When I look at all of the early photos of May, that gleam in her eyes, the mile-wide smile that brightens her face, the look of discovery that can only be seen in the eyes of the very young, it is with bittersweet emotion that I realize she is now entering the stage of responsibility and all the restrictions that accompany this developmental time.
No longer can she experiment with “potty talk” without people casting a critical and disdainful glance her way. Yet, it is obvious that the love of being a bit off color continues to delight her, whenever she belly laughs at her young sister’s use of such words. May, on the other hand, has become more discriminatory with her use of language. Wasn’t it a millisecond ago when May used to parrot some of her mother’s pet expressions when driving in the car? How vividly I recall Nancy telling us how she had to watch her mouth in front of May. May had proven herself to be rather too skillful in effectively using certain terms to describe those drivers who had the impertinence to cut her mother off, or came too close to her rear bumper. We laughed at those stories, just as we now laugh at Elosie ‘s use of “potty talk,” and as May laughs at her sister’s emerging use of language, but as befitting her age, May refrains from their use.
I remember talking to my good friend Dan and sharing some of May’s pet expressions. Dan, would laugh with that marvelous chuckle of his and say, “Betty, you have to write these down in your blog.” I looked at him with total disbelief that he would suggest such a thing. May was three years old at the time and I was afraid that if the word got out about some of the things she said, people would think less of this marvelous little girl. How ridiculous I was! May, like all children was testing the limits of language. With her parents’ intelligent handling of her “colorful” language, May learned that some words are not socially acceptable, just as Eloise will learn in due time.
Recently, I spoke with a good friend about “potty talk” and how children, upon discovery of these “sure to get a reaction,” phrases love to articulate them for an audience. At a very young age, toddlers master the ability to separate and apply those attention-getting words from everyday “socially acceptable” language. Clever little imps, aren’t they? My friend, Arna, stated that her grandson is allowed his freedom of speech, but with the understanding that “potty talk” is called “potty talk” because it is confined to the bathroom where there is a potty. By taking this approach, her grandson soon lost interest in using the words. I thought this approach brilliant! The forbidden is far more tempting than the allowed, especially to young children who are in the throes of discovering the world around them.
Now, Eloise at almost three years of age seems to be picking up the gauntlet left behind by her big sister’s emerging social skills. When we hear an outburst of words pertaining to body parts and bodily functions exiting the mouth of our youngest granddaughter, we give a stifled laugh and steer the conversation towards a new topic. However, there is no doubt that we adults get a charge out of watching our granddaughters enjoy their naughtiness; Eloise as the speaker and May living vicariously through her sister’s daring nature. Perhaps May is remembering the times when she brought on peals of laughter under similar circumstances.
It has been written that “children learn what they live.” Obviously the use of “potty talk” is a learned behavior. When children realize early on that such language brings about a reaction from those around them it gives them control of a situation and what a powerful tool that becomes for one so young.
I do not profess that “potty talk” should be encouraged, but my experience has been the less attention paid to these often amusing linguistic discoveries, the more it will serve to thwart the behavior. Confine it to the bathroom and, at the same time, be aware of how we, as grown-ups, through our words and actions, impact the behavior and thinking of the children we love. After all, children do learn what they live”