What Language Should Parents Use During Potty Training?

Cutesy and Technical Language Are Both Fine

Young boy on potty seat giving his mom a high five

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During potty training sessions, parents often wonder which terms they should use with children. Is language such as bowel movement or urine appropriate, or should parents use more casual terms such as poop and pee?

Use Correct or Cute Potty Training Language

Whether to use the clinically correct terms for body parts and waste is a highly personal decision and frequently involves one's own family history. People with parents who said "pee" and "poop" will likely use these terms with their children.

There's nothing wrong with either style. You won't be doing your child any injustice or harm by using childish words to describe these things. He is a child, after all, and unless you plan to hide him away, he will eventually learn both the correct terms and some slang that will make you absolutely cringe. Calling a penis a "wee wee" now will not affect that.

Likewise, there's plenty of room to introduce the correct terms now if that's what you'd like to do. By giving him both words, you might think that you're likely to confuse him, but just the opposite is true. You're giving him lots of ways to express himself and plenty of vocabulary to do so when he's ready. Mom can use one type of potty language and dad can use another, or you can both mix it up.

The Potty Language of Child Care Is Universal

In her book The Girlfriend's Guide to Toddlers, Vicki Iovine sums it up nicely, saying, "What good is it to teach your child to ask his daycare provider whether he can go to the bathroom to void (as I swear a girlfriend of mine was taught by a finicky mother) when all the other kids are being told it's time to go potty? It can't help but be useful for potty trainees to share a common potty language."

Ask your own child care provider the words used at preschool and incorporate that language into your home repertoire as well.

Potty Language Shouldn't Be a Language of Shame

Confusion may occur, however, if you decide to completely eliminate or discourage certain words or add negative emotion to words. If you're extremely uncomfortable with the words your husband is using, you might want to consider why this is.

Do you find it embarrassing or feel some sense of shame over these words even though they are not curse words and would be appropriate to use in public? This attitude can easily be conveyed to your child, especially if you and your spouse argue about it or you admonish or correct them in front of your child when they use these words.

You want your child to feel comfortable talking about all aspects of using the bathroom with you, and it might be easier and more comfortable for your son to say, "The poo poo hurts" rather than, "I'm having difficulty with my bowel movement." This is especially true if he doesn't have a strong command of his language skills yet.

Potty Language Should Be Rated G

If the words you or your spouse are using are inappropriate, however, and wouldn't be used around a group of your peers (meaning other moms with toddlers or any reasonable person who has ever had a child), then you should definitely talk to your partner about using more appropriate terms.

There's nothing cute or developmentally appropriate about teaching a toddler to swear. And it's nearly impossible to teach a toddler that it's fine to say one word at home but not to use that same word at a restaurant.

If you're looking to use some alternative potty lingo, make sure it's safe for use in public.

If your child has already been using words that would carry an R-rating, stop this immediately and do your best to ignore the behavior in your toddler. It can be tempting to make a big deal about banning the words or creating a scary label ("That's a bad word!"), but this almost always makes the problem worse and gives the offending word more allure to your toddler. Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest in this case and modeling the appropriate language instead will go a long way toward changing the behavior.

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