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Name Calling & Bad Language
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Name Calling & Bad Language
I am sure this is normal, but what on earth do I do? We have a very
peaceful home and do not use that word to each other. He clearly
picked it up at school. I have been deadly serious with him when he
says it and put him in time out until he is willing to apologize (and
say that if he does it again, I will start taking away toys).
What to do?
We're in the middle of the same thing. My daughter also uses a
lot of potty language. (Don't know if she picked that up at
school too or if most children figure that one out on their own.)
I can't tell you if what we're doing will work, but I can share
our approach. With the potty language, I ignore it. Clearly she's
doing it for attention/reaction, and I deprive her of any
reaction by ignoring the language (and her) while she's talking
that way. As for ''stupid'', I'm combining ignoring it (to
eliminate satisfaction with getting a reaction) with also letting
her know we don't like the word. I figure she's learning lots of
new things at school, some nice and some not so nice, and she
doesn't know ahead of time what's acceptable to us and what's
not. But I try not to make a big deal out of it because it seems
like that'll just provide incentive to say it more (like the
potty talk). So I usually remind her we don't like that word,
that's not a nice word, and then ignore her if she keeps using
it. My personal feeling is reacting too strongly is just giving
the word power, whereas not reacting is defusing the power of the
word and making it less fun or exciting to say.
Just wait until you see what he picks up at school when he gets older! The best tact
found for dealing with undesirable language is simply communicating your values up
front: ''that word hurts people's feelings, can you think of something nice to say?''
then ignoring it completely from there. I think the timeouts give the word more
and creates a lot of fascination around using it. It will drop out of favor, I
It might be helpful for you to read the book ''Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional
Life of Boys.'' It puts a lot of this behavior, which you're only seeing the
in context. I've found it immensely helpful in dealing with my sons.
I would start asking him what that word means to him and have a discussion. I think
when you make something deadly serious and taboo for a three year old it just makes
them curious and want to do it more - the whole pushing your buttons thing. Talk
about how sad it makes you feel and it's a word that really hurts peoples feelings.
Maybe ask if kids at school use the word with him and go on to say how important it
to tell whoever is calling him that or using that word in general - it's not a nice
say. I think doing all this without a long winded lecture is good - you don't want
bore him and turn you off. That's what I do with my daughter - she's four. We just
talk about why some words are hurtful. Good luck.
Sorry for your troubles. It sounds like you're being very
consistent and firm! Fabulous. The only thing i would suggest is
to take a step back and talk to him about it when he's not saying
it. Maybe a peaceful moment while working with playdough, etc.
You may be doing this, you didn't say, but this can be helpful.
Compassionately tell him how you feel when he says that, how
would he feel, etc. Then if it happens again, calmly remind him
that he is being very hurtful, and he will have a time out now.
You want him to learn to not do this before he hurts other
people. He may change his habit with some heart to heart. Good luck,
I think that kids start using words as they learn them to
experiment. I think you might be being to hard on him (and I am
pretty strict and all). I would recommend you stop reacting to
the word by forcing him to apologize. Instead, I would just keep
telling him that we don't use that word; we don't say it, etc.
Try reflecting his feelings if he's angry and give him another
way to express it. Tell him that he shouldn't call people names.
I would just keep at it. Don't accept it, but I think at this
age, it's hard for them to relate the time out and the apologies
to what they are actually doing.
mom of a spirited little experimenter
I think talking to your son and taking things away may be the
way to go on this one. Make sure the things you take away are
big things so he really understands the consequences of this
one. If there is some sort of activity that he does ( a sport,
or a play date, or favorite tv show) that he loves and hates to
miss, take that away. It sounds like he just doesn't understand
that stupid is a ''bad word''. I think the bearenstein bears have
a book on name calling, which may be good to read to him also or
some other book on name calling so he understands that it hurts
peoples feelings. Sometimes books have a way of explaining
things to kids so they understand, when us parents are not able
to get our points across. I would also talk to the school to see
if they are giving timeouts (or whatever their method of
discipline) if they hear the kids say stupid. The school should
not be allowing the kids to be using that sort of language.
I also have a 3 year old and we have similar issues--different
words. Remember that at 3 years old children don't really have
an idea of what words mean and words that get a big reaction have
the most power. What we do when my son uses a word that we don't
want him to use is to briefly let him know that it's not a
friendly word and then really really minimize the attention that
it gets when he uses it. If we're home and he's calling me the
word or wandering around using it, I often just completely ignore
it and then try to distract or re-engage him. I also comment on
times when he is using friendly words. If it's really bothering
me or if we have others around in the house, I just say calmly
''if you want to use that word, please go to your room and close
the door to say it. When you're done saying it, you can come
back and be with the rest of us.'' I think that by doing a lot of
talking about it and giving him a Time Out, you're giving a whole
lot of power to that word and he'll know it's a way to get you
My daughter just turned 2 and talks A LOT about penis and poo poo.
We told her about genitalia when she was curious about daddy's
penis a few months ago. Since then she frequently says, ''I have
penis!'' or ''Daddy has penis!'' Last night, while singing her good
night song about the people that love her, she added in, ''Daddy's
penis loves you.'' She sometimes talks about her ''gina'' or
mommy's ''gina'' as well. She also talks a lot about ''poo poo''
including drawing pictures of it. We are worried that we
introduced these words/concepts too soon and are unsure how to
react to these comments. Is it normal for a 24-month-old to talk
so much about penises?
Thanks for any advice
Perfectly normal. My daughter LOVED to talk like that endlessly at that
age. At 4, she still gets a kick out of potty talk. Most kids do. Your
jobs at this age are probably to: 1) get used to it and 2) gently teach
your toddler what's appropriate and not appropriate in public. Try not
to make a huge deal over it, as it's just as fun to get a reaction from
parents! (and you don't necessarily want conversation to be seen as
''bad.'') Same thing with exploring her own body (which our child now
understands is something not to be done in public). You can crack up
about it with your spouse and friends (not in earshot of your child,
though, since she may be embarassed!)
I know these things are NOT a laughing matter when they are yours to
deal with, but I couldn't help laughing at your post!! I TOO am having
a similar experience although I am dealing with twin 2 year olds (boy
and girl). They LOVE talking about '''He' has a penis'', '''She''' has
a vagina'', ''hold your penis down when you pee'', ''mommy goes peepee
and poo poo'', ''mommy has vagina, daddy has penis.... and on and on and
They are in love with their little bodies and their functions and often
at what we would consider inappropriate times (dinner table, with
company, in public...etc). My reaction is ''this will pass'' although we
are sort of the family that talks and laughs about farting etc.... so
Its new and they need to be a little obsessed with it all or potty
training will be difficult. At some point I think discussing privacy
would be appropriate, but its probably a bit early for that.
Just know that others are going through it/have gone through it and most
people on the street will just pass it off as a child's age-appropriate
behaviour....And if they don't, they can just focus their energies on
the adults using profanity at every turn of the head as they walk down
I think it's normal. My older kid (4) was and continues to be the same
way. They're obsessed. As your child gets older and if it continues
you can put some limitations on it if it makes you uncomfortable - IE,
we don't talk potty talk at the dinner table, or only in the bathroom or
whatever. I'm sure someone with more knowledge about psychology or the
developmental stages of children can tell you why, but most kids LOVE
this stuff. It just cracks them up. I really don't think it has
anything to do with what you and your husband have told her.
I've checked the archives, but there's not a lot of entries on this subject.
What is the appropriate way to respond to and discourage swearing in a
2.5 year old?
Initially I ignored it, but my son's use is becoming more frequent. Usually
just as a sing-song word not in any particular context, but sometimes he
will shock us with ''appropriate'' use or phrasing.
And if one starts with ''Use that word and you get a time out'' how do you
enforce that if you're in the grocery store or driving somewhere? It's also
difficult since one overhears it constantly from other adults in public
(though I know his initial exposure was from one parent...), and now
other children of all ages in the playground.
I'm keen to start on the right path ASAP! Thanks!
I think I would not move to the ''time out'' method here; I think I
would use a more focused ignoring technique (kids end up being
ignored a lot -- he may not understand that you don't want him to
use those words). I think I would tell him, very calmly, ''That
word is not appropriate, I don't want you to use it,'' or whatever,
and then say ''When you use that word, I don't enjoy talking to
you.'' Then ignore him for a specified (short, 1-2 minute) period
of time. No talking, no interaction of any kind if you can avoid
it. In the store, maybe turn away and pretend to study the
shelves or something. The point being first to make sure he knows
you disapprove, and second to take away any and all attention --
the thing two-year-olds like best.
I'm not sure if this trick will work for all children, but it
seemed to work for mine. I learned from his daycare
providers that bad words are ''bathroom words.'' When a
child at the daycare woul use profanity, they would say ''that
is a bathroom word, so, if you must use that word, please
do it in the bathroom.'' I worked with my son on this, and I
think it taught him that use of certain words and phrases are
only appropriate in certain times and situations. (It DID
make for a few funny public bathroom stories!!) Now that he
is older (13) , we allow him to use profanity in the house
because it does not offend us(though not as a put down).
We have explained to him that profanit yis not appropriate in
school or in public because it can offend people, and
therefore, it's off limits outside of the home. He hasn't
always gotten it right-- sometimes there were reports of bad
language at school-- but , with a little reindforcement, I think
he has the concept down.
We experienced the same thing recently... also a result of hearing
a parent say it. My son's (also 2.5 yrs. old) word of choice was
damn it (not so horrible, but also one that seemed inappropraite
for a 2.5 year old to say). The interesting part was that he
always seemed to use it in context (when frustrated)! I just kind
of made up my response on the spot. First I told him that that was
not a nice word and he shouldn't say it, etc. etc. He proceeded to
let loose a veritable river of damn its just to test me. I didn't
react much. I got out a timer and told him he could say the word
as much as he wanted for the next 1 minute (or 2... whatever you
choose) in order to get it out of his system, but then after that
we weren't going to say damn it anymore. Then I gave him a
substitute word. I told him that while it wasn't okay to say damn
it, he could say oh drat.
Since then, he has repeated damn it on occasion, sometimes to test
me again, and sometimes because he forgets. When I remind him to
say drat, he quickly adopts that. Now, even drat is fading out but
we always have it ready and waiting for those moments when he gets
really frustrated. I think the key is to give him something he CAN
say that will allow him to express his emotions at that moment.
I agree with the posters who suggested giving the child a
substitute word. We liked ''Rats!'' which caught on nicely (our
child watches Peanuts videos which helps). You have to use it
yourself, too. Now I'm dealing with him giving people
the ''finger'' (he just happened on this and discovered it
provokes a good reaction).
Our otherwise entirely happy grounded 3 3/4 yr old son has developed
the following pattern: calling everyone, mostly himself, "Stupid." It
often goes like this, "Honey, please help me put these toys away that
you were playing with." "Mommy, you're stupid." "Honey, let's try to
find another way to say what you're feeling." and then he pauses and
says, "I'm stupid." Which he'll say several times several times
throughout the day. To which I say over and over, What are you
feeling, or Honey, you're too smart to be stupid, etc. It certainly
happens when he's frustrated but not exclusively.
His dad has much less patience in this department than I do (both for
being called stupid and for our son calling himself stupid). Is this
a phase? He does definitely know what he's talking about and did not
choose the word indiscriminately. His older sister never went through
anything like this. This could just be something picked up a
pre-school. I'd like to help us get through this and over this. It's
pretty wearying at this point. Thanks for any ideas or perspective.
I don't think most preschool-aged kids are that good at verbalizing
their feelings, so saying things like "What are you feeling?"
may be ineffective at this tender age. I sympathize with your
esire to discourage the use of certain words, including "stupid".
The general advice I've heard is to not make a big deal out of it.
When kids find out that it pushes our buttons, they may end up using
such words just to get our attention or to push the limits. So
I've learned to sometimes express disapproval of "stupid" and other
more objectionable words, but I try to ignore it or at least be very
low-key. I *do* think if kids call *themselves* stupid, especially
at older ages (mine is 6), there's a need to give them positive
responses about how they're *not* stupid, for their self-esteem.
But I wouldn't worry too much about it with most 3-4-year-olds.
On name calling: we were told by other parents that using swearwords is
mostly done to get a reaction, and so we handled the name calling in the
way that was recommended for swearing. We told him that what he said was
mean and could hurt peoples' feelings and then we let it go.
This is a response to Laurie, who is concerned about her 2-3/4 yr. son who
is hitting, kicking, and name-calling.
You mentioned that you have been dealing with this by ignoring the
negative behavior. While there is some evidence that ignoring bad
behavior will eventually "extinguish" it, I found that this was not always
the case. Sometimes ignoring it had the opposite effect--i.e. the
negative behavior escalated.
I don't think there's a rule for how to deal with this--it depends on the
child. You might try to restrain your son when he is abusing pets or
other children and explain (calmly) that this is not an appropriate social
behavior. Encourage him to express anger verbally, but don't tolerate
verbal or physical abuse--and please don't ignore it. There are no
guarantees about the outcome, but I think it's important that he
understand that he shouldn't treat others this way. If you ignore him, he
will not necessarily know that it's because he is hitting the puppy (or
I hope this helps. Good luck!
We also never tolerated name calling by our children. Even though they are
too young to understand the meaning behind the words, they can get the
message that certain words should not be used (like stupid or jerk) with
their parents or with anyone else. If they say something they shouldn't
(and this is true today when our kids are 10 and 12), we make it very clear
that it's not to be said again. When they are toddlers, they know by tone
of voice (we used the strong, parental, deep-voice tone and said "No!" )
This would often reduce the child to tears, but we knew we got the point
across. We would then hug the child, and say something like "We love you,
but you can't talk like that...or can't hit the dog....making it clear what
our disciplinary tone was about. As they got older, time-outs worked. And
now, loss of privileges is effective in getting our point across. But we
never stop telling them how much we love them and what the reasons are for
My husband and I believe (and it seems to have worked) that once children
start walking and talking, even though they don't fully understand the
ramifications of what they're doing or the meaning or impact of what
they're saying, that they're not too young to start understanding "limits."
Through positive and negative feedback, and lots of love, they can learn to
respect their pets, playmates and Parents! It's not fun living with a
child who talks back, says naughty words, or who can't be trusted with a
beloved pet. And you also want him to start responding to your voice and
taking you seriously....because one day it may stop him from running into
the street and getting hit by a car!
Like most pre-schoolers my almost 4 year old son loves to call
us names and use inappropriate language like...''poopy
butt'', ''poopy head'' and every variation you could imagine.
Luckily, it doesn't get worse than that (we are careful about
what we say in front of him). First, we let him know that the
words are impolite and inappropriate. We've told him it hurts
our feelings. We've discussed the problem with his pre-school
teacher b/c that is where he picked it up, and were not given
much help. We've taken a few privileges away when it's gotten
really bad. I'm now trying to ignore the language and hope it
goes away. An endless stream of ''poopy'' this and that flows out
of his mouth night and day, in public and private places,
constantly. Will this fascination ever go away? It is annoying
and embarrassing. Any advice is well appreciated
Welcome to the club! Poopy head, dummit, ''degan budi'' (a
Hungarian-English amalgam) are just some of the words our
almost 4-year old has blessed this household with lately.
Unfortunately, this issue is compounded by Daddy's tendency to
say idiot (or worse) when he is cut off on the road. We tried
to halt theese embarassing public displays by introducing the
distinction between public and private e.g. for toilets,
bathrooms, tables and words. Interestingly, our daughter rarely
uses these words at home now--she prefers to share them with
her 8 year nemesis ''Charlie'' across the courtyard. I think
these words are about power (cf. Brazelton). We have it; she
doesn't. I struggle with teaching her not to use these words
when she's being teased. Isn't it better to use her (potty?)
words than fists to deal with aggression? I am not advocating
free speech for four year olds--we repress her all the time.
But it's complicated. Bad words are so tied up with power,
gender, class, and other cultural questions. (Good girls from
educated families don't speak that way). I am just glad to be a
parent who can censor poopy head without having to think too
hard about it for now. The teenage years promise more
censorship and more consequences for her development in a world
of poopy heads or worse.
If our 4 y.o. chooses to have a ''potty mouth'', he knows that the
consequence is that he must go sit in the appropriate place to
speak it (that is, in the bathroom with the potty). So when I
hear him say ''poopy head, etc.'', I ask him if he would like to go
to the bathroom himself or if he needs my help. After a couple
short stints in the bathroom, he almost always catches himself
now and stops the language. It's not a punishment, just the
consequence of using potty language. It worked for us.
''No more potty mouth''
I'm really surprised that the pre-school wasn't more helpful!
Have you tried telling him that potty talk belongs in the potty?
It's telling him that the only impact that talk will have is
that he can do it alone - no audience.
However, I can also imagine the scenario: Child starts the talk,
you say calmly and firmly ''only in the bathroom'' and child says
''no'', and then you're in a different struggle...
But I do believe that a neutral, disinterested, fine - but not
here, attitude will prevail.
You might also try talking about good attention and bad
attention. For example, next time he starts, give him a positive
choice ''you can talk like that alone in the bathroom, or stay
here with me and sing songs/read a book/draw a picture''.
Or surprise him with something unexpected. Don't acknowledge the
talk, but distract him with a tickle, or request a hug.
Something nice that will totally throw him off track - but don't
let him make the connection - and hopefully the mood will
brigthten and he'll forget why he started the talk in the first
The most effective tactic we've used is the response of
''That's potty talk and we don't use potty talk in this family.''
The ''...in this family'' seems to be the kicker and we use it
with all undesireable behavior. It provides a sense of the
''higher ground'' toward which we strive.
No advice, but funny story
My sister, now 41, has had potty mouth her WHOLE life!
Once on a vacation in Mendocino, my dad made her [age 5]
stand on a big rock and say ''pooh-pooh'' until she couldn't
talk anymore. The punishment didn't cure anything, but it is
one of our favorite family stories. She had a rough
adolescence, dropped out of high school, worked in pink
collar jobs, and still loved to tell scatological jokes. When
she was 32 she decided she was ready for college, and at
39 she received a Master's in Waste Water Management
(i.e., sewage studies). Now she has a cohort that enjoys her
--Penis Pantry (my sister's childhood potty name for me!)
We went throuh this too! It seemed to be worse the more I tried to stop it,
so I told my daughter she could use as much ''bathroom talk'' as she wanted
in the bathroom. When it started up, I'd just remind her to please go to the
bathroom if she wanted to say such things, and just generaly tried to appear as
unruffled as possible. She happily went to the bathroom to yell about all kinds
of ''illicit'' things. It passed eventually (well mostly....certain friends
still bring it out it in her....but I told them they could whisper it to each
other like their own special thing and this also seemed to help. ) But basically,
giving her a place/way to say these things seemed to make the appeal go away.
former poopy head
I found that my boys started the potty talk around 5 or 6 (but
they never went to preschool or school) and it is abating now at
Course, I'm the kind of parent who joins right in and although I
don't encourage it beyond what they would normally do, I don't
make an issue out of it, but have no problem joining right in
when they do the poop, pee, etc. talk.
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