Sooner or later your sweet little toddler will blurt out a string of words that sounds a lot like an insult. You might hear something like “You’re a do-do head.” or the ever popular “You’re stupid.” It may stop you in your tracks and make you wonder… “Did I hear that right?”
Toddler rage can get pretty intense and if you’re a toddler you’re not really capable of saying exactly what’s got your big girl or boy panties in a wad. As a parent, you might have to restrain yourself from giggling the first time or two insults are hurled, but after awhile you’re really going to want to put a stop to it. First of all – it’s annoying when the cuteness wears off- and secondly, you don’t want your child insulting everyone whenever they get the urge, and finally they need to learn how to control their impulses.
Sometimes parents, caregivers or babysitters get right down on a toddlers level and the fight begins. No one wins in this situation.
So how do you put a stop to your preschooler’s name-calling and its first cousin “potty mouth?” Well, there are several approaches you can try. Since every kid is different, some of these tips will help some and not others. But don’t give up and don’t lose your cool (too often.)
- Take the fun out of name-calling. Let’s face it; name-calling for a toddler is a blast. They get a quick response and it can be very amusing watching mom or dad blow up right in front of them. Oftentimes they get giggles from their parents, or equal rage. For a toddler that’s a lot of exciting attention. Instead, calmly respond. “I don’t like that word, please don’t use it.” It’s simple and to the point. Continue doing whatever you were doing before your child decided to let you know you weren’t behaving the way they wanted you to.
- Help your child find the language they need to explain what they are feeling. Angry insults usually come from frustration, and ha-ha insults from getting positive re-enforcement in the way of laughter and making a big deal of whatever is said. To a toddler, cracking mom and pop up on a regular basis is a hoot till mom and pop get tired of it. Take the time to look at the situation that was going on right before the outburst. Was there something he or she wanted? Was he or she hungry, tired, thirsty, bored? Express what you think they were really wanting to say, such as: “You really wanted more cookies; they taste yummy. You're mad that mommy isn't letting you have them.” See if they respond that you have acknowledged their true complaint. Work with them a little while to help them find the right words.
- Give the anger a release valve. Offer your toddler a pillow to hit on or allow them to stamp their feet…. for a limited amount of time. Anger is normal – we all have times when we get angry. Expecting a child to not get angry or express it is not reasonable. Help them learn how to express anger appropriately and move on.
- Acknowledge your child’s need for independence. That’s a tough one because they aren’t really independent. But they are beginning to understand that they can have some say in their life choices. Help your youngster feel more empowered by allowing her to choose which shoes to wear, or what she has for snack time. When children are constantly being told what to do, they are more likely to try to exert some sense of power with behaviors like name-calling.
- Don’t reward name-calling. I think that says it pretty clearly. If you want to entertain a power struggle with a toddler, you’ll probably come out on top in the long run, but feel worse about your behavior than theirs. A better approach is to not reward name-calling by either over-reacting or giving in to demands. If he or she doesn’t get what they want after a name-calling session, they’ll eventually learn that name-calling doesn’t work.
- “Ouch.” Some parents find it effective to use this simple phrase to let their children know that they have crossed the line. It sends a brief message in a neutral way that can have a real impact because it is delivered without a lot of words that a child might otherwise tune out.
- Where did you learn to act like that? Kids are great mimics. They learn by watching and listening. If you name-call when you’re angry, or someone they spend a lot of time around is a name-caller, you can see where they might pick it up. I’ve always thought if you want to see a reflection of yourself – watch how your toddler behaves.
- And finally, the hardest method of dealing with name-calling – don’t laugh. OK, now stop right there… not one more giggle. See? It’s hard. Once the laugh train is going full steam, it’s difficult for the conductor to stop it. Do your best to maintain a poker face even when the name-calling is silly. There are lots of more positive things to laugh with your child about.
Most children try name-calling when they feel hurt or out-of-control. If you find yourself at the beginning of the name-calling phase, control your own behavior and offer your child a way to help express what is going on with them. It’s one of those childhood expressive periods that needs some direct guidance and management before it becomes a pattern of bad behavior.