Soap for Swearing: Is it Acceptable Today?

Nowadays, parents are turning to discipline methods that don’t involve physical punishment.

Sometimes in the late 1800’s, clever parents decided,

“Hey. We should symbolically wash the naughty language from our children’s mouths with soap.”

And the rest, as they say, was history.

Until about the 1960’s when this form of punishment began to decline in popularity. However, there are very few of us today who have not witnessed, suffered or administered the soap in the mouth punishment.

Nowadays, parents are turning to discipline methods that don’t involve physical punishment but a quick surf of the web revealed to me that soap punishments are still common place and widely accepted.
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Should they be? If grabbing a bar of soap is your first reflex when it comes to a potty-mouthed child, please read on and consider the dangers and implications this punishment can have plus some great tips for dealing with bad language in alternate ways.

Is it Dangerous?

The act itself is not necessarily dangerous but the substances used in this punishment can be. Laundry soap and dishwasher detergent may cause serious harm and illness whereas regular bar soaps and liquid hand soaps can cause vomiting, diarrhea and irritation of the mouth and stomach.

In 2009, a Florida couple were arrested and charged for child abuse after forcing their 10 year old daughter to hold a bar of soap in her mouth for 10 minutes. She eventually began to vomit and was taken to the hospital by her parents where authorities were notified by the staff.

Forcing a child to ingest soap places them at risk of physical illness and poisoning as well as choking – even if the soaps are non-toxic and designed specifically for this purpose. Yes, they exist.

Some parents instead resort to using vinegar or hot sauce in their child’s mouth as punishment for swearing. Although these substances may not be physically harming, there is still the issue as to the nature of the punishment.

Is it Abuse and is it Illegal?

child-1477719_960_720Is spanking abuse?

Your answer to this question will provide some insight into whether or not you think soap punishments are abusive.

The bottom line is that forcing anything into your child’s mouth, whether it be soap, hot sauce or vinegar, is abuse. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) deems the act a physical punishment along with spanking. So does the law.

A 23 year old British man pleaded guilty in 2015 to an abuse charge after he held down a 6 year old he was babysitting and forced him to consume soap after he caught him swearing. He was convicted with assault.

What Can I Do Instead?

First of all, you need to figure out why your child is swearing. At a young age, children repeat what they hear and they do not realize that the words they are using are wrong. As they get older, they may use foul language as a way to get attention or as a means to express themselves. In extreme situations, swearing may stem from a psychological cause such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

Where do they learn it? Probably from you, to be honest. However, children can certainly pick up on inappropriate language from television, movies and other children at school.

In order to curb your child’s swearing, begin by watching your own language and eliminating bad words from your vocabulary. Equally important is to not react and reinforce the behaviour by laughing or making a scene.

Dealing directly with the behaviour is age-dependent. It is best to ignore the behaviour when it comes to toddlers and small children. As their vocabulary expands you can begin to calmly and simply explain why these words are bad. Offer alternative words to help them express their message and feelings. Once your child is old enough to know better, yet continues to swear, it is best to establish rules when it comes to language and implement consequences for breaking those rules.

My Point Is…

I’m not condemning parents who choose to use the soap method to curb swearing and bad language – I simply wish for those who considering this form of punishment to give it some thought and at least give some other methods a try.

  1. Miriam says

    Talk to your kids about swearing as the soap method is barbaric and unacceptable on so many levels. I really can’t believe parents are still using this method but then again it’s not all that surprising really since many parents still use old methods of discipline.

    1. CyberParent says

      These days, hard to fathom indeed. What have you found to be an effective alternative?

      1. Miriam says

        Well one day when my daughter was 4, she was swearing and she knew she was saying bad words by the look she had on her face. I sat her down and explained to her those are not nice words to say. And to never say them in public because it is not appropriate and to never swear at teachers because it’s a sign of disrespect. I also made sure I was careful with the words I said around her. And it did work but I get that it wouldn’t work for everyone. In difficult cases getting advice from a professional would be the best thing.

        1. Chelsy Theriault says

          Thankfully, I was also able to sit my daughter down and explain to her not to say bad words with no further issue – there was no reprimand or punishment. Like you said, it doesn’t work for all kids but seeking professional help or trying healthy forms of discipline is far preferable to using soap.

  2. Michael says

    Everyone keeps saying, today, today’s world, and words like modern. There are a couple things missing like discipline, morality, responsibility and consequences. I was raised with strick discipline, including belt spankings, grounding and yes soap in my mouth. I am 54 years and raised 3 children. Now a grand parent of two. Never disciplined any of them without cause, but discipline I did. They now tell me they understand why. They see the difference in the kids they grew up with, the ones that had no strict discipline. Those that grew up with time outs, and psychological discipline. They have had trouble as older youth and young adulthood realizing there are true consequences. They also seem to expect more from others, like they are owed. There is a lot of difference between physical discipline and abuse. I know most of you will disagree and thats ok. But, when you are at your wits end, back up cool off think about it, and just maybe the thought of it may not seem as bad.

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