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Child Caring

Who's a potty-mouth poopy-head?

Barbara,

Every other word out of my kiddo's mouth is potty-this and poopy-that. He's in kindergarten and this is brand new behavior. What can I do to get rid of this? I've thought of washing his mouth out with soap!! JK, but really, I'm hating this.

FROM: Cleanmouth, Jacksonville, FLA

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Dear Cleanmouth,

This is a stage, it will pass. That's the good news. Here's the bad: This is a stage and there's not a whole lot you can do to short-circuit it.

"P" talk (pee, poop and potty words) typically happens right about now, in kindergarten, as boys and girls are feeling their oats. They use these words because they are trying to make sense of a seeming double standard. Cognitively, they understand the connection between eating and body functions, they get that this is something that happens to everyone, and yet, adults tell them this is not a "nice" topic for conversation. What gives?

So they turn to jokes to make this confusion manageable and to gain control over it. It's a healthy adaptation, kind of what comedians do all the time with uncomfortable adult topics.

As with many phases that kids outgrow on their own, the issue is managing it without making him feel ashamed and without unwittingly reinforcing the behavior. (If you over-react ala "I'm gonna wash your mouth out with soap," he's more likely to say it again for the negative attention. Instead, be clear: "That's not an acceptable way to talk to adults. Mom and I don't want to hear those words."

Does that set a double standard: that there is one set of manners for the family and adults and another set for peers? Absolutely. But that's a societal norm; language functions as social currency and one of the tasks of growing up is learning how to navigate what to say when and to whom. In fact, it's because of peers that potty-talk is seriously funny to your son right now and it will be because of peers that the words will lose their cachet. One day a playmate will say, "Ick, that's gross," or "That's a baby's joke," and they'll all be done.

Meanwhile:

Do set appropriate limits. If he calls you "poopy-head," whether it's jokingly or not, be clear: "That is not a word to use with adults. I know you and your friends think this is silly but it's not good manners. In our family, we value good manners."

Don't be a stick-in-the-mud. If he tells a joke and it's clever enough to make you smile (What has four eyes and pees in its bed? The Mississippi River!), feel free: smile! Then set some limits: "That's clever! I always enjoy something clever." Trust that he will read between the lines. In fact, come up with some jokes of your own that play with language so that cleverness can be a shared value. Just keep yours free of bathroom talk.