By CELA on 19 Feb, 2021

By Renee Irving Lee

The language used in children’s books, movies, and TV shows has gradually changed since the turn of the century. Words that were once taboo for a young child’s ears are now commonly heard in popular picture books like The Bum Book, Poo in the Zoo, and No-one Likes a Fart.

Have we become apathetic in our word choices with young children? Or should we embrace them and move with the times? Children’s author and award-winning teacher Renee Irving Lee shares her thoughts.

Could the rise of potty talk, known as scatological language, be linked to the increased consumption of unfiltered YouTube content and 24-hour access to online streaming networks, like Netflix?

Through these online services, children can watch content that has not been governed by a code of practice. They may also gain access to shows older than their age-appropriate classification. Recent statistics show that children now prefer to watch online content over free-to-air G-rated TV shows and as a result, it seems like scatological language has become more normalised and acceptable in modern-day life. To stay on top of industry trends, mainstream TV shows, movies, books, and games have now also relaxed their standards on language used in content aimed at children.

Why do children love scatological language so much?

1.It’s funny!

Let’s face it, even adults can’t resist a giggle at a good bum, fart, or poop joke!

2. To get a reaction.

Using scatological language is probably the quickest way a child can get a reaction and gain attention. All it takes is for them to say one inappropriate word, at an inappropriate time, and they automatically gain cool points with their older sibling, get a rise out of the closest adult, and fill a room full of laughter from other like-minded potty talking friends.

3. They are still exploring language, sense of humour and bodily functions.

On average, 4-year-olds know about 1500 words of the 171, 146 words that make up the English language. At this age, preschoolers love to experiment with language and humour and are exceedingly curious about how their bodies work. It makes perfect sense that they would want to try out their new and funny vocabulary whenever they get a chance.

So, should we talk of bums, farts, and poop in the preschool room?


Not only does scatological language provide shared moments of joy, humour, and connection but it is also the perfect time to initiate conversations about language, anatomy, and bodily functions. Bums, farts, and poop are simply different words used to describe normal, healthy body parts and their functions.

For example, let’s just say you finish reading a book that uses the word bum throughout the story.

Educators can use this as an opportunity to discuss how many different words there are in the English language that can be used for the word bum e.g., butt, backside, bottom, with an emphasis on the anatomically correct term for the muscle being the gluteus maximus.

This conversation can also be extended to introduce the concept of how different terms are more appropriate than others in different places. You may talk to the children about how you might be able to say bum at home, but not at grandma’s house or not at the dinner table.

Some further questions that could be discussed:

  • Which word do you think we should use at preschool?
  • Which word do you think they would prefer at school next year?
  • What do different families, cultures or religions think about that word?
  • When do you think it would be ok to say the word bum and when do you think it would be an inappropriate time to say the word bum?

We shouldn’t be shying away from these words or shutting them down completely. These sensitive, but explicit conversations provide valuable life-long learning experiences for our children in relation to understanding the unwritten rules of appropriate language. It is a time where they should be supported to explore language, expand vocabulary, and express their creativity.

Furthermore, many children today are already struggling with a distorted sense of healthy body image. Shutting down these words without a discussion, indirectly tells them that we should be embarrassed by our body parts and the important functions needed for healthy living.

We should not be embarrassed about our bodies or what they do.

Words are powerful, and so are our reactions to them. Understanding and exploring language will always be more empowering for children than rejecting, begrudging, and suppressing.

What do you think about the increased use of ‘scatalogical’ language among young children? How do you approach this in your centre? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Further reading:

We thought you might enjoy this article from the Teacher Tom blog.

About Renee Irving Lee

Renee Irving Lee is passionate about writing children’s books that promote life-long learning, social inclusion and improve self-esteem. She has always loved working with children, so writing for children has been a natural progression from her work as a teacher and educational freelance writer.

Her diverse background in education extends to teaching primary school-aged children, young adults, and children with special needs. Renee was awarded the Young Achiever of the Year Award by TAFE Queensland for her work as a dynamic, student-focused teacher who is highly respected for her skills, intellect and dedication. Renee was also inducted into the International Golden Key Honour Society while studying for her Bachelor of Education (Special Education) where she graduated with a Distinction.

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D Brown
Posted on 15 Aug, 2023
In general I agree with Renee's opinions and the need for a welcoming acceptance of terms that were previously taboo. The taboos were a form of disease that wiped out the earlier acceptance of those words as proper English words. I also agree with the idea that appropriateness is important according to the context in which words are used, but we have to be careful or we allow warped, hung-up people to dictate to us on our use of language. So, eg, most jokes about death are inappropriate at a funeral, but some are absolutely brilliant. My departure from Renee is in her weird idea that there are 171, 146 words that make up the English language. That figure look ridiculous - exactly 171, 146? not 171, 145? or 171, 147? No one knows the vocabulary size of English, especially as it changes by the day with new words being added. But if she put a zero on the figure she would be much closer at 1,711,460. Any word in any language of the world which is not already in English, is just waiting to be grabbed by English which has by far the largest vocabulary of all. And in that way it is totally different from French which tries to keep itself pure, as 'French'.
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