How to Start a Swear Jar

By Erica Loop
A jar of coins on a window sill.

Whether you have a toddler or a tween, it's likely that swearing isn't a habit you want your kids to pick up. Saying swear words often starts around age 2 and can grow to an offensive vocabulary of between 30 and 40 words by the school years, according to psychologists Timothy Jay and Kristin Janschewitz, writing for the Association for Psychological Science. If you're looking for a hands-on way to squash the swearing, a swear jar can help your child take responsibility for his language.

Include Everyone

Parents and siblings are often the major influences when it comes to young children picking up foul language. In their research on offensive language, Jay and Janschewitz found that peers, siblings and parents were more likely to inadvertently "teach" children to swear than mass media sources. This means that the swear jar shouldn't just be for your child to use -- it should apply to everyone in the family. If you swear, you contribute to the jar. The same goes for your spouse and any other adults who live in your home. This may include grandparents, aunts or uncles or grown children who have moved back in or are on a holiday break from college.

Decide on the Fine

Have a family meeting and decide what is a fair penalty for swearing. One of the most common penalties is a monetary fine. If you go this route, choose an amount that is reasonable for children to pay, but still discourages them from swearing. For example, dropping a penny into the swear jar may not be a stiff enough fine to keep your 13-year-old from using offensive language. The specific amount you set depends on your family, the ages of your children and how much money they have. A 5-year-old isn't likely to have enough money to drop a dollar into the jar, but that might be reasonable for a 16-year-old with a part-time job. You'll also need to decide what will happen to the money in the swear jar. Talk to your child about how your family will use the "fines." You may want to save it for a special family outing or donate the proceeds to a charity.

Add and Subtract Money

If your child doesn't already have a stash of cash of her own, consider trying a swear jar coin swap. Instead of asking your child to put a coin in the jar every time she swears, start out with a pre-filled jar. Fill the jar part way with whatever denomination of money you see fit. Add a coin for each day she doesn't swear, and remove a coin every time she swears. Set a time limit, such as one week or one month. At the end of the time frame, your child can keep what is in the jar.

Pick and Choose Your Words

Before you can institute the swear jar rule, you have to define what constitutes a swear word in your family. While those well-known four-letter words are typically on top of the list when it comes to swear jar offenses, some slang language may be on the fence. Although not technically a swear word, a phrase such as "that sucks" may fall under the offensive language umbrella for some families. Clearly define or write a list of what counts as swearing. This will reduce the risk of disputes and help your child to know what is and isn't appropriate language.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.