Ask a Behaviour Consultant

Q. How can I support a 7-year-old child who is rude not only to me but to the other children in the group? This child calls his peers, ugly, fat, poopy pants and knucklehead; he does this when he is being playful and when he gets angry. When I ask him to tidy up, he often says, “no way poopy pants,” and then he laughs and runs away. When I’m serving snack, he will say, “you are a poopy pants,” which gets all the children laughing. I’m feeling frustrated and I’m not sure what to do.

A. School-age children seek independence and approval of their peers. They are concerned about their social image, body image, clothes and looks. Even though school age children are drawn more to their peers, they still seek adult approval and connection. 

The first thing caregivers need to do is monitor their own reaction. The moment you say, “that is not a nice thing to say”, you have drawn attention to it and you can guarantee that it will happen again. Try to remain calm and caring. Invest your time in creating a safe and secure environment where this child feels seen and heard. Reflect on your bonding behaviours, are you giving out clear signals that you like this child? What do you know about this child? How do you welcome this child into your program each day?

Give this child plenty of positive attention. Use his name only in reference to something desirable. “Max, you are having interesting conversations with your friends, I’m learning a lot about you”, or “Max you put away Lego, this helps keep our classroom tidy”, are some examples.

Give Empathetic Responses to the children who have been offended by the name calling and to the child who uses this language. To the offended child you can validate and relate to their feelings, “You are feeling insulted by those words, I’m feeling bothered by them too. I wonder what we can do about it?” To the child who is name calling we can ask clarifying questions, “Are you trying to be playful when you call your friends names? Do you like it when your friends laugh? Is it because you want to be funny?”

Create a group time where you can discuss as a group what you want your classroom environment to be without pointing fingers to anyone specific. As a group, you can come up with replacement names and expectations of when they can be used. Further, you can have an “open mic” time where children can perform jokes, if that is a group interest.

The most important thing you can do is always work towards building connection and strengthening relationships. When we show children that there is no problem too big to solve, we become the adult that children seek approval and connection from.