Not Just A Four Letter Word

This afternoon, my toddler did the unexpected. She called a new worker in our home “ugly.” And, after I told her that we never use that word, and that it’s very hurtful, and I don’t ever want to hear her say it again, she turned to our new worker and told her that, “my Mommy says that you’re very, very, ugly.”

That was absolutely shocking. One, because it was an outright lie, since I never ever said that. And two, because it was just so cruel and mean to hear. I immediately put her into time out and, when DH came home, he had a long talk with her.

But, I have absolutely no idea where on earth that even came from! We certainly don’t talk that way in our house, and I am hoping that the girls don’t talk that way in gan. I sent an email to DD’s ganenet, asking her advice on how we should handle this situation. We are definitely in unchartered territory here. I mean, I can handle a lot of other things that comes our way: disobedience, acting out, being upset with her baby sister, fighting over meal times and makeup. But this, being mean just to be mean, is something I never expected to hear from my toddler.

I tried to reason that she has no idea what she is saying, but then I realized that she does know what she is saying. The other day, when we were walking on the street, she pointed out that a man was fat. He was a very, very large man, and when I tried to explain that we don’t say those things, she got very confused. She doesn’t yet associate “fat” with the way I associate “fat.” She is starting to grasp concepts like “opposites” and “similar” and therefore, she understands that “fat” vs. “skinny” is an opposite. But, how do we educate a toddler about social niceties? How do we explain that, even though technically one person might be fat, we certainly don’t scream it to that person from across the road.

But I also think that when she used the word “ugly” it was very, very, different from the way she used “fat.” In her mind, the worker in our house wasn’t what she has decided is pretty. And that got me thinking about what she sees around our home. She sees Disney princess characters and she spent a year and a day looking at Nicki Minaj in a Mac cosmetic ad on the back of my Oprah magazine. She watches celebrities on Sesame Street and she also watches all of the pretty people on Yaldut Yisraelit.  She has very limited exposure, however, to different races and ethnicities. Aside from Dora the Explorer, she doesn’t interact on a daily basis with children of different races. Also, when she reads her Dora books, she doesn’t see the physical differences between her and Dora. All she thinks is different is that Dora speaks Spanish, and she speaks Hebrew and English.

So, what do we do? How do we handle this situation? Do we punish her? How do we educate her? How can we teach her that her words are hurtful? That we don’t call someone “fat” or “ugly”? We’re new parents that definitely do not want our daughter growing up as a mean girl, or worse, a bully.

Anyone who comments with advice is automatically entered into my What to Expect giveaway! If you don’t have the books, or if you haven’t been to the What to Expect website, you are definitely missing out! These books are, to me, what Dr. Spock was to my parents thirty years ago. The website is really, really helpful and I especially loved getting daily emails about fetal development during my entire 42 week pregnancy! They approached me to host this fabulous giveaway and, on Thursday, one lucky commenter will win all of the What to Expect books!! So, spread the word and let your friends know about this fabulous giveaway. And, more importantly, weigh in on what you think we should do to teach our daughter that “ugly” is a really nasty four letter word!


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7 Responses to Not Just A Four Letter Word

  1. I don’t have any advice but just wanted to tell you that DD was in punishment tonight – straight to bed after supper with no stories. What did she do? She ran out of the Community Centre gates and up the road with me runninhg after her screaming “stop!” and her ignoring me. A car was about to back out and wouldn’t have seen her behind it and I wasn’s sure if she was going to stop at the main road (which she did). It was partly because she doesn’t consider that road to be a road as it’s more of a driveway and we have to walk on it with the cars. Anyway, suffice to say, even though we talked about it at length, I’m not 100% sure she understands what dangerous means, etc. I’m now terrified to let her run around in the park.

  2. Miriyummy says:

    It’s a matter of teaching tact, which is so much harder than potty training… 😉

    It’s important to teach a child that certain words are hurtful. They do have a right to think that people are fat, or ugly, or mean, or even wonderful, but there is a huge difference between what one thinks, and what one says.

    And then again, you have to teach them to speak the truth. But the main thing is to tell them that they can’t always say what they have on their minds. This has such a fine line that the best way for children to learn to be tactful is by example. Talk about your feelings with your child, and then let your child know what you said to that person.

    When I was growing up Marlo Thomas wrote a book (and then made a recording, and subsequently a TV special) called Free to Be, You and Me. It was a brilliant teaching tool 40 years ago, and it hasn’t gotten old, it’s still a wonderful book and recording to read and play to your child to teach them that even though people are different, everyone is a person with feelings.

    • holylandhipstermom says:

      Thanks so much!! You are officially entered into the contest!

    • holylandhipstermom says:

      You’re entered to win the books, Miriyummy! And thanks for the follow up email too, it means a lot that you filled me in on what’s going on with you!! xoxo

  3. Sarah says:

    I think she should know that their are consequences for her actions. If she called someone ugly to their face, i would make her apologize for what she had done. She will start learning that it is embarrassing and not a pleasant experience to apologize to people. It is important also not to leave it alone. She has to do it in the same momment (if possible). She will eventually learn

    This is not something you could prevent, it really happens to every child. You are spot on that she is just using opposite and doesn’t understand that society had labeled Fat = bad and Skinny = good.

  4. Margo Strahlberg says:

    When I’ve encountered similar situations with my kids, I make sure to turn the tables on them and ask how they would feel if someone called them “ugly” or any other name/insult. Sometimes they are stubborn and respond that they wouldn’t care, at which point I tell them that if someone said it to me it would hurt my feelings. If they still don’t seem to get it, I drop it temporarily and bring up the topic again at a later point in time when I think they will be more receptive.

    So I wouldn’t recommend punishment as much as trying to talk about the issue on a more personal level…good luck!

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