Monday, May 20, 2013

Mr. Poopy Butthead

Oh the joys of working with young children as a parent and teacher.  Right around the fourth and fifth year of  life, the fascination with certain words begins.  Poop, fart, butt... these words are hilarious when you are four and even more hilarious for some reason if you are a boy!  Children are beginning to understand themselves, how their bodies work, and how language and feelings work.  They know these words get a reaction and they want to see what that reaction is.  It happened every single year around this time in my nursery school.  Someone would get called, "Poophead!" and that child would come to me.  My response was always, "Let me look!  Nope, there is no poop on your head."  That would always create a laugh and off the two children went.  Rarely did this word or the name calling stick around for long.

And NOW I am a parent and my son has begun his fascination with the word poop as he approaches four years old. Oh being a parent is so different than a teacher.  Watching your son call someone poop or having him scream that word in response to a kind gesture of "hello Elijah" can be quite embarrassing and upsetting for me.  It stirs up emotions I never quite had as a teacher.  Still, I understand that this is developmentally appropriate for him, I know that it makes him feel powerful (one of the important conditions for human growth), that making a big deal out of it will only increase his use of it thereby creating a power struggle between us.  And really, it is just a silly word.  To be quite honest, it is an important word, one we use everyday (at least we should).

Does this mean that when he calls someone poop, I simply ignore it.  I of course do not and I remind him that this person's name is "Mike" since tonight he called the head of our boarding school that (oy vey).  I use the ever powerful tool of humor to guide him telling him that when Mike was born, his parents didn't think Poop was a good name for him.  I ask him not to use it when I am eating or in our dining hall because frankly, it makes me feel ill and other people's needs are important too.  I will also explain the context and a little bit of child development to people along the way.  It is important for others to know that to Elijah, poop is a wonderful thing and not derogatory most of the time...they might even consider it a compliment.  Ok, maybe we won't go that far.

Common practice among early childhood programs I have seen in the past and definitely among parents is to stop the use of those words and quickly.  I assume they feel what I have felt as a parent and in some way deem the word inappropriate.  I often hear children told that they are only to use that word in the bathroom, that it is a potty word, etc...

I do not take that approach.  I think the more limits we put on it, the more some children (yes, mine) will push that limit and the longer the developmental stage will last.  I think it conveys that there is something wrong or gross about our bodily function which I do not believe, and it is simply not a battle I choose to fight with my child.

My husband and I instead play what Elijah has termed "poop games" with him now.  He says poop and we say pee or something even more "gross".  The belly laugh that this elicits out of our son is truly monumental.  Being able to enter into his world and share this humor with him truly brings us closer together because lets face it, I am a girl and I really dont get this whole "poop is funny" thing.  I think my husband understands the humor even more so and who knows, it may actually still be funny to him.  It is so important for me to remember that I am not male when parenting my son.  It was a huge wake up call as a teacher who grew up as one of three girls and no father in the home.  Understanding the differences and needs of the male species was and still can be a difficult road for me.

At Elijah's forest school, his teacher tells stories of Mr. Poopy Butthead (yes, one of the many things I love about Wild Roots) when the children enter this developmental stage.  Today, his teacher asked  him if he could help her find a stick strong enough for hammering and his response of course was an emphatic, "POOP!"  His teacher responded, "No, I don't think poop would work for this, I need a stick."

And that people is how you support children as they navigate this world we live in....
funny words and all.