I have three boys. Two are between the ages of four and six — prime specimen for the potty-talking stage. The other is still just babbling but has already been coached by his older and wiser brothers as to the comedic value of words like “toot” and “poop”.
Why is it that young children have such a giddy fascination with all things scatological?
The question has probably been around since the dawn of time, and you could likely find more answers than there are rest stops on your next family road trip. In my opinion, most difficult behaviors in young children are driven by one or both of two motivators: Power and Attention.
Here are a few ways Potty Talk fits the mold:
- Young children have fairly recently tackled the task of toilet training. Laughing at something is one way to show complete superiority. Like a hero laughing in the face of danger.
- Vocabularies grow at lightning speed for young children. They are constantly acquiring new words. They are also quick to note that some words are used with greater emphasis and sound powerful. Those words go to the front of the line for language acquisition. (Take note the next time you hear someone use a swear word or vulgar langauge. If you didn’t understand the meaning, would you be able to pick out the taboo word just by the way it was said or the reaction it got? Kids often can.)
- When children know a word is taboo, defying that limit is a display of power.
- Humor is a developing frontier for these young ones, and they’ve noticed there is one topic that never fails to get results…
- Even if you don’t find this restroom raillery to be funny, if you respond with dramatic shock or exaggerated displeasure, your child has still secured your attention.
So aside from waiting for adulthood (which doesn’t always cure the fascination with the foul) what can you do to curb the crudeness?
As is often true of behavior, the answer lies in the causes.
- Feed your child’s power by casually commenting that he is too smart/polite to use those words that way. Offer better words — whether they better communicate the desired emotion, or are silly enough to get the laugh. Make up your own silly words together! Play up the fact that these words are better, smarter, or more polite.
- Knowledge is power. Often, matter-of-fact discussions demystify questions like “Where does poop come from?” “Where does it go?” and “Who else toots?” and the topic begins to lose its comedic allure.
- Teach that power comes from polite words. Particularly if the behavior is becoming obviously habitual, teach your child that using inappropriate language leads to less power through consequences. Be matter-of-fact about it however. Over-reacting only feeds the second factor.
- As difficult as it may be to keep from snickering at your child’s silliness or delving into an intense lecture, attention usually only fans the flames. Particularly if it is a first offense, ignoring is one of the best ways to go. My son once uttered something I could not have even imagined coming out of his three year old lips. As I was two words into a scathing reprimand, it occurred to me that he was simply playing with sounds, and had absolutely no idea that he had said anything of meaning –obscene or otherwise. Instead of “That’s NOT something we say in our home!” I made a mid-sentence lane-change into “That’s not even a real word!” My shocked tone slid into a silly tone and a discussion on other silly words diverted the rest of the attention. I haven’t heard the word since. (Though I have a sneaking suspicion that my first impulse would have led to more experimentation.)
- Walk away, continue on without missing a beat, or reprimand simply with a stern look or a simple, “We need polite words here”.
- Provide better attention-getting tactics by teaching “smarter”, “funnier” jokes and give your full attention (and full belly laughs) when he uses those avenues instead.
- Teach context. Often, it isn’t the words that inappropriate, it’s the way they’re used. Remind children that, “Those are bathroom words. If you want to use them, please go into the bathroom.” This gives children a place to experiment while still teaching social appropriateness and draining the words of their novelty.
You also must acknowledge your child’s developmental level. Young children are learning about language and social rules. You may need to teach these rules explicitly. (“I know your friends laugh at those kinds of words, but they aren’t polite when they’re used that way. You are a kind and polite child, but if someone heard those words from you they might not know that.”) These lessons are often more effective away from the howling laughter of his peers. Try initiating them at bed time, story time, or while doing chores together…. perhaps while scrubbing the toilet.
How do you react to “Potty Talk”?
Top photo by sskies.
Center photo by Jonathan Hillis.
joanne degiacomo petrie says
Being an early childood educator for 27 years, my blanket reaction is to let the child/children know that potty talk belongs in the bathroom. I ask the offender to go into the restroom and say the word five times. Some children go do the task, and come back laughing then stop hen I ask if they got it out of their system (if they have not, I have them go back again to repeat the exercise – it has only happened a couple of times). Others are so shocked their face drops and the sheepish reply, “no thank you” is uttered.
Needless to say, I rarely have repeat offenders – they know the rule and also trust what my reaction will be. I never act shocked, never ignore, there is always follow through.
In a classroom situation, it’s difficult to use the ignore method because the child will certainly get attention from his peers. Your matter-of-fact manner in your response keeps the child from getting extra pay-off from you. Thanks for sharing your experience!
As another example of a consequence that teaches that “Power comes from polite words”, plan an outing (trip to the store, park, library) and explain that your child can not come this time because you are concerned that he/she will use offensive words. Again, use a matter-of-fact manner, not a threatening tone. As a positive reinforcement, on subsequent outings, point out that you are so glad you can bring him/her with you now that she/he has chosen to be polite.
I am new to this blog & stumbled upon it via Simple Kids. This post and everything about this beautufully insightful blog is just what I need! I have a new 5 yr. old and he using the power of potty talk..thanks for the wonderful tips on how to approach redirecting this annoying behavior. 🙂 ~hugs! P.S. Our family also lives in SLC near the Wasath front. 🙂
Judith Pack says
If we’re talking about words like poopy and pee-pee and bum, etc., I’m puzzled by the overreaction. These words are not inherently “bad” — and since when are they words we only use in the bathroom? I think we should stop and ask ourselves why this troubles us so much (as we should with all children’s behavior). The answer is usually (as it was for me as a kindergarten teacher) that it’s just plain annoying. It’s annoying because they use the words constantly and are always collapsing into laughter over it. Kids think the words are funny. When adults ban the words from school or home, the words take on even more power and are even funnier. In my kindergarten, I told the children the truth; listening to these words and the accompanying hysterics was annoying to me–not bad. I also explained that out in the world, some people might take offense. During lunch, I would ask them for a break from potty language so that we could all have real conversations together. I explained that I loved talking with them but the silly language got in the way. I never had a problem. Eventually this language fades away. I think we create a problem around this topic when we make an issue out of it. I might add, that adults use this language all the time–my veterinarian, for instance, asks me, “Is your cat pooping okay?”
Love this post and your suggestions. I will be trying them. I wrote this post when I was in the thick of it at our house (http://www.toddlerapproved.com/2013/07/getting-rid-of-potty-talk.html) and it has faded as I have made other grown up/appropriate words more powerful. I need constant reminders though since the kids go through phases when they are more into potty talk that others.
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Leah @ momstersraisingmonsters says
I never treated potty talk as funny, so my kids didn’t joke about it. If they asked questions, I’d give answers. And if they need to talk about potty things, we’d talk about them. But we never laughed and joked about it. So we didn’t have as problem with it until they heard friends joking about it. Then they jumped on the bandwagon. I still ignore it, hoping to take away the attention and history of it, but I’m not sure if that will happen, since they’ve been taught that it’s funny. It might be about time for me to try a few more if your tactics. Thanks!