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Lisa Belkin


Banning The Word 'Penis' From A Preschooler's Vocabulary

Posted: 09/27/2012 10:26 am

Carinn Jade is furiously editing her son's speech.

He just started preschool this month, and she is learning that in addition to the artwork, and the cold germs, that a brand-new student brings home, there are words. Words she doesn't want him saying.

We all have our list of those words. Not the banned-by-the-FCC ones -- I figure all parents agree that those should probably not be part of a 3-year-old's vocabulary. But words that are loaded, words that are hurtful, words that feel personal.

Our lists are different, reflecting all the differences in the lives that shape each one. Mine included all the variations on "stupid," because I know how it hurt me as a child, and all variations on the word "butt" -- a word I didn't know pushed my buttons until I started hearing it constantly from the world's most adorable mouth.

Jade's list is not mine. Her words are:

Winning: "In my house we focus on 'trying' and shy away from result-oriented words like 'winning' or 'losing.'" 

Girlfriend: "She is a full 11 months older than my son and this cougar is dragging him through the wringer. I had expected to hold off these heartaches until middle school, but again I was foiled by his classroom experiences."

Penis: "I also don't understand why some moms are obsessed with teaching their potty-training children the "appropriate" term for their genitals... I've never heard a mom mention whether their child was cutting a bicuspid or canine." 

When I read the above list on I thought some of her choices were futile, while one was simply wrong. "Winning" is a fact of life in the wider world, and one absolutely worth discussing. "Girlfriend" is cute, and will pass. And "penis" is a word that every little boy should learn so that it doesn't become scandalous and giggle-worthy to a preschooler. What I don't understand is why anyone wouldn't use that word, as naturally as one uses arm or leg, or ... tooth.

I also thought back to the moments when my boys began to spout concepts that I knew did not come from me. I remember being startled not just by the words and thoughts themselves, but by the fact of them -- the awareness that my sons would be shaped by so much more than only me.

I wanted that -- exposure to a big wide universe, a chance to look through different lenses and choose their own. But I dreaded it, too. "Stupid" and "butt-head" were the first real reminders that if I do this parenting job right, I loosen my claim and give my children up to the world.

Carinn Jade is learning that, too. She wrote:

I can share my knowledge and values but he will also be influenced by teachers, coaches and peers. His own path will be an integration of the lessons he learns from each.  That is, unless I can convince my husband to let me homeschool him until college.

What are your "banned" words? Why?


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