Expert Q&A: Discipline, Depression, ADHD, and More

A Swearing Son

Q. I'm having a problem with my 8-year-old son at school. He has been swearing lately and has gotten three citations for this at school. On the latest citation, the teacher mentioned if he got another citation he would be suspended. I think that is rather harsh. I would think they would have a conference with me first, before they just suspended him. He doesn't do this at home, just at school, and I think it might have to do with some of the kids he hangs out with. He told me that he and his friends were looking up bad words in the dictionary. I think he does it for shock value, but I'm at my wits' end. If they suspend him from school, it will be like a reward for him. I told him that if that happens he'll be spending a lot of time in his room (which he hates to do) and that I'll be putting him to work around the house. I plan to have a talk with his teacher. I had him write "I will not swear anymore" 150 times, but I just don't know what else to do. Any help would be appreciated. -- Wendy

A. Your best -- and really only -- approach to turn this behavior around is CONSISTENT FIRM CONSEQUENCES. If he hasn't heard this at home, then he's picking it up at school. Kids copy and try out behaviors (especially if they think it will help them "fit in"). So:

  1. Have a conference immediately with the teacher. Schools do have a clear policy of no swearing. If he's already had three notices, and in their policy, the next notice means suspension, then they will suspend. But you also need to get on board with the teacher. Does the teacher have any other concerns? Is she seeing a change in your child's behavior? Who are these kids your child is hanging around? Is there a way to find other, more appropriate friends?
  2. Then have THE TALK with your child. It must be very serious. You must convince him you mean business. Tell him that swearing is not allowed in the house, at school, anywhere. Tell him what the consequences will be. It might be suspension at school, but there will also be consequences at home. What does he really like? TV, phone, computer, friends over? You must choose something that would cause him a little pain when it's removed.
  3. Sign a contract. He must know what the consequence is -- and there are not ifs, ands, or buts. No backtracking. The contract is signed and then stored so if he says that he didn't know, you can show it to him.
  4. Swearing is a HABIT. If he's doing it often, and it's reinforced by others, and he's hearing others do it, it won't turn around ASAP. You must be clear and consistent. It will fade, if you stick to the plan.

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