Studies show swearing is more common in people with ADHD than those without it. But why is this? Why do kids with ADHD swear so much, and what can you do to stop it?
Like other “misbehaviors,” swearing can be caused by multiple facets of ADHD (like impulsivity). Although punishing them for these behaviors may be counterproductive, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of them swearing to begin with.
In this article, I’ll explain why swearing is such a common behavior for kids with ADHD, and what you can do to curb it.
Is swearing a part of ADHD?
Research has found that people with ADHD are more likely to use swear words than people without ADHD. One study analyzed the Twitter language of over 1000 users with ADHD, and found that users with ADHD post more often and use more negations and swear words.
Swearing isn’t an officially recognized symptom of ADHD. But having ADHD can certainly increase swearing for both children and adults, especially if they have symptoms of the hyperactive-impulsive ADHD type.
The symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are:
- Constant fidgeting and squirming
- Getting out of their chair when expected to be seated (like during class)
- Talking excessively
- Interrupting others or blurting out answers
- Feeling like they’re driven by a motor or they need to always be on the go
- Running or climbing during inappropriate times (like climbing on top of their desk)
- Have a hard time waiting their turn
- Being unable to play quietly
Many of these symptoms can contribute to swearing in kids.
Kids with ADHD, especially hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, have decreased inhibition. This means they’re not as easily able to stop themselves from doing things they shouldn’t. For example, an adult without ADHD might be able to control their impulses to yell at their boss when angry. An adult with ADHD may not be able to control these impulses, which can result in harmful consequences.
This is why ADHD can sometimes lead to swearing. A child with ADHD may know that they “shouldn’t” swear in certain circumstances (like in the classroom), but be unable to control their impulses to do so.
Kids with ADHD also deal with frustration and irritability. This may be especially true if they’re forced to complete a very difficult or boring task. They may have angry or emotional outbursts in which they curse as a way to try to express themselves.
Racing thoughts and speech
People with ADHD often have racing thoughts; in other words, they experience one thought after another. They also often talk very quickly, and may say things before thinking about them first. This is another symptom of ADHD that may contribute to swearing. The swear words may come out of their mouths before they even realize they’re saying them.
Similar to angry outbursts, kids with ADHD have trouble with emotional self-regulation. This is the ability to soothe or calm oneself when experiencing strong emotions. Research has shown that ADHD affects people’s ability to self-regulate.
When kids with ADHD are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, they may use swear words as a way to express their feelings. They could also lose control of their emotions and swear in an effort to get your attention.
How Do I Help My Child With Swearing?
It’s important to remember that swearing may not be your child’s fault. Especially if their ADHD symptoms aren’t managed, it could be incredibly difficult for a child with ADHD to be able to have the impulse control and self-awareness to be able to control their swearing.
This doesn’t mean that ADHD excuses “bad” or disrespectful behavior. But instead of simply scolding them for behaviors out of their control, work with them to help them understand the impacts of swearing. You can also focus on helping them manage their ADHD as a whole.
Follow these tips to help your child with ADHD stop swearing.
The Joon app is a fun, game-based way to get your child to practice positive behavior. All you need to do is assign your child “Quests” that they need to follow and complete in real life.
For example, if your child constantly swears and you want to attempt to eliminate this behavior, simply add a Joon Quest called “No swear words today.” Your child will attempt to develop this habit and follow your instructions because they will want the in-game reward that it is tied to.
With Joon, your child gets to choose a virtual pet to hatch and raise as their own. However, the only way to feed and care for it is if they complete these Quests. So, the game will act as a motivator to your child so they can practice positive behavior and avoid swearing! Claim your 7-day free trial here.
Manage their ADHD symptoms
Firstly, ensuring your child’s ADHD symptoms are well-managed. It may be incredibly difficult for a child with untreated ADHD to be able to control their impulses and regulate their own emotions.
Some of the most effective treatment methods for childhood ADHD include stimulant medication, behavior therapy, and parent training. Although stimulant medications are very effective, a combined treatment approach (both medication and behavioral interventions) works best for most kids.
With the right treatment, your child can learn how to manage their ADHD impulses in general, including their impulse to swear.
Talk to them about the big picture
Kids with ADHD are neurodivergent, which means they may have difficulty understanding “Because I told you so” as a reason why they shouldn’t use certain words. Instead, explain to them the deeper consequences of swearing.
For example, you might explain, “For you, you may not care when someone else swears at you. But for a lot of other people, they take it to mean that you’re very angry at them. Their feelings get hurt when you swear at them.” This may help your child understand the consequences of their actions more deeply.
Help them get enough sleep
Being sleep-deprived can make it even more difficult for your child to manage their impulses and regulate their emotions. The problem is that both ADHD itself and the medication used to treat it can interfere with restful sleep.
Make it a priority for your child to get enough restful sleep every night. Follow evidence-based sleep hygiene tips, and make sure your child gets plenty of exercise during the day. If these things don’t work, talk to your child’s pediatrician about how you can support their sleep.
Helping your child get restful sleep can reduce the possibility of an emotional breakdown the following day.
Model good behavior
If you’re going to have a household “ no swearing” rule, then you need to try to follow that rule, too. In other words, if you use swear rules, then your child may use them simply because they’re mimicking your behavior.
Explain to your child that swearing is hurtful, and then hold yourself to the same standard. When you slip up, apologize – this sets a good example for your child.
Apply rules across the board
You might not mind swearing, but are concerned about it becoming a problem at school. But kids with ADHD can have a harder time than usual transitioning from one task or situation to another. Experts say that it may be difficult for kids with ADHD to understand that different sets of rules apply to different places.
For example, if they got some laughs out of you with a joke, they may continue repeating it, even when it’s inappropriate.
This is why it might be counterproductive to allow your child to swear at home, but tell them they need to stop when they’re at school. They may not be able to understand or remember the different sets of rules. If you don’t want your child to swear, apply this rule across all areas of their life.
Pick your battles
At the same time, it’s also important to pick your battles. Your child may sometimes use swear words in an effort to get your attention. But by only giving them attention when they misbehave, you may be unintentionally encouraging these behaviors.
Choose to discipline the more serious instances of swearing. For example, there’s a big difference between letting a swear word slip when frustrated and intentionally calling someone a bad name. Try to focus on disciplining swearing that actively harms other people.
Offer alternative words
Understand that your child may be swearing in an attempt to express their anger or frustration. Although the use of swear words may be inappropriate, offer them alternatives for less offensive words that they can use when they’re feeling upset.
You could even make this into a fun activity by coming up with silly expressions that the whole family can use. It’s a win-win situation: your family can have fun together, and your child can have language they can use without getting into trouble at school.