What To Do When Your Toddler Drops The F-Bomb

Every parent's cringe worthy moment: when your toddler swears. So what should you do to nip the potty talk in the bud?


You assumed your child’s first four-letter words might be “milk” and “ball,” not the S- or F-words. But now she’s sitting in her car seat repeating a profanity that would make her grandmother blush. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a sign that your child will grow up to adopt an expletive-laced vocabulary that will get her expelled from high school.) After you recover from the initial surprise, how do you handle the situation? 

Why toddlers do it

At this age, they’re human sponges, absorbing words and amassing a vocabulary at an incredibly fast rate. They’re bound to pick up a few censored words along the way. Between their first and second birthday, children can learn up to eight curse words. They have absolutely no idea of their meanings or that they may offend someone. (When you're months old, proper etiquette is not exactly your strong suit.) But they quickly figure out taboo language garners attention and has shock value so their new-found lingo holds a fascination for them. And it’s part of the reason they don’t forget the words.

How to react

A cherubic face is staring at you, his eyes daring you to react. Try not to acknowledge the first outburst and see if that shuts it down. If he persists, you need to nip the behaviour in the bud pronto. However tempting it may be in the moment to start laughing or get angry, maintain a straight face. You don’t want to reinforce the behaviour by making a joke out of the situation. Be gentle but firm and consistent when explaining in a neutral tone that certain words are not to be said. Your goal is to not draw too much attention to the naughty words and to outline the consequences if he continues to use that word. Don’t give in if they’re swearing to get something they want. Encouraging them to substitute the offending word with PG-friendly alternatives (“fudgsicle,” “sugar,” “hockey sticks”) might help shift their focus. Redirecting them to a new activity sometimes does the trick. If these don’t work, try a brief time-out or warn them you’ll take away a toy if they don’t stop. 

Ways to curb your kid’s cursing 

Young children imitate what they hear, both the good and the bad. Despite your best efforts to protect her innocent ears, your tot is exposed to a multitude of potty-mouthed influencers every day: older children on the playground, your brother-in-law who doesn’t have an edit switch, the R-rated movie you think you’re daughter can’t hear playing in the family room. It’s a reasonable request to ask others to refrain from cursing in front of your child. Politely tell your teenage nephew or neighbour to take their conversation to another room where your kids are out of earshot.

You also need to lead by example. If your child routinely hears Mum and Dad cussing out other motorists when you drive him to school, then he’s learned that this is how you and your partner vent when you’re frustrated or angry and that it’s okay. Kids don’t understand double standards. They reason, “If Daddy can say, why can’t I?” Accidently cursing in front of our children is sometimes unavoidable. Just be mindful about what comes out of your mouth on a regular basis. When you’ve tripped up say, “I’m sorry. Mommy didn’t mean to say that word.” 

Just try to remember that, while it may be embarrassing (especially if it happens in public), your toddler swearing does not mean you are a bad parent or that your little one is a bad kid. Keep your giggles in check and deal with the situation quickly and consistently.

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