My 4-year-old daughter June ran up to me at preschool pickup and immediately burst into tears. Apparently, she had strung together a sentence for the first time that was incendiary enough to warrant an intervention from her teacher. She mumble-cried for a hot second and then spit it out. “Mommy, I said my brother has a stinky butt and he needs to go in a toilet. Mrs. Jenkins won’t let me use bathroom words at school,” she wailed.
And then my preschooler looked deep into my eyes and asked the most innocent — and hilarious — question. “Mommy… what’s a bathroom word?”
I wanted to bust a gut laughing at the situation, but I knew that would just make the whole thing more confusing. I hugged my daughter tight, told her it’s okay to make mistakes, and that we’d talk more about it in the car. I looked up at Mrs. Jenkins with a humble smile and explained that we haven’t had a real discussion about “bathroom words” yet. And for a very good reason. My husband and I only censor words our kids use in the house if they’re intending to hurt others with them.
Yeah, I said it. And I’ll say it again. I let my 4-year-old use “potty words” in any room of our house. And IDGAF what anyone thinks about it.
In the comfort of our home, cursing is allowed if it’s not being used to tear someone down, and “poop” is just a potentially funny word that not everyone wants to hear. Rather than hard-and-fast house rules, we encourage our kids to regularly respect boundaries and personal space. And we’re clear with them about the difference between letting it all hang out at home and behaving with courtesy to others at school.
We’ve taught them that not every conversation warrants a curse word, and that some people get grossed out by the potty experience being explained to them. Especially when a meal is being eaten. Which is why my daughter sporadically drops the F bomb like it’s hot inside of our house, but she hasn’t blurted it out freely at her school. Yet.
The only reason I believe that June dared to talk about butts in front of her teacher is because we’ve only just begun the discussion of why tushy talk is a touchy subject for some people. And we generally don’t make a huge deal out of her desire to use bathroom-style words in the first place.
When June tearfully confessed to saying something that went against her school’s policies, I was sure to explain to her teacher that we’d help our daughter understand moving forward why those words aren’t used in the classroom. But I didn’t apologize for what June said, because honestly, I didn’t feel her actions required an apology. To me, she merely described her brother in a way that she thought would be silly and a little taboo. And I certainly didn’t shame her for having the curiosity to say those words in a new environment. Because – spoiler alert! – I don’t mind if my kids screw up and innocently (or not so innocently) say something they’re not supposed to out in public.
Let me be clear – I’m not encouraging my daughter to go around being a free and open bigot, hurling offensive language at anyone whenever she pleases. And I don’t just sit back and relax when she acts out or does something disrespectful to another person. We teach and model equality, kindness, and acceptance for all in our home, and we have zero tolerance for hate here. But I will never ever pressure my daughter to feel like she’s inherently bad for wanting to occasionally curse or talk openly with her family about the potty. June understands, as much as a preschooler can, the context for why certain words are used in specific circumstances. She just knows that at home, she’s safe to uniquely express herself and openly explore her vocabulary without fear of harsh repercussions.
I want to repeat something here, because I think it’s an important distinction to make. In our house, my husband and I promote a safe, judgment-free zone for kids to regularly experiment, shamelessly try on new ways of thinking and being, and courageously make mistakes whenever possible. We talk through everything, provide natural consequences when boundaries are crossed, and leave hugs endlessly on the table. This has resulted in children who feel open to ask for help, get messy, and love proudly. And it has most definitely allowed my daughter to feel confident enough to soar in her preschool classes.
I just had my first parent-teacher conference of the year, and June’s instructors gave her a glowing review. They shared that she’s quick to include others in activities, has a generous heart with classmates, asks for help when she needs it, and isn’t afraid to share her emotions with the grown-ups around her. And while all this feedback is certainly awesome to hear, I already know my 4-year-old is on the right track when she’s comfortable enough to stumble in life and share it with me.
At the end of the day, I’m not here to solely raise a socially acceptable kid. I know that this statement goes against the grain of traditional parenting, and that’s A-OK with me. I would never want my family to blindly follow traditions simply because that’s what’s been done for generations, anyway. I’ve had enough conversations and lived experience with my own parents to know that conditioning a child to strictly “behave” has resulted in more long-term shame than our society knows how to deal with. And I’m still working through decades of inner pain over childhood trauma that has left me afraid to trust others and constantly hating on myself.
There will never be a moment in my parenting when I suddenly decide I’m on board with the shame game, no matter how much fear-induced politeness it evokes in children. Because more than anything else, I’m most concerned with raising a child who loves herself and others fully, feels safe to express who she wants to be, and is open enough to take big, juicy risks with her life. I also want her to live out her days with joy, silliness, and endless wonder.
If belting out original songs about farts gives my daughter wings to fly, this mama bird is all for it. I don’t mind my spirited kid using potty words in our house, and I never will.