A fairly mild-mannered Gurpreet, 7 years, has recently started using foul language and has become very argumentative and insolent. He has also started using four-letter words, back answers his parents over the slightest issues. What can his parents do to stop this insolent behavior.

Has there been any upheaval in the child’s life? Academic issues, change of home, a death in the family? That could, in some cases, cause an even-tempered child to become foul-mouthed. If not then it could be the result of a combination of other factors.

Why are children insolent or foul-mouthed?

To get attention
It makes them feel powerful
Peer acceptance

What can you do?

Allow kids to vent: Children who don’t feel free to express their feelings or views may talk back in order to feel less controlled. Don’t suppress all your child’s negative feelings. Those children who are prevented from ever disagreeing with parents will appear very well-behaved but internally will be stifling her emotions, wants and needs.

Acknowledge everybody’s feelings: Kids often lash out when they are angry, disappointed, frustrated etc. Help them to isolate the feeling behind their words. Put it in words using and (which links two equal ideas) instead of but (which negates what precedes it) “I know you want to play longer and I am afraid it is time for bed”. Explain that disrespectful language makes a person feel attacked, hurt and angry. Describe the effect your child’s words have on you.

Ignore: The best way to deal with initial swearing would be by ignoring it unless it becomes too frequent. Disengage from a power struggle - as it takes two to perpetuate it. Just acknowledge feelings instead of responding angrily. “You seem to like to argue and complain. But I will not play that game.” Talk to the child after tempers have cooled down regarding the source of her angry feelings.

Explain: If your child’s use of abusive words is on the rise, you can ask him if he understands the meaning of the words. If not, explain their literal meaning to him and why it is offensive and therefore unacceptable to use habitually.

Not in our home: At home the golden rule is “No swear words”. These are unacceptable in the civilised society we are a part of.

Substitution: Ask him to substitute abusive words with “shoot” or “fish”, or whatever satisfies him and does not offend you.

Set an example: Do you as parents use profanities while talking? Children pick them up and are quick to integrate these in their language. Are you constantly putting your spouse/your kid down? Your child learns that it is okay to wound others hurtful words. One of the most effective ways to curb insolence is to give him positive reinforcement whenever he speaks or acts the way you would like him to. And if he has made an effort to control his language tell him how much you appreciate it. “I know you are disappointed that we had to leave early. Thanks for cooperating without a fuss. Maybe we can have pizza for dinner.”

Praise appropriate language: When he uses appropriate words instead of foul words, praise the effort.


  • State the problem. “We have a problem. I don’t like the way you are rude to me when I always talk nicely to you. I get very annoyed and upset. That leads us to have these arguments daily. We need to sort this out.”
  • Listen to the child’s point of view. “You always nag me and make me do things I do not want to do and then I get rude”
  • Brainstorm on possible solutions. At this stage, bizarre-sounding solutions should also be accepted, like “You don’t tell me anything then I won’t be sassy.”
  • Select a course of action. From the list of alternatives, select the one which both of you agree upon. Commit to the solution for a defined time period, like a week or a fortnight or a month.
  • Evaluate. At the end of the stipulated period decide whether the solution has worked or you need to go through the probable alternatives again.

Consequences: If all else fails, then use consequences. One mother was at her wits’ end that her son was constantly using the word “shit”. So every time he used the word, she would insist he go and sit on the pot in the toilet.

Limit other Influences: Like TV, sitcoms, talk shows