27 answers

Help! What to Do About a Potty Mouth.

My 4 year old has started name calling, now her 2 year old brother has caught on and they both joyfully go at it back and forth all day long. I've talked to them about not using those words, I've threatened them with no toys/show/dessert, I've given them time outs. Nothing seems to work to get them to stop name calling. Granted they haven't a clue as to what they are saying...all they know is that it gets a reaction and they think its funny. The 4 year old can understand but chooses not to and the 2 year old joins along for the ride. We don't name call at home, so I'm guessing its something my daughter picked up at preschool. I'm ready to approach the teacher but frankly, if I can't control it within my household, how can I expect the teacher to control it when the children are away from her hearing range.

I guess I need some advice from you ladies as to best handle the situation...

For the record, the name calling is anything with the word "head" (ie poopoohead etc...)

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What can I do next?

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Wonder Time magazine just did an article about this. As they explained that “potty talk” is a normal part of development for kids in the 3-5 years range. It also talks about how kids that age really don’t have the mental faculties to edit their speech. Any way here’s a link to the online article. http://wondertime.go.com/parent-to-parent/article/potty-t... Give it a read.

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When my daughter was using unacceptable words or tone, I washed her mouth out with soap. I NEVER thought I would do that, but nothing else seemed to work. I explained if her mouth was going to be used for such "dirty" words (or tone), then it needed to be cleaned out. IT WORKED! Now, if she has a relapse, I just have to mention using soap and she quickly readjusts her attitude.

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I used to have to stand in the corner with soap in my mouth when I was a kid. I do agree you've got to do something to stop the bad language, because where do you draw the line with name-calling?

I made the mistake of thinking it was "cute" when my older daughter did it. Well, then she said something to one of her friends at school that hurt the little girl's feelings. My daughter's defense was, "I didn't mean it!" I realized that by allowing her to do "funny" name calling at home, I had given her permission to do the same at school, but not everyone thought it was funny to be called a panty-head. And really, if it's ok when they're little, then is it still ok when they are older and it just becomes passive aggressive? I hate when people say something mean and then say, "just kidding!" - they're the same people who were allowed to name-call when they were little, I promise you!

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Hi P.,
My mom used to use soap. She would take a bar of Ivory and scrape it along our bottom teeth and make us sit for 2-5 mins. I started to develop a taste for soap so as I got older she would make me stick my tongue out and sprinkle red pepper on it then make me wait 1-5 mins until I could rinse with water, then milk. I have to tell you that it worked! I would definitely talk to the teacher about it, maybe have her talk to the whole class about how bad it is to name call. While you kids may be doing it for fun, other children may not think it's fun but hurtful and the sooner your daughter realizes name calling can be mean and hurt others feelings the better.
Good luck!
PS Remember that poopoohead is just another word for shithead!

2 moms found this helpful

Wonder Time magazine just did an article about this. As they explained that “potty talk” is a normal part of development for kids in the 3-5 years range. It also talks about how kids that age really don’t have the mental faculties to edit their speech. Any way here’s a link to the online article. http://wondertime.go.com/parent-to-parent/article/potty-t... Give it a read.

2 moms found this helpful

Just had to respond after reading some of the other posts... Of course potty talk is developmentally normal, but at our house, we don't allow name-calling, even in fun like this because someone's feelings will get hurt eventually. It's a standard we've set. So if other methods fail (ignoring, playing it down, even time-outs, which it sounds like you've been trying), if the behavior persists and you want to stop it, then take action. Even if you don't like the "bad taste" idea, do *something*.
I agree with the bad-taste-on-the-tongue technique. I've called it a "tongue spanking" with my kids and used a tiny bit of horseradish. But whatever consequence you use, make sure it's something that means a lot to your children, and that you are willing to follow through with it. (I notice that you said you "threatened them with no toys/show/dessert." I hope you mean that you actually took those away, and not that you only threatened to. :) And also, if that didn't work, then it wasn't meaningful enough to them.)

Whether you use horseradish/tabasco/etc. or something else, how to start would be to make certain that your children understand what's expected and what the consequence is. Set them down one morning and tell them exactly what they are saying that is unacceptable and why. Then tell them that if they say it again, what the consquence will be and why you have to give it (because you love them too much to let them turn into rude/spoiled/mean... children). And tell them that you aren't going to give anymore warnings about it, because this is their big warning. Then stick with it and follow through with the plan! You will definitely have to give out the consequence, but hopefully only a few times before they give up the behavior. Good luck!

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this is going to sound crazy but it works. tabasco sauce on the tounge. it's just food and it stings for a minute..i have seen this work with kids that bite too.

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I have read a wonderful book "Creative Corrections" by Lisa Whelchel and it has many different ideas on things like this. I don't agree with all that she has to say, but there is some wonderful material in there. I would definitly not just ignore it. Your 4 year old is old enough to know that she should stop. And if she doesn't there will be a consequance. I think one of the biggest problem is that we as parents igore way too much and let things slide, assuming that it will get better. To a degree it will. But it is imparitive that we teach our children the effect words can have. I have two school age children, and 3 year old twins, all girls. I cannot believe the words that I will hear around the school campus. It doesn't just happen overnight. Also, Emma, one of my twins was brought to tears one day because someone called her a poopy-head. She had no idea what this word meant, but just the tone and situation that it was used in was enough to hurt her. I have never tried soap or anything like that. What I do when one of my kids is disrespetful is get right down to their level, look them in the eye and firmly tell them what they did was unacceptable and because of their bad decision their consequance will be a time out. The key to this is being and staying consistant, which is by far the hardest part of parenting for me. Well I hope that someones posts will be able to help you and you are doing a wonderful as a mother to ask for help.

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I think you have gotten plenty of good responses. I did try the soap thing once with my kids but they ended up liking the taste. Later on I bought the regular strength nasty tasting listerine and did that a few times and didn't have to do that again.

Like all the moms say you have to be consistent with what words are acceptable and what words are not. The other thing is to model that behavior. Its easier to tell kids what not to do and then go ahead and follow your own advice. Make sure that you do not use any kind of word that they may interpret as bad infront of them or while talking to other adults or the one getting your mouthwashed will be you.

1 mom found this helpful

oh yes. The potty talk. Totally developmentally normal yet, completely frustrating. Do your best to ignore it. I guarantee that the kids say it at school - so talk to the teacher. Find out how they respond and you can use the same language.
Kids silly talk. My 5 yr old boy has come through the silly talk phase recently. We heard variations of head,poop,toilet,eyeballs on a daily basis. this too will pass. Good luck.

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I have a two year old and a five year old and they have engaged in the same behavior. I replaced poopoo head with jibberish. I will say something like jibber bibber ribber or anything that doesn't sound like words. It is both the exploration of language and the way their words sound that make a difference to them. You reaction will help so as soon as they say jibberish you crack up laughing and so will they. It sounds silly but it worked for me. My five year old loves it.

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Kids do call each other names and at that age is more for play than anything. Amy gave GREAT suggestions. At first when I read your title I thought... well try vinegar. Then I actually read what you wrote! They want your reaction, not to insult each other. Ignore them. If you're not reacting then it will become boring to them!
So, no...don't break out the vinegar. Instead break out the patience and know that this will pass....
Just think how colorful the name calling can get when they are 15! :D

1 mom found this helpful

When my daughter was using unacceptable words or tone, I washed her mouth out with soap. I NEVER thought I would do that, but nothing else seemed to work. I explained if her mouth was going to be used for such "dirty" words (or tone), then it needed to be cleaned out. IT WORKED! Now, if she has a relapse, I just have to mention using soap and she quickly readjusts her attitude.

1 mom found this helpful

First off, is the name calling hurtful to each other, or is it more of a joke to them? If it is not causing hurt feelings then it might work to designate a specific context or room where such words can be used. I tell my kids that they need to go to the bathroom to say such words. After all it is potty talk, so into the bathroom they go. I think if you make too much of a deal about it then it will certainly become more of a weapon instead of normal kid behavior. I choose not to put too much emphasis on the words (poop-poo, poop, all manner of poop talk, etc) I don't like to hear coming from my kids' mouth because I don't want to reinforce the power they can develop. I also try to remain calm and matter of fact when I correct them if they do say the more grown up variety of potty words for the same reason. So far this seems to work pretty well for us. Also, out pediatrician mentioned this exact topic at our 5 year check up. He said it is a totally normal phase that most kids go through. Good luck.

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We have a book about child discipline that is very good. Succinct, practical and easy to read. We give them away. It is called "What I wish I knew when my kids were young". Call my wife A. to pick up a copy. We give them out, we do not sell them. ###-###-####


Dear Pat, you must be a very wonderful mother with lovely children. I can see their need for an explanation of the meaning and beauty that is embodied in ones name. Maybe you can read some stories in the Bible of some persons whose names were changed by God because of a special missiongiven to them. They need to hear some stories which will convince them how sacred is ones name - the name given to us during our baptism. Good luck and more power!

Poopoo head is a VERY normative thing for kids this age to go through. It actually is a good sign that they are developing language skills and social understanding. Every kid goes through it. Best solution I have found for it is ignoring it and not worrying; it will go away. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. In fact, if you play the game with them, you'll be seen as a hero and it will help them learn where and when it's appropriate. And you get the pleasure of hearing them laugh themselves silly at the sound of Mommy saying "poopoo head".


This is a phase that will pass, but will never completely disappear, especially with boys. Set boundaries...let them know that you don't think it is funny and that it is never to leave the house, that if someone gets their feelings hurt it is time to stop and if you say stop they need to listen or there will be consequences. If they begin a round of potty names, ignore it for a bit to see if it will wane...if not, tell them you have had enough.

Try getting involved in their fun by using other types of fun silly names to see if you can transition into a game that is fun that does not involve potty talk.

I am sorry to tell you that fascination with the subjects of poop, farts and butts does not completely go away. Even my boys (9 and 13) will have noise contests to see what sounds "real" trying to gross each other out or they will attempt "underarm farts". They know now NOT to do this when parents/adults are in the room. If I happen to be in the other room, I let them know and tell them I've had enough.

These subjects are talked about by parents all the time too through the potty training years and beyond. Look at the posts here regarding blowouts, removing poop from laundry, constipation, not pooping in diapers, pooping in places other than the toilet, etc., etc. It is an important topic and kids want to be able to talk about it, but don't know how with out just being silly. They learn it from adults, but have not learned when and where this type of talk is appropriate. Read the article Alison suggested. It is great! Good luck! :0)

I have 2 4-year olds. They are very weel behaved (people have complimented me on how polite and nice they are) but they attend preschool and they come home with all kinds of things I don't condone. And yes, they, too, say "xxx head" to each other and laugh up a storm. I have just found that if I tell them what's appropriate and then don't give them too much attention over it, they won't keep doing it. This is true with most unaccepable behavior. You said in your post that they "know it gets a reaction" - well, don't give it to them. That's what drives most toddlers/preschoolers. I agree with the other posts that say not to worry too much - it's just a phase.l I totally disagree with moms who say to punish for it. Just tell them what you expect, follow through with consequences adn then ignore it. There are worse things to worry about.

Stay on top of it mom. Don't wait to go to the school and discuss it with them. Tell them that you are trying to correct it, and that they could help you by correcting it at school. Her teacher may not be aware it's going on and if she is getting by with it in school, it makes it harder to correct her at home. Be careful about spanking and hugging them afterward. My son got so he liked the spankings and would deliberately do something to get one. I read later that can make a masochist out of them. I then let him know that I loved him, forgave him, but would not hug him for awhile.

You might not be old enough to remember the good old days where our parents washed our mouth out with soap. You will only have to do it once then just say it. It isn't dangerous as IO know my sisters and I had it done several times. You can also give them a little pop on the mouth. It is just a shock factor that usually works.

well even though it isnt a terrible word cause we know it could be much worse maybe some hot suace on the tongue might do the trick. hopefully your little ones dont like tabasco but seemed to work when we were kids with my siblings you may also have to figure out what is most valuable to her and take it away....for my brother it was soccer season...not sure what your 4 year old is into but maybe it is barbies until she stops the name calling and every day she does it you take another thing away until she has nothing to play with or activities to do...maybe it is we are going to chuck e cheese and then if she does it before you guys go the other child can go and she stays at home with your husband...just some ideas


Sounds normal and funny to me!!!!


I am SO glad you asked the question, because my 5-year-old son also has a potty mouth lately. "Poop", "butt" and similar words have used a lot lately, and it distresses me that he won't quit and his 2.5-year-old brother has been picking up the words; they both get a huge laugh out of it. I've also wondered how to handle this. I have tried the same things you have with the time outs and withdrawing privileges, but these haven't always been so effective. Thanks so much for posting the question, as I'm getting some good advice here. Please let me know if your situation improves, and I will do likewise. I do also hope it is just a stage like others have mentioned. The Playful Parenting book sounds interesting, and I'll be reading Alison's great article.


I just wanted to say that this is a very normal phase that children go through!! I know it's very annoying, but they will get past it. The 2 boys that I nannied did this, and we just ignored the behavior. Eventually it will go away. Until then, try to hang in there!!

Most of the time if you ecnore them they will stop. You are right they are looking for attention. Sometimes kids do thinks for attention even if it's bad. It's hard being a fulltime working mom. Kids need lots of attention and they will get it in a good or bad way. I think the best thing to do is just ecnore them they should stop.

LOL! Sorry, I know it's frustrating but I am remembering that when my kids were the same ages, we lived overseas, and since they had no exposure to other kids calling each other names (and no TV in english...) they actually created names to call each other! They had their own little language of insults that no one else understood. So try substituting something silly like boffo-head or zinger-head or even lovingly call them cutie-heads and see if that diffuses things.
Good luck,

If it's just a game and they aren't being mean and hurtful, I wouldn't worry. My granddaughters did the same thing. They are two years apart and I can still hear Angel calling her sister a poo-poo head. It was all in fun. I have noticed that now that they are 4 and 6, they no longer do that. In fact, my 6 year old came up with a new name for her sister just this past weekend, Super Finder, because they were doing a puzzle and Angel was finding all the right pieces! It was great to hear the older one boost the younger ones confidence with this great nickname!

Hi, P.,
I read all the other posts and the ones who substitute nonsense words and play it as a game are right on, according to Lawrence Cohen's book Playful Parenting. I HIGHLY recommend this book. It talks about how to deal with all behavior in a positive and playful manner, which allows your children to grow up happy and emotionally healthy. Punishing name calling, when it is started because your children want to play is the first step in punishing the fun out of them. You just need to guide them to do it in a more appropriate way. I hope you get a chance to read the book, but more importantly, I hope you choose to deal with it in a positive way. Your children will thank you for it!

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