Preschooler name-calling

When you live with two preschoolers, name-calling with intent to offend or insult seems to fly around the house at an increasing rate with every passing year.

“Benjamin called me a poopy head!”

“Sonja called me I’m stinky!”

Name-calling is so ingrained in our society, you cannot escape it. There is name-calling in public places, schools, playgrounds and daycares, and younger kids hear their friends’ older siblings call each other names. Don’t forget tv, commercials, advertisements…and us adults too. It never ends.

Poopy head is one of the lesser offensive ones…

I remember one kid last year in junior Kindergarten calling another kid ‘gay’ on the playground at pick-up, and it was obvious the child doing the name calling didn’t have a clue as to the meaning of the word. What was obvious was that it was meant to insult the other kid.

My point is that kids pick up innocent names like ‘scaredy cat’ but also not so innocent names like ‘idiot’, ‘moron’ or worse.

[Note to self: when driving with kids and some idiot cuts you off refrain from calling the idiot an idiot. Even if you mutter under your breath…they will hear it, and copy it.]

(In the not too distant past I had the most horrendous reaction to a particularly moronic idiot where I just lost it and called the guy much worse than just an idiot.  I am not proud of that very hormonal, emotionally-charged reaction to the situation at the time. And what’s worse, not only were the kids sitting in the back seat observing this, my mother was sitting in the passenger seat of the van. Huh.)

But this post isn’t really about the actual name-calling at all. It’s about a parenting moment which I want to keep track of for future use. A moment where I was able to draw from a historical event in Ben’s past and make a direct connection to a situation involving name-calling today.

Here is what happened:

Benjamin was trying to get to the monkey bars and using his arms ‘walk’ across them from one side to the other. A whole bunch of boys where clustered together waiting their turn. The problem for them was that two girls were already hanging on the monkey bars, and they were taking too long (as far as the boys were concerned).

Finally, one girl in Benjamin’s class called her mother to help her by holding on to her body. Benjamin picked that moment to call her a scaredy cat.

This made the girl cry, not because she was offended, but because she was mad. (I happen to know that she has an older brother and being called a scaredy cat probably hardly registered in her. She was, based on my own observation, frustrated that the boys were rushing her and upset that she wasn’t able to go across on her own.)

When this girl saw me watching, she approached me and launched into a speech not unlike my own 3yo Sonja would have under similar circumstances.

” Benjamin called me a scaredy cat but I’m not a scaredy cat because I used to be scared and now I’m not but I couldn’t go across the bars and he called me a scaredy cat…”

I exchanged a look with her mom (we don’t know each other, but we know of each other). We both smiled.

I assured the little girl that it was not right of Benjamin to call her a name, and that I would talk to him about it. (And I did, with predictable reactions I’m not going to bother typing out now).

Fast forward to later in the day:

During a quiet moment I asked Benjamin to recall a time at swim lessons when all the children were instructed to slide down a baby slide into the pool where the swim instructor was waiting to catch them.

Ben got up on top of the slide, sat there, and then changed his mind. He did not want to slide down, and no one made him.

Later on, we asked him what happened and he said he was scared, that it looked too high and too fast from up there.

Benjamin listened to me recount this story and then said:

“I was scared on that slide.”

I said it was ok to be scared. He looked at me. Then I said this:

“Did anyone call you a scaredy cat at the pool when you didn’t slide down?”

He said no.

And I said:

“Do you see now why your friend was upset when you called her a scaredy cat at the monkey bars?”

By gosh I think he got it. Or at least he made a connection.


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