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Talking Back, Name-Calling, and

Posted , updated Oct 27, 2005.

Talking Back, Name-Calling, and

Parents of preschool children are often shocked or angered when their child blurts out a bad word, back talks, or calls them or someone else an unfavorable name. Bad language is learned. Children discover that certain words and behaviors push our buttons or get reactions from others, gaining the child power and attention.

These behaviors can be prevented. Limit the opportunities your child has to hear language you disapprove of. Supervise what your child watches on television and friends your child spends time with. Be especially conscious of what slips through your own mouth and that of other family members.

  • Let children know when you hear the kind of talk you want them to use. Say, “I like it when you say please, that’s nice to hear”, or “Thank you for not shouting.”
  • Avoid yelling, talking back, or getting worked up. This just increases the negative attention your child receives and reinforces that it is all right to get out of control.
  • Apologize when you overreact. Show children what they can do when they overreact or say things they do not mean.
  • Teach your child to state opinions in a pleasant voice. The way a child says something may seem offensive, but may not be his intention. If a child says, “I don’t care,” he is expressing his opinion. Opinions are acceptable. If it is said in a demanding or rude tone it becomes backtalk.
  • Nip disrespect in the bud. Say directly, “That was rude or demanding. I won’t listen when you talk that way.”
  • Children learn bad words before the meaning of them. They may innocently repeat something they have heard or be unsure of it’s meaning. Ask ‘Tell me what that word means.” Briefly explain why it is not acceptable.
  • Tell your child firmly that you and most other people don’t like to hear those words and you don’t want her to use them.
  • If used to express frustration, give a child an acceptable word to use, like “rats” and your approval when it’s used.
  • Ignore bad words if your child is trying to get attention or shock you. Not paying attention takes away the attention or power that your child is trying to gain from the behavior. Remaining calm takes away any shock value.
  • If your child is a victim of name-calling, teach her what to say. Say, “Tell your friend that you don’t like it and will not play with her when she calls you names.”
  • Avoid severe punishment. It can cause a child to use naughty words when you are not around. Use reasonable consequences if needed, such as taking away a toy that causes swearing or having a child calm down before returning to play.

    Be firm, consistent, calm, and loving in dealing with your child’s misbehavior. Reassure the child that it is the behavior that is unacceptable, not him. In the end, always give a hug and tell him how much you love him.

  • Revised: Diane Ryals, Extension Educator, Family Life, Fall 2005

    Editor: Patti Faughn, Family Life Educator, Springfield Center, 2005

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