Kids' bad words

All parents have faced it at one time or another: a bad word spontaneously comes out of your little one’s mouth and you do not know how to react.

A sentence can be embarrassing when it is said at the wrong time, or be really embarrassing in front of family members or, worse, strangers! In the following article, we’ll try to better understand what leads children to use bad words and how to intervene when it happens.

Words with an impact

Two year-old Colin just dropped his blocks on the floor. He lets a big “fuck” out. What to do? Although you might get the urge to laugh when you hear such a big word out of a small child, try to refrain from it because the child is above all trying to get a reaction from you. So if laughter breaks out all around him when he says a dirty word, he will most probably want to do it again. But then should he be punished for his bad language? Not necessarily, because such a young child is often only aware of the power of words through the eyes of adults. He doesn’t really get what’s good or bad, but if he sees that a word spoken by an adult raises reactions, he might well repeat it. Try to understand where he heard that word and explain to him that it’s not a word that he should use.

What to do in this situation?

If the child is a bit older and understands what you’re explaining to him, you can try to find more appropriate – and even funny - words to use. This way, the bad word can be replaced by “froggity frog” or “monkey pants”, which will make your child laugh and dedramatize the situation!

Hurtful words

Four year-old Madison arrives at daycare, swirling in front of her educator Julie in the new dress she got for her birthday. Julie gets up from where she was coloring with the little Sarah and tells Madison that she looks very pretty. Sarah then looks up and says : "Your dress is not even pretty. And you’re ugly like a cow."

What to do in this situation?

In such a situation, you must understand that the child is attempting, through these hurtful words, to express an emotion.  In this case, it could be jealousy due to the fact that Madison has a nice dress or the disappointment of having to share the teacher’s attention. You have to try to put words to the child’s emotions rather than simply reprimand him or her about the words that were said.

Yes, it is important that the child understands that these words are hurtful, but more importantly, they must learn to express their feelings in the right way. In this situation, Sarah could say: "I would like to have a nice dress like that too", or "Julie, I liked drawing with you. It makes me sad that you walked away to talk to Madison. " By giving Sarah examples of what she could have said, it also opens the door to a discussion on what caused her reaction and her hurtful words.

Embarrassing words

At the grocery store, Ryan is waiting in line with his dad. He says: “Yuck, the man in front has a very big nose!” Clara, on the other hand, made you turn bright red at the last family reunion when she said: “I don’t want to kiss aunt Greta. Her perfume stinks!

How many parents have had to face this kind of situation? Probably many! Just keep in mind that most often, it is us, the parents, that feel the most uncomfortable by the whole thing, even more than the person being “insulted”!

What to do in this situation?

First of all, you apologize to the person who was targeted by the hurtful comment. Then, when you’re alone with your child, try explaining to them why their words were hurtful. Kids often have difficulty putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. You can use little scenarios to help them better understand the situation. "Imagine if a person came up to you at the park and told you that you are not beautiful? How would you feel? You would be sad, wouldn’t you?” This way, the child will understand a little better how the other person could have felt. You can also tell your little one to talk to you about their observations when you are alone together. In these circumstances, you can tell each other everything and it will not hurt anyone! You’ll also have time to explain things better to your child if what they just said was unacceptable.

A crucial role: the "parent-guide"

Keep in mind that young children still have a lot of difficulty understanding what is right and what is wrong. It is up to you, to play the “parent-guide” with them, meaning that you have to help them develop their social skills and become respectful individuals who are able to express their feelings properly.

Solène Bourque

Solène Bourque is a mother of two; Ariane and Thomas. She is a psychoeducator and a certified instructor in infant massages. She worked for many years in community programs with children aged 0 to 5 years old and she now teaches Special Education in the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. She co-wrote ‘100 trucs pour les parents des tout-petits’, published in 2010 with the Éditions de Montagne. Become a fan of her facebook page.

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