Ah... mid-summer. For many families, this time of year provides the perfect opportunity to help their child break-free of the diaper habit for good. However, when potty-training isn't going very well, this time of year can become a count-down to fall and all of the changes that season brings. For some, potty-training is essential for starting pre-school, or parents might be going back to work and will no longer have as much time to commit to EC or potty training. For families dealing with poop challenges - from fear and anxiety of using a toilet to poop, to daily or weekly accidents, to chronic withholding that can lead to serious health issues - the stakes at this time of year can be very high indeed.
The road to going from poop-in-the-potty resistance to confidence is often not easy, and typically requires a week or two of vigilance on the part of parents or daytime caregivers. There may be tears, desperate attempts to get away, even violent outbursts on the part of the child, but it is essential for parents to approach this behaviour with complete empathy and understanding.
Tip 1: Get Closer
Work on re-building your relationship with your child. When potty training doesn’t come easily, there is always frustration, its natural! But when this frustration goes on for weeks and months it can definitely cause a rift to develop between parent (or caregiver) and child. So first its essential to reduce the drama and frustration surrounding the issue before beginning the process again. If you have been using rewards, stop immediately and instead find ways to connect with your child whether it’s a game of tag around the house, or a trip to the ice cream shop or swimming pool. These types of activities may have been used as bribes or rewards for potty training in the past so this time make sure there are no strings attached.
Physical, rough play and laughter can be a great way for parents and kids to connect, but can also help to dispel fear and release tension. Any type of wrestling, pillow fights etc… can give your child the positive parental time and attention that they crave while also acting as a safe way to release their worries. Additionally, during playtime the parent should allow the child to exert some control over the parent, so that the child does not feel dominated. Games where the child is stronger, faster and/or smarter will have them laughing their worries away.
Tip 2: Think About Food
Consider your child’s diet and how this could be contributing to potty training issues. If your child is sometimes constipated, fiber is often the first thing parents attempt to increase in their child’s diet. And while fiber is important, too much can actually contribute to the production of too much stool, which is not very helpful in this situation.
It is however, very important to ensure that your child is adequately hydrated, as well as ensuring that they have a good amount of healthy fats in their diet. Healthy fats include avocado (think of it fresh on toast or guacamole), coconut (shredded, or coconut milk in a smoothie, overnight oats or soup) and oils like coconut, avocado, olive and butter.
There are certain foods that you may also want to avoid if constipation is a recurrent issue including green (unripe) bananas and dairy products.
Tip 3: Go Cold Turkey
At a certain point diapers (or pull-ups, which are still diapers!) act like a security blanket, especially for kids who are over 30 months of age. Pooping outside of a diaper feels WAYYYYYY different that pooping in one, and since its probably the only place that your child has pooped in the last few years, its important to understand what a huge change this is for them. Though as parents, at a certain point we might decide that our child pooping in a diaper is no longer acceptable; the poops are larger, maybe smellier, we think our kids must be developing the same aversion to it as we are. But guess what? Most kids don’t care at all. The diaper is the only toilet they have ever known and a very convenient one at that! They are used to the feeling and the smell, and overall the part they start hating the most is probably getting changed and cleaned-up! Very inconvenient for parents who start to resent these clean-up battles.
If your child seems afraid, or just unwilling to sit on the potty to poop, it is so, so tempting to hand them a pull-up and let them go in the place where they feel most comfortable. But unfortunately, the diaper habit is a hard one to break, and handing them a diaper each time is not going to resolve this issue. It can in fact make them even more resistant in the future when they are older and even more set in their ways.
On the other-hand, taking away the diapers completely can lead to a child just pooping in their undies or even withholding poop until they are given a diaper to poop in at nap or night-time. So what is a parent to do?
2 things actually… first, you have to say no to diapers, all day and all night. Second, you need to make catching poops your main life-goal for a few days. Watch for signals, the typical times of day that your child poops or places they tend to retreat to. When you see the signal, take your child into the bathroom and wait it out, giving them all of the empathy and love you can muster, but see it through. For most kids, once you get 3-5 poops in the potty, a new habit is being formed, and their fear of pooping has subsided.
For many parents, following these 3 tips will be enough to solve the poop problem. If you require a more personalized approach, or you feel that your child may not follow typical withholding behaviour, please contact me for a consultation. Sometimes poop withholding and accidents are a sign of a medical condition that needs to be monitored by your family doctor, and cannot be corrected by simple food changes and non-coercive techniques. Watch for a future blog post that will outline the signs to be on the lookout for.
Photo credit abbybatchelder on Foter.com / CC BY
Hi! I'm Danielle, your friendly neighbourhood potty specialist.