The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.

Why Preschoolers Love Potty Talk

Hint: It Gets a Rise out of You

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
The light bulb icon represents curiosity. For content about raising a curious child, look for this icon.
The paint brush icon represents creativity. For content about raising a creative child, look for this icon.
The holding hands icon represents caring. For content about raising a caring child, look for this icon.
The thumbs up icon represents confidence. For content about raising a confident child, look for this icon.
An obsession with toilet references is a nearly universal preschool phase, but there are ways to tank the talk.
Why Preschoolers Love Potty Talk
Boy or girl, late toilet trained or early, older child or youngest sib: Most preschoolers delight in doodie. They pontificate on poop and blab about butts anytime and anywhere. There are three big reasons why.
  • Kids are proud of what they can do. Mastering toilet learning is a big accomplishment. It takes major coordination and control to ditch diapers, so little ones want to proclaim their power at every opportunity. That often means creating opportunities to use exciting words like “tushy,” “pee,” and “underwear.”
  • They aim for attention. Adding “poop” to every sentence tends to trigger a response from the nearest adult, which preschoolers love—whether that response is shock or amusement.
  • These words are just funny! Even to adults: A British study looked at nearly 5,000 words to determine which ones caused the most giggles. Topping the list: “Booty,” with “tinkle” also appearing in the top 10.
What to Do? Ignore, Ignore, Ignore!

The best way to react to incessant bathroom chatter is not to react at all. Ignore, ignore, ignore! When you deny your potty talker the attention he’s seeking, he’ll find it a lot less fun (and funny) to persist with the chorus of pee-pees and poo-poos. Or casually ask if he needs to use the restroom. That’s a super-boring response that helps reinforce what those bathroom words are really for.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. When you feel like you will explode if you hear that little voice say “butt!” one more time, try these strategies instead.
  • Everyone’s a comedian: Capitalize on your child’s new interest in humor by teaching her some real jokes (the kind that have an actual punchline, not just the word “poopy head”). Get a joke book and share some winners with your child. Make sure to laugh uproariously when she tells one without using any bathroom talk!
  • Have fun with (non-potty) words: Kids this age are also acquiring language quickly, and that makes silly chatter more fun for them too. So when you hear a word that bums you out, distract your child by challenging him to come up with a rhyme for it: bum, gum, hum, fum, pum (nonsense words are A-OK). This game also builds pre-literacy skills, so it’s a win-win.
  • Teach context: Realistically, it’s not a good idea to ban potty talk altogether. You still want your child to be able to talk to you about bodily functions—you probably still need to help her use the bathroom most of the time, and you need to know if, for example, it hurts when she poops. But it’s developmentally appropriate to begin teaching her that different rules and customs apply in different places. When you’re eating, you would prefer not to hear the P-words, so you make a rule that they’re not allowed at the table. And name-calling is never OK, whether it includes a no-no word (“pee-pee head”) or not (“baby”).
  • Forget discipline: Of course, if you make a rule, you should enforce it if it’s broken—by, say, removing your child from a situation or withdrawing a privilege. Tie it as closely as you can to the offense: “We don’t talk about bottoms and poop at the grocery store, so you can’t come along next time.” But as a general response to bathroom chatter, tactics like time-outs may not work, and may backfire by making your child feel ashamed. The last thing you want, after your toilet-training victory, is to have your child regress because he is afraid to even utter the word “poop.” Eventually, your little potty mouth will lose interest in these words and move on to some other fun phase.

Keep up with the latest parenting content from Highlights. Sign up for our  free Your Child and You Newsletter.

Which of the following old-school thrills would your child find most exciting?

Parents Talk Back
Which of the following old-school thrills would your child find most exciting?
Hitting a baseball or sinking a basketball for the first time
10% (5 votes)
Going on a theme-park ride for the first time
38% (20 votes)
Getting a puppy (or other pet) for the first time
40% (21 votes)
Riding a bike or trike for the first time
12% (6 votes)
Total votes: 52