young boy making a silly face and grabbing hair

Using Play to Help with Name Calling

Sometimes we get really stuck in a negative reaction to a particular behaviour our children bring to us. I'm so thankful to have discovered the Playlistening tool, which has allowed me to approach challenging behaviors in a playful, but very effective way. Here’s an example of using the tool to work with my son when he was calling us names.

Young boy calling names

My husband had just got back from being away in the US for a week. He goes away with work quite a bit, and the US is the most challenging for us because the time difference for us in the UK makes it difficult to connect – particularly for him with the kids. The children really do miss him when he's away, and, of course, I have less time for them too because I have to do all the household chores myself.

Just How Stupid Am I?

Our oldest child, who is 7, was showing some big emotions. I think he was sensing the safety of his daddy being home and felt comfortable releasing some pent-up feelings. He was doing a lot of name-calling, as well as very physical fighting. When he's upset, he tends to call people “stupid” or “stupid idiot,” –words that I admit I find hard to hear.

When he said it this time I was in a good headspace. Because I've been thinking a bit about this particular area, and have spoken about it in my Listening Partnerships, I was able to think more creatively and turn it on its head to get some laughter going.

When he called me stupid, I replied in a jokey way, saying things like “But just how stupid am I? I've been practising for years to be this stupid – could there be anyone stupider than me?!”

I pretended that I was really proud of being the stupidest, and I pretended to be annoyed when he called anyone other than me stupid!

Why Punishment Isn't the Answer

Responding in this way has really taken the edge off what was becoming a real sticking point for us as a family. Things have been a lot more relaxed around name calling since then, and although it's something we would like to see the back of completely, I feel like we've moved out of the stalemate we were in before. Now we are able to tackle it much more creatively.

I used to think that you should come down hard on behaviors like name calling – because otherwise the child will just continue to do them, right? Now I realize that when a child is calling names (or indeed showing any kind of off-track behavior) they are signaling a need for connection, for help with some big, stuck feelings they have.

Being playful increases your connection with one another. The laughter, which comes from the playfulness, allows the child to release tensions they are carrying so they no longer need to show those challenging behaviors.

Play Changes the Dynamic

Our son spent a long time playing very happily and independently after this session, and was happy to engage on and off throughout the play – plus he was very cooperative and thoughtful when I asked him to play quietly because his little brother was sick and sleeping.

Responding playfully has been a revelation that has completely changed the dynamic in our house!

Other resources you may find useful:

  • Bad words from good kids is a great article with more ideas to help if you are struggling with name calling-type behaviours in your home
  • To find out more about Playlistening, you can buy the Playlistening booklet here, or for more information about the Hand in Hand approach, I try the whole set of booklets which includes the Playlistening booklet.
  • Watch this lovely short video on the science of play, with a discussion about Playlistening.

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