Even royalty use rude words, but only in private. Our children get the same royal flush, but the words appear at inopportune moments. The reason for bad language is ignorance of the meaning, releasing tension, attention seeking and acting ‘cool’.
In the early school years children use a lot of silly language where even the word ‘bottom’ is seen to be as entertaining as an entire season of ‘Seinfeld’. This language has no malice; it’s part of the fun and nonsense of being young. At this age children repeat words they have heard at school, but they have no knowledge of their meaning. Words may also be used to wind up Mum and Dad.
Silliness can be stopped with a simple comment, our tone of voice or die way we look. Handle innocent but inappropriate language with an explanation of its meaning. Where words are used to stir up parents, it is important to avoid rising to the bait.
By late primary school, bad language is normal behavior for the herd. Some children use the f-word to register their position in the group, much like a dog might pee around a perimeter to stake his claim. At this age it is important to make it clear what we will and will not accept.
Primary-age children often have words and secret sayings that are part the common language that bonds the group together. When my boys were at school, the in word was ‘skills’. I don’t know where it came from or what it meant, but it was like some special handshake of a secret group. The word lost favor when my older son bluffed the class: ‘You shouldn’t say “skills”, it’s a rude word.’ The others looked surprised. ‘It’s a nasty disease of the bum. I know, because my father is a doctor.’
The words we use have a different significance in different cultures and countries. As I miss my serve at tennis it sounds so trendy to say, ‘Merde!’ but to a Frenchman it is still ‘Sh*t!’
One ex-Australian prime minister was well known for his intolerance of groups that were all talk and no action. When working on a high-powered UN committee, he was forever baffling the interpreters. One day, exasperated by the lack of progress, he stood up and said, ‘It’s about time we stopped playing silly buggers.’ With this, the interpreters flicked through their dictionaries and over the headphones came a confused statement about sport and feeble-minded homosexuals.
My list of suggestions gives a number of approaches, but what you use will depend on the age of the child, the extent of the problem and the reason for the bad language. In my experience, any young child with an extreme, abusive foul mouth has acquired this from someone in their dysfunctional living environment. If language is a symptom of home disharmony or a rift in the parent-child relationship, the language is not the main priority for treatment.