Who's in Control Here? A dispatch from the bowels of toddlerhood

10.06.10: Leo's 29th Month


Warning: I’m going to be talking about poop. As fellow-blogger Kate points out, parenthood does this to a person.

It has always seemed to me to be an unfortunate coincidence that toddlers, as they become physically ready for toilet training, also become extremely oppositional. You know: Terrible, as they say. But you know what? It’s not a coincidence at all.

Controlling your life is very important, frustrating, confusing and, for the most part, unattainable at age two. This complex helps produce the motivation to control where you can—say by throwing yourself on the ground and refusing to put a coat on, or by controlling your poop and pee, and opposing anyone who tells you what to do with it.

We’ve tried to steer clear of making toilet training a power struggle by introducing the potty with very low pressure and assuming that Leo will step up when he’s ready. But the pressure is there anyway. He sees that everyone older uses the toilet. And really, who wants to sit around in a soiled diaper? No one!

One response, which I’ve since learned is quite common with kids this age, is to try to avoid the whole issue by simply not soiling diapers. This, as you may imagine, is not a sustainable tactic. But toddlers do not think ahead. After many conversations about ‘letting go’ and a good deal of added dietary fiber, we’re back on track with this one, but the incident has show me a lot about the frustrations and indignities that loom large for the two year old.

If you ever find yourself confronted with a constipated toddler, my advice is to contact your pediatrician without delay, to be sensitive to the emotional aspects of the issue, and to focus on giving your child a sense of autonomy and accomplishment whenever possible. Say, by letting him help you make honey-oat bran biscuits. Little hands can pinch the butter into the dry ingredients, pat and shape the biscuits, then drown them in honey and gobble them up fresh from the oven.

Recipe: Honey Bear Bran Biscuits

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.