As soon as they’re born, infants begin hoarding and consuming information like tiny little packrats. Their thirsty brains suck up and stockpile everything they encounter like a well filling with ground water.

Every waking moment, your child watches everything you do. By watching and listening to you, they learn how to form words, and begin to find their voices. It takes some longer than others, but once they learn to speak, look out. Your toddler will begin to mimic your movements, and repeat just about everything you say.

The worst is when your child mimics a word or movement that you had no intention of teaching him. Perhaps you uttered the F-word while driving or he picked up on a phrase that you don’t even realize you say as often as you do. Now your child has the vocabulary of a truck driving parrot. Great.

As appalling as it is to hear such an offensive word come from your child’s innocent lips, the best thing you can do is to try not to react. If you overreact, or react at all, it may give your child a reason to repeat the word. This includes laughing, especially when your child is obviously too young to know what he’s saying. It’s the attention he gets from you that makes him want to repeat the unsavory swear word.

Negative reinforcement is the absence of action to reduce an unwanted behavior. By ignoring the behavior, it is more likely to stop if your child doesn’t get the desired reaction. While you might find it funny the first time (and hopefully the only time) your three-year old drops the F-bomb like a sailor, you don’t want him to know it.

If the problem arises in older children who use begin to swear out of anger, the language he uses isn’t the issue. It’s what’s causing the child to use the language that needs to be addressed. Help him figure out a solution to the problem at hand, and then discuss the swearing in a calm manner.

Children are going to learn bad language regardless of whether you use it or not. By setting a good example at home, you’ll teach your child to use his words to communicate more effectively later on.