Your 3-year-old lets loose a 4-letter word and your jaw drops. You have no idea where he heard this word. . . or maybe you do.
You do know that you don’t want your sweet child using bad language, especially in public. What do you do?
First, you need to hit your “Pause” button and choose a response.
How you respond will in part determine whether this is a passing thing or whether it becomes a learned behavior.
Generally, the more energy you give something, the more power you give it.
You have several choices:
1) Ignore it completely.
2) Calmly say, “You sound angry. What are some other things you could say?” and suggest the expression of your choice, (“fiddlesticks!” “rats!” “darn!” etc.)
3) Fuss, yell, try to make your child feel bad, wash her mouth out with soap. Overreact in general.
Sometimes ignoring it completely is appropriate, especially if he says it innocently or is mispronouncing another word with a similar sound.
An over-the-top reaction can create fear, confusion and may damage a child’s developing sense of himself.
Soap may mean he never does it again in your presence, but it doesn’t teach him anything better.
Also, if a child learns that he can get a reaction out of you by doing something, then he can use it against you when he is angry, instead of learning more appropriate ways to handle his feelings.
If he learned the word from you, perhaps now is the time to consider making some changes in your own vocabulary.
In addition to offering alternatives, you might want to tell your child that some words offend people and it’s better not to use them.
The concept of words being “bad” is very intriguing to some children. How can words be bad? What makes them bad?
(My daughter asked me to teach her all the curse words so she would know them when she heard them.)
The bigger question is: When children misbehave, what does your response teach them? That they are bad, need to hide their mistakes and must lie to protect themselves?
Or that they can make mistakes, learn something different, make things right and are unconditionally loved?
Choosing to take a deep breath and making an intentional response will help to make your discipline more effective.