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"Shaky, shaky, tootsie!" My four-year-old son, Sebastien, calls out as he dances his way randomly — and usually naked — through the kitchen.
Poopy-head. Stink-a-roni. Pee-pee pants. The sillier the word, the funnier Sebastien finds it, especially if he has an audience. And even though I’ve been depriving him of most cartoon potty humour, he draws plenty of inspiration from friends at school. I have been known to hover with my hand over his mouth when he sings a certain song in public, because I know the odds are it will end in “poop.” He has been known to ask, at the most inopportune time, if his grandmother wants to smell his bum.
At some point, after months of his total disinterest in potty training, it became the one thing he won’t stop talking about.
Most kids pick up toilet humour soon after transitioning out of diapers, says Michele Kambolis, a registered child and family therapist and founder of Vancouver’s Harbourside Counseling Centre.
“It’s hilarious for boys and girls as they attempt to understand how their bodies work,” she says. The endless jokes are a form of relief (no pun intended) after the tension of the developmental task that is potty training.
The first step in managing the potty-talk phase is to accept that this stage is normal (and not a subconscious backlash to your helicopter diaper checks). Here’s what else you can do.
Teaching the proper terminology for body parts and bodily functions, and having a matter-of-fact attitude about bathroom topics right from the beginning, should help minimize the appeal, says Kambolis. You don’t have to sound like a medical textbook, however. “Let kids say ‘poop’ instead of feces, and ‘fart’ rather than gas, as a way of demystifying the forbidden,” she says. Reading a factual book like Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi, is a great way to giggle and satisfy their curiosity about normal bodily functions.
Vancouver mom Sandra Gill, whose three-year-old son, Nathan, is also going through a potty-mouth phase, doesn’t really mind the silliness, but she has set some limits. “I’m usually OK with fart jokes, but we do have two rules,” she says. “Number one is no calling people names like ‘bum-bum head,’ and number two is too many bathroom words and not enough listening means you have to go say them in the bathroom. And because he pretty much never wants to give up my attention or actually go to the washroom, it works. ”
Keep in mind that if you’re not tolerant of potty jokes to some degree, your child will enjoy endless silliness from their friends on the playground anyway, reminds Kambolis. “And a good sense of humour helps kids emotionally and socially.” You can set aside 10 or 15 minutes of “silly playtime” per day, potty humour included.
For Sebastien, nothing makes him happier than when I give in to the giggling. And although experts agree that potty talk and bathroom humour don’t lose their appeal until the age of eight or so, I do find that it’s lessening as he nears the age of five. We’ve even found another form of funny, one that we both like: the knock-knock joke. “Orange you glad he didn’t say ‘poo-poo?’”
A version of this article appeared in our April 2013 issue with the headline "Potty mouth," p. 68.
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