When I was about four years old, the mother of my babysitter washed my mouth out with dish detergent for saying a “bad word”. I remember the moment vividly, being told to gurgle and not to dare throw up. To this day, when I smell pine scented dish soap I get a grumbly feeling in my stomach. The mouth washing was supposed to be for my own good – then I was told to hurry along and play nice.
In traditional punishment-based rearing, what happened to me, this mouth washing, is a common, despite very ineffective way to deal with a child that is exploring with their vocabulary and the power of words.
Yelling or demanding to know what word a child has just said and forbidding the use of it will probably just peak more curiosity into the power of the word and your child might seek more opportunities to use it. Although there is a link to curse words and aggression, there is also a link to pain relief, happiness,excitement and surprise.
So if your child is using profanity or bad language, what are some effective and positive ways to deal with it?
Upon hearing new words, children love to investigate the power, meaning and use of it. Often the way to investigate these words is to experiment using them in every possible environment. Sometimes children will say the same word for several minutes in a row, make up a song with it or use it as often as possible. When it comes to this verbal exploration, profanity or bad words are no different. If you are home, then perhaps just walking away and letting the novelty wear off will suffice. If the words persist than see below on staying in neutral and playing with words for more ideas.
Thanks to the fine examples handsome hubby has provided over the years, my children on occasion have dropped a few words in ways that were socially inappropriate. I don’t like to hear my children use profanity, but I also believe that words are just words – it is the intent and context in which they are used and the power a society, culture, or family attaches to a word that make a word “good” or “bad.” Since we do not live in isolation and we value good manners at social interactions, we try really hard to model using appropriate language and have explained to our children that some people could be offended by certain words. Additionally we avoid exposing our children to movies, cartoons, books, comics with unappropriated language.
Stay in Neutral
As my boys have been going to playschool, they are picking up on some new “bad” words from their playschool companions. Mostly words like “stinky pants” or “goopy poop” but also some words most people would consider inappropriate. Recently my five year old was trying out all the words he has learned. I stayed in neutral, asking in a calm, matter- of- fact way: any other words you know? What else do you want to say? How many more times do you want to say that one? I didn’t have a strong reaction and the interest in saying all the words fizzled out.
Play with Words
My four year old said the S word the other day and I said in return “Mitt? Oven Mitt? What rhymes with that? Popcorn or Pit?” He replied right away “Pit. Ask me another rhyme”. So we played rhyming word pairs that were getting more absurd by the minute with leaping frogs and pink zebras and saying the bad words was replaced with laughter.
Cursing has been around since the beginning of language, it will not likely be disappearing anytime soon either. Understanding why our children are experimenting with language and providing a safe environment in which to do so is a positive and nurturing way to handle it.
Afterall, tell the truth, have you cursed in the past two weeks? What happened?
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Peace & Be Well,