How to Teach a Child to Understand Swear Words

September 12, 2018


The place to start, according to Christi Garner, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is with the general idea that all families are different. “I talk with kids about how we all come from different kinds of families,” says Garner. “These families all have rules that are different from ours. Our family might say that ‘fat’ or ‘crap’ is not ok to say, but at school or camp those words might be heard from other kids.”


  • Explain the rules of the house: kids may be hearing a variety of language on the playground, but that doesn’t mean the rules have to be ambiguous to them. Remind them what is expected of them.

  • They will encounter different rules: every household is different, both in family composition and family rules.

  • Ask them what they think: asking kids what they think of that kind of language may reveal their personal level of comfort or ideas around propriety. Or else the whole conversation may make them uncomfortable.

  • Reinforce the rules: regardless if kids will hear these words from their peers, and regardless of the fact that good people may use these words, the family has their own expectations of proper behavior.

The idea that different families have different rules is an idea that most parents will be familiar with, but it may be challenging for a child to process that information alone for the first time. Discussing it with kids can help them organize their feelings and thoughts about other people’s rules. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to learn what those thoughts and feelings are, suggests Garner.

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