What Can I Do About Potty Talk?

girl holding breath

Around the time children start to toilet training, there’s spike in curiosity about the natural process of elimination and with it comes the “potty” talk. 

Admittedly, we are one of the reasons for it!  Due to frequent (and perfectly normal) toilet-centric dialogue and the frequent trips to and from the bathroom with our children, of course it’s at the forefront of their minds. 

In addition, children this age are discovering they can entertain and be entertained by jokes.  They naturally connect the toilet-training language with a newfound sense of humor and we now have potty talk.  They are looking for a reaction from their peers (who giggle along with them) or from adults (who may laugh, or may express their surprise and displeasure), which results in more frequent (inappropriate) potty talk.

It may be entertaining in the confines of your own home, but what do you when your child screams out, “Poopy-head!” or “I farted!” in the Target checkout line?

Give Them The Facts

Dr. Maria Montessori observed that young children have a fascination with and a keen ability to retain facts and vocabulary.  In our classrooms, “baby” and “toddler” talk is not used with young children, out of respect of both their interest with and capability of absorbing vast amounts of knowledge and vocabulary at an incredible rate!  We encourage parents to take the same approach at home, by providing specific, age-appropriate, and matter of fact explanations.  This also applies when you talk to your child about their anatomy and urinary and digestive systems. 

We tend to “hush” our children when they say socially unacceptable words rather than responding in a matter of fact, positive manner.  When a word becomes “shameful” or “private”, the child’s attraction to it increases.  Being unable to verbalize their natural curiosity, they may express themselves by making jokes and inappropriate comments.

Conversely, when we equip our child with knowledge, their curiosity is satiated, they understand they have nothing to be ashamed of, and we are demonstrating that we are a reliable source of information.

Here are some responses that will help you equip your child with knowledge of the process of elimination.

POTTY TALK

  • Pee, potty, or urination, is how your body gets rid of the extra water it doesn’t need
  • Your body collects extra water and waste that it doesn’t need in a small sac called a bladder. When your bladder gets full, it sends your brain a signal that it’s time to pee!
  • To stay healthy, we need to make sure we drink enough water. Peeing is important!
  • To stay healthy, we need to go to the bathroom when our body tells us it’s time. Holding it too long isn’t good for your bladder. 

POOP TALK

  • Poop, or a bowel movement, is how our body gets rid of food and waste our bodies don’t need.
  • We would get really sick if we didn’t poop. Everybody has to poop, and pooping is healthy!
  • Your body needs to digest the food you eat, which means it takes out all the good stuff in the food that our bodies need to be strong and grow. After our body is done digesting the food, the leftovers are sent to the large intestine, where it is turned into poop, and soon, your body sends you a signal that it’s time to push it out into the toilet!
  • All poop smells because it contains bacteria. Bacteria are tiny little organisms that are usually helpful for our bodies. These bacteria help our bodies get the good stuff out of our food, but as they do their job, they leave behind some gases which is what we smell when we poop!
  • To keep clean, it’s important that we wipe our bottom from front to back after going poop! This keeps us from getting infections.
  • To make going poop easier, make sure you drink enough water and eat your fruits and veggies! Being active also helps!
  • To stay healthy, we need to go to the bathroom when our body tells us its time. Holding on to it for too long isn’t good, as it makes it harder to poop. 

PASSING GAS TALK

  • [Insert whatever word your family uses: farting, passing gas, tooting] is how our body gets rid of gas that isn’t good for our bodies. We get gas from the food that we eat, the air that we might swallow, and when those bacteria that are in our poop break down our food! 
  • If we didn’t fart, we might get a tummy ache! Farting is healthy.
  • Everybody farts, but because it’s usually smelly, we try to do it away from other people.
  • Sometimes farting is a signal it’s time to use the bathroom!

Minimize Your Reaction

You’ve equipped them with the facts, and still they have started making those notorious potty jokes.  What next? Minimize your reaction.

First, be careful not to show embarrassment, criticism, anger, and humor, or to give shaming responses.  “That’s so stinky!” or “Ew! Gross” shames a child, and they may respond to shame by joking or using potty talk.   If they have a miss (an accident), tuck away your frustration and say matter-of-factly, “Did you have a miss? That’s OK, you can try next time.  Tell Mommy next time and I can help you get to the toilet in time.”  Or, simply say, “Pee and poop goes in the toilet.”  When we overreact to issues surrounding our child’s toileting, it can fuel their dramatic flair.

Set the Expectations

Our children won’t know what is socially (or, personally) acceptable unless we verbalize (and model) our expectations.  Let them know that you would love to talk to them if they have any questions about their body and encourage them to ask you when they are at home with you.

  • We talk about poop and potty with our family, not our friends.
  • We can talk about poop and potty after dinner, but we don’t talk about it at the table.
  • We use the words ‘poop’ and ‘potty’ to talk about what goes into the toilet. We don’t use those words to make jokes or to call someone a name.
  • His name is Tom, not “pee-pants”. We may use his name when talking to him or about him.  We don’t call him other names.  How would you feel if someone called you “pee-pants”? 

Stay Calm and Stay the Course

Decide on how you will handle potty talk and stick to it.  It is confusing to the child if you interchange laughter and reprimands without warning.  Consistency is foundational to guiding our children through childhood and setting family boundaries.

Maybe you decide that after issuing one reminder, you will walk away.  “I am ready to listen to you when you are ready to use appropriate words.”  Or, you invite them to the bathroom when they talk about pee and poop inappropriately.  “Since I hear you using potty talk, do you need to go to the bathroom?” 

Maybe you decide that redirection is going to be your go-to first step.  (If your child’s potty talk usually has to do with a fascination with humor, you may want to arm yourself with some more appropriate jokes to teach him.)

Maybe you decide to ignore it and reiterate the rules at another time.

Whatever your decision, be consistent and ensure all caregivers/parents are on the same page.

It’s Just a Phase

At the end of the day, take heart in knowing that this is a phase that children will outgrow with natural development and understanding of what is acceptable in your family and community!