Some children are terrified of using the potty or the toilet. Parents from all around the world come to me, struggling to understand what they can do to resolve what can often seem like a completely irrational fear.
Whatever has led to this situation, here are 5 gentle solutions that can get your child back on track with their potty learning journey. So take a deep breath, let go of that frustration, don’t go spending your money on sticker charts or talking potties, we’ve got you.
Why are some children afraid?
Children can become frightened of using the toilet or potty for all sorts of reasons and it isn’t always consistent – does your child hate the toilet but love the potty? Do they struggle when out of the house? They could be scared of using public toilets because of the overwhelming noise of the hand-driers or a more powerful flusher. They might feel unsupported when using a wobbly seat-reducer. Before we get onto the general approach to tackling fears, I need to tell you that one of the most common reason for fear is actually to do with constipation. if you haven’t considered constipation, lets take a little time out to explain.
How constipation contributes
Constipation is really common! And it can easily create fears and anxieties about pooing. This is because if your child’s poo is hard (even just once), it can cause a tiny tear in the anus which means when their poo passes next tine, it makes a painful stinging sensation. As long as the constipation doesnt continue and they go back to soft poos, this can usually be overcome easily with empathy, reassurance and unconditional support (see tips below). However, sometimes this one-off hard poo can create a vicious cycle where in the child witholds from pooing, making the next one even harder to pass. This eventually can turn into constipation. To understand, a healthy child should poo every day. EVERY DAY. If your child does not poo every day, constipation may be the problem. If you think your child is constipated, rule this issue out first. You can contact me for further help and advice or go to see your child’s doctor.
How parents can tackle general fears and anxieties
The best way to overcome any kind of fear that your child has is by using EMPATHY, REASSURANCE and UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT. You can actualise this by:-
- Reassuring your chld they are safe, that you are helping them, that they can do it.
- Taking the fears seriously, never dismissing them and always listening to what your chld is telling you.
- Allowing negative feelings to be released. This is sometimes known as “bearing witness”, in that you allow the feelings and comfort your child, acknowledging their feelings and acknowledging their fears. This helps them feel listened to.
Often, offering empathy, reassurance and unconotional support is enough. however, you can also consider the following ideas. If any of them resonate with you, that may be your instinct telling you it is the right thing to do, so have a go:
Imitation is how your child first learns and you are their most trusted role model and source of information about what it is to be human. For a child who is unlearning the habit of their lifetime (switching from pooping in a nappy/diaper whenever the need occurs to being aware of that need so they can stop what they are doing and poop in a potty/toilet) this can be confusing or frightening. Role-playing helps them to understand what happens and what to expect. You or a sibling can demonstrate what they need to do when it’s time to go, what to do if an accident happens (calmly and matter of factly clear up the mess, change clothes, take a bath etc) and seeing this in action is a great way for them to learn and reassure their fears.
Therapeuric storytelling allows parents and caregivers to share useful messages to teach children in a way that they can understand and trust and that will motivate them to overcome a problem. By introducing a character to them that is going through the relevant issue, you are stimulating their imagination and reaching them in a different way than talking to them directly does. We recommend trying Susan Perrow’s book A Spoonful of Stories #4 which has a range of stories created for potty learning problems.
Learning through play
Does your little one have a favourite doll or teddy or even a toy car? Join in with their imaginary play and create a scenario where the favourite toy needs to go potty. You can help the toy to try to use the potty and cheer them on for succeeding, you can play that they have an accident but then just calmly clean it up, change their clothes and carry on playing to show it’s not a big deal and help them understand what will happen. It’s a good opportunity for your child to take the lead and hopefully reveal any anxieties to you through play. If you gently introduce the subject to them, then take the time to sit and observe them play without interrupting, you might be surprised what you learn! Remember the play does not have to be about the fear itself, As Susan Perrow reminds us, parallel story telling (about similar themes to the fear) can address the fear indirectly, allowing your child a safe space in which to understand things in their own way.
You may have seen our previous post about how making poo-doh can help you crack potty training, and it really does deserve a blog all to itself. Sensory play is wonderfully therapeutic for children as well as being lots of fun. It can offer a lot of reassurance to children to help them understand what their poo looks like and where it goes. If your child has never seen their own poo before, they can feel shocked and surprised that it came out of them. It’s also common for children to fear losing something from their body – it can feel like part of them has “dropped out.”
Sometimes humour can help to lighten the tension when you feel a tantrum is building or you have a battle of wills on your hands. Most children find talking about bodily functions absolutely hilarious and they love people being silly with them, so whether you practise blowing raspberries, pretend you don’t know how to use the toilet or tell a funny story, you might be surprised how easily you can turn the situation around if you get a giggle.
Here at Little Bunny Bear, we know the ideal way to help your child reach toilet independence is to start from birth. But don’t worry if you, like most parents, didn’t know this was possible or for whatever reason are starting a little later on. Every family is different and we are here to help you to navigate any problems you might encounter.