I don't like name-calling. "Stupid" is a really bad word in this house. One of the chief rules here is "Be Loving", and name-calling is in direct violation of that rule.
Sometimes it's easy to label name-calling. There are some obviously offensive words: "stupid", "poopy", "girly" (when directed at a boy), and other similar insults.
Other words go both ways and the tone and context are necessary to determine if it is an insult or not: "silly" could mean that I'm laughing WITH you or AT you, "meany" could be a cry of alarm at a true injustice or could be a complaint that things aren't going my way, and so on.
And other words, seemingly innocuous, could be used in a mean way. "Billy, you're a tree." Is being a tree a good thing or a bad thing? Are you recalling the positive characteristics of a tree and being poetical ("Billy, you are strong and steadfast!")? Or are you simply grasping for an offensive word and know that Mom will yell at you if you use stupid?
I want my children to be empathetic. I want them to realize that hurtful words are just as bad as hits and kicks. I want them to realize that even when they mean something in a neutral or nice way, it could be taken as an insult. Basically, I don't want them to insult others intentionally, and I want them to pay attention to how others react to their words and to be aware if someone is upset by what they say. I realize that it will take many years to acheive competency in this area. Some adults could use these lessons too.
At the same time, I want my children to be a bit less sensitive. If you break down in tears whenever you perceive the slightest insult, you will have a rough life. There are many boorish people out there who have no idea how obnoxious their behavior is. There are some mean people out there who don't care how you feel. There are those who will feel the need to educate you, who will tell you that what you believe is wrong. To function in this world, we need to be able to ignore those hurtful words, not take the comments personally, and if the insult is intentional, we need to be forgiving. Plus, I'm not naive. Always discipling one child for name-calling puts a lot of power in the hands of a little child who can tattle about every insult. I've seen this power abused.
So, when an accusation of name-calling is leveled, I need to lecture both parties on proper behavior. Being a mom is tough. And then...
I forgot about men.
Men are not women. Men talk a different language. Men actually call each other names and it means, "I WUV you, man...you are my best friend." My husband calls one of his friends "knuckle-dragger" and "neanderthal." He means it in a nice way, of course. Sure.
So, when my boys say something like, "Fritz you big dopey," it really translates to, "Hey, Fritz, wanna wrestle?" And then wrestling or jumping on the furniture or some other boy-fun commences. I can't get wrapped around the axle over that sort of name-calling. It's man-code.
Ah, but we have a house full of two genders. And girls don't talk like that. It is rare that the boys talk to their sisters like that and rare that the sisters talk to the boys like that. No, when Katie calls names, she's being a big meany. And feelings get hurt. So, there is a double standard being applied. It is ok for Billy to name-call Fritz (sometimes), but not ok for Katie to name-call Fritz (ever).
And then a few days ago, at dinner, Fritz (age 7) is whining a complaint that his mean 4 year old sister Katie is calling him a "pillow." Even though I know she was being mean, honestly, COME ON....and so I begin with the fact that he is 3 years older, that he needs to not be so sensitive, that she called him a PILLOW...what in the world could he find offensive about that?
But Bill handles things differently. He decides that Fritz is "pillow-soft" for being so sensitive. He proceeds to name-call his own son "Pillow-boy." This translate, somehow, into "Let's wrestle" and chaos is regularly breaking out around here. Of course, he didn't want Billy to feel left out, so he dubbed him "Pokey-man" which is actually pretty funny, since Billy takes FOREVER to do everything and we are constantly waiting for him to finish getting dressed or finish coloring or finish looking at something.
In the meantime, I am working on Princess Cupcake and using her royal aspirations to modify her behavior. After all, princesses are not rude or mean, are they? And thankfully, the boys have a dad who can teach them proper man-behavior in a world where it's ok to call your buddy the most egregious things, as long as you don't mind a bit of rough-housing or you can run really fast.