Ah, potty humor – the bane of many parents’ existence. Your toddler or preschooler now not only knows the words for body parts and their functions, they also know that these words get interesting reactions from grown-ups! Whether the adults in their lives hide a giggle or get upset, either way, the activity seems to bring them great glee. Soon, they’re reciting the words over and over again (including at school and Grandma’s house), and your once-patient resolve may start to wain.
So what should parents do about the behavior? Ignore it? Punish it? Rinse kids’ mouths out with soap? Let’s talk about some tips for responding to this unwanted behavior. Potty humor can be a thing even with older children, but my post will be focusing on the 6 and under crowd for now.
Don’t try to make it un-funny
It’s valid if you hate this kind of humor. But there’s truly no consequence or strategy in the world that’s going to make your kids think it’s less funny. You’ll exhaust yourself trying, and it’ll become a needless power struggle. Instead…
Be boring in your response
I’m guessing that at some point, your child has made a witty enough toilet joke that they got a genuine laugh out of you. And that’s fine! Making you laugh feels really good to them, so it makes sense that they would continue to try for it. On the flip side, if you’ve reacted with irritation or embarrassment, your child learns that they have the power to press your buttons. Either way, your attention is the best thing ever!
Just like the opposite of love is (supposedly) indifference, the opposite of positive reinforcement is not negative, but simply… a neutral, “boring” response. Don’t laugh, don’t roll your eyes or threaten punishments. Use a calm tone and words, and see below for more.
Redirect to the bathroom
In a way, talk of body parts and potty functions are actually a good thing. It signifies that your little has an unabashed understanding of their body – and feels comfortable talking about it with you! Overly harsh reactions may discourage children from expressing a need to use the restroom or asking valid questions about their body.
Instead, when your kiddo is repeating these phrases, try calmly redirecting their attention to the place where potty words make sense: the bathroom.
At my office, I’ve said to kids, “You know, when I hear words like that, I assume you need the bathroom.” Then I stand up and say, “let’s leave the toys for a quick bathroom break and then we can come back!” (Note: no laughs, no disapproving looks.)
If they actually go to the restroom, then great! Perhaps they really did need it. If they insist they don’t need to, I don’t push, but I know they just learned something valuable about my (non-shaming but still pretty boring) response. I repeat that as necessary.
If you don’t really mind bathroom humor in the right context, a compromise might be your best friend here. Be clear that it’s not okay at the dinner table, in public, or at school, but give them an alternative for where it IS appropriate: the bathroom at home. This boundary respects the idea of appropriate manners while still giving your kiddo (and you) a chance to share some giggles about it.
In the real world, that might look like good-naturedly (but firmly) saying, “I know you think butts are funny, but the dinner table is not the place for talking about it. You can talk about it as much as you like in the bathroom.” If it continues in the moment, redirect to the bathroom again.
On the other hand, if that style of humor is NEVER your thing, it’s absolutely fine to have harder boundaries on it. Bear in mind though that trying to completely extinguish it is going to take longer than teaching them to use it in the right contexts.
Notice the difference between humor and name-calling
If your child has taken to calling others “poop-head” (or something of the like), you’ll want to intervene, even if their intention is to be silly and not mean. Take them aside and say, “I heard you call your cousin a butthead. I know you’re trying to be funny, but that might hurt her feelings. How about you tell her your hilarious dinosaur joke instead?”
Remember it’s a phase
Repeat after me: this too shall pass. Eventually.