How to quiet your toddler/preschooler’s potty mouth? Talk amongst yourselves.

At Amazon: Big Mouth Toys Toilet Mug
At Amazon: Big Mouth Toys Toilet Mug

Sarah sent Parent Hacks a one-line email:

How do I get my three year old to stop saying "poopy" to everyone all the time?

Isn't that a question we've all asked ourselves?

Toddlers and preschoolers are just beginning to embrace and experiment with the power of language. Bathroom-related humor gets a reliably big reaction.

It may be crass, but let's be honest — it's funny! The scene in Bridesmaids that got the biggest laughs involved ladies pooping in sinks. Walter the Farting Dog and Captain Underpants are popular with practically every kid. That toilet coffee mug? #1 bestseller in the mug category at Amazon.

Which is not to say your kid should walk around saying "poopy" all day. But I think the first step is to acknowledge the humor (especially when all of his/her friends are giggling uncontrollably, reinforcing the situation).

The next step is to briefly explain why potty humor needs to stop, but with as little reaction as possible (because the reaction is the reinforcer). Say something like, "Ha, ha, Aidan. I know you're joking, and 'poopy' can be pretty funny. But we don't make potty jokes because it's not polite."

[I don't call it "potty talk" because two- and three year-olds have to talk about the potty all the time. My intent is to distinguish talking about bathroom-related stuff (which is fine) from crass joking (which isn't).]

After that, be quick, decisive, but low-reaction with your followup ("No potty jokes, remember?"), and add a mild consequence if necessary ("Oh, well. We have to leave now because your potty jokes aren't polite."). Eventually the bathroom humor will fade.

Different strategies for different kids, of course, but it worked for me.

Parenthackers, what worked for you? How did you handle the toddler/preschooler poop-joke phase?

If you've searched Parent Hacks in vain looking for a solution to your parenting problem, email with the subject line I NEED ADVICE. We often post community members' questions. Perhaps we can offer some wisdom. At the very least we can commiserate.

More: Hacks for behavior and learning


  1. Jean says

    At age three? When it got to the point that it was “funny”, I just stopped reacting at all. It stopped quickly when he wasn’t getting the attention he wanted from it.

  2. says

    We had to pick our battles. To that end we have but one rule on the matter: we don’t permit potty words at the table. Happily, our crack-down (no butt pun intended) at the table has also reduced the poop jokes outside of meal times as well.

  3. Melinda says

    Agree w/ Kerry- give a time and place where it is okay and semi-appropriate to say “potty words” like this. Laugh, giggle, enjoy it when it’s okay. If the words are used elsewhere, try to ignore it. However, if it gets embarrassing, a gentle but firm reminder that this is not an “okay place” to say words like that goes a long way. If that is ineffective, I usually have to remove my son from the situation entirely… which could mean you don’t have time to go to the park or do some other fun activity that he/she was anticipating.

  4. Amanda says

    We have the same policy as Kerry – no potty talk/jokes at the table. So far so good, and I do think it lowers the overall level of potty jokes.

    Although having 3 boys and a husband who all *love* potty talk/jokes, I have a feeling it’s going to be a long battle.

  5. says

    1. My family STILL thinks fart jokes are hilarious and they are often dinner table fodder.
    2. I am resisting the urge to start a potty joke thread in this comment section. (Get it? Resisting the urge??)
    3. Please ignore #2. (HAHAHA NUMBER 2!!!)

  6. Eleanor says

    I gave them what they wanted. I allowed them to say it as loud and as much as they in the bathroom where those words belonged. If they said it anywhere else they had to stop what they were doing and go into the bathroom and shout it with the door closed for x amount of time -depending on the age of the child. It took one week to break them of the habit.

  7. says

    oh my goodness – how timely, my son’s pre-school teacher pulled me aside yesterday to let me know that he disrupted class by saying poop in an amazing number of variations. I’ll try out these tips and report back on how it worked out.

  8. Val says

    Potty talk happens in the bathroom. That’s it. Be consistent. If they need to get it out of their system and go to the bathroom and scream poop a few times. Fine. This usually curbs it right away in our house… And I’m raising three boys.

  9. Kathleen says

    Our policy is similar to those above- potty talk belongs in the bathroom. When my son wants to say “poop”, he’ll usually get up and go to the bathroom, have a minute of turet’s-style ranting, then go back to what he was doing. It’s pretty hilarious.

  10. Misspseudononymos says

    You mean I have to stop giggling at my two year old who has just learned to say “Poopy . . . blech!”? Note to self: I’m such a bad mom. :-)

  11. says

    I did the “say it in the bathroom” thing too.

    As they got older (grade school) I tried to differentiate for them “playground talk” and “table talk.” They may say anything around their friends that gives them playground cred. However, no adult should ever be in listening distance. All bad words, potty or otherwise, are acceptable in my opinion under the right circumstances. I swear sometimes too, but not at work teaching preschool, not around my own mom, not at church…. They just need to learn how to know their audience.

  12. Sara says

    This post couldn’t be more timely! After my son responded to my “it’s not nice to say/call people ‘poopy'” reprimand, he responded with “I was just saying it to myself.” So we agreed that he can say it to himself as much as he wants as long as it’s quiet enough that no one else can hear it. Surprisingly that’s dramatically cut back the amount of potty talk we’ve been hearing. I never would have thought it would work, but so far, so good :-)

  13. says

    We are still in this never ending potty mouth phase. Poopy is only the beginning as my girls have migrated into bum bum, booty, and penis is one of the words with definite staying power. For example, a recent visit to the doctor’s office (not pediatrician btw): “does he have a penis?” Something I learned from my girls’ preschool which I thought was brilliant was to do everything you explained in your post (which didn’t entirely nip it in the bud for us) and designate a potty talk spot, as I see many other people also do. At preschool, this is the tire swing. When they are on it, they can have all the potty talk they want but only there. At home, I tell them potty talk isn’t for the dinner table but they can use potty talk in the yard and that’s the only place. You can only imagine what the neighbors must think of us.

  14. Janice says

    We’ve long had the potty words belong in the bathroom (or during Lil sister’s diaper changes when that was applicable – as “that poop stinks!” is perfectly reasonable).
    But I’ve recently had to institute a no dessert for potty mouths policy. I give up to two warnings (since a pre-school warning can be forgotten once those boys rile each other up), but after that, no sweets for dirty mouths.

  15. says

    I LOVE these comments, thank you. “No sweets for dirty mouths” has quite a ring to it, Janice. And Sarah: thank you for saying I’m awesome…”immature” may have been more apt at that moment, but I’ll take it! :)

  16. Judy says

    I ignored it for awhile, but my kids kept going even without the attention. Then the grandparents took them to dinner and they told the waiter their food was “pooplicious.”. The grandparents were horrified and embarrassed. So I explained how they had embarrassed their grandparents and talk like that was impolite. I made them call their grandparents to apologize, and I explained a new consequence: every time they used potty humor, they had to clean up real poop and pee from our litter box. (We have two cats.). After ignoring it for months produced no results, the litter box ended the talk in less than two weeks, I think.