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Soap in Mouth

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Jana Mathews: The other day my 5-year-old son came home from preschool talking about feces and the body part that expels them ... in great detail. After several warnings, I banished him to time-out. Ten minutes later, when the subject of rectums was raised again, I threatened to wash his mouth out with soap. Although I had a very clean mouth growing up (having nibbled on several bars of Irish Spring in middle school), I had never before used this punishment on my own children.

a kid with soap in his mouth

My son smirked when I showed him the bottle of pineapple-scented hand soap (it's all I had on hand!). Then he said "butt hole" and "poop face" very slowly, enunciating every syllable.

"Open up," I told him as I sighed with disappointment.

My discipline strategy was very successful. After swallowing a quarter-sized dollop of soap, my son did a quick fist pump and shouted, "YES! I ate soap!"

I didn't think twice about what I did, until I told a group of friends. Something about these mothers' scowls told me that washing your kid's mouth out with soap was not only out of vogue, but downright abusive.

"That's horrible," said one friend.  

"I would never do that," said another.

Twenty years ago, cleansing your children's palates with liquid Dial was par for the course when they said curse words or talked back. For better or worse, times have changed and punishments that once were considered socially acceptable now have the ugly stigma of abuse attached to them.

Is washing your kids' mouths out with soap STILL okay, or has it gone the way of the dinosaurs ... and spanking?

Talk to the Meanest Mom in the MOMLOGIC COMMUNITY!

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49 comments so far | Post a comment now
birdsfly April 22, 2009, 4:58 PM

I wouldn’t use liquid soap, but I do see washing their mouth out as a valid punishment that I hope I won’t have to use. It doesn’t hurt them but it gets the point across (of course now all I can picture is Ralphy from “A Christmas Story” with “soap poisoning”)

Jenny April 22, 2009, 5:24 PM

Personally I wouldn’t do it but if you do please just at least use a natural soap with non toxic ingredients…with your pineapple fancy soap you are forcing your child to eat chemicals, would you open his mouth and pour dishwasher detergent in it??

erin April 22, 2009, 5:24 PM

Maybe that’s what is wrong with our society today is people are too afraid to discipline their kids anymore. There’s nothing wrong with using soap if it works (bar soap only). Why not use my grandmothers technique and break a limb off of a willow tree and switch him with it…it doesn’t hurt enough to bruise, but the shear sound of it wiping through the air with a stinging crack will make him think twice before using using that kind of language. There’s a big difference in abuse and discipline!

Nessy April 22, 2009, 5:38 PM

I totally agree with Erin!!! There is a big difference between discipline and abuse. I truley believe if people would discipline their kids instead of being afraid of what other people might think or being worried of damaging their childs confindence this world would be so much better off. Bar soap never hurt anyone!!!

AM  April 22, 2009, 6:07 PM

I wouldn’t have used soap but I don’t think that is abuse. A friend of mine used tabasco sauce to get her 5 yo son to stop swearing. Again not something I would do but it’s not abuse. BTW it worked. I would’ve told him that language is not ok and come up with something for else for him to do. Like a project or activity. If that didn’t work I’d raised my voice to give a firm warning getting down at his eye level and if that didn’t work next would be either a spanking or lengthy time out or nap, depending on how defiant he was being. Of course depending on the child’s maturity level you could try to teach him the appropriate terms and why his body has those functions and how they work. Maybe the extra info will take the mystery out of those words and they won’t be so fun to use.

ErinW April 22, 2009, 6:15 PM

Funny this story just posted as I’m going through my own dilemma of discipline. I not only know the taste of bar soap well but was a frequent taster of Tabasco sauce for my potty mouth. It didn’t kill me. It made me mad. It made me cry. And over time I stopped smart mouthing my parents, avoided using curse words in their presence, etc. I don’t think it’s abuse. Can a 4 or 5 year old really listen to reason? Your reasoning? Sometimes action is the only thing a parent CAN do that will work.

b April 22, 2009, 7:07 PM

Man, I can still taste the liquid dish soap my mom swiped across my teeth when I looked her in the face and said the “F WORD”. She was slick about it too—she’s rub the top of the dish soap bottle with her finger when I couldn’t see and then tell me to open my mouth. When I said no, she’s wipe it across the teeth. Try, I dare you, to get concentrated dish soap of your teeth without it making bubble. Boo! The taste was both awful and long lasting (even after I was sure all the soap was gone). But, it was effective. I think the purpose of discipline is to do something that will make a lasting negative impression when confronted with the choice to behave badly AND create a positive and rewarding impression with behaving well. So, a little soap in the mouth for bad words, but a little sweet treat for kind words. And, when the other moms look at you in disgust, just tell them that they learned the words from their kids. :)

sugar mama April 22, 2009, 7:12 PM

been there, done that. if the offense came out of his mouth, the discipline goes in, right? can’t say it was very effective when i tried it but it was worth the try, despite the scowls. xo sugar mama

Reality Check April 22, 2009, 7:15 PM

Why are children so down right rude and inconsiderate nowdays? My opinion is we fail to discipline our children for fear of being called an abuser and we don’t listen to them anymore. I was spanked as a child and look back on it now as a mother of five and appreciate the fact my parents loved me so much! I am neither a killer or criminal because I was spanked. How about you?
I still spank my kids when they deserve it but you can also find me sitting down holding discussions with them, showing interest in their lives and being activly involved. We hug on a regular basis and neither my husband or I abuse our kids in any way. Spanking is not abuse.
I’ve never done the soap thing because soap is not a natural product that is made for our bodies to digest and some can have very poisonous ingredients. What we have done instead is used all natural Jamaican hot sauce. A bit on a q-tip and a simple swab to the tongue will cure all your problems. It only took once for my children to learn it is no joke! For those of you who think this is cruel I tried it on myself first to have total understanding of the potency.
Good luck to you!

nicole April 22, 2009, 7:20 PM

Thank God there are still parents out there that discipline their children. My sister was shocked the other day when I mentioned that I “spank” my daughter - all the while her children were running around screaming and carrying on. Our parents and grandparents never did these punishments to hurt us, but simply to make us remember why we shouldn’t do something in the future. Personally I think parents these days are a bunch of pansies that are more afraid of thier kids than the other way around. No wonder our world has become what it is. However, I think I would stick to bar soap next time : )

Mom2two April 22, 2009, 7:57 PM

Children need to be disciplined. Not disciplining only creates children who don’t know how to follow the rules. Parent your child. It’s your job. My 9 year old DD has tasted tobasco sauce twice in her lifetime and soap only once. A lasting impression used only when all else fails.

Pamala April 22, 2009, 8:21 PM

One has to wonder why anyone would assume hand washing soap would be toxic. That’d be a bit dangerous for someone to produce don’t you think? Seriously.

Good job doing what needed to be done.

Sandra April 22, 2009, 10:33 PM

I remember the soap brand LAVA being used on me for saying “butt” and “shut up” - I can still taste it years later. Guess what, it worked because it was so humiliating.

jenn April 22, 2009, 10:36 PM

I have done it and would do it again. My mouth was washed out with soap as a kid…I am just fine! I agree with some of the others, its pitiful that parents are afraid, and wont discipline their children, no wonder their kids walk all over them!!

dizzymum April 22, 2009, 10:39 PM

Spanking is illegal in New Zealand and parents can end up in court if they do it. I’m not sure about soap!
Back in Australia, my mother-in-law once put soap in my daughter’s mouth for continually poking out her tongue. The look on my trusting daughter’s face, as she realised someone she loved had done this to her, was awful. I think she overstepped the mark, and would never do that to my kids.
Having said that, my 8-year-old has recently developed a potty mouth. Time out and taking away privileges doesn’t work. Perhaps hot sauce might be acceptable? If it can’t harm him, perhaps it is the only way he will learn?
So tough being a parent!

Annette April 22, 2009, 11:08 PM

Like all punishments, it can be abuse, if it goes too far. I had my mouth washed out with soap many times for talking back and my mother used liquid Dawn on a few occasions. I think that is on the edge of abuse because of the way she did it - holding my face and pouring it into my mouth. My stomach is aching a little now just remembering it. Ugh. I have threatened my boys with this a time or two, but haven’t done it yet. Not sure if I could bring myself to do it, but if I do resort to that, it would be bar soap. Maybe the Burt’s Bees poison ivy soap? So far, time outs have worked on them though, or taking away their privileges for a few hours.

Jenna April 22, 2009, 11:18 PM

@Sandra.. same here!! LAVA is what my grandmother used! I can still smell AND taste it!

Beth in SF April 22, 2009, 11:30 PM


WasherWomanYa April 22, 2009, 11:33 PM

A soapy wash cloth quickly swiped never did any one any harm but is fairly memorable! Now that my kids are older I remind them not to use words they wouldn’t want to eat. Yuck, it makes us all think and it has cleaned us up a bit.

Rexanne Mancini April 23, 2009, 3:45 AM

Washing a child’s mouth out with soap is mean and abusive.

Try talking to your little one about what’s on his mind and give him the information he’s begging to know. Potty humor and sex talk are going to find your kids in kindergarten and early elementary school whether you like it or not. Best to educate your own child about these things so they’re clear about what’s what and you won’t have to resort to stupid, archaic methods of “teaching” your child right from wrong.

Kids need to know about body parts, sex and the particulars. If you spend time educating your children about these things, what they hear in school won’t be as intriguing and won’t find it’s way back home.

Please do not ever put soap in your child’s mouth. It’s abusive and UNHEALTHY. Talk with him instead. Give your child appropriate words instead of punishing him for being curious and doing what all kids do.

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