Preschooler saying dirty words“Poop.” “Damn.” “Butt.”

No, it’s not a construction worker cussing. It’s a 4-year-old, going through a normal developmental phase. But her colorful language may turn her parents’ complexions red, and may cause other parents to give them the evil eye.

What’s fun about dirty words? Well, it’s sort of like playing with a jack-in-the-box. A child can get a parent wound up tight by using naughty words, then the adult reaction is the big, exciting “bang.” The magic words result in grown-up faces swooshing into a variety of disgusted and interesting expressions.

Your child may get plenty of attention for her new language experiment. But seriously, what’s a parent to do?

  1. Remember it’s age-typical behavior.
  2. Leave the soap in the dish.
  3. Don’t laugh at the behavior. What sounds funny at home is not so funny at preschool, playgroup, or religious or family gatherings.
  4. Try not to use words that you don’t want your child to repeat.
  5. Avoid the startled jack-in-the-box reaction.
  6. Take away her audience. Calmly tell your child that those are bathroom words, and she may only use them in the bathroom. If she uses a dirty word, escort her to the restroom and calmly remind her that this is where the words belong. If she chooses, she may shout a string of expletives behind the closed door, or return to her play. I used this method with a little boy in my preschool class. He went into the restroom, said his dirty word three times, then never said it again in the classroom.

Although it’s developmentally normal for Fours to go through the dirty-word phase, it’s important to remember that the more attention the behavior gets, the longer the phase will last. It’s no fun for a preschooler to use dirty words if it doesn’t make him the center of attention!

Donna S. Jones is a child development specialist and an early childhood educator.