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Monday, 11 December 2006

Three-Year-Old Wants Nothing to Do with The Potty

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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My three-year-old will have nothing to do with the potty. She's in pull-ups but treats them like diapers. I think we goofed because for two days we put her in panties and she only had two wet accidents. But she was afraid to have a b.m. When she finally did, it was in her panties and she was obviously ashamed. We weren't angry, but frustrated and she knew it. Now she will only go on the potty when she feels like having a candy, which we give her as a prize. I don't want to force her to try. She just cries. Can you help?


Hi! I'm sorry that you have been having such a hard time with your daughter's toilet training. It is clear from the details in your letter that your daughter is ready for toilet training. If she was able to go two days in underwear with only two accidents, then the physical part of the toilet training has been accomplished. (In the very beginning two accidents is very normal.) It seems, however, that her fear of having a bowel movement in the toilet/potty is keeping her from making the next move.

I can assure you that this fear is perfectly normal. While many children do not have as severe a reaction as your daughter does, often children have fears and difficulty training for bowel movements even after they are trained for urine.

Tell your daughter that she is too old to wear diapers (this includes pull-ups). She has proven that she is ready to wear underwear and you are proud that she is such a big girl. Do not tell her that you are taking away the diapers right now. Pick a day a few days away and tell her that from that day on, she will be wearing underwear. Remind her each day - "in two days...tomorrow..."

There are then two ways to approach the bowel movement issue. I suggest that if she prefers, you may allow her to put back on a diaper/pull-up when she has to make a bowel movement. In this way, you do not force the issue of bowel movement training, but still let her know that wearing diapers on a regular basis is no longer acceptable. In the next few days, you can monitor her schedule so that you know when she usually needs to make a bowel movement and can volunteer the diaper when needed.

Do not, however, let her take this as an excuse to wander around with a diaper on. If she says she wants a diaper for a bowel movement, let her wear one but have her stay in a specific place (the bathroom of course is the best -- but if she feels more comfortable it can be in her room) until after she has a bowel movement. If you see after 20 minutes or so that she has not had a bowel movement, take off the diaper and tell her she can let you know later if she needs it. The good thing about this approach is that it allows her to put on underwear and wear it primarily without the pressure of having to make a bowel movement in the toilet/potty if she is not ready for that step.

The downside of this approach, however, is that you may have to face another transition when it is clearly time for your daughter to use the potty for bowel movements as well. There is a strong possibility that your daughter would decide on her own that she is ready to use the toilet for bowel movements and that would be that. The possibility also exists, however, that one day you will have to make that decision for her and that will require dealing with another major issue.

If you prefer not to take the risk of having to make two transitions, then you should still tell you daughter she is too old for wearing pull ups and that you are proud that she can use the toilet now. Pick the day that you will be putting the diapers away and discuss it with her. Monitor her bowel movements so that you know what time of day to be on the lookout to help her with them. When the day comes, make sure that all diapers are out of sight and tell her how proud you are of her.

You can tell her that if she has an accident it is okay. and even if the b.m. (or whatever you call it) comes out by accident, it is okay and next time you know she will go on the toilet/potty. I know it is hard, but try not to let her see your disappointment if she has an accident. Tell her that you are proud of her and know that next time she will "remember" to use the potty. Remind her that you and your husband are there to help and if she needs help she can ask for it and you will be there. The important thing is that you do not allow her the option of going back. Let her know that diapers (during the day) are a thing of the past and that you know that she is ready.

Of course, if you try this for a week and things get worse instead of better (that usually does not happen when a child is physically ready, but every child is different,) it might be time to reevaluate this approach and go back to the first approach I mentioned.

To be honest, I prefer the first method. I used it with my oldest son and it worked very well for us, I just want to make sure you are aware of the possible complications later on before you use it. Good luck in your toilet training and feel free to let me know how it is going in case I can help you in any other way.

Best Wishes,

Esther Boylan Wolfson, MA

Response: I was so happy to find a reply from you. What a wonderful service you provide! Well, we decided to try the first method. Since Wednesday, Tracy's done pretty well, even having a b.m. in her potty. But suddenly today we can't even bribe her to sit on the potty! She's had two accidents, and I didn't even bat an eye, just changed her and went on with our day. If I ask her to go, she adamantly says no. If I put her on the potty she screams and stands up. I'm afraid this is traumatizing her. As of now she hasn't gone for several hours, but won't sit on the potty. We're just waiting for the accident to happen, and wondering how we can avoid getting upset when it does. If you have any suggestions at all, they would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again for all your help.

While I cannot offer any guaranteed solutions, here are my impressions. First, I feel strongly that you should not offer her the possibility of putting back on diapers. Your daughter may simply be testing you. Her behavior may be about more than just toilet training, but about control. She may be saying, "Let's see if Mom and Dad will give in."

I think the answer you need to give her is "No." The overall message should be, "You are too big to wear diapers. Diapers are for babies and you are a big girl." Of course, you need to present it lovingly and with as much understanding as possible. Phrases like "We know it's hard for you," "It's okay if you have an accident - next time you will remember," "What can we do to help you?" are appropriate.

If you lose your temper or seem obviously upset (that's okay. - you are only human) tell her why. You can say, "I'm sorry that Mommy and Daddy are upset, it's only because we care about you and get upset when you have a hard time." While you should continue to try and lead her to the potty/toilet, do not physically force her since that is a power struggle you can't win. I know that setbacks are hard, but if you persevere and your daughter sees that you and your husband will not give in, things will probably improve quickly.

Try it for a while longer. Of course if after a week or so there is no improvement, then you may need to change the approach. Every now and then (although it's rare -- don't worry) serious issues come up in toilet training that may require reevaluation. Meanwhile go forward and feel free to let me know how it goes and if I can help you in any other way.

Best Wishes,

Esther Boylan Wolfson, MA

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 11:57
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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