My Child Just Said %#@! Now What Do I Do?

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When you set up a rule, there is a chance that it may get broken or challenged.  If it does, don’t get angry. For example, let’s say you state a rule such as,”Here’s daddy’s rule, no standing on the chair.”  Your child may think,”Hhmmm, let’s see what happens if I stand on the chair,” and then proceeds to do it.  Then of course, you get mad and yell.  Because your child is wired by design to test your boundaries, your reaction gives them the reward for breaking the rule!  Successful parenting includes NOT getting mad, NOT punishing or NOT responding with emotion when your child tests your boundaries.  When setting up rules to keep your child and others safe, or to preserve the boundaries of others, a consequence is required, not punishment.

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Why do our children say things to us like “NO!” or “You’re stupid!”?  Because they know you don’t like the word and it causes you to react.  Remember, they are little beings living in a land of giants and when a child is feeling less valuable or powerful, saying these kinds of words or phrases gives them the power over you they crave.  Usually, an adult in your child’s life has trained them to say it by reacting to it.  As soon as you say, “Don’t you dare say that word,” the child loves the response and thinks, “Hmm, I’m going to say it MORE.”  And what about those annoying potty words?  A classic situation is that your child may hear it being used by his playmates.

For example let me use a word that isn’t bad but represents a bad word.  The word is “poo poo”.  Your son hears this word, perhaps at daycare and thinks, “Cool, I don’t know what it means but I like the sound of it.”  Then he tries it out and a teacher overhears it.  The adult responds with horror and reprimands him and says something like, “We do NOT use that word here!”  Your son quickly realizes the power it had over that adult, so when you come to pick him up and you are in the car on the way home, he gears up and out it flies, “POO POO!”  You react with shock and horror and say with heated emotion, “We do NOT use that word in this family!!”  They LOVE it when they can do something that makes you respond.  It is FUN and they will do it more.  Very simply, your reaction encourages him to do it more.
The more you relax and remain calm when power or potty words are used, the less likely your child is going to be motivated to use them.  If she is using it intentionally and you ARE remaining calm, perhaps she is feeling hurt somehow and is using it to get even with you.  If your child is using an inappropriate word that you just cannot allow, calmly set a boundary that you no one in the house is allowed to use that word.  Then have some fun with your child in coming up with an alternative word that she can use.  Be sure and give her the high energy reaction she craves when she uses the new appropriate word.  If done well, she will have little reason to go back to the old word.

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Bill Corbett is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, LOVE, LIMITS, & LESSONS: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country ( He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse, the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and the management team of the Springfield Parent Academy. Bill's practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three.  Get more parenting help at


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