Handling Bathroom Humor

Here's hope and help for handling your child's bathroom humor.

Introduction

What's So Funny?
Ted and Debbie

When my daughter Amy was 4, her favorite word in the world was tushy. She would say it to gauge my reaction, then she'd giggle. Amy made up her own jokes -- "Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he wanted to get to Tushy Street!" -- which she'd repeat, day after day, howling with laughter. I tried my best not to show any sort of reaction, but she'd insist, "Don't you think that's funny, Mommy?"

After she began to sing "Happy penis to you," I decided it was time for a serious chat. I told her, "A penis is just a body part. There's nothing funny about it."

The next day in a taxi, she leaned forward and told the driver, "A penis is just a body part. There's nothing funny about it." I didn't know whether to crawl under my seat or laugh.

What is it about bathroom talk that so fascinates and amuses kids? Starting around age 3 or 4, mentions of body parts, products, and functions increasingly fill their conversations. As children share animal crackers, they snicker and say, "Oh, the bear is pooping!" Little girls pull down their pants in a joyous burst of giggles: "See my butt!" Little boys run down the street chanting crude euphemisms. It's fun for them merely to say these words, but the real thrill comes, of course, from shocking any adult within earshot.

Even though children's bathroom talk is universal, we often feel anxious when we hear it and unsure of how to react. Should we laugh, ignore it, or try to set limits? We're confused, at least in part, because our culture has strong taboos when it comes to talking about topics like toileting and sex.

We may think that we're much more open-minded than our own parents were about delicate subjects, but many of us are still uncomfortable discussing gender differences, defecation, and sexuality.

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