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Family Matters

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Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books, a national expert on family issues and the psychology of food and weight. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a national speaker, writer, and news contributor.

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When Toddlers Use Profane Language

It seems like we can’t turn on television without hearing people swearing on a regular basis. What used to be considered profane is now accepted as the way people talk.

According to a study by psychology professor Timothy Jay at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the rise in adult vulgarity is being mimicked by children and teens. Jay says that swearing really takes off between ages three and four.

The reason for the rise in children who swear has everything to do with adults who swear at home. According to Jay, cursing is a form of coping, a way to reduce stress and vent anger. Adults who have rules against children swearing, but do so themselves, can expect children to model what they hear, not do what they are told.

So how do you react if you hear your three-year-old using curse words?

1. If a toddler curses, stay calm and do not laugh or react with horror. They don’t know what they are saying, but your strong reaction in either direction will reinforce them doing it again and cursing is not a behavior you want to reinforce.

2. Set a good example. Do not swear. Control your own mouth. James 3 tells us that out of the same mouth comes cursing and praising and this should not be. We are to bridle our tongue.

3. If you slip, back track the word and say something like, “Fiddlesticks” or “Sugar” and say it with emotion. Put the emphasis on the new word that you don’t mind them repeating.

4. For older children, set boundaries and rules for language in the home. Discuss why swearing is offensive, what the Bible has to say about the power of the tongue and the intent of the heart (Ephesians 4:29; James 3:6; Proverbs 15:4).

5. For older kids, have consequences for cursing.

Bottom line, cursing is not a good way to represent Christ to a broken world. It is important to examine your heart because Scripture tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Friday, February 21, 2014 3:10 PM

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