Warning: Bathroom Language Ahead

I knew it was coming. I wasn’t sure when, and of course I hoped it would pass us by, but that wasn’t to be. My nearly four-year-old and nearly seven-year-old have discovered there’s a vocabulary that goes along with anatomy, and they can’t stop talking about it. 

They’ll use the words in any context: as insults, as jokes, as name calling, and it sometimes takes a heavy consequence to squelch their hilarity.

Right now, this is my life:

“Knock, Knock, Mom!”

“Who’s there?”


“Not appropriate.”

“Knock, Knock, Mom!”

“Who’s there?”

“Poopy butt.”

“Not appropriate.”

“Knock, Knock, Mom!”

“Who’s there?”


Truth be told, sometimes I’d like a different joke too, but I can’t cave on such things.

I taught preschool for enough years to know that this is normal, and I’m grateful that they’re not fascinated with mooning like a group of boys I had one year was (seriously, I found four boys mooning each other on so many occasions it was ridiculous). But the difference between teaching preschoolers and parenting them is that I’m never off duty. And, if it starts to spill over to school, their teachers will expect me to somehow fix this.

This whole obsession with anatomy/bathroom words is developmentally normal. And parents and teacher response does matter. In doing some reading on the topic, responses by experts range from celebrating bathroom words with pianos and drums to enforcing the proper terms in the proper environment with negative consequences.  Somewhere in the middle, I think, is where I fall. I am not one to have a concert celebrating words, nor is it a big enough offense to land a three-year-old in time out.

But what do you do when your child belts out, “Mommy has a booby bra! Mommy has a booby bra!” at the grocery store?

Here’s what I’m trying to keep in mind/communicate to my children:

1) Let them know these words are for private parts of their bodies.

2) Let them know it’s OK to use the appropriate words when talking about their bodies to a parent.

3) Let them know the words aren’t funny or to be used as jokes or insults.*

4) The more they know it bothers you, the more they’ll bring it up. So a simple “not appropriate” and diversion in conversation may be the most effective way to work through this stage.

5) For the kid who just won’t stop, I offer you the tidbit one of my early childhood instructors gave me back in 1993 that’s proven effective every time: “You may use bathroom words in the bathroom.” Nine times out of ten, the child will stop saying “booty booty booty butt” at the dinner table instead of leaving the meal to say it by himself in the restroom.

*I suspect this will all be undone in about the fifth grade, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Have your kids hit this stage or passed through it yet? What else can you add to help kids through this stage?

13 replies on “Warning: Bathroom Language Ahead”

So far, I’ve been using lengthy explanations of “You can’t use this word around your Gram and Granddad, and you can’t say it at school…” etc.

Combined, for swear words, with “These words aren’t bad, necessarily; it’s just that we use them only at certain times, and if you use them all the time, people will be upset with you.”

He’s six now, so it hasn’t really been a problem yet, but here’s what I know I’ll have to deal with eventually: he will learn terms that truly are offensive. And while most of the time I’m cool with “the role of parent =s benevolent dictator,” I want to build up my credibility now. Because swear words and dirty words and naughty bits are funny, and the fact that adults get all flustered is even funnier, and defiantly saying these words any way makes you such. A. Rebel. Damn, you’re bad-ass! So when my kid inevitably picks up “your* so gay” as an insult, and the f-word that is actually offensive, I want to be able to be clear about why this stuff is different. In certain company, you get to make all the fart jokes you want and lob around all the f-bombs you want; but there is no company in which hate-filled slurs are ok. And the sheer number of kids and young adults who blithely continue to use them and say “well, I don’t mean it that way – gawd, your* so PC” makes me feel like this message hasn’t been made real clear.

(* – I, admittedly, engage in my own stereotyping: if you use “gay” as an insult, I presume you also suffer from your/you’re confusion.)

You make a some great points! There will be times and people where dirty words are fun and bad-ass, and then there’s the hate slurs.

GirlChild got in trouble at school the other day for “Saying Mad backwards.” She also asked me what “sexy” meant.

I’m kind of longing for those days when she only had a 20 word vocabulary!

I must thank you, Sally, and the rest of the lovely Persephone Magazine bossfolk, for handling bathroom-type content in the manner you’ve done with this piece.

Truly, I am nigh ecstatic right now.

You see, I used to frequent another web site. Sometimes I loaded its main page and was greeted most unpleasantly, for example, with giant pictures of not-so-clean toilets, with related language in large, bright block letters.

It got to the point where I was at the ready to squelch the tab as soon as it loaded. I used to think, “Hey, web site, I know some people enjoy this stuff. Yet there’s a way to feature it without triggering your other readers’ gag reflexes when they open your main page. Furthermore, I would prefer my officemates never feel inclined to ask me questions like ‘Did it just say POOP! on your screen?’ and I am certainly not the only person who feels this way. What’s the deal?”

This is much better. Thanks again.

Juniper Junior is going to be five in less than three months (commence panic and cries of, “My baby!”) and we’ve been dealing with this for a while. To be fair, he’s an ace kid. We use anatomical terms, he sometimes uses words he’s picked up at nursery (nothing particularly bad) and for us it’s a case of leading by example and ignoring inappropriate use after having said that we don’t use those words for XYZ, our lack of amusement on something is usually enough.

Oh god, this is so true. Two of my nephews (around 9 and 7) have decided that they find farting hilarious. If you let them, they could amuse themselves for hours by farting and then giggling incessantly. And when they aren’t ACTUALLY farting, they decide to blow raspberries and then claim someone (usually themselves) farted.

It was annoying, but it got really bad when they started teaching their 2 year old brother to do it.


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