate f------ school. I hate my f------ teacher."
You: "Don't talk to me like that!"
Your child: "Why not? You swear, too."
Stop this scene right here.
Your child is attempting to get you into a
fight. When your child curses, above all, do not get into a power struggle over
it with them. Parents should ignore the invitation to argue at this point and
say, "We're not talking about anything
else. Why didn't you do your homework" That's my question. And you're not going
to use your cell phone until your homework is done." Then turn around and walk
away. Don't debate it, don't get into arguments. If your child says "I don't
care," you can say, "OK. If you don't care, that's all right. But you're not
using your cell until you get your homework done." Don't keep it going. Later,
when your child calms down, give them a consequence for swearing. Each family
should have a routine way of differentiating swearing from verbal abuse, and a
different system for dealing with each behavior.
Let me be clear: If your child curses at you, what you need to understand is
that they're trying to hurt you, throw you off balance, or suck you into a
fight. I believe that families should have clear rules about cursing. There
shouldn't be any discussion about it when it happens. And in my mind, there's a
difference between kids cursing in general or cursing at you or another family
member, and calling you rude names. But either way, families need to establish
rules around it. Often kids curse because they're frustrated or angry about
being asked to do something that's hard for them or that they find boring, or
maybe they'd rather be playing video games or hanging out with their friends.
Understand that this is a way of solving the problem of being frustrated, but in
a very immature way. In these instances, when things calm down, kids need to be
taught that cursing doesn't solve their problems-it adds to it. Because not only
do they have their original problem, now they've got an extra consequence on top
of that, whether they lose some of their allowance or they forfeit some video
There's No Excuse for Verbal Abuse
Parents need to establish a zero tolerance policy for verbal abuse in the home.
Verbal abuse is differentiated from cursing because it is an attack on a person.
Cursing is using an expletive when describing a situation or their own
frustration. So in the opening example, that's cursing: "I hate my f------
teacher." If the child had said, "F--- you, Mom, it's none of your business,"
that's verbal abuse. And there's no excuse for abuse of any kind. When kids
curse at their parents and siblings and call them names using sexualized terms,
when this kind of attacking name-calling happens, this is verbal abuse, not just
swearing. It is damaging, not just obnoxious. It has to be dealt with in the
same way you'd deal with any kind of abusive behavior. When a child says, "You
whore," or "You faggot," that's damaging to your other children, and you're
responsible for protecting them from that kind of attack.
Make no bones about it: this behavior needs to be dealt with very strongly
If your child is grounded for 24 hours as part of the consequence and he happens
to be involved in sports, make him miss practice for a day as part of the
consequence of his actions. Don't let anybody manipulate you by saying they
?need to be there.? The most important thing here is that kids understand that
there's no excuse for abuse. I promise you as a parent, missing one day of
practice is not the end of the world. What's more important is not letting your
child call you or his siblings those foul, foul names. If your child is not
involved in sports, then have him lose his electronics for a few days. The best
way to handle that is by saying, ?You can't have your phone back until you don't
call your sister those names for 24 hours.? If your child calls his sister a
foul name again six hours later, it becomes 48 hours without the phone. And he
has to go to his room and write a letter of apology. By the way, when I say
letter, I mean a brief paragraph. And what the letter has to say is, "This is
what I'll do differently the next time I want to call you a name." It should
include an apology, but also, more importantly, he should make a commitment not
to do it again.
For Younger Children
I believe it's helpful if you don't curse in front of your children if you
expect your children not to curse in front of you. One thing we see very early
on is that kids mimic parents by saying words they don't understand. In that
case, the best thing a parent can do with their younger children is calmly and
pleasantly correct them, and try to teach them that what they've said is a bad
word. The way I say it is, "It's a bad word because people don't like that
word." If your child says, "but you use that word," you can say, "You tell me
"no" when I say it. Tell Mommy, too. Remind me that it's a bad word." And when
they remind you, say you're sorry and use a different word.
Establish a "No Swearing" Rule and Make Everyone Pay the Consequences
For children who are older, an effective thing you can do as a family to curtail
swearing is to establish a "Cursing Jar". If anyone in your family curses, they
have to put a quarter into the jar. If money isn't readily available, a
checkmark can go next to your child's name, and every check might equal 10
minutes of an extra task or chore. Doing their regular chores shouldn't be a
consequence; you should give your child extra things to do. Look at it this way:
if you make your child do the dishes because he cursed, and then you ask him to
do them again on Thursday night, he's going to ask, "Why? I didn't do anything
wrong." He'll feel like he's being punished when all you want is for him to do
his normal chores around the house. So it's an extra chore you want to add on. I
think the sooner you give them the consequence after they've cursed the better.
It's also very effective to have an age-appropriate schedule and structure at
night that lists how much time your kids can spend on video games, the computer,
and watching TV. Say for example your child has an hour free time to play video
games, but the way he gets that hour is by doing his homework first. If he
curses, that extra chore you give him is done during that hour, and he loses
part or all of his free time. That system should be in place, so later on when
your child calms down and wants to deal with the issue because she wants her
cell phone back, you can say, "You know the consequences for cursing and
name-calling." And they should get a different checkmark or extra chore for
every time they curse.
What about Kids Who Swear at You under Their Breath?
Some kids swear passive aggressively, under their breath. But let's face it,
even if it's under their breath, it's the same thing, and you should give your
child consequences for it. They may say, "I didn't say anything. That's not
You can come back with, "I'm sorry, but that's what I heard you say. In the
future, speak more loudly, or there will be consequences." In other words, don't
let muttering curse words under his breath become a way for him to manipulate so
that he doesn't have to develop self-control.
Swearing is an issue at some time in all families. It's one of the ways that
frustration and anger are verbalized in our culture. Nonetheless, parents have
to work very diligently on watching their language and being role models for
their children, as well as holding their children accountable. Disrespect for
authority is a major problem affecting children and adults today. It's important
to realize that children who know how to act respectfully and speak respectfully
are better equipped to deal with the adult world than those who prefer to sound
like thugs. (F---You Mom: How To Stop Your Child From Cursing In Your Home
reprinted with permission from
by James Lehman, MSW
About the Author:
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He has developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems without hiding behind defiant, disrespectful, or obnoxious behavior. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
The Total Transformation -- a
comprehensive step-by-step, multi-media program that makes learning James'
techniques remarkably easy and helps you change your child's behavior.