Let's Get This Potty Started on TV! Potty Training Advice and Tips by Dr. Heather

Lots of potty talk going on at KITV recently. Come see a fun interview about Let's Get This Potty Started! My new potty training book is doing awesomely well, thanks to all your support and reviews. It's consistently in the Top 3 on the Kindle Toilet Training List. Woo hoo!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Kindergarten Haters And Dumb Potty Training Rules in Preschool

Very Common Problems. We bloggers check our blog traffic to see how many "hits" we're getting. My software also tells me how you got to me -- what you entered into the search or URL line to get to BabyShrink -- and this is where it gets interesting. This time of year, I get a lot of searches that look like this:

SHOULD+I+SNEAK+MY+TODDLER+INTO+PRESCHOOL+IF+SHE+IS+NOT+FULLY+ POTTY+TRAINED?

AND

MY+KINDERGARTENER+HATES+SCHOOL+WHAT+SHOULD+I+DO? The demand is so strong for these topics that I'm re-running these 2 posts together. So without further ado, here's my post on potty training rules in daycare and preschool - you'll see that I have some pretty strong opinions.

And here's my post on what to do if your poor little kindergartener decides that they would rather NOT be a big boy or girl anymore and stay home after all.

I've been there more than once myself, so I can sympathize. Check out those posts and let me know what you think!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

More on Potty Training: When Your Preschooler Poops in Her Sleep

Dear Dr. Heather, I have a question for you regarding my daughter, who turned 3 in October. She has been potty trained (pee at least) since August. Here is the problem….she poops in her sleep. She also poops on the potty if she has to go while she is awake. But mostly, she is pooping in her pull-up during naptime. She also has pooped twice at nighttime. I don’t know if she is holding it to do it while she has a pull-up on, or if she is sleeping so soundly that she doesn’t realize she is doing it. Since she also poops on the potty, I don’t know what to think. Is it possible to influence the time of day she poops? She will be starting preschool soon and I am concerned that she will poop in her underwear at school during naptime. When she does poop in her pull-up, she apologizes profusely. I used to say that she needs to poop in the potty, not in her pull-up, but I don’t want to turn her into a neurotic kid, so I just clean her up and say nothing. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your help.

Marcia

Hi Marcia,

It sounds like you are being sensitive to your daughter regarding her poopy-timing. I'm glad you're not pressuring her about the issue. And the fact that she apologizes profusely shows you that she knows what she is supposed to do, but isn't there yet. You're right; lecturing her about it won't help. And I wouldn't suggest doing anything to somehow manipulate her potty schedule; this would likely be felt as intrusive by her.

It also seems that it wouldn't concern you as much if it weren't for the preschool issue. Many preschools have rules that state the child must be "toilet independent" before starting school. The pressure to be "completely" potty trained before starting preschool MAKES ME CRAZY! It's really unrealistic for many kids, and parents feel compelled to get their kids trained before they're ready. This can cause problems later on.

That said, many schools WILL work with you, if you approach them directly. Believe me, this isn't the first time they've dealt with this! They can support your daughter on her way to being fully potty trained. If her school won't work with you on this -- look elsewhere. You want a place that understands the developmental issues of preschoolers.

In the meantime, continue to praise her efforts, and be neutrally supportive when she has an accident. I wouldn't dwell on it much with her; it sounds as if she KNOWS what is expected, and that's what matters. It sounds like she's well on her way to having full control over her potty needs, and I'll bet that soon, she'll be making good progress.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training: Poop-Withholding After a Trauma

Trauma such as illness or injury can cause regression in the developmental achievements of young children. In other words, your child may develop any nature of difficulties that may not be "diagnosable" per se, but rather a short-lived reaction to something traumatic. Reader Alison's son broke his leg, and since then has become a poop-withholder. Here's her dilemma: Dear Dr. Heather,

My son broke his leg when he was about 18 months old and had to wear a cast for a month. Prior to this event, his poops were regular. After a week of having the cast on, he didn't poop and when he did, it was uncomfortable for him. This started an irregular pooping schedule for him and he has remained constipated since then.

He will now be two next week. The pediatrician suggested a suppository and Miralax. We did a suppository thinking it would get things moving since he seemed soo uncomfortable. We have tried laxative drops that he likes, but seem to give him cramping and diahrrea. When we don't give him anything, the consistency of his poop always seems soft, not hard. But he will do the poopy dance, and then have to push really hard and cries when he has to poop. The process of waiting for him to poop can eat up an entire day! He will go on his own after 2-3 days, if he has not gone by the 4th day, we have done a glycerin suppository since he seems soo uncomfortable and they help right away, but he hates it and I feel awful doing it. We push high fiber, etc..nothing dietary seems to help. I feel like it's all emotional. He will run around and around, and we will try to stop him and hold him and encourage him until he will push and go. We tried poopy prizes, nothing seems to encourage him. It is not about potty training, although we have offered for him to go on his potty. He went twice on the potty but it seemed to freak him out.

He is a sweet boy and I don't want him to be emotionally bruised from this experience. Should we take the same advice you gave to the 3 year old and ignore him when he does the poopy dance? Do we not offer poopy prizes? How many days do we wait before doing a suppository? Please help! We feel awful and don't know what to do!!

Thank you,

Alison in Berkeley

Hi Alison,

Poor guy! I assume his doctor says there is nothing wrong, medically. Have you tried the Miralax? If not, it's worth a shot. If you use, it, I wouldn't point it out to him. I think anything that smacks of parental control over his poops is bound to backfire (so to speak!). So if you use it, sneak it in. Or just tell him it's "vitamins" that you put in his drink.

On the behavioral side, you're right, it's not about "potty training" per se, but it IS about his sense of control and mastery of his own body. And that comes before potty training. He is still quite young for potty training anyway. Many preschoolers don't "get it" until 3 1/2 or even older, and that's OK.

The event of breaking his leg very possibly set him back, emotionally. It's common for physical illness or injuries to cause temporary regressions. Perhaps the experience of being so incapacitated by the cast really scared him, or he got some kind of wacky idea in his head that somehow his poops CAUSED his injury. You really can't know. Toddlers get all kinds of weird ideas in their minds, things that don't make sense to us, rationally. But they can be very powerful ideas to the little ones.

This is what I would suggest: Within the bounds of what is medically acceptable, completely BACK OFF the poopy talk and encouragement. First of all, tell him that it's HIS body, HIS tushie (or butt, or whatever your family calls it), HIS poop, and NOT MOMS OR DADS (or his doctors, for that matter). When HE is ready to make his poop, that's fine. Be matter-of-fact and reassuring. You might also reckon back to his injury to reassure him that his body works perfectly well again. "Remember when you got your owie on your leg? That's all better now. Your leg works fine again. And your poops can come out now anytime you are ready. But Mommy and Daddy will not make them come out anymore." Then, DROP IT. Really try hard to focus on anything BUT the pooping situation. Don't offer poopy-prizes or focus on his poop schedule at all. LET HIM HANDLE IT. If he asks for help, by all means, help him in whatever way he seems to want. But remember that this is a developmental hurdle that ultimately, only he can surpass.

This may all really be about a struggle to regain independence over his body. The leg injury was likely such a blow to his toddler's very important sense of mastery over his body. Now, he needs to struggle to get it back. Leaving it up to him is an important part of that process, since it is all about self-control, body mastery and independence.

I know you worry about his frequency of pooping, but believe me, helping him to regain this sense of self-control will be hugely important in the long-run. Again, check with the pediatrician to make sure what I'm suggesting is OK, and allow your son to hold it or struggle with it as long as you can. It will require some deep breathing on your part, in order to NOT interfere, but this is an important developmental process for you, too: learning to let go, as your son is now old enough to start to take over this function for himself. (And I hope you can enjoy a little sense of relief as you can let this worry lift from your shoulders as you begin to focus on other, more fun things with your son.)

It may be days, weeks, or even months as he takes steps forwards (AND backwards) toward progress. Don't let that get you down; it's normal. Big developmental gains don't happen all at once. Just keep your ultimate goal in mind and likely the power of his own normal developmental process will ultimately win out.

Not a fancy solution, I know. But one that respects his internal struggle, and the ultimate goal that he needs to achieve in order to surpass this internal dilemma of his. It's also good practice for Mom and Dad to see that he can ultimately be in charge of his developing body (and mind).

You can also read about another toddler's poop-withholding in this BabyShrink post.

Thanks for your question and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Tips for a Toddler Tinkling (and Screaming) in the Bath

Hi Dr. Heather, My husband and I are hoping you can shed some light on a concern we have for our son who is 27 months old.

Over the last month during bath time, my son has peed in the bath 3 separate times, and without fail he would then 'hold himself' while crying/screaming hysterically! This has continued during every bath time where he is screaming like we have never seen. He doesn't necessarily pee every time, but since the first occasion... then a second, and a third... his screaming has continued.

Even when he doesn't pee in the tub, he still holds himself and is screaming almost like he doesn't like the water hitting his 'manhood'? We have tried new toys and bubbles; to all of which have not work or helped. We even tried to have him try to go potty before the bath but doesn't go.

I must say also, that he is not potty trained yet but we are working on it.

We are not sure why he's continually freaking out with or without the pee.

If you could please help and how we can overcome it we would be extremely grateful.

Regards,

Atlanta Mom

Hi Atlanta Mom,

Sudden fears of the bath at this age are quite common. One of my most-Googled posts has to do with sudden bath fears; I'll post the link below. In regards to his "manhood", perhaps he's upset that he couldn't control it; on some level he's starting to get the idea that "pee-pee does not belong in the tub", yet he was unable to control himself those few times. So he's really upset with himself and in conflict about the whole bath/potty training thing. (And of course I assume his penis doesn't bother him any other time -- like there's not a urinary tract infection or something -- also, some kinds of soap and bubble bath can be irritating. I assume that's not it, but check it out.) Talk to him about potty training, where pee-pee belongs, and how he accidentally peed in the tub; use a matter-of fact tone, with no scolding or worry in your voice. See if you can make it like a silly joke, so he doesn't feel so bad. "Does pee pee belong in the tub? NO, silly! But that's OK! We'll keep trying and one day for sure you'll get it!"

In the meantime, try some of the tips in my post linked below for bathtime fears, including letting him stand by the bath and playing with the water, until he feels comfortable getting back in the tub. Keep reassuring him, and go at his pace. Hang in there, I promise this will pass!

Here's my Bathtime Fears Post: http://babyshrink.com/2008/08/help-my-toddler-suddenly-hates-the-bath.html

Good luck and keep usposted!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training: Tips for a Mom Trying Desperately To Potty Train Her Toddler

One of my most frequently-asked questions is along the lines of one I recently received: Dear Dr. Heather,

My daughter will be 3 in Sept. She absolutely refuses to use the potty. When I take her in the morning it seems she will hold it - even though her diaper is dry- until I give up. That can be up to 20 minutes. I've tried everything. Books, videos, Pull-Ups. She doesn't even care if she wets herself. I am so very weary of putting big girl panties on her for fear that she will wet herself again!

Signed,

A Desperate Mom

I can certainly relate. I've experienced all sorts of variations on the potty training theme here in the BabyShrink household with our 3 young children. But this is one of the big issues that CAN'T BE RUSHED.

Here's my response to "Desperate", along with a link to one of my more popular posts on the subject.

Dear Desperate Mom,

She is giving you a very clear message -- that she's not ready yet! Save yourself (and her) the aggravation and bust out the diapers for another few weeks before you try again; and next time, follow her lead. This is not something you can force. Hang in there!

And here's a link to my most popular potty training post, for more details.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training Tips: MORE on Poop-Smearing: A Complicated Case

"What," you may ask, "is the most popular 'lurkers' topic at BabyShrink?" Is there a common theme that brings the most readers to this site? Yes, there is.

Every day, I check my WordPress "Stats" to see what parents have been reading on BabyShrink. I think it's hilarious that each and every day I get several Google "hits" from people entering in phrases like this to the search box:

My toddler smears poop everywhere, what do I do?

They end up on this page, which is my all-time most-read post. And if you've read the post, you know that I laugh from all-too-knowing experience.

But every so often, I get a question from a reader who needs more help with this problem; it's progressed past the point of my suggestions. So yes, dear readers, it's time for yet another poop-smearing post:

Dear Dr. Heather,

My three-year-old daughter has been smearing poop, and it has increased in frequency. Not only does she smear her poop everywhere, but she also has a corner in my living room where she, for the lack of a better term, "marks her territory." She knows when to pee on the potty and does it fine. But more lately, she will strip off her pull-up and go to that corner to either pee or smear her poop. I don't know what to do since EVERYTHING I have tried seems not to work. I have had extreme difficulty with her potty training, which her doctor said is normal due to the fact that she is extremely hyperactive and just doesn't want to stop. He says she is afraid to miss something. I realized that almost a year ago her father stopped coming around, and it has been almost a year since she began this frustrating habit. But it's gotten worse lately and I don't know if it's an outcry towards me because she is possibly mad at me for her father not being around?? Also I am a single mother and although I was able to quit my job and be with her recently i am still not able to give her my 110% attention all the time. I don't know...all I know is I need help. I can't handle this...nor can I STOMACH this anymore!! Thank you for your time.

"Tired of Cleaning Up After the Little Stinker"

Dear Tired,

Sounds like you have a complex problem here. If her pediatrician says there is nothing medically or developmentally wrong, you can try using some of these techniques:

First, try some concrete behavioral strategies. Does she have a usual time of day when she poops? Most toddlers do it about the same time each day, and only do it once. If she does, watch her closely until she's made her poop. Don't let her wander away from you unobserved until she has pooped. Then you can give her a little more free-reign after you know she's done for the day. Also, you can dress her in a more restrictive way until she has done her poop. Get a larger size onesie, with perhaps some leggings over it, to put her in until she's pooped. If she lets you know in advance that she needs to go, fine. You can help her get undressed and to the toilet. If not, it's OK for now if she goes in her pull-up.

You might also move around things in "her corner", making it a difficult or unappealing place to spend her time. Experiment with furniture in the room to see if you can re-configure it to "eliminate" that place where she usually goes. Change around the whole room so her association to it is also changed. Make "her corner" a more focal place of the room, so that it's not a hideaway, and she can't have any privacy there.

Don't make a big deal about using the potty right now. She's giving you mixed messages about being ready, and in that case, the advice is usually to back off from potty training. Let her be in charge of when she uses the potty. But do be clear with her that smearing poop or going on the floor is NOT an option. It's yucky. Mommy does not like to clean that up. But when she DOES successfully use the potty, make a big deal out of it. Hurray! What a big girl! It's so nice and clean when you go in the potty! Consider giving her a small treat (one jelly bean, for example) every time she does go to the potty, even if it's just to pee. And try not to be scolding if she goes in her pull-up. Just be matter-of-fact about it, and clean it up.

I also would not use punishment if she smears poop again. You might remove her from the "scene of the crime", since you have to sanitize it. Be serious, but neutral. Remind her where she should go, and that poop does not belong on the walls or the floor.

Also, it's important to give her plenty of opportunity to play with acceptable, squishy, messy things like finger paints, play-doh, even mud pies. She clearly likes the feeling of it; give her ample opportunity to make a mess in an acceptable way. Tell her when you're playing with messy things, "This is fun to be messy. We can be messy with paints!"

You ask about the impact of her Daddy leaving, and whether that is related. I can't judge that from here. But you can ask yourself about the impact it has had on YOU. If you have been upset, if things have been very different around the house, you can bet your daughter has picked up on that. But is it related to the poop-smearing? Difficult to say. If you need more input about that, I would suggest talking with a licensed therapist who has a specialty in working with young children. And if you're having trouble coping, please seek out some help. A little bit of good therapy can go a long way -- and help you to trouble-shoot when difficult times arise!

Try some of these strategies, and let us know how it goes!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training: My Child's Daycare Requires That He's Potty Trained!

Hi Dr. Heather, My son turned 3 in July and was potty trained in April of this year. Therefore he had four months before he started in a daycare that required him to be fully potty trained.

I have now been blindsided yesterday with an official letter stating they will not be able to continue providing him care. Last Thursday he had four BM accidents in one day, but this was a first. Do State regulations allow them to kick him out for this?

It’s also upsetting to me that the Director mailed a letter I got on the weekend, with no way to contact her until Tuesday.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Linda

Hi Linda,

In general, daycare programs have some flexibility in terms of how they interpret the rules. Often, it depends on the Director, and how she chooses to implement them.

4 accidents in one day? Sounds like your little guy might have had a touch of the "runs". Perhaps you could ask if they make any exceptions for illness. You can't know in advance if your kid is going to get the "runs"!

The other issue is whether this is the right place for your son. What is your relationship like with the Director and teachers? Ideally, you would select a daycare center where you have a strong working relationship with all the staff, including the boss. Issues like this come up all the time in daycare. You want to feel comfortable that you and the staff can easily chat with each other when things arise. The fact that you were blindsided by a letter concerns me. Why wouldn't she just stop you to mention her concerns at pickup time? Or at least give you a quick call? Would she write you a letter too if your son had gotten hurt during the day? You want to feel like the lines of communication are open. It makes me wonder if perhaps you might consider your options for other daycare.

Often, parents are told to check if a daycare center is licensed and accredited by an early childhood program, like the National Association for the Education of Young Children. While I agree that accreditation and licensing are important, it's only the beginning. You must do your own investigation of the place before you decide what's best for your child. Don't just accept the first place that has an opening for you, or go on a center's "reputation". Much of your satisfaction in a daycare will have to do with the quality and personality of the specific caregivers and teachers. There's simply no substitute for finding out about the people who will be spending hours a day with your baby.

Here's a quick rundown of things to consider in deciding on a daycare for your young child:

What do the other parents say about the center? Are they satisfied? Are their children happy to go to the daycare?

What kind of staff turnover do they have? You want a place where the caregivers like their jobs, feel supported by the Director, and stay at the center for more than just a few months. And how long has the Director been on the job, as well?

Ask the Director how they handle issues such as the one mentioned by Linda. Will they call you or chat with you, or will you have to wait for an "official" letter? You want the lines of communication to be freely open. You want to get a daily verbal report on how your child's day went, and any changes in the center.

Talk directly with the caregivers who will be responsible for your child. How long have they been at this center? Do they enjoy their work? What kinds of children do they consider challenging? What do they like most about their work? Let them know that you will be an involved parent who is willing to be a cooperative partner in caring for your child, and who also wants to know what's going on at the Center on a daily basis.

Observe your child at play at the center. You know your child best. How does she respond to the caregivers and environment? If the center won't allow parent observations....KEEP LOOKING.

If the staff don't seem to have time for your questions, or convey the feeling that you should be grateful to be accepted into the program...KEEP LOOKING. I know it can be hectic finding daycare arrangements, and parents often feel they have no choice. Don't ever accept that. I'm here to tell you that there are always options, if you're willing to look around, ask questions, and be patient. The time you take to find the right daycare will be more than worth the hassle in the long run!

Many of us have "daycare horror stories", and have learned the hard way how to find quality childcare. Can you give some other tips to Linda, and other parents out there who are struggling to find the right daycare?

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Potty Training Tips: Handling The Grossest Problem Yet, Poop Smearing

BabyShrink readers Angie, Sharon and Stacy have emailed me over the past few weeks with the same horrified question: Why is my toddler suddenly smearing poop everywhere, and HOW CAN I GET THAT DISGUSTING BEHAVIOR TO STOP?! Although I tried to offer some suggestions, I had never experienced the same thing with my kids, so I really didn't have much "oomph" behind my answers.

And then the Great Karmic Finger pointed at my household. And that finger had poop smeared on it.

Our TT is now 2 1/2. He's kinda-sorta potty trained. He's healthy (minus one hernia, which I will update everyone on later in the week), developmentally on-track, and he's got the "easiest" temperament of all our three kids. But over the past few weeks, it's happened three times; he's pooped in his diaper, then reached in to decorate his crib with it. And it's the grossest clean-up job I've ever had to do.

Your story is similar. Your toddler is somewhat engaged in potty training. They're at the age when they can understand most of what we're telling them...and certainly understand that poop is yucky. Then all of a sudden, you discover your little darling has smeared poop all over the place. Reader Sharon tells her stinky story this way, "She's in her crib about to nap, and I hear the usual noises of her just talking to herself. Then I hear this: “Mommy, yucky.” So I go in there and see the worse scene of my life!!!! She apparently had a poopy diaper, took it off, and proceeded to smear the walls, her crib and everything in the vicinity with poop. I was mortified! I quickly yanked her up, stripped her down and got in her the bath as fast as possible. I had to call my husband and tell him to come home so I could sanitize her room. Ugh, it was awful!"

Is This Normal? Yes dear reader, it is. Not necessarily common, but normal. A 2-year-old is struggling with attempting to master his own body, to control it's functions, and is quite curious about his productions. (They don't call it the Anal Stage for nothin'!) Preschool teachers will tell you it's common to see children this age quite interested in messes, too. They can alternate between being quite the obsessive neat-freak, OR the poop-smearing opposite -- as they struggle to master this stage. I would say, however, that poop-smearing past the age of 3 1/2 -- 4 would concern me. An evaluation, starting with your pediatrician, should occur in that case.

How Do I Get It To Stop?! First, know that, for an otherwise typically developing toddler, this should be a time-limited, passing phase. Nobody likes the smell of poop. It's an experiment that is naturally self-limiting!

The most important thing is to control your own reaction. Don't overreact; you risk reinforcing the behavior. If Junior knows that Mom will FREAK every time this happens, he's got a potent weapon to use, when necessary! Instead, calmly say "Yucky. Poop is dirty. It belongs in your diaper or the potty. No more touching poop." As grossed out as you may be, take a deep breath (outside of the room!), clean up the offensive little beast first, and close up the room until you have backup. You'll need time, and someone to watch Mr. Stinky, while you break out the Clorox.

Next, it's time to get practical and LIMIT ACCESS TO THE DIAPER. Go out and find some toddler sized "onesies", or other one-piece clothing. Some creative parents have even put one-piece PJs on backwards to further limit access to the diaper area. Keep them clothed this way as needed, until the phase has passed.

Also, take it as a sign of interest in potty-training. Use it as an opportunity to review the proper use of the potty, and validate their interest in poop. "Here, make your poop in your potty. Then when you're done, you can look at it. We don't touch it, but you can look at it if you want to see what it looks like."

Finally, create opportunities for your creative genius to make acceptable messes. One of the hallmarks of this phase is the desire to make -- and clean up -- messes. It's how we eventually learn to keep things clean and organized, and how to handle all the messes in life. So it's a vitally important lesson to learn. Offer messy finger painting, kitchen mixing and squashing, and outdoor mud play, liberally. Talk about it, as you do. "I know you want to make messes. THIS is a good place to make a mess. I will help you clean it up later. Here, let's make a mess together!"

Hope that helps, Gang. Happy Cleaning!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

PS: THIS POST HAS BECOME MY ALL-TIME MOST-READ ENTRY! (Is that weird, or what?!) FOR MORE TIPS ON THIS GROSSEST OF PROBLEMS, SEE MORE OF MY THOUGHTS ON IT HERE.

Potty Training Tips: BabyShrink's Hubby Answers a Reader's Question

Alohahouse07

My Shrink Husband David and I met in grad school, and we’ve been married for 15 years. Go ahead, I know the jokes are coming about how 2 head-shrinker parents raise their kids! But seriously, one of the reasons I married him is because he is such a natural with children. He has an innate sense of when to intervene, and when to let them figure it out themselves. And he’s a “guy’s guy”, which helps me a lot when I’m struggling to understand issues with our boys.

I rely on him both personally and professionally. So I thought you might like to read an occasional post from BabyShrink’s Husband. I asked him to take a “crack” at a Potty Training question:

I have a three-year-old son who will only poop in his diaper, but regularly urinates in the toilet without any problem.  He is aware of his body sensations when he needs to poop, but refuses to use the toilet.  He does not have a medical condition, and is usually quite compliant. What should we do?

Alex in NY

We experienced something very similar with our son. He also refused to poop in the toilet. Instead, he would regularly run to the playroom and quietly hunker down in a mogul ski jump position, eyes forward and red-faced, scrunch up his face, complete his business, breathe, and then, after a moment of bliss -- Mission Accomplished!  We openly discussed the potty with him between the ages of two to three, and the potty fascinated him. While he may have picked up on our enthusiasm about it, he did not verbalize what was on his mind regarding the potty. He always had an inquisitive expression when we flushed the toilet, but refused to speak to his shrink parents about his thoughts.

As psychologists, we had many analytic theories running through our minds. Was he afraid we were flushing his masterpiece, his private creation, or part of his body down the toilet? Was he worried that he himself was going to be flushed down the toilet? Were his shrink parents applying too much pressure? Did he have a dream or thought about losing things in the toilet? And so on.

So how did two highly educated psychologists handle their own son? “We” didn’t exactly handle it; instead, circumstances beyond our control happened one night when our germ and bodily-liquid phobic babysitter came to take care of our children. Our son was not wearing a diaper and started panicking about needing to put one on. Before the babysitter was able to put on the diaper, he started his business on the floor. She carried our screaming and crying son to the toilet where he undoubtedly went ape-sh*t.  He was feeling out of control and proceeded to hose the babysitter with urine while finishing his business on the potty. Upon returning home after our wonderful night out, our son ran up to us and excitedly said, “I made doo-doo in the potty!” He was very proud about his new accomplishment, and no longer afraid. Needless to say, our babysitter was less-than-proud about her evening, but is now a little less liquid and germ phobic thanks to our boy. After that incident, our son has never had problems and has been successfully using the toilet.

The moral of this story? Leave the tough sh*t for the babysitter.

Kidding.

It is interesting though that kids often do things for other caretakers that they seem unable to do for their parents (e.g., you are amazed by your child’s model behavior at school or at someone else’s house when they can be a complete hellion at home). What I realized is that while this wasn’t the way we imagined our son would potty train, I doubt that any serious issues will arise from this experience. This is because we firmly believe that it is the "big picture" that matters. This "incident" happened in the context of months of communication, conveying that he could dictate the pace of potty training.

The most important aspect to convey regarding toilet training is patience. While this “incident” did not convey patience, it was the constant discussions over a year and a half that were fostered by our little one that were most helpful. Pushing a child too hard with this intimate activity can create power struggles between parents and children. Children can feel violated and belittled by all of the pressure placed on them by people and settings. Many boys are not fully potty trained as three-year-olds. If, however, your child is squatting and squeezing in a corner at his frat house, you can certainly start pushing him to use the potty at that point!

But by far, the vast majority of children have a developmental pull that leads them to want to potty train on their own schedule. Additionally, it is also important to contain your own anxiety; remind yourself that your child will potty train when he is ready, and when that happens he will feel good because he will know that it was his accomplishment.

(Thanks to David’s shrink brother Kevin Wittenberg, PhD for helping to edit this post!)

Potty Training: What Is The Best Way To Begin Potty Training?

Dear BabyShrink, What is your take on potty training? Just GO FOR IT, or let the child initiate it all? I have heard (or read) everything from "start at 3 months old,"; to "you can do it in ONE (or three) day(s),"; to "they'll get it when they are developmentally ready." We are in the midst of training now, but I feel like we're just limping along. I want it to be DONE, but I don't have time to spend 3 days in the bathroom with her (like some books suggest) or plan an entire party around the event (yes, a real suggestion for a "one day solution). I guess we're doing okay, but it's just a PAIN IN THE ARSE!

Katie Kat

Lawrence KS

Hi Katie Kat,

This is another issue that triggers tremendous parental guilt, stress and competitiveness. We think, “My kid is SUPPOSED to be fully trained by now….My Mom says I was potty trained at 18 months….He’s gotta be out of Pull-Ups before he starts preschool…The kid down the street has been trained for over 6 months now!”

But first, let me ask you this: What is the definition of “potty trained”, anyway?

For some, it means wearing underwear…except for away from home, pooping, and at night. For others, it means wearing a diaper, but (usually) peeing on request in the baby potty. And for still others, it means different things, on different days! Even most preschools, despite their protestations to the contrary, will actually work with your toddler on this one. So once we realize that there is a whole continuum of potty training (what some call “toilet learning”), we can relax a bit. The other thing is the grandparent issue. Yeah, I know your parents put pressure on you to get your kid trained yesterday…but the world is really a different place, now. I mean, if THEY had super-duper- absorbent diapers in the super-duper sizes we have now at CostCo, they wouldn’t have been in such a rush either, would they? And let’s face it, there’s nothing grosser than trying to help a tiny tushie balance on a disgusting gas station toilet…isn’t it easier sometimes to just change a diaper?

Forcing a kid to toilet train when they’re not ready is a recipe for disaster. Remember the “anal stage” from your Intro Psych class? Freud was getting at the fact that toddlers are fighting mightily to gain control over their own bodies. When we interfere too much, we start a struggle over power and control that we truly don’t want to win.

So, what to do?

All kids are different. I would suggest trying out one technique at a time, based on how the technique appeals to YOU and your schedule. TALK ABOUT IT with your toddler, using encouraging, simple language (and model it at home too! Dontcha love that?). Read humorous books together, like our current favorite, “Everybody Poops”. But regardless of technique, attitude is the most important thing. Don't fall into the trap of expectations/pressure/disappointment. Understand that accidents WILL happen, maybe even for months (or years: sorry!) after the initial potty training is "done". Don’t punish or scold for mistakes, and don’t press for progress when there’s a lull. Know that potty training often does progress in phases: dry at HOME, in the DAYTIME first....but diapers outside and at night. Then dry at night, (or not!) and so on. Some are lucky and it all happens fairly quickly....but for most, not so much! :) But it WILL eventually happen.

Good luck and aloha!

~~Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

I’d love to hear readers’ potty training stories and suggestions!