Parents have been sharing more than a mouthful of questions about what to do when their toddler starts to use the words associated with potty training in public. Let me see if I can flush out some of their concerns with some straight poop on potty talk.

Bathroom humor is a very common phase of a toddler and preschooler’s development. It is very normal for a toddler or preschooler to be fascinated with body parts, especially those that are usually covered up – or from which things come out, like poop and pee. And when young children see the response these words get when used in public, they may want to say these words all the more. So what do I recommend?

First, teach your child that words about urination and defecation (i.e. peeing and pooping) are only to be used in the bathroom. Explain that outside that room, these words might even be considered hurtful to others. If they do use the words in public, try to stay straight-faced and to not pay attention to your children’s use of potty talk – if you can. (It’s not always easy.)

If you don’t laugh or smile or even tell them not to say those words, children will usually stop because they are not getting the response they want. Some parents tell me they create a set time once a week where a child has two minutes to say whatever potty words they want. But to get that privilege, they must stay potty-language-free all the rest of the week. Other parents ask their child to make up different words, like “soupynose” for poopynose, that can be just as much fun to say but less offensive to others.

You can also ask your preschooler how they would feel if someone called them a name that has a potty talk word in it. That may work, too, in teaching your child to use respectful speech. In rare circumstances, if these ideas won’t work, then you can set consequences, such as docking a privilege. But do it as consistently or unemotionally as possible, and follow through on those consequences if you need to.

And finally, be good role models. Try not to use potty words – or worse, cursing and profanity – in front of your children to set a good example.

Hopefully with tips like these, this phase of using potty-talk words will pass quickly, just as toilet training does, so that eventually everything comes out fine in the end.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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