Where Did You Learn Those Words?

During the last several weeks, I have been busy hitting the shopping malls and fighting the crowds of happy holiday shoppers. I always wonder how all the parents handle the little ones who can only endure so much and have a few more ounces of patience during this busy time. As I was standing in line to check out, I heard a woman say, “Oh, what a darling little girl you are!”  The woman’s nice smile and thick glasses loomed within inches of this little girl’s face. The two-year old, safe in her mother’s arms, delivered a calm and steady gaze before replying, “You poo-head.” The mother gasped.

It was clearly this mom’s first experience with the Fundamental Law of Preschool Vocabulary which states that every parent imagines that his or her child will never use embarrassing language in public. But they will! It seems to happen overnight. Suddenly your own son or daughter is spouting phrases that would make anyone, except maybe a hardened preschool teacher, blush.

“Tread lightly,” the experts warn. “Losing your cool will only make your child or children in a classroom setting want to repeat the offending words over and over.” Young children do like to make interesting events happen again. And what could be more interesting to a child than making a grown-up gasp in horror, react with shock or even laugh nervously with embarrassment? Not much. So, my advice is to react calmly with perhaps a touch of boredom in your tone.

But does this mean you shouldn’t tell your children when their language offends you? That’s a different matter. Children do need to know what their parents and teachers disapprove of. So, if you don’t want your child/children using inappropriate words in front of you, say so. Use calm but firm tones and words. Still, you can’t control every word that comes out of your child’s mouth. So once in a while the best choice is to just “not hear.” While you’re busy not listening, you may notice that so-called bad language, can sometimes be a help in a preschooler’s social world.

  • You might see a three-year-old who’s learning not to hit when she is angry. She makes progress by striking out with words instead. Adults may wince at hearing insults, but for the time being, angry words are a huge improvement over hitting.
  • Or, you might notice a four-year-old who’s uncertain about how to join in laughing and joking with a group of peers. He finds his solution in that old preschool comedy routine-bathroom talk. Preschoolers aren’t especially known for their love of subtle humor.

No matter how shocked the mothers of the world feel now, they too were once children whose choice of words horrified their parents. They grew out of it. We all did.