Handling Bathroom Humor

Lowering the Shock Value

Ultimately, bathroom talk is more than just saying certain words. "It's also a child's way of coming to terms with cultural stigmas attached to talking about our bodies," says Dr. Jay. And even though we know that talking openly with our kids is the best policy, it's not always easy for us to shed our own inhibitions surrounding toileting and sexuality.

For this reason, be prepared: Your 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old is on to you! And he's going to have a lot of laughs trying to shock you during this inevitable phase. Here's what you can do about it: Stay calm. Your best defense is to avoid overreacting. Instead, focus on why your child is speaking this way. Does he want attention? Is he angry? Or is he trying to find a way to talk to you about something? Then respond with something neutral like "That's a new word" or "Those are funny jokes. I'll bet all your buddies say that at school."

"If you get upset or if you punish your child, you've told him the emotional value of the word -- to you it's a 'bad' word," explains Dr. Jay. Wallace agrees: "If you act shocked, or you laugh, the child will continue -- maybe even say more words."

Speak matter-of-factly. "Reply, 'Oh, what does that mean?' If children have to stop and think about it, it's not a silly game that will keep escalating -- it becomes just another word," says Wallace. "Downplay it and the novelty will soon wear off."

"Be cool," agrees Dr. Jay -- even if your own upbringing was different. "If your values are 'We don't talk like that in our house,' then the child will repress his feelings and the repression will manifest itself in other ways."

Today's experts advise encouraging children to think of penis and vagina as good words, which can be used in the house as an acceptable way of identifying and describing our bodies. Create a distraction. One solution is to change the subject: "I know you like those words. Let's go wash up now." Or introduce a new game. If your child wants to tell jokes, suggest that he tell jokes about subjects other than private body parts; this is a perfect time to read a book of riddles together.

"Your child is having a grand time repeating those words, and you can use this opportunity to channel all of his enthusiasm into a more positive activity," suggests Wallace. Ignore it. Your 3-year-old and her friend are giggling about bathroom words. If you're uncomfortable, just walk away. The key is to avoid battles, which will only exacerbate the problem.

Parents often complain that children learn bathroom talk at preschool. "It's not a big deal -- you don't have to react to everything," says Dr. Jay. "Realize that this is the world they live in. One way to get rid of it is to stop paying.

It's often most difficult to ignore -- and most embarrassing -- in crowded public places. If your child uses bathroom language when you're at the grocery store, ignore it until she moves onto another topic. If the person behind you seems horrified by it, tell him with a smile that this is a normal stage of child development.

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