Jimmy and Tommy (two five-year-olds) are playing together in the block area. When Jimmy won't share a block that Tommy feels he needs, Tommy calls Jimmy a "poop head." Ms. Smith, Jimmy and Tommy's teacher, overhears the exchange. What should she do? Ignore the bad language? Give Tommy a warning? Put Tommy in timeout? On a more philosophical level, Ms. Smith wonders if calling another child a "poop head" is really all that bad. After all, there are much worse words that Tommy could have used.Language values clearly vary from one community to another. Language values are also influenced by social and economic forces. Parents in religious communities may want more restriction on profane language than parents from non-religious communities. Rural dwellers may resent city speakers' slang. Northerners may disparage southerners' dialects. In-groups may make ethnic and racial slurs about out-groups' members. Communities often have conflicting child-rearing values. For example, some parents believe that children should be physically punished for bad language, while others may refuse to use physical punishment in any situation. Parents often expect teachers to use the same discipline techniques used at home. Some parents teach their children to defend themselves from bullies by fighting or cursing. All of these issues complicate the problem of young children using bad language and the range of solutions that the early childhood professional can use to solve bad language problems. Language Styles
The terms cursing and dirty language are used broadly to refer to several categories of offensive speech: name calling, insulting, profanity, slang, vulgarity, obscenity, epithets, slurs, and scatology. Each of these categories represents a different speaker intention and each intention presents a different problem for early childhood professionals (Jay, 1996). Cursing in public settings has been increasing in America, including in child care settings (Jay, 1992). Similar to styles of clothing, language styles range from formal to relaxed. Most educational settings strive for conventional or formal speech from children. Because many parents and families get along quite well with more relaxed codes, it is possible that the child care setting is the only place where some children hear conventional language spoken. Because some curse words are more problematic than others, it is necessary to sort language into three categories: acceptable,unacceptable, and inappropriate. Acceptable language is what we read in a magazine or hear in a news broadcast. It is a formal or conventional level of speech that we hope young children will eventually learn and use. Unacceptable language is that which must be forbidden for legal reasons. Unacceptable language includes harassment, libel, threats, gender or racial discrimination, and obscenity. Inappropriate language is the gray area betweenacceptable and unacceptable language. It is language that depends heavily on context, because different contexts pose different standards or restrictions on language and behavior. What constitutes appropriate speech on the playground may not be appropriate within the classroom. Unacceptable But Normal Behavior
Early childhood professionals and parents should anticipate children's dirty language. Most normal children will experiment with dirty words and dirty jokes in the course of growing up. They will also repeat powerful or offensive words that they hear adults use. Children may even make up unique words to use as insults. Children enjoy using language in jokes, puns, and stories that adults find "gross" (McGhee, 1979; Sutton-Smith & Abrams, 1978). Young children will freely use scatological references to body products (e.g., poop), body processes (e.g., fart), and body parts (e.g., butthole). As young children grow, they become more aware of social and psychological aspects of human interaction and their name calling will show their new awareness when you hear them...
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