Two of my daughter's 8-year-old class mates taught my daughter how to use the middle finger. My daughter is now obsessed and won't stop.

We don't use this at home and find it offensive. However, she uses it all the time, so we have taken play dates away, we have put her on time outs. But she just won't stop. Now her younger 7-year-old sister is trying it on for size.

Any suggestions?

  • 2
    The first time, my mother told me it was the same as swearing, don't do that. The second time she washed my mouth out with soap. There wasn't a third time.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 17:57
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    @pojo-guy Hopefully that's not a suggestion Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 19:24
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    In the '60's, it was a common way to deal with "dirty language", and it worked for many families.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 19:26

3 Answers 3


Have you tried explaining to her what it means? Not in its entirety of course, but maybe something along the lines of:

Giving someone the middle finger is like telling them, in the meanest way possible, that you dislike them. This goes beyond 'not being polite' and, besides making the person you are giving the middle finger to feel very bad, it reflects poorly on you. It tells others that you are disrespectful of others and their feelings.

If explaining it like above doesn't work (or hasn't worked already), try asking how she would feel if someone did that to her.

  • What would she think it means?

  • Would she be upset?

  • How would she feel about the person who did it, after the fact?

You can then use her responses to help her put herself in the shoes of those she is using the middle finger towards.

I have found that, in general, children don't want to hurt others. They may think something is funny or not think through what they are doing, which ends up hurting people, but they (generally) try to learn from those experiences so as not to hurt others again. Also, at the age of 8, children are still learning how to tell the difference between "right" and "wrong" behavior when it comes to social interactions/how it impacts others emotionally.

Good luck!

  • Thank you...I had explained to my daughter what it ment numerous times however reading your response finally made some sense. Thank you again. I will keep you posted.
    – bsk07sck
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 1:26

One of my favorite parenting authors, Ron Taffel, writes about the "family envelope." We, as parents, create an envelope for the child, large enough to move and grow, but small enough to be safe. Children learn where boundaries are by pushing against the envelope, and when they hit that edge and realize they can go no further, it makes them feel safe. As they age, we increase the size of the envelope.

Your daughters are pushing the edge of the envelope, and the behavior you describe is an age-appropriate attempt at doing so. That you have tried multiple methods for stopping the behavior suggests a need for consistency in your approach. Remember that most envelope-pushing behaviors are attempts to get attention, so your multiple attempts to explain to them why the behavior is wrong are actually rewarding their bad behavior. They KNOW it's wrong, they are just pushing your buttons. Timeouts (which rob the child of any attention) should be the most effective way to deal with the problem if used with consistency.

I personally learned to use timeouts the 1-2-3 Magic way, which suggests that when a child exhibits an inappropriate behavior, you calmly name the behavior and say "That's one" ("We don't use that gesture in this family. That's one." Try it with no eye contact.) If the behavior or another attention-getting behavior follows, you just say, "That's two." Third offense, "That's three. Timeout." The child must go to her room for X minutes (X being her approximate age). The trick is to not spend time explaining the behavior or to give the behavior any attention. You don't even explain to her that this 1-2-3 thing is something new we are doing - just do it, she will figure it out. After a very short time using this method, you will find most behaviors stop with "That's one."

Ron Taffel has recently written The Second Family, which explains how your children's peers groups create a second envelope when they become teenagers, which makes parenting even trickier.

  • +1 for "They KNOW it's wrong, they are just pushing your buttons." Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 9:56
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    Good answer. +1. But... 1-2-3 Magic does not work the way you described. You announced that the time out was for giving the finger, not for attention-seeking behavior. If she switches to something different, and is not giving the finger, you both win. One of the major problems with 1-2-3 Magic is its misuse. Personally, I loved it and it was very, very helpful to me with my kids; like you said, untoward behavior stopped at "That's a one." My husband misunderstood/misused it, and just caused frustration and a sense of injustice in the kids. Justice is very important to kids, as is mercy. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 15:26
  • @anongoodnurse When does the 1 reset? Every day? Every hour? If they give the middle finger on Wednesday and get a "1" and then give the middle finger on Thursday, do they get a "1" or a "2"? Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 4:16
  • @SomeShinyObject - The counting "resets" a short time (say 5 min) after the behavior stops. Usually (for me) the behavior stopped either at "That's a one (or two)" or after the time out. It's not a weapon for the kids to fear; it's a tool. Are you being serious with your question, or are you trying to make 1-2-3 look foolish? I used it, and I loved it. My pediatrician gave it to every new parent. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 16:03
  • @anongoodnurse No! I'm being completely serious! I tried it for the first time yesterday and it looks like that will be a new tool for the toolbox. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 22:24

If she knows it's something she shouldn't be doing then I wouldn't treat it any different than if she used a swear word or did something else inappropriate. If she intentionally continues to do it after being told not to then there should be a consequence, whether it be grounding her from something she likes for the night, no tv, etc. Nothing too drastic but to make a point, there should be a punishment for deliberately disobeying or she'll just keep testing the waters to see what she can get away with.

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