Little boys are ornery. At about 5, they discover that saying naughty words provokes all kinds of interesting reactions in adults. Nothing brings a sparkle to a 6-year-old’s eyes like repeating the words he knows for bodily functions.
A simple rhyming game is abruptly terminated when they use a forbidden word. Any innocent word you might mention is subject to an inappropriate rhyme followed by peals of laughter. The 6-year-old in my life laughed so hard at his own wit that he fell off the high stool he was perched on. A kindergartner will even ask how to spell a word he’s not supposed to say.
Little boys love to talk about squashed bugs, slime, snot, boogers and poop. Preferably at mealtime, until they have been summarily banished enough times to a time-out corner by an irate mother to learn to bite their tongue with her first threatening glare.
Where do they learn all that socially incorrect stuff? From fathers, grandfathers, big brothers, uncles and other little boys, I’m convinced. It’s a male thing. Women and little girls are naturally repulsed; men of all ages think such references are hilarious.
Maybe it’s part of the male-bonding process. I’ve seen little boys and their fathers howl with laughter at some disgusting phrase — until the father remembers he is supposed to be a role model and adds unconvincingly: “But don’t say that again.”
Dr. Arnold Gesell, in his guide to children’s behavior from 1 to 10, said this starts at age 4 and continues in various manifestation through the 10-year-olds who, he notes, have considerable interest in smutty jokes.
I remember coming home from work one day and hearing a son, about 9 or 10 at the time, and the little boy from next door talking outside. They were sitting under an open window, their backs against the side of the house, saying bad words. Horrified, I rushed to the window to order them to hush when I realized they weren’t calling each other names. They were just taking turns reciting all the words they knew they weren’t supposed to say.
I must confess I taught my grandson, when he was 5, the only naughty poem I can remember from my own conservative childhood. As he was kicking up his heels one day, I was suddenly prompted to recite this verse I hadn’t thought of in years:
“I see London
I see France
I see Jake’s
Of course he loved it and asked me to repeat it until he memorized it.
“Now don’t say that at school,” I warned him. “Or, if you do, don’t tell who taught you!”
Little boys always go one step too far. At certain stages, they burp, they slam doors, they push, they shove, they holler, they make ugly faces, they giggle uncontrollably. Naughty words are just another step in growing up.
About the best we can hope for is to teach them when not to say them. In other words, when it’s going to be embarrassing. Not to them — 6-year-olds don’t embarrass easily — but to us.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.