Washing A Kid's Mouth Out With Soap? People Still Do This?

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Advice columnist Ask Amy calls washing a child’s mouth with soap child abuse

As much as we all love The Notebook, life wasn’t actually better in the past. The amazing dresses and hairstyles aside, plenty of things that happened in history should stay there, never to be revived because we realize now how awful they were. Take for instance, the old school punishment of washing your kid’s mouth out with soap.

A reader recently posed a question to the Chicago Tribune advice column Ask Amy on how to handle a situation when she was appalled by another mom’s parenting. “At a play group recently with my toddler son, another mother with whom I am acquainted (but not close to) mentioned in the course of conversation that she washed her five-year-old’s mouth out with soap to curb his lying,” she writes. “She obviously thought it was no big deal.”

She goes on to say she considers washing a kid’s mouth out with soap to be child abuse. She then asks Amy how to broach situations like this without overstepping your bounds.

Advice columns may be old fashioned, but Amy’s response on this one is anything but. Amy points out how the antiquated punishment of washing a kid’s mouth out with soap was generally done as a response to a kid swearing, not lying. “The effort to “wash” bad words from a child’s mouth at least makes sense symbolically, using (childish) logic that children can perhaps understand on some level,” she says. Regardless of the reasons behind the punishment, Amy agrees with the reader. “Forcing anything — certainly anything toxic, such as soap — into the mouth of a child is abuse.”

My parents never punished me like this, but I was a curious kid who watched A Christmas Story multiple times every December. Thanks to Ralphie, when I was eight I had the awful idea to lick a bar of Dial soap. 24 years later, just walking into a bathroom and smelling Dial is enough to make me retch.

Amy goes on to urge the reader to call other parents out when they admit to an abusive parenting tactic, and let the chips fall where they may. “If the parent doesn’t take this feedback well, then so be it. At least you have told the truth, and she can’t shove soap into your mouth to punish you for it.”

Encouraging moms to call each other out when they think a child is being abused is a pretty big log to toss on the already blazing inferno that is the mommy wars. It’s easy to envision epic Facebook battles over whether or not feeding your toddler Doritos is child abuse. (Roll your eyes all you want, but we all know that one person who would argue that it is.) But young kids can’t advocate for themselves. If something strikes us a truly abusive then we should say something, otherwise our silence is condoning the action.

Just because your grandparents, parents or even you had your mouth washed out with soap as a kid doesn’t make it any less of an shitty punishment. There are tons of better ways to carry on family traditions that don’t include abuse.