Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Advice from the Parent Center

Scenario: Your kid has acquired a new skill, one that's different and therefore exciting. A child's first swear word is usually the result of direct mimicry; either from mom and dad or a playmate. Not surprisingly, potty training can also give rise to endless streams of scatological talk. In almost every case, it's an experiment: "Here's something I heard, which people seem to react to. Let's see what happens when I say it!" No matter where this language comes from, though, it's never too early to teach your child that it isn't acceptable.
What to do about swearing and potty talk
Treat toileting matter-of-factly. If you wrinkle your nose every time you change your child's diaper or stage-whisper the common words for elimination, it's no wonder that your 2-year-old quickly latches on to the idea that bodily functions and the terms used to describe them are guaranteed attention-grabbers.If you don't attach too much significance to her fascination with potty talk, it has a better chance of passing (eventually!). Reading fun picture books like Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi, and The Gas We Pass, by Shinta Cho, can also help de-emphasize the forbidden (and thus endlessly alluring) nature of these subjects.
Keep a poker face. When your child says a swear word or makes a reference to bodily functions, resist the urge to chuckle, which she'll take as wonderful reinforcement for doing it again. The ability to make adults laugh — or angry or upset — is enormously powerful when you're small.
Substitute fun-but-clean alternatives. If your child's just trying a new word on for size or sing-songing it under her breath for the thrill, you can probably swap a similar-sounding goofy word for the inappropriate one — snoopynose for poopynose, for example. If the problem is that she's short on acceptable words to express intense anger or frustration, it may help to encourage her to say loudly, "I'm mad" or "I'm frustrated."
Set limits. If your baby has latched on to a serious profanity or two, she needs you to set some guidelines. It's crucial to do this calmly — without becoming agitated or mad — otherwise, each time you blow up, you just remind her how much power she has to make you pay attention to her quickly. "That's not a word you may use." "We don't allow that kind of language."
Teach respect. You're not doing your 2-year-old any favors by letting her think it's okay to hurl even baby-variety epithets at other kids. (Ask her how she'd feel if someone called her a "farthead," for instance.) Swear words and excessive bathroom talk won't be looked upon kindly at daycare or preschool, on the playground, at playmates' houses — or at Grandpa's dinner table. Explain that these words hurt people's feelings, that it makes no difference if other kids are using the same language, and that name-calling simply isn't allowed.
Watch your own mouth. Sure, there are different rules for adults' and children's behavior, but if your 2-year-old hears you casually pepper your daily conversation with profanity, it'll be a lot harder to convince her not to talk that way herself. If she mimics something you said, admit that you shouldn't have said it either, then quickly distract her with a song or story — and vow to clean up your act.
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