To our toddlers, we’re like rock stars. They follow us, they watch us, they mimic us and they want to be just like us. It’s pretty flattering when you think about it. Still, there’s one place we really don’t need or want a rapt audience: the bathroom.
It’s one thing to have our children in there. Pretty much all moms do it because we don’t want to hear them screaming when they’re separated from us, and we don’t want them to scale a bookcase (or destroy the house) in the three minutes we’re gone. But it’s another thing altogether when you have a toddler who stares at you as you do your business—like, literally watches you poop and insists on doing so.
It’s jarring, it’s uncomfortable and it’s just weird. Believe it or not, it’s also weirdly normal for a lot of kids.
One reason for this invasion of privacy is plain and simple curiosity. Toddlers want to know more about the world around them, and that includes the human body. It’s strange, new and fascinating to them, and when you’re on the toilet, they have a front-row seat to a serious mystery. Furthermore, they start to understand that their body also does what your body is doing, and well, WHOA.
Another explanation is that this is a way for your toddler to connect with you, says B.C.-based psychologist Vanessa Lapointe, author of Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up. “Around age two, the primary way in which kids connect is through ‘samesies,’ or being the same as their most special big people, their parents,” she explains. “The child’s sense of this relationship is, in fact, essential to their survival and healthy development, so watching you, trying to figure it out and maybe even practising it are all part of this.”
The weirdness we feel comes from our own sense of embarrassment. And it’s OK to feel that way—as long as we don’t impose that embarrassment on our toddlers. “Anything that has to do with shame and blame is going to be a problem,” explains Lapointe. “The key here is to not make your child [feel] wrong for being exactly what they are supposed to be: a child full of curiosity and always in pursuit of connection with you.”
Which is sweet…and would be even sweeter if you weren’t pooping. So what should you do? Here are a few options:
As with most kiddie stages, they’re over before you know it—even if they feel endless when you’re smack in the middle of them.
You can talk and sing to them, or you can bring toys or books into the bathroom so they’re otherwise occupied. You’re interesting, but you may not be able to hold a candle to Elmo or the PAW Patrol gang.
When you take the mystery out of something, it’s suddenly not all that interesting anymore. Once your child’s curiosity is sated, they’ll likely move on to the next thing.
Shift the focus to the idea of potty-training. It’s never too early to start the discussion and possibly pique their interest. You can even get a mini potty for your child to use right next to you when you’re in the bathroom.
It’s up to you to decide what’s normal and acceptable in your home. In a neutral and non-judgmental way, discuss concepts like privacy and private parts, and what they mean in terms of bathroom use—at home and in other places.
Eventually, of course, everyone sets boundaries. The question is when to do it, if not now. “Take your cues from your child,” says Lapointe. “When your child starts to feel sensitive to your nakedness and observation of your private routines, and/or sensitive to your observation of his nakedness and private routines, that is when the boundaries come into place.”
Whatever you decide, remember that this is just a phase and that your toddler won’t be this fascinated by your poop forever. We promise.
This story was originally published in November 2018.