What to do about potty talk

kids_potty_mouth_pm-thumb-270x270-1Isn’t it amazing what kids find funny?  I’ve been surprised more than once by what seems hilarious to a 2, 4 or 6 year old.  And then I remember, their sense of humor is just developing.  Kids this age have a challenging time understanding word play and innuendo, but they do know that burps, farts, and poop are some of the funniest things around.

I’m guessing you’ve especially had an opportunity to witness this phenomena if you have a little boy but some little girls love potty talk too.  Suddenly “poopy butt” or “potty head” is their new favorite nickname for everyone.

So, what to do?  Well, first of all, recognizing that this is a normal stage of development can help you breathe deeply and relax a little when your child says “penis” for the tenth time that day or calls the lady checking you out at the grocery store a “fart face”.  Patience is a huge key to allowing this stage to pass, but patience alone will probably not create the kind of verbal environment you’re wanting.

So, you’ll have to create boundaries, letting your child know what works for you and what doesn’t.  I invite you to give a little here, and recognize that using potty talk is a way that your child is experiencing joy, laughter, and humor.  But clearly it’s not appropriate to call the teacher names or to shout the names of certain body parts across the store.  So the first step is to decide where your boundary is.  And that can vary greatly depending on your own preferences.

Once you’ve determined which words bother you and which ones don’t, and also which words are OK sometimes, I recommend you make a list.  In the first column, words that are silly and fun but OK anytime; in the second column words that are OK some of the time, but not in public, during dinner, or with grandma and grandpa; and in the third column, words that are absolutely off limits at all times.  These should be words you’ve heard your child say, (you don’t want to give them any new ideas) but which you absolutely cannot abide, such as profanity.

Now that you’ve gotten clear which words really bother you, you can let your child know- these are the words that are off limits and will not be tolerated at any time.  You may need to implement a logical consequence if these words continue to show up, for instance some quiet time or a formal apology to anyone who was offended.  And don’t underestimate the power of ignoring.  Sometimes, all your child is looking for is a big reaction from you, so maintaining your composure and either ignoring or dispassionately implementing a consequence won’t give them the excitement they’re wanting, and they’ll soon lose interest.

Now for the really fun part, you get to share the middle list, the list of words that are OK some of the time, but not in public or during dinner. You can let your child know that there are certain times and circumstances when it’s absolutely OK to joke around with those words.  This will be easier for older children and more difficult for kids 2-4yo.  If the use of the words in the middle column gets out of hand, I recommend setting up a time each evening when it’s “potty talk” time.  That way, your child can enjoy saying things like “poopy butt” at a time of your choosing, and at home.

If you can really get into this and join in with your child, you can have a super fun time laughing and joking, and when those words show up at other times you can say, “Let’s save those words for potty talk time” with a wink.  By joining your child in potty talk time, you’re creating connection and using humor that they enjoy and are familiar with.  And kids always think it’s funny when adults use potty talk, so now you’re all laughing together and strengthening your bond.  In addition, you’re demystifying those words, and debunking the taboo, which is likely to help their interest wane over time.

You also want to remind your child of the words in the first column, the words that are silly and fun and OK anytime.  You might even create some new words with your child, and then redirect her to these words if they start to veer into language you’re not enjoying.  Words like, “Rats!”, “fiddle faddle”, or “Oh snap!” might fulfill the need to express something with extra emphasis, without offending you or others around you.  The more you can engage your child in coming up with alternatives, the more likely they are to use them, so really get creative and listen to their suggestions.  And don’t forget to use the alternatives yourself!  Like it or not, we’re often the ones who are the most influential on our children’s choice of language.

I’m hoping these thoughts and ideas will help you with any challenges you might be having with potty talk.  And I would love to hear about what you’ve tried, what has worked, and what you think about this topic.  Please leave me a comment!

Have a great week, Shelly


Nice Tricia! I especially like number 5. How wonderful that you addressed the challenges of being a 7 year old and changing behavior midstream. Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate your additions here! Have a great week.


Perfect timing! My 7 y/o son was asked to leave Sunday school for making too many bathroom jokes. The teacher asked him to pass her the Bible, and he said, "Sure, I'll pass you the port-a-potty!"

Our de-brief included 1) some grownups do not think bathroom jokes are funny. at all. 2) some grownups are very serious about symbols, i.e., bibles and flags. 3) it's important to learn to "play the game," which means that, if you are not fairly certain that a grownup can joke around, don't risk it. 4) bathroom jokes are best saved for your buddies. 5) if you make a habit, such as joking about bathroom things a lot, it's hard to turn it off suddenly, even if the context is no longer appropriate for bathroom jokes. 6) isn't it wonderful that god gave us amazing bodies and that we have the ability to go to the bathroom? God probably would have laughed.