My almost 4 year old has starting using words that I would rather not have him say all the time. The first one is stupid, which unfortunately he heard from me, as it occasionally slips from my mouth. He often says it when he is frustrated and he will call whatever he is upset with stupid. The second is poopy/poop/ect. He loves to talk and sing about this and replace words with poop I worry because words are so habit forming and once a word has entered one’s vocabulary, it is difficult to get it out. I feel like I’ve lost the battle on stupid, in that regard. Especially since he hears it occasionally from me when I’m upset. I just keep telling him that I don’t want him to say it and hope it eventually sticks. But with the potty talk, I’ve been telling him that if he wants to talk about poop, he may do so in the bathroom. But this has done nothing to deter him. Unless I demand that he go to the bathroom, then he will finally say “okay, I’ll stop” and he will stop momentarily. What is a better way to deal with this? Should I just let him talk whoever he chooses?
I see that it is very important to you that your child won’t say certain words. I am worried that my response may startle or offend you, and hope you are open to see a different point of view. I invite you to watch my video on youtube, called “Name Calling.” It may help you to see the humor in children’s use of such word.
One way we become emotionally weak, needy and dependent is by learning to fear words. Recall how you felt as a child, when the elders in your life forbade you from saying certain words. Were you enlivened by their restrictions? Did you feel more connected and joyful? Or did you wonder, “Why do these adults take themselves so seriously, its only words?”
You may not remember, but I can tell you that every child, when told not to say this or that, is laughing at us inside and rightly so. Your son if giving you the gift all children give their parents. He is teaching you to lighten up and let go of emotional uptightness you have inherited from your parents.
If you teach your son not to say “stupid” (a futile effort as you have already noticed,) he will, unfortunately, learn to be hurt by this and other similar words. You are teaching him that someone’s word has power to hurt which is not true. In addition, he will learn not to say these words in your presence, and is more likely to use them away from home where it might be unsafe. When we restrict and control children, they often become disconnected from us and even aggressive.
If we want to live in a society of people who can freely express themselves, we need to raise children who become powerful adult; people who are not afraid to say what they think and are not hurt when another person tells them what they think of them no matter what it is. If someone calls me “stupid,” I take the gift and find my own stupidity of which there is plenty. The word, “stupid” describe a human quality just like the words smart, kind or greedy. We need not fear the truth about ourselves.
Words never hurts unless we teach the child that he is supposed to feel hurt by them. What someone says is usually true, so I say, “Thank you for noticing. That was indeed stupid of me.” Or, if I cannot see what they are saying, I stay willing to open myself to it, because if someone sees this or that in me, good chance it is there. I am human and they have eyes and ears. Why be in denial and have taboos? Self expression must be given an outlet, not be choked. Your child is best off learning that honesty is good, and that critical words are a contribution.
Children love to use bathroom words between ages four and ten or so. Your son is normal and healthy. Protect his emotional and sexual well-being by not making an issue out of this harmless expression so his attitudes toward his body stay healthy. Not only let him do so to his heart’s desire, but even join his fun or at least laugh with him. It will help him and also help you to see the delight in never restricting self-expression. Children often fault adults for being too serious. I believe they are right. We must learn from them to take ourselves more lightly and with humor.
When families come to our home for a counseling intensive, my husband often helps teach the parents to lighten up about bathroom words. If he notices that the children are into these words but hesitate to be free in our home, he releases the tension. In the middle of dinner he would start declaring, “The president has diarrhea and he farts and vomits.” He even adds sound effects. Everyone cracks up and the atmosphere lightens up promptly.
When our children got into such words, we celebrated those words with music, drumming and piano. The children would play chords (it can be just banging) and sang the chosen words over and over, higher and higher. We the parents and guests, made a power game of this scene by pretending it bothered us and the children were laughing and screaming the words with delight. The result? They never used these words in real personal exchange or away from home. After playing this game daily for a few months, it was dropped of and that was the end of it.
What is restricted will burst in the wrong places. What is allowed to flow is done in its own time in peace and hopefully while having a good time.
In my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, the longest chapter is on the crucial importance of allowing children to express themselves fully and freely. In another chapter I explain how important it is that the child feels safe to say and express anything. Read these chapters to help yourself to be the parents you want to be.
If this idea is too contrary to your upbringing and culture, I invite you to work on your own freedom, rather than restrict your child to match your limitations. I assure you that a child who grows up without such restrictions and when you talk with him openly about everything from stupidity to poop, will not develop a habit of speaking badly, but a habit of staying connected and naturally sensitive to the needs of other people.
Warmly, Naomi Aldort, www.AuthenticParent.com