In our previous article we talked about children using bad language out of curiosity. In this second article, we look at the conscious use of bad language by kids, to express anger, frustration, and how we can guide them in such situations.
The other day, Arun called his sister a really inappropriate word. He was very angry with her because she had broken one of his lego creations. His mother Maya was absolutely horrified. Her instinctive reaction was one of anger and alarm, when she asked him if he knew what the word meant, and he said that he did. He had made a conscious decision to use that word, because he knew it was insulting, and was a ‘bad word’.
Fortunately, Maya quickly realised that at that point Arun was so angry, any kind of conversation would be useless. With Arun stuck in fight mode, he would not be able to use his thinking brain. She also intuitively recognised that the situation has to be handled sensitively, without shaming Arun, but ensuring that he understood the impact of his words. So, to start with Maya took her daughter out of the room. Then while acknowledging how angry he was, she told Arun that both he and she needed time and space to cool down, and then they could address what happened.
Maya was very worried and upset. She had already heard that Arun had used similar foul language in another situation. She was anxious about a multitude of things: How would her child be perceived if he kept using bad language? How would that reflect on her parenting? Where was he picking up this language? And finally, how easily he got triggered and went into a full attack mode once he was dysregulated.
The parenting classes Maya went to had emphasised the importance of pausing when one is flooded with feelings. She needed to practice pausing now. The conversation could only happen later, after she had dealt with all the emotions she was feeling- anger, worry, concern, shame, otherwise she would only react, and make the situation worse! Here she learnt that pausing sometimes meant for hours or even days, not just for that moment or for an hour/day.
So, after talking to Arun’s father, and taking time to self empathise, Maya decided to have a chat with Arun. She consciously choose to empathise with him for the tough time he was going through.
Maya: “Arun, that was a tough evening wasn’t it? Sudha broke the tower you had worked so hard at. You were furious with Sudha!”
Arun: “Yes Ma, I had worked on it for three days, and I told her not to touch it. She kept touching it and then it broke. I got mad! She just dosen’t listen!”
Maya: “I saw that Arun, it can be so frustrating when people don’t listen. I was surprised though by what you said when you were so angry.”
Arun surprised her by saying, “Yes Ma, I should not have called her that bad word. I was so angry, it just came out.”
Maya: “I wanted to talk to you about that. I also heard that you used the bad word on the bus with Sudhir. What do you think is going on? The thing is, you are totally allowed to be angry and upset, but bad language is not ok. This is not a good habit to have!”
Arun: “Ok Ma. But, I have said it only two times till now!”
Maya realized that both incidents had happened close to each other, and she had heard it two days in a row, so now it seemed to her that it had become a habit!
Maya: “You are right. It is not a habit. Arun, what is worrying me the most really, is how easily you are getting so upset and yelling. What do you think we can do to help you get calm?”
Arun: “ Amma, my teacher taught me to breathe in and out through my mouth when I start to get upset, that helps. I sometimes crumple paper too, lots of it!
Maya: “It is great that you know this helps you Arun. Taking a sip of water helps me, maybe you can try that? Would you like to say another word instead? Maybe ‘Elephants’? The image of these gentle giants has always helped you calm down.”
They decided he was going to pack some spare newspaper in his school bag. At home, when he was starting to get angry, if need be, she would remind him of what to do. For school, he said, he would try on his own. They also planned to regroup after 10 days, to see what worked, and what additional help Arun may need. Now, Maya had the toughest job ahead. She would have to trust Arun to practice all that was suggested, and keep at it.
Overall though, Maya felt empowered. She had not let her fears carry her away. Instead, she had given Arun a very clear message that bad language was unacceptable, without shaming him. Mainly, she had gotten to the root cause of the issue, that Arun was finding it hard to regulate his emotions. Changing her perspective, and fully understanding the situation from Arun’s point of view, had helped find a true and workable solution for both of them.
Author: Seemanthini Iyer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.