Let's face it. We all have our favorite curse words. They might be really nasty ones and they might be ones we've made up to avoid the nasty ones. Regardless, it's embarrassing as our children begin to talk and model us when those curse words are first used...and used appropriately.
Reacting to bad language is an art, I think. For the little toddler who yells "S**t" when he spills his milk, we can either ignore the remark or provide several alternative words... "Oh, shoot, oh darn, oh gosh, oh golly..." as we clean up. What we want to avoid at this point is making a big deal out of the word, laughing or getting angry. The child doesn't know what he is saying; he is simply modeling. Providing alternative words in a sing-song happy voice worked for both of my daughters. They began to use the other words and forgot all about the bad word.
You can begin to reason with children around age 3 about bad words. Once I'm sure what the child has said, I would say, "That is not a nice word. I like this word better." And offer the alternative.
As children get older, they will recognize bad words on their own. When they don't, you could again point out the bad word and ask them what other word they could use instead. Have them solve the problem and choose a word that they prefer. "I like to say, 'Oh, man!' What do you think you could say when something goes wrong?" Don't ignore the word; they need to know at this point that language is a big deal. It creates a first impression. It can show respect or disrespect to others.
Provide alternative ways to express frustration: “I’m mad at him.” “I don’t like that game.” "She isn't being nice to me."
Work on communication skills every day. Read with your children. Practice enunciation of letters. Explain the meaning of new words you use and spell them. Encourage a frustrated child to use words to express his feelings. Model respectful language by asking for assistance from children rather than demanding it. Say “please” and “thank you” and “good morning.” Think about how you want people to talk to you and practice that level of communication with your children. Remember, they are great copycats.
The other day, I used one of my favorite child-friendly expressions for surprise: Holy Buckets! My daughter Natalie, who is 6, said "Mommy, that is not a nice word." I told her that it was actually okay to say that, and we proceeded to create a game out of other silly expressions...Holy Moly! Holy Cow! Holy Boots!
We were having fun with language, but not at the expense of each other.