Children find many different ways to get a parent's attention. What if one of those ways happens in the form of a curse word?

Children find many different ways to get a parent's attention. What if one of those ways happens in the form of a curse word?

Kids can pick up phrases and "funny" sounding words from sources other than television and peers. They listen to their parents, older siblings or grandparents. And when the potty mouth does happen, how should you react?

Little ones and their language
If you hear your toddler or preschooler say a bad word, the best reaction is no reaction.

"Don't look at your child; don't talk to them. If the swearing doesn't get a reaction, then there is a good chance it is going to stop," said Dr. Dan Coury, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "If we don't respond to it, it won't be reinforced and encouraged, and it won't be said again. There is a common tendency for parents to react when they hear [bad words] and if that reaction encourages a child to say it again, then we are promoting the swearing," Coury said.

The worst thing to do is laugh at bad language because kids will realize they can make you laugh by saying these words. Leave the room or wait until your child is asleep before sharing his new-found language with your spouse or friends.

If ignoring your child's bad language doesn't work, the next step is to figure out where he is hearing these words, in order to stop the exposure.

Most likely the source is at home or in other familiar places. "We have to set a good example. These children, usually at about age 3 or 4, are not hanging around a bus stop without parents. They are hearing it most likely at home," said Dr. Coury. "If we are swearing ourselves, we need to cut back. If a parent just absolutely feels they have to swear, they better use words they are willing to hear their child use."

The next step is to talk to your child about bad words when they're spoken. There must be consequences for a child's continued cursing, like sending her to her room, or losing TV privileges. Dr. Coury believes that simply telling kids, "we don't use that word in this house," or, "I don't like hearing you use that word," works well.

It also might be helpful to come up with colorful words that would be appropriate substitutes, like shazzam, fiddlesticks or abracadabra. "We want to promote the good behavior. If the child can go without swearing for a certain amount of time, they get some kind of reward, credit or recognition," said Dr. Coury.

Stop preteens and teens from cursing
The reasons preteens and teenagers use swear words are quite different from their younger siblings' - and need to be addressed. "They want to show they are tough. More than anything, the majority of them want to be seen as bigger, stronger - more like an adult. It provides stature with their peers," said Dr. Coury.

Parents need to tell their child they will not tolerate bad language. If kids continue to swear, they lose privileges that are important to them, such as cell phones and cars.

Parents also should stress that kids do not have to swear to appear grown up. Tell them it shows more maturity not to use swear words.

Teens need to know that cursing in school will not be tolerated. Some schools have no-tolerance rules for such language. Children and adults who swear can be seen by others as disobedient, angry, rude, ill-tempered, difficult and disrespectful.

Remember, swearing gets you nowhere, but good manners open all doors.

Pattie Stechschulte is a freelance magazine writer living in Westerville with her husband, Steve, and two sons, Will and Jack.