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How do I correct a two-year-old who has picked up a blasphemous phrase and loves to repeat it?

Young boy. Photo copyrighted.A parent named Darla asks for advice on this problem: "We took our two-year-old son along when we were visiting some friends recently. They have an older boy, and they had rented the video Home Alone. We all sat there watching it and several times the phrase, "Oh, my God," was used. Later, on the way home, our two-year-old said, "Oh, my God," and now he says it all the time.

Counselor, RANDY CARLSON: How did you react when he began saying this?

"At first, we thought it best just to ignore it, and that he’d forget about it. But he hasn’t forgotten. It’s been going on for three months, and we’re not sure what to do at this point."

Carlson: It’s always good not to overreact and reinforce a child for behavior that is not acceptable. But if it’s lasted three months and he is still saying it, then you need to think about how you can explain to a two-year-old that you don’t use God’s Name like that in your home.

Counselor, Dr. Kevin Leman: At this point, I think you must look him right in the eye, get his focused attention, and then you say very firmly, "We do not say that in this house!" He will understand that. Just by your facial expression he will know that he said something that isn’t acceptable.

We tried that and it didn’t work.

Carlson: It isn’t a matter of just saying it once, or even a few times. You can’t say you’ve tried something and it didn’t work until you really have tried it. You have to take time to train the young child. When does he normally use this phrase?

He is our only child, and sometimes the three of us will be driving down the road and he will just start saying it, maybe as many as four or five or six times in a row.

Leman: You’re sort of caught between a rock and a hard place. When he started saying this, you ignored it, and it became a habit for him. Then when you reacted to it, maybe you overreacted a bit and it got reinforced. Now it’s something he’s doing to get attention.

Carlson: I’d like to go back to the question of whether it’s right or wrong to ignore something like this when it first starts.

My personal philosophy is that you don’t ignore things, hoping they’ll just go away. There may be a few exceptions, but ordinarily you need to act when the child is behaving inappropriately.

Keep telling him "No, that isn’t something we say in our home," but don’t overreact and make a big deal out of it. Spanking him could easily backfire and only reinforce the behavior.

You’ll get farther by withdrawing privileges or depriving him of certain things he wants or likes. For example, If he ever says it at the kitchen table, you might just tell him, "No, we don’t say that, and now you are excused from dinner." Or, if he says it while you’re driving along together, you can say, "Well, we were going to stop for ice cream, but now that you’ve said that we can’t and we’re going straight home."

And, one more idea, if he has a little friend over and says it, the friend has to go straight home. Find a consequence that he can understand at the tender age of two, and that’s how he will learn to be accountable.

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Author: excerpt from Parent Talk by Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson of Family Life Communications. Used by permission.

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