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,” “Christopher Columbus.”
- 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.