“She’s a poopy head”
“Eww, who farted?”
These are phrases you may hear in a kindergarten classroom or on the playground, typically accompanied by laughter and giggles from young children. For adults, however, this delight in the scatological can be embarrassing or annoying, especially if it happens in public.
But this type of “potty talk” is normal and fleeting, experts say; just because your child won’t stop talking about farts and poop right now doesn’t mean it’ll last forever. That said, there are ways to address the crude conversations in a shame-free way. Ahead, experts explain kids' fascination with the smelly stuff and share advice on talking about bodily functions.
Explaining the fascination
Every child is different, but for many toddlers — who, between diapers and potty training are used to having their own (ahem) output discussed and examined at length — there's a certain intrigue about natural bodily functions.
“Young children are obsessed with bodily functions in general, and the fact that their body can produce objects and make funny noises is something they like to talk about,” Dr. Denise Scott, a pediatrician and JustAnswer expert, tells Yahoo Life.
Additionally, kids love to get a rise out of adults — particularly their parents — and talking about farts and poop is an easy way to do it.
“Kids latch on to the words you prefer them not to use and these words will be repeated once they get a reaction out of the adults,” Scott explains. “To get a reaction from an adult can feel pretty powerful to a child, so they will do it again and again.”
And for many kids, this is the time period when they are starting to develop their sense of humor.
“Not only are children working with a limited amount of content to draw humor from, they’re also discovering and testing out how words can be shocking and cause laughter when they are,” Michelle Felder, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist for Parenting Pathfinders, says.
Responding in a shame-free way
Felder encourages parents to avoid shaming kids for having bodily functions or for talking about them, noting that "shame is not a healthy tool for encouraging a child to change their behavior."
Parents should remind kids that passing gas is one way that their body stays healthy and takes care of itself. Then, they should be clear about what the expectations are and leave space for the reality that not all bodily functions are predictable.
In response to a child passing gas, Felder says that a parent could say, “I noticed that you just farted, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with farting — all humans do it, and it’s good for us! The thing is, it’s something that we should try our best to do in a private space, and if we’re around other people, we should say 'excuse me' or 'pardon me' when we’re done.”
Rachel Heitman, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, adds that when kids in her playroom fart, she responds by telling them, “That surprised you.”
“It is neutral, and lets the child know that I heard it and I accept them as they are," she tells Yahoo Life.
Children aren’t just going to stop talking about poop and farts simply because you tell them not to. You’ll want to provide them with an appropriate outlet to get out those words and giggles where they won’t be shamed for doing it. That’s where “poop talk time” comes in.
“For a few minutes a day, you can allow your child to talk about anything and say what they want, even if it's gross, and it can be made into a game where everyone can laugh,” Scott says. “Allowing them the opportunity to laugh and talk about these things together will decrease their obsession with it.”
This can include talks about farts, poop, burps, spit and so on — anything that you wouldn’t normally bring up in polite everyday conversation.
If they persist in talking about it outside of the designated time, gently remind them that they’ll have to wait until the next "poop talk time." Another option is to simply tell your child that they can only use those words in the bathroom. Scott says this provides children with the opportunity to still talk about it, but without consequences.
Modeling appropriate behavior
As an adult, you’ll want to lead by example when it comes to social norms and etiquette around farting.
“Parents should not feel that they need to suppress their own bodily functions, but they can say 'excuse me' after and model how they would like their child to behave,” Scott says. “Reinforce that these things occur every day to everyone and are just part of life.”
Parents might also consider taking a more neutral approach versus making a big deal about an errant "toot" or poop joke. One reason kids are obsessed with farts and poop is because of the reaction they. get; similarly, children typically figure out which words are expletives when adults make a lot of fuss when they're repeated. By remaining neutral and giving less attention to them, farts, poop and the like will eventually lose their significance for your child, becoming a normal bodily function that’s acknowledged and then moved on from.
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