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Navigating Potty Problems

Q: My daughter turned three in January.  She goes potty on the toilet, and has been doing really well with that for two to three months, but she WILL NOT poop on the toilet. She lets me know when she has to go and insists on putting a diaper or pull up on and shutting herself in her room until she’s done. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Candy, ice cream, new toys, telling her that her peers are all going poop on the toilet, etc. I don’t want it to be traumatic, but it is getting frustrating that she isn’t pooping on the toilet. Suggestions? Do I just need to let it go and not worry?

Where is that “magic potty button”? It’s a big step for parents and children with overwhelming discussion about the age and how to do it. And then there’s the “adult peer” pressure to have your child “trained”.

Potty learning is a developmental milestone, not something we do to a child any more than walking or crawling. It depends on a child’s physical, cognitive and emotional maturity. Parents support these milestones but it’s still very centered on a child’s ability.  To use the toilet, a child will need to have some muscle control and ability to connect the physical urge with what to do about that. It’s complex.  

Is your child ready?

  • Shows interest in using the toilet
  • Stays dry during naps or several hours
      • Follows simple directions and communicates needs
      • Pulls pants up and down, practices dressing
      • Is willing to keep working

If your answer is “yes” to most, your child may be ready. If “no,” give it some time.  If your child might be going through a major change in their life, consider waiting a bit, especially if your child doesn’t embrace change well.      

Another normal developmental challenge at this age is developing autonomy. They tend to resist our agendas. The child may want to stay the baby but also want to be “big.” They are growing and changing, developing confidence and self-reliance. Normal but challenging.

Children need a certain level of emotional development. We are now asking them to let go of a process they were comfortable with–using a diaper. We’re wanting them to urinate and release feces into the toilet they might perceive as belonging to them.  Some children are very sensitive and this release might even feel a bit terrifying. Some children are very sensitive and may react by holding feces or hiding to have a bowel movement. Cooperation can turn to resistance. Time and patience is a parent’s friend.

Consider your child’s temperament. Are they anxious or adaptable? Easy going or active? How does that fit with the adult’s temperament? Find the fit.  

Are you ready?

  • Does your parental excitement match your child’s readiness?
  • Can you let go of the parental agenda and follow your child’s pace in development?

Support your “little learner” in their developmental journey:

  • Create an environment for success, easy toilet access, easy clothes,
  • Set a positive tone. Share confidence. Show faith. Offer encouragement. Support development just as you did crawling and walking.
  • Let your child’s excitement lead the way. Let go of deadlines and agendas. It may even happen sooner that way.
  • Practice patience and time to learn.
  • Tots may deny reality to avoid disappointing parents. They want your approval. “I didn’t poop in my pants”.
  • Accidents happen. Punishment doesn’t invite learning, and often leads to power struggles.
  • Provide acceptance and reassurance no matter the timing.
  • Help our child to identify the physical feelings, urges and body signals
  • Practice healthy bathroom habits.

Help girls to learn to wipe from front to back, to prevent spreading germs

Practice handwashing consistently.

  • Model! Model! And model some more!

If you feel like you will be changing diapers forever – there is hope. This is the road of parenting. Bumps and detours. But the destination is just ahead – going to the bathroom on their own! Victory comes!

More information on potty learning, contact  West Dakota Parent & Family Resource Center at 701-456-0007 or toll free at 1-877-264-1142.