Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic Activity: Dealing with Vulgarity of Speech



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When children go through "potty mouth" stages, how should parents respond?


Vulgarity is another perplexing problem that falls in the category of things modest and pure, for the young and the old alike. Man is naturally vulgar. Supernaturally he may overcome it, but original sin seems to have left a broad stripe of vulgarity right down the middle of his back, and from time to time it will assert itself in the broadest kind of humor. With small children it is what is commonly known, among mothers, as bathroom humor. Just the other day a mother was here, discussing her two fine little boys, and at one point she rolled her eyes and said: "We're going through a stage now that is about as trying as anything so far — bathroom giggles. It drives me wild!"

Even the nicest children will indulge in it from time to time, repudiating all the wholesome training and thinking they've been given. The best general approach to it is a dry one: "Well, it doesn't take much to amuse you, does it?" And then go on to remind them that, but for the daily bodily functions, one would soon depart this life via one of a number of painful complications — and isn't God good to manage our health so sensibly?

One way to hurdle a child's titillation over bathroom terms is to adopt the completely unprovocative anatomical terms used in the hospital. I had not given this too much thought until we had to ship our three middle boys to the hospital for a mass tonsillectomy. The day after the operations, when I called to see them, one of the nurses said to me: "So you're the mother of the three little boys? Well, I must say, the way they ask about going to the bathroom has all the nurses dumbfounded. So professional! You should hear what most of them say — it's awful! Why in the world do mothers allow children to use such unpleasant words?"

With all the use of proper terms and constant reminding about keeping the body and its functions in the proper place, small children — usually in the attempt to get attention or strike back at some older brother — will now and then fling the most unsavory words about with riotous abandon. There are apparently two attitudes to take. Either ignore it (recommended by most of the books on child care, with the advice that being ignored will cure it because it will fail to get the desired attention) or take firm steps to suppress it. We have tried both in our family and have concluded that ignoring it is no cure at all. A child knows instinctively what annoys his mother, what is bold and forbidden. Even when she possesses such remarkable self-control as to be able to let the naughty words pass unnoticed, he knows that, down deep inside, he has succeeded in getting the attention he desired. So — and here we go out on a limb — we use an old and time-honored cure: a good lick on a bar of soap. It doesn't do them any harm, and if it is accompanied by a few words to the effect that since they have used their tongue to offend God and their fellows, therefore the naughty tongue must have the punishment, it will soon discourage bandying about with unacceptable words.

Then there are the inevitable shrieks of laughter over baby as he chugs off after having stepped out of his diapers. There's no doubt about it, there is something delightfully funny about babies and their smooth, round bottoms. But little boys are apt to be carried away and start applying themselves too heartily to the whole subject in general, and that is where a little anatomical information comes in handy. It puts an entirely different aspect on the large muscles of the lower posterior torso to be told they are called the gluteus maximus, and were designed by God to cover the sharp corners of the pelvis. Now the pelvis, uncushioned, would hardly support baby — or anyone else for that matter — comfortably for more than five minutes at a time; and if you want to see what it would be like without the gluteus, bang your elbow hard on the table: you'll see. Even in the prosaic occupation that is the act of sitting down, God's infinite wisdom — and mercy! — are evident.

Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961