Q: My 4-year-old is talking back and using bad words. Can I wash his mouth out with soap to teach him a lesson?
A: While you might assume such punishment is appropriate, it actually reinforces your child's negative behavior, says Gary D. McKay, Ph.D., a Tucson, AZ-based psychologist and coauthor of Raising Respectful Kids in a Rude World. "When kids do things like that and get a shocked or angry reaction from parents, they feel a sense of power," he says. The more you respond, the more he'll act up.
What you can do: Seem totally unimpressed, says Dr. McKay. Calmly tell your child, "I don't like that kind of language, and when you say those words, I won't pay attention to you." Then expect his behavior to get worse; this is what Dr. McKay calls "the testing period." After a week or two, your child should give up using the rude words because he won't get anything out of it. Above all, says Dr. McKay, you can help by setting a good example and speaking respectfully to others, including your child.
Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from the June/July 2002 issue of Child magazine.
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