“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Coping with Rude Language
Q. My kids are driving me crazy using the “S” word. They’re using the word “stupid” to angrily address parents and siblings. As in, “You’re stupid!” or, “Stupid Mommy!” I imagine that as time goes on, my kids will come into possession of bone fide curse words and I want to get on top of this now. What do you suggest?
Thanks for your question on young children using “bad” words at home. Since we addressed tone and the way things are said last month, this is the perfect follow-up to that discussion.
Why children acquire harsh language.
First, I’d like to outline our perspective. Children begin using words that raise the hair on the back of our necks after they’ve heard others use those words, or after those words have been aimed at them. Grownups use this kind of language when they’re upset, and the behavior trickles down toward children, usually with the original emotional heat welded to the words. Because harsh behavior spreads like a bad cold from adult to child and then from child to child, just about every child on the planet is exposed to name-calling, or bad words behavior, sooner or later. So it’s not your child’s fault that he has acquired harsh language, any more than it’s his fault that he gets a runny nose.
When children use harsh language, they may not understand what the words mean literally: it’s the tone that makes an imprint on them, and it’s the tone that raises parental warning flags. That electric emotional charge irritates the child’s delicate internal system, and makes the words stick like little globs of muck in their innocent minds. Then, when the child is feeling isolated, threatened or upset, out comes this little pre-fabricated routine of harsh words and a harsh tone, just the way he once heard it. It isn’t what the child really wants to be doing, but he literally can’t think of any other way to signal that he is feeling badly. He’s upset. His behavior says, “See what I’ve been exposed to? It’s nasty and disturbing. I’m going to show you how awful it is.” Then, he gives you a vivid picture of what he’s heard at school or on the street. It’s a cry for help.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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