“Poop” Talk

There is a wonderful book called “Everyone Poops”, that many moms have found helpful when toilet training their children.  It’s true that everyone poops, and it is also true that many children go through a “poop talk” phase during which bathroom language suddenly makes an appearance, much to the chagrin of parents.  Usually, children are in pre-school programs around this time and distraught mothers often attribute the use of such language to other children in school.

While children’s horizons do broaden once they are out in a larger social world, and the “poop talk” is not just a product of spontaneous combustion, children at this stage do share a common interest in body functions.  The process of toilet training puts the focus on one’s body and what comes out of it.  Young children have a great interest in their own poop – by whatever name it has been designated in their own family.

Many children do not start out sharing the sounds and facial expressions conveying “dirty” or “disgusting” that adults express.  The poop comes out of their bodies and as such has value.  Often, children are reluctant to part with it and resist the toilet where it is flushed away and disappears.  It is as though they have lost part of their bodies. Sometimes children may be reluctant to take that next step to more independent functioning that parting with diapers implies. 

Toilet training itself involves mastering the control needed to meet adult requirements that these functions be regulated according to time and place. Children are working hard – at times under adult pressure – to establish such control.  What better outlet than to substitute words for the actual poop.  Instead of the poop coming out of your body, the words can come out of your mouth without control.  Unhappily, the words seem just as unacceptable to mom and dad as does the poop in the pull-ups.

Trying to get children to control their words at the same time that they are trying to control the poop itself, is something of a lost cause.  Or more to the point, trying to stop children from talking poop is futile.  If you think about it, we end up trying to control two things at once, body function and speech.  And this at a point in development where children are apt to be somewhat defiant about controls anyway.

What most parents learn – often the hard way – is that once children find they can get a rise out of you, they are delighted to do it again, and again.  At first it can seem like a bit of teasing.  But if parents become more punitive or threatening in their responses, children are apt to become more defiant, and no-win confrontations are the result.  Your children have discovered that some words have a lot of power!

At some point interest in poop and bathroom talk fades out.  But the interest in the body does not, and poop words often mutate into genital words.  This may coincide with a time when there is greater awareness and interest in the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies.  Without getting too Freudian with thoughts of castration anxiety, just paying attention to the behavior of little boys is enough to persuade you that they seek to reassure themselves that their male equipment is intact.  Here, too, the use of words contributes to a sense of mastery and power.  Little boys enjoy affirming their maleness – particularly with their mothers – by the assertive way they repeat names for genitals.  The shock value alone can give them a sense of power.

So how can we respond to “poop talk” and the later stages of provocative talk and name calling that follow?  The talk seems to serve a useful purpose in helping children master other concerns they may have about their bodies and body functions.  But the other side of this is that they also function in a social world where certain language is considered inappropriate.  (Although sometimes it is hard to tell if there are any boundaries left anymore.)

Actually, the spontaneous reaction of parents when such language first appears makes it immediately clear to children that their parents disapprove.  Only when it is turned into a big issue do children use it to bait their parents, and ongoing conflict is created.  You can let children know that you recognize how much they enjoy saying these words but that other people don’t enjoy hearing them.  After that, the most useful policy is to ignore the language and change the subject.  Without the reaction, the provocation loses its appeal.

With “poop talk” and its later variants, children sometimes are expressing confusion or asking a question about something they or others are experiencing. You may be able to recognize that in the context of their talk, or in the way they are using the language.  If children sound mixed up or confused in what they are saying, it can be helpful to let them know that, and to ask if there is something they would like to ask or to know more about.

But most of the time talking poop is just what kids do – just like they poop.

6 thoughts on ““Poop” Talk”

  1. As an R.N., I never really made a big deal about poop with my kids. Like the book says, everyone does it. They have not really given me much of a problem about it- amazing how a matter of fact attitude makes that difference. I do see my same- age nephews giving my SIL a hard time about it though, to the point that they say things I really think they do not undrestand, they are merely repeating for the reaction. Seems a shame.
    I am certainly not claiming my kids are better than my nephews; perhaps a little younger in development and interests at times, but not better. I am just saying I pick my battles with my kids and find not over-reacting to what they say gets me farther fro day to day.

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    1. Jenn – I couldn’t agree more aboout the matter of fact attitude.  That applies to so many things. I agree, too, that kids say things they don’t even understand for the shock value.  They love to provoke adults – parents in partiular.  Thanks for the comment. 

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  2. i recently came across poop talk but with my 6 year old son its not a constant thing but seems to do it at bad times and involves peoples names with it as a laugh but some people are not happy and that it could be sexual abuse related but give no clear explination and as far as i can see he just acting out with poop talk looking for reactions . woundering others feel about it  most recent he said his dad forced carrotts in to his mouth and made him eat poo for his breckfast even tho its his sister who makes brekfast and moniterd by parents he also loves carrotts and no idea why he raised that .

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    1. Even older children sometimes use “poop” talk to be provocative because they have learned from experience that it will get a reaction from people. Of course his comments that you refer to have no basis in reality

      In a message dated 8/22/2011 11:12:08 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

      (http://disqus.com/)

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    2. My response was interrupted so to continue – one needs to think about what else is going on in his life in order to understand what this is about, why he is being provocative in this way. Sometimes children do this when they are angry about something such as attention given to a sibling, or a feeling of rejection from a parent. It could also be related to sexual confusion based on something he has seen or heard, or even differences between his sister and himself. If you want to email directly to discuss this further, please do.
      Elaine Heffner

      In a message dated 8/22/2011 11:12:08 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

      (http://disqus.com/)

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