Back in the old days, when a young child uttered a “dirty” word, he was likely to suffer the rather unpleasant consequence of having his mouth washed out with soap. While I hesitate to criticize the practices of previous generations, it is clear that this was inappropriate and often counterproductive.
Young children are small creatures in a big world and often feel powerless. Consequently, any time they do something that gets a strong reaction from adults, they derive an enormous sense of satisfaction, even if the reaction is negative in nature. This merely encourages them to continue and even increase the behavior.
Therefore, when your little one blurts out a nasty expletive, it would be wise to take a two-fold approach. First, ignore him. He may repeat it several times in an effort to invoke a response. But if you hold firm he will realize that it is not getting him what he wants and will eventually abandon the strategy. Second, strive to give him a strong positive reaction when he says or does nice things.
Remember, it is all about power. And you want to teach him that he will be successful when he uses his power for good and unsuccessful when he uses it for evil. The result will be a small Superman of whom you can be proud rather than a little Lex Luthor who will continually look for ways to annoy you.
Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.