How Parents Can Tackle Inappropriate Language, Separation Anxiety and Attention-Seeking Behaviors

(Family Features) If your little one has ever caught you off guard by dropping a verbal bomb or your young child struggles with separation anxiety, you’re certainly not alone.

It’s important for parents to recognize inappropriate language, separation anxiety and attention-seeking behaviors are all normal and expected parts of early childhood. Just as important is understanding their root causes and steps to take to curb these undesired behaviors.

To help parents looking to tackle these issues, Dr. Lauren (Starnes) Loquasto, senior vice president and chief academic officer at The Goddard School, and Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and member of The Goddard School’s Educational Advisory Board, provide this guidance and reassurance.

Inappropriate Language
The use of foul or inappropriate language by children is typically learned by hearing adults in their lives use these words or by imitating language overheard on handheld devices or in television shows or movies. The best way to prevent this is to buffer exposure to such language.

If a child uses a curse word, pause before giving the cursing immediate attention so the word isn’t unintentionally reinforced. Next, ask the child how they are feeling or help the child label their emotion. For example, “I think you are angry and hurt because you hit your toe on the step.”

Suggest alternate language and label the word that was used as “not nice,” “bad” or “not OK.” Then ensure this is modeled by adults. If a child hears adults use the language again, they are likely to repeat it, too.

Separation Anxiety
As a normative developmental behavior that reflects a strong attachment to parents and caregivers, separation anxiety frequently manifests as clinging to a parent or caregiver when being dropped off at school or having an emotional reaction to being left with a different caregiver.

While infants, toddlers and preschoolers have different developmental reasons for showing this behavior, handling it should be consistent across all early childhood ages. First, ensure drop-offs take place when the child is not overly hungry or tired. A well-rested and well-fed child is often less stressed and may transition easier.

Second, make drop-offs short and consistent. Create a simple routine such as giving the child a hug, telling him or her when you expect to be back then turning and leaving. Maintain the same routine and do not return to the classroom after dropping off, as this could make the separation anxiety worse and trigger a heightened emotional reaction. The more consistent and steadfast the drop-off routine, the quicker the separation anxiety will resolve.

Attention-Seeking Behaviors
Children desire attention and some will seek it through any means available. This may include hurting others, throwing tantrums, overly dramatizing “injuries,” whining or showing blatant defiance in full visibility of parents or caregivers.

It is important that adults interpret the behavior as communication and understand the child is asking for attention for a reason. Evaluate if the child has an unmet need, such as hunger, tiredness or self-care. When possible, ignore the attention-seeking behavior and then seek opportunities to provide overt, strong attention for positive behaviors.

For example, after ignoring the child throwing blocks across the room, strongly emphasize positive behavior when they put away the toys neatly. Label emotions and ask how they are feeling. Discuss ways to show these feelings in more appropriate ways.

Also be consistent with consequences. If the child hurts another or causes a mess, explain the consequence in simple terms. For example, “We cannot break our crayons, even when we are angry. You broke your crayons so you cannot play with your art materials.”

To watch a “Parenting with Goddard” webinar recording featuring Loquasto and Pruett providing additional tips, and to access a wealth of actionable parenting insights, guidance and resources, visit


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