Toddlers are insightful and honest, but they can also be unintentionally rude and some will start swearing or refusing to use their good manners. Either way, it’s a challenging time for parents.
Sometimes toddlers can come across as a bit blunt, but the truth is, they simply aren’t tactful yet. Yours might exclaim in the bank queue: ‘Mummy, that man is really fat, why is he eating lollies?’ It’s important to recognise that your child may not be deliberately malicious. Unless they’ve been repeatedly taught, they will often comment honestly on what is observed.
HOW DO YOU REACT?
It might be tempting to disappear into the queue or to ignore comments, but this is not effective. While it’s not time for punishment, it is time for social teaching – so be clear, confident and firm that it is not nice, nor acceptable, to say mean things. Try to enforce concepts, such as: ‘We try to say nice things, not things that make people sad.’ Toddlers also understand more through their own perspective, so help them reflect on whether they would like someone to say such a thing about them. Suggest: ‘If you wouldn’t like it, then don’t say it about others.’
Around age four, children often become fixated with ‘potty’ humour and you’re more likely to be called things like ‘poo head’. At this age, kids also typically hear older kids swearing, which they mimic. Initially, ignoring the first few swearwords can be effective, as some toddlers will do it just for a reaction. But if swearing continues, action is required. Firstly, embark on a plan that rewards them for using nice words and exercising good manners – and be sure to lead by example! When they swear, try not to overreact – simply act a little dismissive. ‘Oh, swearing again, that’s not OK. Guess that means your toys go away now.’
If your child is playing or interacting with others, being rude should mean a brief time out. After a few minutes of the time-out, discuss it, then go back to practising good manners and talking nicely. Praise and reward improvement. Of course, a few children delight more in being naughty. If this is the case, you need to be a little more firm – but not too reactive. You can set up simple points programs in these cases, with swearing and rudeness losing points – and three lost points means no digital devices for the whole morning, for example.
It is also important to teach your child to apologise when they hurt someone. At first, kids will simply say sorry to avoid being in trouble. However, most children will gradually come to realise that outcomes are better, both for their victim and themselves, if they genuinely apologise.