L: James, you mentioned accountability. Creating a culture of accountability. What does that mean? Can you explain that and how, what it means to parents and kids.
J: First of all, when we start with accountability, one of the things that I talk to teachers and parents about is creating a culture of accountability. And that culture of accountability occurs between two people. So when we talk about what’s on TV, what they’re learning in the movies, what their video games is, that, that’s fine. But the culture of accountability comes with, this is how I’m gonna talk to you and this is how you have to talk to me. This is what I’m gonna expect of you and this is what you can expect of me. That’s very clearly learned out. That you’re accountable for the way you talk to me and treat me. You’re accountable for your responsibilities and you can expect me to take responsibility to be accountable for my responsibilities. I’m gonna pay the rent, I’m gonna have food on the table, I’m gonna make sure that we have a place to live. You have to talk to me appropriately, you have to do your schoolwork and you have to learn how to solve life’s problems without hurting other people.
MG: I think it’s important to note James that a culture of accountability isn’t just a parent child thing. We even as adults need to be accountable; we are accountable every day to someone.
J: That’s right, well, I don’t think people are accountable to a culture. I think that that develops between people. Between individual people and groups. So even personal relationships and work relationships.
J: Work. I’m accountable to that job. I’m accountable to my role in that business. I’m accountable to that business. They’re gonna pay me, that’s what I expect of them, they expect me to do the role that they defined for me. They also expect me to do it with some quality and some efficiency.
MG: So as a parent, what you’re setting your child up for by expecting him to be accountable to you is the whole mindset that you will always be accountable to someone. This is a coping skill. This is a problem solving skill you have to learn.
J: Absolutely. Look, when you hold your child accountable, when you develop that culture of accountability, you as a parent have a responsibility to teach that child to acquire the skills he’s gonna need to be able to be accountable. People who can’t be accountable for their homework disrespect other people. People who can’t be accountable for their behavior turn it around and challenge you and act out. So when you’re having a culture of accountability, there’s a two–way thing. I expect you to do the right thing and you can expect me to teach you how to do the right thing.
MG: So my job as a parent then is to set specific standards, to set specific goals, to set attainable landmarks that a child can say, if I do this, I become accountable. If I do this, I’m behaving responsibly.
J: Yeah, it’s not only setting goals. It’s giving the skills to reach the goal. So let’s say I’m a parent and my goal is that you’re gonna sink five throws from the free throw line in basketball out of ten. Well I just can’t put you up there with a ball and tell you do it, that’s my goal. I’ve gotta show you how to do it. I’ve gotta show you how you place your feet, how you place your arms. How you propel the ball. I’ve gotta spend some time practicing with you. I’ve gotta show you how to do these things and I’ve gotta practice them. So it’s not setting the goals, it’s giving the kid the skills. Acquiring the skills yourself for an understanding of what it takes. Using the tools and using the skills.
James Lehman had a very personal understanding of kids with behavior problems. He displayed severe oppositional, defiant behaviors as a child and teenager, and became a Behavioral Therapist specializing in helping troubled children, teens and their families for 30 years.
Janet Lehman, MSW Child Behavior Therapist
Janet Lehman has over three decades of clinical experience working with out–of–control children and teens and their parents. Working in group homes and residential treatment centers, Janet helped children with serious behavioral disorders learn to get their behavior under control.
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Don’t pick up that bar of soap yet! James Lehman, MSW has great advice for parents on what to do when their child has a foul mouth, from generalized cursing to verbal abuse.
You: “Why didn’t you do your homework?” Your child: “I hate f------ school. I hate my f------ teacher.” You: “Don’t talk to me like that!” Your child: “Why not? You swear, too.”
Stop this scene right here. Your child is attempting to get you into a fight. When your child curses, above all, do not get into a power struggle over it with them. Parents should ignore the invitation to argue at this point and say, “We’re not talking about anything else. Why didn’t you do your homework? That’s my question. And you’re not going to use your cell phone until your homework is done.” Then turn around and walk away. Don’t debate it, don’t get into arguments. If your child says “I don't care,” you can say, “OK. If you don’t care, that’s all right. But you’re not using your cell until you get your homework done.” Don’t keep it going. Later, when your child calms down, give them a consequence for swearing. Each family should have a routine way of differentiating swearing from verbal abuse, and a different system for dealing with each behavior.
Let me be clear: If your child curses at you, what you need to understand is that they’re trying to hurt you, throw you off balance, or suck you into a fight. I believe that families should have clear rules about cursing. There shouldn’t be any discussion about it when it happens. And in my mind, there’s a difference between kids cursing in general or cursing at you or another family member, and calling you rude names. But either way, families need to establish rules around it. Often kids curse because they’re frustrated or angry about being asked to do something that’s hard for them or that they find boring, or maybe they’d rather be playing video games or hanging out with their friends. Understand that this is a way of solving the problem of being frustrated, but in a very immature way. In these instances, when things calm down, kids need to be taught that cursing doesn’t solve their problems—it adds to it. Because not only do they have their original problem, now they’ve got an extra consequence on top of that, whether they lose some of their allowance or they forfeit some video game time.
There’s No Excuse for Verbal Abuse
Parents need to establish a zero tolerance policy for verbal abuse in the home. Verbal abuse is differentiated from cursing because it is an attack on a person. Cursing is using an expletive when describing a situation or their own frustration. So in the opening example, that’s cursing: “I hate my f------ teacher.” If the child had said, “F--- you, Mom, it’s none of your business,” that’s verbal abuse. And there’s no excuse for abuse of any kind. When kids curse at their parents and siblings and call them names using sexualized terms, when this kind of attacking name-calling happens, this is verbal abuse, not just swearing. It is damaging, not just obnoxious. It has to be dealt with in the same way you’d deal with any kind of abusive behavior. When a child says, “You whore,” or “You faggot,” that’s damaging to your other children, and you’re responsible for protecting them from that kind of attack.
Make no bones about it: this behavior needs to be dealt with very strongly. If your child is grounded for 24 hours as part of the consequence and he happens to be involved in sports, make him miss practice for a day as part of the consequence of his actions. Don’t let anybody manipulate you by saying they “need to be there.” The most important thing here is that kids understand that there’s no excuse for abuse. I promise you as a parent, missing one day of practice is not the end of the world. What’s more important is not letting your child call you or his siblings those foul, foul names. If your child is not involved in sports, then have him lose his electronics for a few days. The best way to handle that is by saying, “You can’t have your phone back until you don’t call your sister those names for 24 hours.” If your child calls his sister a foul name again six hours later, it becomes 48 hours without the phone. And he has to go to his room and write a letter of apology. By the way, when I say letter, I mean a brief paragraph. And what the letter has to say is, “This is what I’ll do differently the next time I want to call you a name.” It should include an apology, but also, more importantly, he should make a commitment not to do it again.
For Younger Children
I believe it’s helpful if you don’t curse in front of your children if you expect your children not to curse in front of you. One thing we see very early on is that kids mimic parents by saying words they don’t understand. In that case, the best thing a parent can do with their younger children is calmly and pleasantly correct them, and try to teach them that what they’ve said is a bad word. The way I say it is, “It’s a bad word because people don’t like that word.” If your child says, “but you use that word,” you can say, “You tell me ‘no’ when I say it. Tell Mommy, too. Remind me that it’s a bad word.” And when they remind you, say you’re sorry and use a different word.
Establish a “No Swearing” Rule—and Make Everyone Pay the Consequences
For children who are older, an effective thing you can do as a family to curtail swearing is to establish a “Cursing Jar”. If anyone in your family curses, they have to put a quarter into the jar. If money isn’t readily available, a checkmark can go next to your child’s name, and every check might equal 10 minutes of an extra task or chore. Doing their regular chores shouldn’t be a consequence; you should give your child extra things to do. Look at it this way: if you make your child do the dishes because he cursed, and then you ask him to do them again on Thursday night, he’s going to ask, “Why? I didn’t do anything wrong.” He’ll feel like he’s being punished when all you want is for him to do his normal chores around the house. So it’s an extra chore you want to add on. I think the sooner you give them the consequence after they’ve cursed the better.
It’s also very effective to have an age-appropriate schedule and structure at night that lists how much time your kids can spend on video games, the computer, and watching TV. Say for example your child has an hour free time to play video games, but the way he gets that hour is by doing his homework first. If he curses, that extra chore you give him is done during that hour, and he loses part or all of his free time. That system should be in place, so later on when your child calms down and wants to deal with the issue because she wants her cell phone back, you can say, “You know the consequences for cursing and name-calling.” And they should get a different checkmark or extra chore for every time they curse.
What about Kids Who Swear at You under Their Breath?
Some kids swear passive aggressively, under their breath. But let’s face it, even if it’s under their breath, it’s the same thing, and you should give your child consequences for it. They may say, “I didn’t say anything. That’s not fair!”
You can come back with, “I’m sorry, but that’s what I heard you say. In the future, speak more loudly, or there will be consequences.” In other words, don’t let muttering curse words under his breath become a way for him to manipulate so that he doesn’t have to develop self-control.
Swearing is an issue at some time in all families. It’s one of the ways that frustration and anger are verbalized in our culture. Nonetheless, parents have to work very diligently on watching their language and being role models for their children, as well as holding their children accountable. Disrespect for authority is a major problem affecting children and adults today. It’s important to realize that children who know how to act respectfully and speak respectfully are better equipped to deal with the adult world than those who prefer to sound like thugs.
James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."
I have cursed at and around my family for years. Now, of course, my teen age children are cursing their mother and each other, and me behind my back. I stopped all my cursing 6 weeks ago, and am trying to never curse or swear around anybody again. I feel like a hypocrite consequencing any of my kids for cursing. Anyone have any suggestions that have worked for them?
Comment By : craig
i have never cursed at my four children ! but i have cursed around them and now my 8 year old daughter is having problems at school and we have noticed that when she gets in her outrage she is letting some words fly out her mouth that i did not even say or dont even know where she learned them from.
can anyone out there give some advice on how to break the language my child uses!
Comment By : shanangel_2004
I applaud your recent turnaround in the language you use, it has been my experience that it will serve you well. In my house and in the raising of my girls, ages 22 & 8, the rule has been (since my oldest was 3yrs old): "If you hear Mommy say it, then you can say it". That one little rule has kept me accountable for almost 20 years. It has also proved to be beneficial for my girls, as well.
I've also applied this same rule to bad habits such as gossip and criticism: If you hear someone saying hurtful things about another person, put a halt to it: "I didn't hear her say it, I don't believe it and you should stop saying those things". These rules may not always be effective, however, in my little house it has been.
Good luck in your new endeavor to stop swearing, it is an admirable goal and your children will notice the difference and likely alter their language as well. It's very true that children mimick our actions regardless of what the rules may be. Finally, you are not a hypocrite if you are being a mindful example, with your halted use of curse words; your children will take note and hopefully change their language as well (at least in your presence).
Comment By : mfitts1229
My son is very verbally abusive to me. Just yesterday he told me to "f" off about 10 times when I would not let him take my phone charger out ot the house(he misplaced his and refused to look for it). He is 16, bigger than me, and refuses to abide by ANY consequences. I use his cell phone as a consequence for doing his school work and not being truant. As the parent support line stated, I can not attach too many things to the cell phone. I usually walk away and tell him he has to leave the house until he can control his anger.
I would like to know what you suggest for parents who have older children who refuse to abide by consequences and have very little that they value. There is absolutely no way my son would write a letter of apology! When told that he is grounded he tells me "whatever" and leaves. The article is good in theory but I really do not feel that it can be applied to most defiant children over the age of 14.
Comment By : deb
I have been told that as long as a person is "walking in repentance" - as it seems you are - turning from your own swearing and trying to not swear yourself - you have every right to correct others who are doing wrong. Also, as a dad, you have every right to correct your kids on any and every issue, regardless of your own behavior - but it is proven that a person's "walk talks more than their talk talks", so there will be more power and effectiveness if you live what you teach. You're doing great. Excellent job giving up all your own swearing!! Don't feel like a hypocrite. You aren't one! :)
Comment By : sandy
My problem with my step children moved in . mystep son 14 try taking thing away and it does nothing because his comments is i have been icealated before no big deal. i put rules down and neither his mother or father back me up. i have a problem with him hitting the other kids ,running his mouth , talking back
Comment By : Dawn
deb, you have more power than you think. when pushed, i ended up taking everything my son had in his room, except 2 outfits of clothing, and locking it up and he had to earn everything back with good behavior. i have never seen that type of behavior (f-u walking out the door) from him again. i'm not suggesting that as a next step, i just want to illustrate to you there are more options than you are seeing.
Comment By : understanding
My issue with my son(age 5) falls more into the category of verbal abuse. He is constantly saying "you're stupid" to his 7 year old brother and to me. He does it when he's angry, but also in a taunting way just to get a reaction. My question is, how should this be handled? I am hesitant to react strongly when it is so clear that a strong reaction is exactly what he wants.
Comment By : kathy
My 7 year old hates me. He constantly verbally abuses me all the time. It's getting to me really bad. It's really bad when he comes back from his dad. He definetly is succeeding at hurting me and I just don't know what to do. I am very angry about it. Any suggesstions. I have 2 adhd boys 7 & 8 and a 3 year old daughter and it's very hard. I always feel as if I'm leaving my 3 year old out because I'm always dealing with something that my boys have decided to do or not do.
Comment By : single mom of 3
My children are both well behaved because I have employed the principles of empowering parents since they were very young. I lead by example and stick to their consequences for misbehaving. If my son (who is in junior high) were to storm out of the house after I grounded him. I would have a police officer waiting at the house to talk to him when he returned home.
My children do well in school because I have worked tirelessly to turn my family around after leaving their alcoholic father. I check in constantly at school and always reward them for their good grades and behavior, not with candy or things but with my words and attention. Neurofeedback has worked wonders on my son who was diagnosed with ADD.
Our home life is happy and stable now.
Comment By : mary
single mother of 3: i feel your pain. i have 4 year old and 9 year old. it seems that things go well for a while then its hell again. i've been trying the early bedtime for consequences...5 minutes for each mess up. they went to be last night at 7:30 and didn't get to sleep until 8:00. so that didn't go as planned but i told them for every minute past the bedtime they were up was one minute earlier for the next night. so tonight their bedtime is 7:00. Not looking forward to it, but i need them to know i am serious and nothing else has worked so far. they went from playing playstation every night to not at all during the week. now its the name calling each other stupid, my four year old is hitting the 9 year old....what a mess!
Comment By : stillhelms
Don't take it personally, single mom of three! Your 7 year old doesn't hate you! Chances are he's angry and he's taking it out on you. You need to remember, he's 7 and he lacks both the language and the problem solving skills to express his anger appropriately. If you continue to take his behavior personally, you'll not only lose the battle, but also the war. Separate the child from the behavior, establish a zero tolerance policy for abuse (abuse of all kinds) for everyone in the household and stand your ground. At first, it will feel like standing your ground is the most difficult thing you've ever done. Be tough, hang in there. You'll be amazed, in a very short period of time, things will start to change for the better.
Comment By : lived to tell the tale
Deb, I am having a similiar problem with my 17 year old son. His mouth is so fowl it would make a sailor blush. He is a great student, has a job, but not pleasent to be around, he worships his dad but openly says he hates me, dosn't even want to say hello and if I ask him to do something it is nagging. FU is very hurtful and it just makes me cry. I don't understand. I have recently taken away driving priveleges and his video games for a month. If he swears again at me it will be two. I feel terrible like I have lost my son.
Comment By : CeeMarie
In addition to our giving our 17 year old son consequences for his actions, I wonder if it would for him to read this article? Would it help him see the big picture and understand how he would be better off controling his behavior.
Comment By : The Andys
I have a 16 year that is rude, verbal abusive, smokes, just not a person you really want to talk to or hang with. Up to 2 years ago we were close, but now he is someone else, he pushes me to the point of tears and always tries to hurt me. I do not know where else to turn or how to handle the issues. I can honestly say that I do not like my child and that kills me.
Comment By : Dee
Lived to tell the tale.. any ideas on how not to take it personally? That seems to be what I struggle with. We go to counseling once a week. My counselor for my kids is great. My 7 year old has only been doing it for a month my older one alot longer. It's been 3 years since I left my ex for verbal/physical abuse and it took a long time to know it wasn't my fault. But it is so hard to be treated the way my kids act. Yes somedays are great but the bad days are bad.
Comment By : single mother of 3
I have a son who is 17 years old. In his earlier years I cursed and now I am practicing not to curse at all. There are days that I myself find it hard to control my words because he is so annoying at times, he goes to school and he has a preety good day. Then there are days that he gets frustated with his work and storms out the door. on top of that he balls his classwork or test sheet up and storms for the door calling his teacher a bitch. what can I do to stop this behavior out of my son before someone hurts him.
Comment By : deseperate mom
My son just turn 18 and he truly believes that he can do what ever he feels to do even curse any time he wants, I have talk to him and giving him consequences but he just don't get it. today was one of those days, he got upset because I took his phone and Ipod for coming home too late last night. he cursed and screamed. he left the house at 1:30pm and is 11:15pm now and still not back, I feel I'm loosing the battle. now I don't know what to do. any advise?
Comment By : Pily
We started a new consequence at our house that seems to be working well. If we catch you swearing, you have to right 10 vocabulary words of 3 syllables or more for each time you're caught, parents included (lead by example) I've had to write them a couple of times and now I watch what I say, and the kids seem to be tapering off as well. I heard about this consequence from a neighbor whose mother always told them "if those are the only words you can come up with, then you need to expand your vocabulary". We still have at least one person slip every week or so, but at least if they continue, their vocabulary should improve quite a bit.
Comment By : printref
My 17 yr old son curses in his music that he makes. Otherwise it's only with friends out of my hearing. He is being treated for ADHD and depression and recently changed from private church school to public charter high school dual credit college program.
He is passing his grades and getting college credit as a junior.
My husband says if he makes another song w/ cussing he will lock up his musical equipment (his passion) and he won't return it until my son leaves the house. My son's response was compliant but asked how much an apt. cost. My feeling is he may bolt. What's more important 10 years from now? His cussing or getting an AA degree while under our roof.
Please give advice
Comment By : pacific
I can really relate to a few of these posts. Up until about 2 years ago, my oldest on and I were very, very close. He participated in sport, did well in school and was basically just a wonderful kid. His dad had very little to do with his upbringing until that point. Then for whatever reason, they became the best of buds. This basically means he has no rules and no consequences and dad gets him whatever he wants. What does that make me? A F***ing B***h, and worse. Dad just stands there and listens and/or watches the attacks. I have lost him and cannot believe how sad that is. He quit all of his productive activities, gets horrible grades, hardly ever comes home (he is only 16), but had the best Ipod, state of the art computer and all the freedom he wants. It is worse being with a co-parent who encourages or allows this behavior than being on your own. I will never stop being verbally abused and he will not have a productive life as long as his dad allows and encourages it.
Comment By : Lost
Single Mom of 3 - I was raised in an environment where every time there was an upset, it was taken personally by one or both of my parents. Further, the upset was always reacted to, rather than responded to. Naturally, I brought this same approach to my parenting - with the expected disastrous results. Four years ago, I was in exactly the same place that you are in today. I dreaded hearing the sound of the school bus in the afternoon.
The most valuable tool that I found, or rather, that I was given to combat taking things personally, was the understanding of what an "upset" really is. First, I had to train my mind to recognize that when I am upset, it has everything to do with me, and nothing to do with what I perceive to have caused it. Second, distinguishing the true nature of an upset gave me the ability to take responsibility for my upset. I learned that an upset is nothing more than an unexpressed communication (something I wanted/needed to say and didn't), an unmet expectation (something I thought should have happened, and it didn't happen) or a thwarted intention (something I tried to do, and was prevented somehow from doing). Empowered by the realization of my responsibility for and the true nature of the upset, disempowering my monsterís (opps, I mean childrenís) vicious attacks became easy.
Donít get me wrong, I still feel hurt when Little Mr. Anthony (now 10) tells me ďI hate you, Iím going to live with my dad!Ē Now, however, when I feel hurt or wounded, I catch it quick, thereís no chance for an upset to ensue. Iím quick to see that I am in charge of my emotions, that his telling me that he hates me is nothing than an unmet expectation. Itís my unmet expectation that I, the perfect parent, would raise the perfect child and heíd never say something hateful or hurtful to me. My definition of the perfect parent/perfect child is what has actually caused my upset, not my precious Anthony.
Now, Iím able to separate Anthony, from his behavior and not take what heís said/done personally. Now I am able to respond, rather than react, using tools/tips from The Total Transformation, having a profound and positive impact on the situation. Itís not always easy, but each time youíre able to manage yourself, youíll better manage the situation youíre confronted with and youíll start seeing the results that you are desperately craving.
Hope this helps!
Comment By : lived to tell the tale
Lost..I totally hear what you are saying, my husband has been less than passive in the parenting of our 17 year old daughter. I do have a great kid but her mouth is horrible. Last weekend she told me to piss of bitch..when I lost it with her and ask her father to intervine he said..well she gets it from you..I told him we were not talking about me..we were talking about my daughters abuse toward me..and I proceeded to tell him he needed to MAN UP..and if he did not understand the fact that it was wrong for a daughter to cuss her mother he had MAN PROBLEMS>>Ive wanted to tell him things like that for years..its basically a little late for us and our daughter but the advice I can give you is to take your MAN for little education in respect. Kids are going to express themselves but abuse is wrong wrong wrong..
Comment By : Hairgal
Thank you Hairgal! It's nice to know I'm not completely alone. Funny but I've asked his dad to "man up" more than once. He just bends over and allows the 16 year old in the house to run everything. When I've asked him to intervine, his response is that "I shouldn't provoke him". I actually feel it is a form of child abuse to let you children to whatever they want "helter skelter". Although he does SAY that he is going to do things and tells my son that he is, but he rarely if ever follows through. Again, worse than never saying anything in the first place. Man, I am tired! Good luck in your home.
Comment By : Lost
My son is 17. He says he can swear if and when he wants to cause it is just a word. Funny thing is that I felt the same way at his age - difference is never would I have sworn around my parents - first off they would have lost it and secondly - I had too much respect for them to do it.
He is verbally abusive and out of control in his relationship to me. I am a single parent and his father has been out of the picture for a while and when he is it is actually worse. There are some huge issues between us and this is the area I have chosen to start with because I will no longer allow the abuse. So, I have taken the hard step and told him he cannot live here if he swears in my home. Sounds a bit extreme but when the swearing starts it all begins to excalate and before it ends there is furniture throwm around and holes in walls. Very extreme. I am doing my best to handle it and I ordered the program last week - not seen it yet and cannot wait to get some additional assistance. Maybe someone out there can give me a few monre hints. . . . .
Comment By : Col
Single mom of 3, Your 1st post mentioned that your son is particularly challenging when he comes back from his dad's. That has been my scenario for 14 years with a now 16 year old daughter. In fact, her stepmother was overheard telling her father after she swore that her father was not suppose to be hard on her because she was raised by me to be that way. My daughter hears these things in different ways all the time. I ahve heard them as well. I expect conflict esp. between a mother and teen daughter but this alienation is a nightmare. When she is mad at me, she calls him and her crying and he calls me back to threaten me with court and says it is time she lives full time with them. This makes my job 100 times harder. It happens much too often. The kids should not be in the middle. The battle is a hard one.
Comment By : Cindy in PA
My 13 year old grandchild lives with me. She is quite abusive, verbally. My boyfriend enables her by giving her whatever she wants whenever she wants and she blows up, swears at me alot and intimidates me. She is a very angry person and throws her weight wround because she can and because he backs her up and not me. I feel like a helpless victim in my own home and the stress of this all is taking a serious toll on my health. HELP!!!! What can be done about children with anger and rage problems?
Comment By : burnedoutgrandparent
I am reading all of the comments about older children because my 13 year old is heading down that same path. I also haven't seen anyone reply with advice for older kids? This worries me about my future with my son.
Comment By : trying to wait it out and parent wisely
a lot of questions posed here... are there going to be any answers from staff or just from other parents?
Comment By : tsong
Dear Tsong: Thank you for your question. While we unfortunately cannot answer every question that comes in to Empowering Parents, our staff does jump in and address concerns from time to time. We encourage parents to discuss their experiences and offer advice to each other as well.
Comment By : Elisabeth, EP Editor
* Dear Col:
I think you have chosen a good place to start. As you said, you recognize that when swearing begins, your sonís behavior escalates. James Lehman would absolutely agree with you that there is no excuse for abuse. This includes verbal abuse or being physically threatening by throwing furniture around. Your son argues with you that he can say whatever he wants to. That is true, but it does not mean that what he chooses to say does not have an impact. He can swear in school, or to a traffic cop, or to you, but will experience a consequence for that behavior. Itís always important to make a statement to him when he is abusive. It is stating a limit on the behavior you will tolerate -- even if you actually cannot stop him for choosing to do it. To say nothing can give the impression that it is okay to speak to you that way -- that you deserve it somehow. Make a clear statement when he swears at you, such as, ďItís not okay to speak to me that way.Ē Keep in touch with us and let us know what's happening as you start to use the program techniques.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
Great to remember NOT to get sucked into arguments! Act don't Yak!
Comment By : Anonymous
My children used to say "I hate you" to me and in the beginning I allowed that to make me feel upset. I learned from someone to not let it get to me and I thought 'well that's great but how?'
What I did was to start telling them "you can hate me all you want but you MUST get to the back of the line as I am plenty sure that there are way more people ahead of you that hate me too."
This diffused the situation to the point of laughter from the kid who said it and usually elicited a comment such as "Who could hate you more than me right now?". I think back and said most likely I don't know... maybe Gramma for not letting you spend the night last week when you threw that tantrum, or maybe your teacher because I wouldn't let you go on that field trip with the school because you chose to not do your homework for a week. It all depends on whom I have angered this week because I refuse to let you do something for your xx behavior.
My children are now 12 and 14 (both having Aspergers syndrome) but I don't hear I hate you so much anymore because when they get angry they know what I am going to say. It never varies and I don't let it get to me because I know it just means I have done something right.
Comment By : frazzled mom of 5
My 15 year old behaves in many of the same ways that I am seeing posted here. He is verbally abusive and swears worse than a sailor. I have tried various consequences but nothig phases the kid. He has even taken it a step further and when the swearing isnt enough he shoves. We recently got into an argument. I told him in the past that if he ever got physical again he would pay the consequence with a judge. When he shoved I called the police and pressed charges. Once he was calm enough I just explained that we all have choices. He has is agency and I cant make choices for him. I told him he can make good choices to stay in school and not do drugs so he can go to college and make tons of money doing something he loves. Or he can make poor choices and break the law, drop out, do drugs and so on. I told him no one can face the consequences but him. I explained that i love him very much and it makes me sad when he makes the wrong choices. But I told him that his poor choices do not hurt me they hurt him. I told him when he is ready to make good choices I am here to support him in that. It probably doesnt sink in. At least that is how it feels. I guess we will see.
Comment By : aprilshrs
I am the mother of a (stepmother) daughter who receives no support from her husband against (ongoing for years) nasty verbal abuse from 16 yr old stepson (FU, worthless, get a divorce,etc.). It happens with every visit; it is getting worse with time. Happens in front of his father; he makes no attempt to stop it or apply discipline. My daughter is bipolar I...she will end up flying into a rage which of course is totally wrong & just feeds into the power this kid knows he has over her. In her own house, she if forced to retreat to her bedroom & stay there till he is gone...even if that means an overnight stay. I spend hours on the phone with her nearly every day so she can vent to someone. PLEASE, do you have any suggestions. I am desperate!
Comment By : Desperate!
Our 6foot 15 year old took my whole series of Total Transformation and scratched each disc. He was also recently asked to leave our home from my husband due to his swearing, calling me a b++++, and for once again refusing to come and participate with our family. Said "he has plans for the day". We feel powerless. He is also on probation again for bringing vodka to school in a water bottle and underage consumption. We just do not know what to do. I did call his probation officer, they said he needs to come in for a u/a test in a few days and that they would talk to him about his recent vandalism, and behavior. Tell me what works??????
Comment By : C.C.
* Dear C.C.: We appreciate your question and do have some suggestions that will work for you. One thing you might be careful of is giving consequences when youíre angry. For example, even though kids can be really hard to deal with, itís not reasonable to ask them to leave your home because of swearing or refusing to come somewhere with the family. When youíre not in emotional control, you do feel powerless. You can always decide on a consequence later after everyone has calmed down and you have a problem solving discussion with your child [Lesson 6]. Itís good that you call the probation officer when your son is not following the limits set by the court system. Itís important to do that each time he breaks those rules so that he learns there is a consequence for his choices. Read James Lehmanís article, How to Give Consequences that Work (http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Give-Kids-Consequences-That-Work.php) for more details on the techniques from the Total Transformation Program. And call us here on the Support Line. Weíre here to help.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
* Dear ĎDesperate!í:
It is very hard to tolerate it when someone is swearing at us. When it happens we should speak up for ourselves and say, ďItís not okay to speak to me that way. I donít like it.Ē Use a very calm voice and stay in emotional control when making this remark. It may not stop the swearing, but itís still important to tell the child his behavior is inappropriate. You might encourage your daughter to let her physician know when she is struggling with managing her moods. We hope some of these suggestions will be helpful. We wish your family the best.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
Good advice about not engaging in a power struggle. As a teenager myself I think there are a few different ways anyone can approach the problem of a cursing teenager, but the parent must always have a firm hand. While it's important to remember that respecting the teenager and following the rules set for himself yourself, staying calm and above all ENFORCING discipline is number one, although it's also important to try to not be overly controlling and understand your teenager.
I write for a parenting website from the kid's perspective, radicalparenting.com. We actually have an article on the same idea that might give more perspective to the issue at http://www.parentingteensonline.com/issue/article/name /April_2008/title/How_to_Help_Teens_Stop_Swearing. Check it out if you want, and thanks for the article.
Comment By : Jenny
What about teen who swear occasionally, but not in a personal way? I don't see a lot of harm in it. My kids are for the most part, well behaved. But if he's playing a game and something happens and an occasional 'damn it!' slips out, I'm not going to get upset or punish for that, since I do the same thing on occasion. Is it ok to overlook that kind of swearing if it's totally unpersonal?
Comment By : Paks
* Dear ĎPaksí:
James Lehman would encourage you to establish your own house rules, based on your own traditions and beliefs. What fits some families does not fit others. If you donít see a lot of harm in your sonís use of the words Ďdamn ití, then let that be okay in your home. If he gets a little too wound up, loud and angry, ask him to take a break from the game for awhile. We appreciate the opportunity to answer your question and wish your family the best.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
Regarding older teens who will no longer comply, I as the father am still large enough to restrain them, if they try to leave during grounding. However, since I prefer to leave the physical out of it, we have the local police who will cooperate and return them to our home and talk to them about parental rights. Don't know if that helps in your case. For example, the cop at the high school made our daughter leave and come with us, when she wouldn't leave a party there at our request. Another time, she walked out of the house at night and the cop came and talked to her. God bless.
Comment By : Dave
I guess I am not alone! Feeling very hurt and upset with my 16 yr old son. He is a great kid. He came home today, said he was tired(in sports!) I asked him to take the garbage and recycle out. I helped him by bringing the rest of the recycle to him; (did not liked that there was more) I saw that some items were out of the box and asked him to pick them up. That's when the swearing started. F...U..Mom! You are crazy, etc.etc.etc.
What did I do? I yelled back that if he is asked to do something he should do it right.
I feel like totally disengaging from him.. What to do? Not first encounter either:(
Comment By : cguis
* Cguis: It is very hurtful when kids are verbally abusive. James Lehman felt that kids act out due to a lack of problem solving skills. In other words, they donít know an effective way to manage their emotions or other problems. When your son is being verbally abusive toward you, remind yourself that itís not personal- itís about him, not about you or your relationship. If you yell back at your son, it only reinforces his behavior. We do recommend disengaging temporarily, only until things calm down. Tell him you donít like it when he curses at you and walk away. When things are calm again, reengage and ask him, ďWhat was your reason for swearing at me and calling me names?Ē Let him know that whatever his reason is, it doesnít justify his abuse- thereís no excuse for it. Reiterate your rules and expectations and ask him what he will do differently next time rather than being abusive. Make suggestions for him if needed but have him choose. Let him know that next time he starts to get upset you will remind him of this plan and walk away, and if he doesnít try it, there will be a consequence. Itís not important or even helpful to tell him the consequence in the moment. Instead, walk away, talk later about what he will do differently next time, and then put one of his privileges on hold until he goes two hours without being verbally abusive. This is a great way to hold him accountable for practicing the new skills you are trying to teach him. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
My son always swearing to his younger brother and swearing whenever he is in a bad mood and frustrated. I have taken away his free time and the consquence, it still does not help. I really do not know what to do with him.
Comment By : frustrated mom
* To Ďfrustrated momí: It sounds like you are feeling at a loss here. You certainly have one piece of the puzzle in place: accountability. You are holding him accountable by removing some privileges. I want to give you a piece to add and talk about tweaking your consequence to make it even better. First, talk to your son and ask him what his reason is for swearing (not why he swears). You already have a good idea that he does it when heís upset, but let him tell you how he sees it. Then tell him just because he is upset, that doesnít make it okay to swear. Talk about what he can do differently to calm and come up with a simple plan, such as going to his room to listen to some music. Next time he starts to get upset, remind him to do the plan. If he doesnít, go ahead and restrict one privilege such as the computer. Once he goes an hour without cursing, he will get it back. By modifying your consequence this way you are motivating him to practice the behavior you want to see instead of cursing. This is a repetitive process so stick with it for a while. Iím sure you will start to see some changes soon. Take care.
Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
my 18 year old is often verbally abusive to his brother, me and also to his step dad, My ex husband was very verbally and physically abusive and I am reliving my marriage. He is verbally aggressive when his girlfriend is upset over something. Yesterday my youngest son ate a piece pf pizza that we left over the fridge and as he always puts food int he fridge and doesnt eat it my husband said it was OK. He was verablly abusive to my youngest son, and when my husband toook responsiibiliy for letting him eat the pizza, he was very verbally abusive to him.MY husband asked him to not be disrespectful in our house and curse and when he wouldn't stop my husband nicely asked him to get out of the house until he had calmed down. He refused and shouted at him and at my youngest son....my husband got a hold of his tee shirt and attempted to steer him out of our housse. He is now saying my husband is physically abusive....he would not calm down or leave and his girlfriend was also disrespectful. My son was not like this until he met this girl.....he is going off the college in 8 weeks, but has told us that he is moving out because his step dad is abusive. I have tried to reason with him that shouting and verbal abuse is not OK in our home, neither is physically holding someone to put them outside,.. however we do not have shouting or physical fights without my son or his girlfriend at our house......my children had a very quiet good upbringing with my husband and myself......we did have difficulties with consistency when they were younger but were consistent at our home.....my ex husband would always undermine our rules and demean us to the children at his home..so my two eldest children had a dual set of rules. All I have ever wanted is a happy family life and this has been so hard and I am devestated.......
Comment By : lizm
my son is very verbally abusive to me the more i treat him better the worse he is i am at the end of my rope. he does this around my friends co-worker he just does not care. i am tired of crying. i know put him out how can i it is easier said than done please help
Comment By : hopeless mother
* To Ďhopeless motherí: It sounds like your sonís behavior toward you is very hurtful. James Lehman felt that kids act out because they donít have good problem solving skills. In this case, itís possible that your son is using verbal abuse to solve a problemómaybe heís angry or maybe being abusive to you makes him feel powerful. The first thing you should try is telling him to donít like it when he talks to you that way and walking away. If your friends or coworkers are around, ask them to take a walk with you or move to another area. Unfortunately you canít control what words come out of your sonís mouth, but you can control your response. By staying calm and walking away from him, you are showing him that you are in control. Do your best in your time alone to take care of yourself emotionallyógo for a walk, call a friend for support, try a new hobby, or write in a journal. Often what feels like a personal attack is really a kid struggling and trying to help himself feel better about something. I am including some articles with more information that I think will be helpful to your situation. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. ďYouíre making me crazy!Ē When Youíre at the End of Your Parenting Rope Are You Embarrassed by Your Child's Behavior? 5 Ways to Cope
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I think I'm losing the battle. I hate schools. They pitted us against each other from the start and now they have won ... I did my best.
Comment By : deflated
I have been raising my 2 nieces and 2 nephews for almost 7 years. I am a pastor and I do my best to be a good role model. I do not curse and never did. But these kids have cursed, stolen, lied even when caught red-handed during wrong. Today the 8 year old girl wrote a letter of profanity that the principal has called about. I do spank with my hand and I do believe this is order for this. What else can I do? Dismayed!!!
Comment By : Motherof 8
* To ĎMotherof 8í: It sounds like this was a very upsetting experience for you. James Lehman felt that kids act out like this because they lack effective problem solving skills. Itís clear that you have strong, clear morals and values and Iím guessing your niece saw this behavior modeled somewhere elseóon TV or from an older child at her school perhaps. We feel that when giving consequences for behavior, the emphasis should be on having a discussion to help a child develop the skills they need to avoid the problem behavior going forward. We do not recommend spanking because when itís over, the child still does not know what to do differently in the future so she does not get in trouble for this again. We can tell her not to do something, but we have to tell her and show her how to not do it. Youíll want to calmly ask her what her reason was for writing that or what she was thinking about immediately before she wrote it. Then talk about what she can do instead next time the issue comes up again. It sounds like she has had enough consequences for now so there is no need to do anything else after you talk. I am including a couple articles that talk more about the skills youíll need to help your niece learn better ways to solve problems. Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 1 Why Consequences Aren't Enough, Part 2
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I have a 16 year old teen who is currently a runaway. It is difficult and complex because there are mental health and drug issues, although a therapist I'm seeing believes tha tmost o fher bad behaviour (including being verbally abusive to me) is due to drugs. I'm in the midst of getting help from police and social service agencies to ensure her safety etc. and try to figure out what to do.
Meantime, she has been contacting me by text message and is planning on calling again today, from an undisclosed location, to ask for money and some other things of hers. W hen I've questioned where she's staying recently, or told her I'm concerned about drug use, she gets profane and abusive, shouting and swearing. So how do I handle that?
She isnt' abusive right at the start, only becomes that way if I quesiton her motives or don't agree to comply with her demands. What would you do?
Comment By : Bridget
* Hi Bridget. The most effective thing for you to do when your daughter is being verbally abusive to you on the phone is to tell her that you want to help her but itís very difficult for you to talk to her when she is being profane and abusive to you. Let her know that if she continues to talk you abusively you are going to disconnect the call. If she continues, tell her to call you back when she calms down and that are going to end the call now. And then follow through. And, of course, continue to work with your local supports. It might even be wise to run this suggestion by your therapist or someone else working on your case to be sure they feel it is appropriate for your specific situation.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
having the same issues with 17yr old son. I feel helpless. We can't continue on this path. I try so hard to keep him on the right path. At the point of choosing counceling or him going to stay with his dad. He will not taalk to me and does what he wants, I am afraid for him. although i do not feel going with his dad is the best choose letting him continue this way is not healthy. Am I wrong?
Comment By : kuku
I have a 6 year old and am wondering how to deal with his language. He is the middle of 3 boys and thus has been exposed to language not appropriate. At 4 we heard the first " I hate this family and I wish I was dead" when wwe would get upset at him or told him he couldn't do something. We went to our pediatric dr who said this was common and we should ignore the comments but deal with the emotion. Those comments have tapered and we do not hear them aside from very seldomly. He is now 6 and is focused on body parts and the f word and words he really does not understand. He is my pesterer, teaser. Usually does it when I don't see it or hear it, or at school when teachers are not around, so hard to give consequences so I end of giving both older boys consequences (brother who is 9) as I don't want to take sides not having witnessed it. I know my eight year old isn't always innocent but he is definatly getting the short end of the stick. MY 6 year old also has a very difficult time apologizing. my other 2 it comes very easy. I now some of this is acting out as his younger brother is 3 and since he was born we have moved and my husband has started medical school and my patience runs low some days.On the other hand he is a very loving and cuddly child and I work at really trying to give him positive attention. Any ideas how to deal with this.
Comment By : hockey mom
* To hockey mom: It sounds like a difficult situation for you, as you want to hold your son accountable for his language, and recognizing that you are not always around to witness it. We do recommend holding both boys accountable when they are bickering or pestering each other and you have to get involved to end it. Perhaps you can talk with your boys about what they can do differently when they start bickering with or teasing each other. As mentioned in the article, if your 6 year old is verbally abusing your oldest son, your 6 year old should be held accountable for that in terms of suspending a privilege until he writes an apology letter and goes without swearing at his brother for a period of time. I am attaching some articles I think you might find helpful: Sibling Rivalry: Good Kid vs. Bad Kid & Siblings at War in Your Home: Declare a Ceasefire Now Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
Here's my advice.. Let them swear. How important can it be? I have a 14 yr old Aspie son whom we give freedom to express himself, be it through meltdowns which can include expressions of hatred, swearing, angst, crying, anger etc. When he was a toddler he was a headbutter and I didn't stop that either. It's gone now, but I feel it's important to let these kids express whatever it may be unless you're truly fearful that he's going to have to go to the emergency room. Swearing is only in the mind if you make it so. I've let him do all these things since day one. He was just named student of the week for the 3rd time this year (7th grade jr. high). They send a note home each time explaining what a joy he is to have.. compassionate, respectful, understanding.. all around a joy to know. He's the most ausome human being I have EVER known. All this and yes.. being an Aspie he is bullies yet he knows these kids have their own issues. Let you kids swear. It's so not important. They are smarter than us.. let them BE.
Comment By : Aspie Mom
I am mother of 3. My 12 years son called me 'moron' other day. He continuously uses the word 'shut up' and keeps on calling names to his sisters. He is always talking back to dad. He would nice to us as long as things are going his way. My husband and I are very frustrated.
Comment By : Taposhi
My kids' mom and I have been divorced over 10 years. We have 2 teenage boys that still live with her. The older one verbally unleashes on her with cursing and name-calling whenever she tries to control him. In my opinion, he is not given the freedom to be a teenager. She still treats him like he can't be trusted with anything. They live about 5 minutes from my house and I am called about once a month to come be the disciplinarian. As their father, I feel I share in the responsibility to make them behave with her. But they are TOTALLY different kids when they are with me. What ideas (preferably from other fathers in my situation) can I try to get them to respect obey her?
Comment By : Paul in AZ
* To 'Paul in AZ': We support you in continuing to co-parent your teenage sons with your ex-wife. James Lehman talks about developing a culture of accountability within the home, which is an agreement of ďThis is how we will talk with each other in this house. This is what I expect from you and this is what you can expect from me.Ē As James says, ďDonít try to control what goes on in the other parentís home. Thatís a dead end street.Ē Instead, focus on cooperating with your ex-wife on raising your sons, and try to keep your differences in parenting between the two of you. As much as you may believe a different approach may be needed, we recommend talking about that privately with your wife, while telling your sons, ďAs much as you may not like the rules at momís house, you still need to follow them.Ē It might also be helpful to do some problem solving with your sons about what they can do to help themselves follow momís rules. I am including a link to an article about divorce that I think you might find helpful: The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents. Good luck to you as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
If you want to know why your kid curses, why don't you just ask them?
If you're willing to listen and understand your kids, rather than just try to change their behavior, then they'll be more willing to open up to you.
Think about it. If you were mad and started cursing unintentionally, would you feel better if someone tried to punish you for cursing? When a kid curses, they are probably trying to express frustration or anger, and tell you that they're hurt about something and just want you to listen.
Comment By : Concerned
My 14-yr-old daughter just this morning threw a cordless phone at me and hit me as hard as she could which hit me in the left brest. Then she picked it up again and threw at me again, this time it hit me in my right shoulder. I am scared and don't know what to do. I got in my car and left for a couple of hours. What should I do the next time? I am a single parent and I have no support to help. My daughter is a good student, but when she gets mad she is verbably and physically abusive. Whenever I try to correct her on something, she blows up and nothing is ever her fault. I, myself, am dealing with bone cancer.
Comment By : Helpme
* To ĎHelpmeí: We are so sorry to hear that you are battling bone cancer and that you had to go through such a tough situation with your daughter over the weekend. Itís never easy when your child becomes abusive toward you under any circumstances. As long as your daughter is safe to be at home alone, itís certainly okay to get in the car and go for a short drive. You could also go into a room with a locked door until she calms down, or sit in the car in the driveway with the doors locked. I think itís helpful to point out that when a parent has an illness, this can be really tough for kids (whether they say so or not) and their problem solving skills can really break down, leading to an increase in acting out behavior. We really encourage you to look into some local supports for yourself and your daughter as you go through this. You can locate some help in your area by contacting 211, an information and referral service. You can reach them by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting their website www.211.org. We know this is a tough time for both of you and we wish you luck as you work through this. Youíll be in our thoughts today. Take care.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
A swear jar cleaned up the language in my home within 3 weeks. My child got to keep the money and she made a fortune! She stopped swearing right away and goaded me to try to get a curse word out of me. "What would make me happy right now is if you would swear!" We laughed. It's 99% clean language now and the swear jar is empty most of the time.
Comment By : Lee
Our sixteen yr old see no problem in using the f--- word in his texting to his friends. The potty mouth from him and them is unbelieveable. Why do teenagers have to use the F word in texting?? I have taken away his cell, computer, in hopes of making an impression, so far he doesn't care and says the f word is just a word.. We don't use this kind of language at all. It appears that a girl that he likes, has the worst mouth of all his friends. He isn't hearing his Dad or I just his friends. Are we being to harsh.
Comment By : sig
* To ďsigĒ: Thank you for asking such an important question. It sounds like your sonís choice of words when he texts his friends is quite upsetting for you. Thatís understandable. As James Lehman explains in his article Parenting Teens: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure, teens will often gravitate towards things they know their parents donít like. Your son most likely isnít doing it intentionally to annoy you; itís probably more as a way to fit in with his friends. What we would suggest is continuing to set the limit around using inappropriate language within your household and holding your son accountable for his language with task-oriented consequences. For example, if your son swears, you can say to him ďWhen you show me you can go for 24 hours without cursing, then you can have your phone back.Ē If he swears during that time, the clock restarts. By allowing him the opportunity to earn his privileges back, youíre giving him an opportunity to turn his behavior around and make better choices. Good luck to you and your family while you work through this frustrating behavior. Take care.
Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor
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