The Development of Shame in Toddlers

Read about being a mother of 12 as our resident 'Supermom' shares her wise parenting advice.

When anticipating a bowel movement, she'd hide

My oldest child, now a mother of 3, developed a funny habit at around the age of one year: when anticipating a bowel movement, she'd hide. She had a couple of favorite hiding places for this purpose. One of them was behind the large recliner chair in our living room; another was inside her clothes closet in her bedroom.

Which place she chose was in large measure dependent upon whether or not I was upstairs or downstairs at the time of her personal hide and seek game. At that time, we lived in a two floor apartment. The two floors were connected by two flights of stairs. I spent a great deal of time worrying that my daughter would falter on the stairs and take a fall, so I used safety gates and carried her with me as I moved between floors.

My daughter's bedroom was on the second floor, so when I was putting away laundry, and it got a little too quiet, I might find her in the closet in her room, grunting out a bowel movement. In the same manner, if I were downstairs, preparing dinner in the kitchen and I didn't hear the sound of her putting together Duplo or chattering to her toys, I'd peek behind the recliner chair to see if she was doing what I thought she was doing.

At the time, I thought her habit of hiding as she did her thing was interesting and seemed to suggest the development of modesty. After all, I was careful not to intimate that there was any shame involved in the natural act of elimination. In retrospect, however, I suppose it's possible that my daughter caught on to her parents sometimes saying something like, "Ugh, not again," or, "It's okay, Honey, you did enough of that today. I'll change her."

these very natural acts are something to be done in private

Those two examples of parental exchange, reexamined after so many years tell me that my daughter was inculcated with the idea that there was something unpleasant about dealing with her messy diapers, no matter how careful I thought I had been. Looking at the situation after so many years, and after tending to 11 more children, has me thinking that it must be healthy and normal for children to learn that the elimination of bowel movements and urine are associated with unpleasant smells- and that these very natural acts are something to be done in private.

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