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Use Humor While Teaching Children to Speak Respectfully

My daughter was 3. I told her she could not do something at a particular moment; I do not remember what it was now. She ran to the couch, buried her face into a side pillow and started to cry. She then lifted her head up, still sobbing, and tried to mutter the most vile thing her three-year-old, innocent mind could come up with. You could see the gears moving in her head as she got the words out: “YOU . . . . BIG . . . . POOPY . . . . BUTTHEAD!” I could not help but laugh hysterically. That made her even more angry. She sunk her face back into the pillow and continued to cry.

This was a golden opportunity to teach my daughter how to control her feelings and thus, talk with an adult respectfully. I went over to her, put my arm around her little shoulders and gave her a big hug. I explained to her that it was OK to be angry and that I understood she wanted to do whatever it was at that time, but it was not the right time for whatever reason. I explained that it was nothing personal, but we had other expectations of her at that time.

She expressed that her feelings were hurt when I laughed at her. I was stuck for words at this point, so I resorted to humor. It worked. I told her I thought “poopy butthead” sounded funny, that they were just words not given in a nice tone and that I would not accept that tone or those kinds of words from her again. I immediately asked her what a “poopy butthead” was anyway. That brought a giggle from her.

I explained that we all get mad once in awhile, but we need to talk through our feelings to get along. I told her that she can feel free to ask for what she wants, but if I feel it is not right for her at the time, she needed to trust that I had her best interests in mind– and that bottom line, she was the most important person in my life.

My daughter is almost 23 now. Occasionally, when she thinks I am being stubborn, she will joke that I am being a “poopy butthead.” In either case, we express our true feelings to each other to this day with respect.

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