Potty jokes

There’s some pretty strong language flying around at our house, and it’s not coming from the grown-ups.

For the past couple months, Lucy and Rosie have been delighting in what they call “potty jokes.” There is actually no joke involved: it’s just the (apparently) hilarious act of reeling off the names of various anatomical parts or bodily processes — and then laughing hysterically.

We figure this sort of thing is comparatively harmless coming from a two- and a four-year-old — until we remember that these little ones venture out in public and are capable of shouting inappropriate phrases, clearly enunciated, at top volume. So, we’ve been working on a few systems to create boundaries for our language.

We began with a sign (see photo) that says, “No poo-poo jokes at the table.” Although that concept was affirmed by all parties, it alone didn’t really have the desired effect. So we began experimenting with some consequences: you must leave the table if you say a potty joke, Mama removes your food for a little while, children who say potty jokes at the table need to go to the bathroom and “get all the potty talk out.” Each idea worked for a few days, but then lost its punch. I considered instituting the rule I grew up with (prohibited words are allowed but at the cost of 10¢ per word, while the f-bomb is $1), but there seemed to be a variety of problems with that system, starting with our preschoolers’ tenuous grasp of the monetary system.

One day, I was really starting to lose it over all the potty talk. I could tell that my nerves were on edge, and I started to fantasize about things like duct tape over mouths. So I thought to myself, “Why does this bother me so much? What is the actual problem with potty talk?”

The fact is, potty talk can actually be funny. The trouble was that I wanted to train my daughters in the subtle art of knowing when potty talk is funny, and when it is merely embarrassing to all concerned. Even though we were starting with a simple “self-control” skill of refraining from potty jokes at the table, I think their little brains could tell that was a false premise. So I took another route.

Our new rule is also simple, but more focused on the real issue: “You may make potty jokes just about anywhere, but you need to ask Mama or Papa first to get permission.”

This has been so much more effective! Lucy and Rosie enjoy their freedom of speech, and Mama doesn’t need to worry (quite so much) about public outbursts. When we first started our new system, the girls had lots of fun playing “let’s go on a trip” during lunch one day.

Mama: “Okay, let’s go to the library!”
[pretending to walk]
Mama: “Here we are at the library!”
Lucy and Rosie: “Can I make a potty joke?”
Mama: “Thank you for asking. No potty jokes right now, but remember it and you can say it when you get home. Okay, we have our books, let’s walk home!”
[pretending to walk]
Mama: “Here we are back at home!”
Lucy and Rosie: “Can I make a potty joke?”
Mama: “Yes, thank you for asking. Now that we’re at home, go ahead with your potty joke.”
Lucy: “Poo-poo potty nipple butt eyeballs!”
Rosie: “Poo-poo…potty…vulva…penis, penis, penis, PENIS!”
Mama: “Very nice.”

We do this not just when role-playing, but out in the real world, too. The girls really seem to get it. So far, so good!

The whole profanity issue feels like a complicated one to me. I myself had an extremely vulgar mouth when I was a teenager (which I controlled when around adults), and then sort of went cold-turkey with the profanity when I became a serious Christian in college. These days I’ll use a four-letter word under the right circumstances, but it’s not something that pops out unexpectedly. (I have somehow absorbed a variety of corny swear-substitutes, like “Oh, fudge!” and “For pizza’s sake!” — a little 1950s for my taste, but helpful around children.) I am interested, though, to see how this develops as our children grow older. I don’t want to create an atmosphere where swearing is prohibited (which can sometimes make it seem more appealing), but I also want them to know how to control their tongues. Mostly, I want them to understand that language is a very powerful thing, and to gain an ability to use words effectively in a variety of circumstances.

I’d love to hear tips from others on this topic! In the meantime, I’ll continue incorporating, “Oh, fiddlesticks!” into our household vocabulary.

6 Thoughts on “Potty jokes

  1. keri m. on February 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm said:

    I like your fun and realistic approach to potty jokes. Also, how random body parts make their way into such jokes (eyeballs!). Our random one is nose-hole. After that one, it’s pretty much a slippery downhill slope.

    My latest reason to sigh: my kids have grasped the Runny Babbit technique (if you haven’t seen it yet, check out this book of poems by Shel Silverstein) and are saying their potty words in code.

    Lood Guck!

  2. Rebekah Deitrich on February 3, 2011 at 7:42 pm said:

    You are doing a great job, and being realistic. I can’t believe Rosie said vulva!!! Sounds like it’s time for the Captain Underpants series! My son loved those books, starting around the age of five or so. I felt like they gave that stuff a really clear place and time, and allowed him to enjoy what he seemed to want to enjoy naturally! I guess the most important thing is to never make children feel bad or ashamed of their natural curiosity, but to help them find appropriate times to express it, which is exactly what you are doing!

  3. Keri, we have been chuckling over “nose-hole” these days. :)

    Rebekah, your comment made us wonder how we decided on “vulva.” We remember that some good friends of ours (who had similar use-the-correct-word philosophies re: body parts) used it with their daughters. And, of course, it is really the most accurate word! But it is not usually found in everyday conversation, that’s for sure.

    We’ll have to check out Captain Underpants — I’ve heard the name, but never read the books!

  4. OK, I would not normally share this story in print, but…

    I came downstairs in a short bathrobe a couple weeks back. My son had never seen it – i usually wear a granny gown out of the bedroom — and he really seemed to like it. He was trying to come up with ways to compliment it, and I think he wanted to note that it was shorter than normal. What came out was, “It covers your vulva and your butt and looks great. It would look really good with leggings.”

    I nearly choked on my coffee and could think of nothing else to say and so replied, “Why thank you.”

  5. Ah yes… That’s my son. And my wife. It makes me so proud!

  6. I love that he thinks it would look good with leggings — that cracks me up!

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