Whether you’ve stubbed your toe on a desk or you’re singing along to some uncensored Cardi B tracks, you’re bound to drop a few “bad” words every now and then. Or maybe you swear, like, a whole f*cking lot. And sure, depending on the company you keep (or the company you work for), your swearing habit might be NBD. “Cursing among adults can, in some instances, be beneficial. For example, in bonding based on a common language and mutual understanding,” says parenting expert Rosina McAlpine, PhD.
But, if it’s causing you issues at the office, or if you just want to see if you can drop fewer F bombs as a personal goal, or if you’re trying to cut back for the sake of little ones in your household (they sure do repeat everything, don’t they?), there are tried and true ways to dial back on the expletives. (And hey, thanks to NBC’s The Good Place, it’s more fun than ever to say expletive-adjacent things like, “That motherforking son of a bench.”)
However, it’s gonna take some effort on your part; as Dr. McAlpine says, habits like swearing “can be hard to break once they’re hardwired in the brain.” But not to worry—no matter why it is you’re jonesing to flush your potty mouth, experts are here to help.
WTF, You’re at Work
While some workplaces are more lax than others about using questionable language, listening to how others communicate can be a helpful guideline to help you gauge your own choice of words. For example, if your boss is more likely to say “Give ’em heck!” to pump you up before a big meeting than something less…FCC compliant, consider channeling the lexicon of Cinderella’s fairy godmother more so than that of Tony Soprano’s.
If your boss is more likely to say “Give ’em heck!” to pump you up before a big meeting than something less…FCC compliant, consider channeling the lexicon of Cinderella’s fairy godmother more so than that of Tony Soprano’s.
And if you’ve been reprimanded by your boss, or a colleague has communicated that your casual cursing is bothersome, you may want to put an end to it. To help you curb the habit, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore suggests having a swear jar at your desk. Every time you slip up, you can put a dollar in the jar. Not only does this hold you accountable, but you can use it as a rewards system, too. Once you cut down on your swearing and add no funds to the jar for a specified amount of time, you can use the money to treat yourself to your favorite matcha latte.
Another option is designating an accountability buddy. Whitmore says to clue in your work wife about your goal so they can keep you in check. For instance, if you accidentally let F bombs fly when the printer breaks down (again) they can shoot you a Slack message to alert you about your slipup.
WTF, kids can hear you
For better or worse, kids are hugely impressionable and are prime candidates for picking up on (and parroting) your cursing habit. And while just the thought of a toddler yelping “sh*t!” after taking a tumble may bring about a belly laugh in even the most clean-mouthed among us, normalizing such language is tricky when it comes to kiddos. “Generally, younger children can’t distinguish between socially acceptable and unacceptable words and behaviors so they will repeat swear or curse words in public, often leaving parents embarrassed and reprimanding the child for unacceptable language,” says Dr. McAlpine.
To avoid your little one getting you or themselves some judgy side-eye, there are some guidelines you can follow. Like you would at work, you can have another adult that keeps you on track, whether that’s a spouse or a bestie who can kindly remind you to stop. Dr. McAlpine adds that it’s important to be aware of your swear triggers in environments your share with kids (like your house or their school, etc.). Then, rewire how you’d typically react to things that would make you angry or frustrated.
“Emotional regulation skills are very helpful in all aspects of life,” Dr. McAlpine says. Different methods work for different people, so consider this your opportunity to try that meditation or kickboxing class you’ve been curious about.
Okay, here’s how to kick cursing for good
In addition to helpful tricks like swear jars and accountability buddies, Robert Taibbi, LSCW, suggests simply remembering to take a beat and be self-aware. “Habits run on autopilot,” Taibbi says. “So you generally want to slow down your talking.” If you’re in a situation that lends itself to casual swearing (like being around friends at a bar on the weekend—not so much being at board meeting on a Tuesday morning), be sure to practice mindfulness and think before you speak. And if swearing helps you release stress or is a form of catharsis, Taibbi says there are other options you can explore. Hint: Stress balls and journals are your friends.
But, all things considered make sure to just be patient with yourself—for the greater good. “Everyone makes mistakes, and when parents make a mistake and own up to it, it gives their children the opportunity to make mistakes, to not be too hard on themselves, and to learn how to apologize and behave in a better way,” Dr. McAlpine says. Can I get a “fork yeah!” for that?
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