One of my former students with autism loved the word “booty.”
I also love the word “booty.” So, I decided to roll with it. That was a mistake. After several hours, I no longer loved the word. In fact, I thought if I heard it one more time, I was going to go insane.
In retrospect, that was probably the moment in my teaching career that best simulated parenting.
Most children (with or without autism) have the superpower to make a parent’s head explode with the repetition of a single word or phrase.
The power is magnified if the word or phrase is a little loaded, such as:
- What the…
- Waaahhh (you know, that annoying disappointed sound)
- [insert your pet-peeve word here]
And once one kid finds a particularly annoying phrase, all the kids put it into heavy rotation like it’s their full-time job.
Let’s talk about how to take the power back and keep from losing our minds.
Why Do Kids Say Annoying Stuff?
OMG. WHO CARES?
They do it to get attention. It’s self-reinforcing. It’s actually hilarious to them. They’re pushing boundaries. They’re checking to see if they’re “old enough” for certain words.
They’re trying to pull us out of the to-do lists in our heads while we’re driving. They do it for SO MANY reasons.
Let’s just make it STOP, right?
What Can We Do to Stop Kids from Saying Irritating Things?
Here are four different strategies for you to choose from.
1. Ignore them
If you’ve been giving a big reaction and maybe a lecture since they started saying it, your kid might just recognize it as a good way to get your goat.
We say, “Don’t say that!”
They say, “I forgot!”
If you get the sense your reaction is what they’re after, ignore it like it’s your full-time job.
Deep sighs and eye rolls do not count as ignoring. They still know they got you. Ignore. FOR REAL. Like you’re inside Wonder Woman’s invisible jet and you cannot hear the word “butt” no matter how closely it’s said to your ear.
2. Come up with silly replacement words together
For little kids (three and under) irritating, repetitive words are usually things they’ve heard at daycare or on TV. When they get a reaction, they feel empowered. So they keep after it.
You can say, “Instead of ‘stupid-head,’ let’s say ‘silly goose’ or ‘fluffy noggin!’”
I promise you, little kids will go all the way there with you if you make it fun. All they wanted was connection with you anyway. So now they get it on your terms.
3. Timed-interval reinforcement
Come up with a reinforcer (a.k.a. incentive)—maybe the daily screen time your child already gets, maybe dessert. Something exciting. Have a conversation about the irritating word, about your mental health needs, and why you love your child too much to let him act like an annoying little shit. (I mean, parent those words up a little…) Then,
- Start by setting the timer for two minutes (maybe longer for older kids).
- For every two-minute period they DON’T say the word, they earn a minute of screen time, a token, a cracker, whatever.
- If you hear the word, you reset the timer and start all over.
- Slowly extend the time until the habit is overcome and then it becomes an expectation.
I do this all the time when friends bring new, exciting (and inappropriate) language into our house.
But what if they get trained to know this is a great way to just earn stuff, you ask? That’s why I suggest using reinforcing activities they already have access to—like daily TV time or dessert. Make a normal, everyday privilege something they now have to earn.
But, really, most of the time this stuff is just habitual. Once you break the cycle it’s easy to fade the reinforcer.
4. THE NUCLEAR OPTION
This is SO MUCH FUN.
It works best for older kids. You know, old enough that the realization has settled on them that we parents did not, in fact, hang the sun and moon. We do not know about being cool. In fact, adults are SO UNCOOL.
So, when they bring some trendy, obnoxious word home (DEEZ NUTS, anyone? How did that come back?) Here’s what you do. You take the word over. Take back the power.
Work it into every conversation. Every sentence. Saturate them with it. Drain every ounce of delight from the word or phrase. And it is so much fun, FOR YOU.
When I was explaining this technique to my friend, we could not stop with “DEEZ NUTS.” (It really is fun.)
We were cracking ourselves up at how hilarious it was and how hilarious it was going to be when she drove her own sons insane with it.
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Are You Tired of ‘Titties’?
You can also do this with some swears or other inappropriate words, like “titties” maybe.
My BFF laid this technique on one of her students after she overheard him on the playground, and she said that by the time she was done, he was ready to crawl in a hole. He was mortified. We still laugh about how it went:
“Titties? Did you say titties? No, titties is not a word we use at school. I don’t want to hear you say titties to anyone else in this classroom. Titties is not a respectful word to use about breasts anyway. What if I call your mom to tell her you’re staying “titties”? Oh, I’ll put you on the phone and you can talk to her about titties.
And it went on and on.
But the thing about a nuclear option is you have to be careful with it. One reason we still laugh so hard about taking back “titties,” is because it was a rare strategic move. Just know that it’s an all-in counter strike, and if you overuse it, your family life could become a freak-show wasteland.
But Isn’t This Just a Normal Part of Childhood?
Yes, yes. Sure, whatever.
I typically try to ride this stuff out and let kids work through whatever they have going. They need to fit into the group, check the boundaries. I get it.
But our sanity is just as important as that. Amiright, Bosses?
Now take your backpack full of titty-fighting tools and be done with DEEZ NUTS!
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About the Author
Lisa King is the co-founder of Boss Parent. She also provides parents with in-person and remote child behavior consulting.