Kids and Inappropriate Behavior

by Carleton Kendrick Ed.M., LCSW

Mortified by your child's behavior? Find out why kids "say the darndest things," and how you should react when it happens.

Your 3-year-old screams, "I HATE you mommy!" when you refuse to let her eat her Halloween candy before supper. At a family gathering, your 5-year-old calls his cousin a "poopie face". Or your 8-year-old pens a school paper describing a buttocks-baring Saturday Night Live TV comedy sketch.

What's normal?
Events such as these shock, discourage, and scare many parents, but don't assume that these indiscretions demonstrate that your kids haven t internalized your family values. These actions are not an indictment of your parenting. Your children are simply "being kids," using risque language and stories to gain some sense of power over confusing areas of their lives. They are also developing a sense of humor and testing your limits all part of normal, healthy child development.

It's normal for an 8-year-old to think that a man's dropping his drawers on TV is hysterically funny. At eight, "gross out" and slightly sexualized "body parts" humor have replaced former bathroom humor. These stages of childhood humor are all part of how kids cope with their growing preoccupation regarding body parts and their functions.

What parents can do
Parents can acknowledge why their kids think that these types of things are funny. You can even admit that these things were funny to you when you were a kid.

Parents can also tell their kids that certain words and situations may be funny, while also reminding them that it's ill mannered to repeat these words and acts in public. Parents must also teach their children that humor should never hurt people's feelings.

Some things are out of your hands
Parents need to understand that they can't control everything their kids see, hear, and do: Kids are going to play violent video games at a neighbor's house, swear at their siblings, and play doctor with their cousin. How we respond to our children's encounters with these "taboos" will determine their healthy development in these areas.

Sex and the media
Our kids are bombarded by suggestive and provocative messages in the media: sexually-exaggerated male and female action figures; detailed accounts of our president s sexual affairs; and daily doses of Victoria s Secret lingerie commercials. As a result, today s children are asking questions about sex at a much younger age.

Before commenting upon or responding to a sexual topic, it s wise to find out what your child really knows about it. Armed with this baseline information, you ll know better how to present simple, direct information and your values.

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