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What to Do When Your Five-Year-Old Says, “I Don’t Want That @$#%%!!! Broccoli!”

You know what I’m talking about:  out of the blue, your precious angel surprises you by uttering a mouthful of profanity.  What?  When did that start?  Where did she learn that language?  What is going on here?  

Consider what is driving this behavior.  Kids are all about adding new words to their vocabulary, and each new word they hear is an exciting new word for them to use.  This is normal and healthy.  Also, kids love getting a reaction out of their parents (much like that reaction you just had when you heard your angel utter that dirty word) and asserting their control and independence (i.e., “I don’t WANT that @$#%%!!! broccoli!”).

Respond not only to the behavior (i.e., using profanity), but also to the motivators (i.e., what is driving that behavior).  For example, do not display an emotional reaction, but instead calmly say, “Janie, you are my smart baby girl, you have an amazing vocabulary, and you are eager to learn even more words.  That’s all good.  However, some words are “good” words, some words are “bad” words, and some words should only be used in certain circumstances . . . like when you want to share something in private.  The word you just used is a “bad” word because it is considered rude or offensive by a lot of people.   You are a little lady, and ladies don’t use such words.  Ok?”

If Janie persists in using that profane word, then you can assume that Janie is using that word as a means to communicate her control and independence.  At this point, you need to redirect Janie’s behavior by holding her accountable.  For example, you may say, “Janie, we’ve talked about that word.  In this family, it’s not ok to speak that rudely.  If you use that word again, I’m afraid that I’ll have to send you to your room for a while to think about what you are doing and whether it will get you where you want to go in the big picture.”  Janie may not, at age five, understand “big picture” thinking, but you need to be discussing the concept with her now so that, by the time she is able to conceptualize the idea, she will have a solid cognitive foundation already established for her.  You will also need to tell Janie whether her request for control will be granted to her, regardless of the words she chose in making her request.  (In the scenario provided, will you allow Janie to decline to eat her broccoli?)  You may also need to address anger, if Janie displayed anger.

Once the moment has passed, you are well advised to ask Janie where she learned the profane word.  You may then be able to provide feedback to the word’s source.  For example, you could say, “Uncle John, Janie used the word ‘@-$-#-%-%-!-!-!’ (spelled out rather than spoken in whole) yesterday.  She said she learned the word by hearing you say it.  We don’t use profane words in our household.  When you are around our kids, would you be careful not to expose them to those words, please?”

By following these steps, you can help your precious angel increase her vocabulary while respecting the social boundaries associated with word usage.

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