Remember your reaction the first time your four-year-old used a four-letter word? Did
your mouth drop open, but with no sound coming out? Did you drop your fork at
the dinner table? Did your ears turn red? To growing children, toilet talk is
as curious as the functions it stands for. To children words are not "dirty"
until you tell them so. Be prepared for colorful words to come out of
children's mouths around age four.
Children pick up words from all over and try them out. Whether or not they
continue to use them depends on how frequently they hear them and the effect
these words have on their audience. Kids won't even know what some of the words
they hear mean (i.e., the "f-word"). That's why it's wise not to overreact.
This stage will pass. Here's how to deal with toilet talk.
- Consider the source. A five-year-old was playing innocently near a
group of older female relatives. Suddenly out came a word that silenced the
crowd. As the embarrassed mother rushed to hush the little mouth, the great-
aunt explained, "He talks just like his dad." Lessen your child's exposure to
profanity. Clean up your own language, supervise what comes out of the mouths
of your child's friends, and choose television programs carefully.
- Explain to your child, "Some words are not nice to hear. There are so
many nice words, let's hear them instead." Explain that some words are not
nice to use in certain places. "If you have to go poop at church, come and
whisper in Mommy's ear. Or ask to 'go to the bathroom, please'."
- Provide alternatives. If your child by reflex uses obscenities when
angry, practice alternative reactions: "I hit my finger -- ouch!" Words release
tension, so model alternatives. Try the classics: "darn," "ow," "heck,"
"shoot," "phooey..." Or use some more original epithets: "fiddlesticks,"
- Ignore. Children learn what words have shock value, and the more the
audience reacts the more an encore is likely. After you're sure your child
understands the houserules and that certain words are not allowed in public,
ignore an occasional lapse. Intensify your praise for nicer alternatives.
- For older children, set the standard of language that you will allow in
your home, and stick to it. If your seven-year-old comes in using the "F-
word" you should sit down with him and explain exactly why it's offensive.