January 19th, 2022
Remember the slime craze, when kids were obsessed with slime-making? Even if many of us occasionally find humor in icky situations, for most, a true fascination with yucky stuff is very much a part of growing up, left behind when we enter the adult world.
But why do kids love disgusting science so much, and how can a parent harness this love into learning opportunities? How do you answer questions about digestion or slime, without either shutting down a child's curiosity or promoting inappropriate behavior?
As toddlers, many children go through a "potty mouth" phase associated with toilet training. In light of other developmental milestones at that age, this makes perfect sense.
Children receive positive feedback for each step into independence - walking, using words, eating at the table. But often the praise and encouragement they get for using the potty is mixed with anxiety ("Will she learn this in time for preschool?") or distaste ("I don't think I can stand one more dirty pull-up!"). Kids pick up on this and discover that body functions - even the words for them - have power.
The last thing they need is disapproval. This only reinforces that they have tapped into something powerful, and can lead to repetitious use of elimination-related words. Try to be matter of fact about body waste, and kids will follow suit. Show how the toilet works. This is applied science at its best for a child who is learning to use a potty.
Teach your child correct terms for body parts and waste. Try not to imply that elimination is yucky - kids can use this knowledge to get your attention, or at the other extreme, can become anxious about going to the bathroom.
Getting Gross All Over Again
Once the toddler stage is over, love of gross things may vanish for years, only to reemerge in mid-grade school, around the ages of seven to ten.
At this age, kids are sorting out the relationship between family and peer group, and seeking ways to become popular, "cool", or at least to grab attention. They are also struggling with their growing knowledge of the world and may experience anxiety about everything from disasters they hear of in the news, to fear of having bed-wetting accidents on overnight visits to friends.
Telling the most disgusting joke, being willing to touch slimy animals, or making the loudest burp can gain attention - often positive - from classmates, and becomes a common form of humor at this age. The same humor tried at home, earns attention, negative perhaps, but attention nonetheless.
As with younger children, showing strong reactions to this kind of humor can backfire and lead to endless repetitions. Instead, as Grossology author Sylvia Branzie suggests, "When he tells a fart joke, explain that bacteria turns food into methane gas. Once kids know some of the science, the taboo lifts and their interest diminishes." Try to use correct terms, and avoid either punishing or joining in with this kind of humor.
Continue to model appropriate humor, and take an interest in your child's world. By acknowledging body functions, a child who explores this concept giggling may come out with a little more understanding, and a more scientific view of the beautiful, complex (and occasionally disgusting) world around us.