The dreaded poop/butt stage. It seems every toddler goes through this, especially during potty training. I don’t know about you, but I always dreaded it simply because I think it’s gross.
When my son and I started potty training when he was not quite 3.5, I was bracing for it. For awhile, it didn’t really happen. He was actually afraid of pooping for months, so he didn’t talk about it.
Shortly before he turned 4, though, it happened. Poop. Butt. Poopy butt poopy head. Poopoo nugget. And more combinations than I choose to remember. He has some cousins who are just a few months to a couple of years older than him and they only helped to increase his vocabulary.
Now, I could have gone the same route as every other mom I know. I could have been resigned to this stage and just sounded like a broken record. “That’s not a polite thing to say.” “We don’t say things like that.” I could have chosen to just live with it for the next year or so, because every 4 year old I’d known was still stuck in this stage.
But I decided I wasn’t going to just patiently wait for him to grow out of it. I wasn’t going to just sternly say no on repeat. I wasn’t going to accept this was just a phase I had to suffer through.
I’ve worked as a behavior interventionist for children with autism. As part of my training, I learned about the things that drive children to tantrum or otherwise misbehave. One of them is attention. Children misbehave for attention.
I know my son. He demands constant attention.
I admit that, at the beginning, I just lived with the poop and butt stage. But then I started looking at him through the lens of my training. If I didn’t have to live with the toilet talk, I wasn’t going to. I realized he was doing it because he loved the attention that followed!
Children shouldn’t be ignored. But sometimes their behavior needs to be.
So, how did I end the poop/butt stage?
It was so easy it only took a month!
- Ignore. I completely ignored this speech. Whenever he said poop, butt, or any creative combination (and, boy, have they been strange), I didn’t pay it any attention. Yes, he said it more often, but I stuck to ignoring it and these words slowly started to vanish, and become less creative.
- Pretend he didn’t say poop or butt. Sometimes we were having a conversation. Sometimes I was asking a question. He would say something poop or butt related in response, but I pretended he didn’t say it. I kept the conversation rolling or repeated my question until I got an appropriate response. Surprisingly, he never kept on saying it. He would answer me without saying poop or butt and received attention.
- Set aside poop and butt playtime. I know it sounds weird, but it means we get to control when and where he says it. Sometimes we play the game with him and say it back, but we never let it go for more than a couple of minutes. He learned that when we said that’s enough, it was time to stop and we would give attention for more appropriate speech.
- Tickle his tushie. Along with the words came the sticking out of his tushie. Sometimes we let him, when we’re all in a playful mood or when he’s playing with daddy. Otherwise I know he’s super ticklish, so I tickle his tushie. He doesn’t like it, so he doesn’t repeat it for days.
He still says it, but I can recognize why he does it and when it’s likely to happen so I can more effectively handle it. He says it to strangers who are trying to engage him because he’s a little shy and being confronted by someone he doesn’t know disturbs him, so he hides behind being silly. Usually, I let him say it, explain he’s a little shy, and let him hide behind me. He also says it when he wants to be silly (like with his grandparents), but even this is getting rarer. When it’s okay to be silly, he knows I’ll engage him in silly play and it’s okay to say it. When it’s not okay, I ignore and he gets the message right away.
Okay, so he hasn’t completely stopped, but he’s not even 4.5 and can go several days without any poop/butt talk. Most days, it doesn’t even seem to be part of his vocabulary. When it does pop up, it’s always brief and mommy always ignores. Daddy is, of course, an entirely different story.