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By Dr. Tina Lepage Dr. Tina Lepage is the owner of Lepage Associates Solution-Based Psychological & Psychiatric Services, a group practice in S. Durham/RTP. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

Parenting Page: Navigating Name Calling

By Dr. Tina Lepage Posted August 14, 2014 at 6:00 am

This is a parenting page, about parenting Page. I am a child psychologist and a mother. So I specialize in children, yet I am human, thus I am full of knowledge and yet as full of emotions as any other parent. So I decided to write this Parenting Page since it might be informative and funny for others to take an insider look at a child specialist raising her child. I also wanted to create a way to show Page when she grows up, if she chooses to have children, a real-life view of the experience. I hope you enjoy these stories and musings.

I don’t recall at what age Page and her friends started calling one another names, and even though name-calling was pretty rare among she and her friends, like many life lessons “no name calling” had to be taught and re-taught. I guess this shouldn’t be any surprise given that some adults regularly engage in calling one another unsavory names directly, and a good number of others do so behind the person’s back.

The direct name-calling was easy enough to explain to children why they shouldn’t do, since we all know that is bullying and can hurt people’s feelings. As children mature and can emotionally understand the nuance between not-nice name-calling and good-natured humorous teasing between friends, they can venture into good-natured teasing with one another. Though it has been my experience that even some adults never develop this skill – so I erred on the side of directing Page not to call names even in jest. Too often a child or teen pretends the words don’t hurt, only to later tell family or friends that it did in fact hurt their feelings.

The indirect name-calling was harder to explain, because you want kids to learn that they should be able to share with parents and close family and friends when they are annoyed with someone or don’t like them. That requires navigating the line between saying what you think and feel openly with people you love and trust, without engaging in using unnecessary derogatory words to do so. It’s a higher level of communication I definitely wanted Page to learn, thus I would redirect her from “so-and-so is a jerk” and ask that instead of calling names, she tell me what the person did that was upsetting.

I also tried to model for Page and guide her in the difference between name-calling and good-natured teasing. At elementary school age, upon seeing me panic over and over with her and a friend in the ocean waves that they were out too far, Page said to me, “Mom, we’re going to have to go get dad soon to take over; clearly you are outside of your comfort zone!” I laughed out loud at that and shared the story with others; that was a great example of good-natured teasing. But when on the same vacation regarding the same issue the next day she tried to call me a “wimp” by saying, “Mom, there’s a four-letter word that describes you. Do you know what it is?” – I told her she wasn’t allowed to use that word. To which she groaned, “Oh mom, stop being such a psychologist!” I’m pretty sure by the placement of the word “psychologist” in the sentence and her tone of voice that she was using my profession as not-nice name-calling, but I couldn’t prove it so I had to let that one go…

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