Potty Training Problems

Valorie Delp
potty with child on it

There is hardly a parent alive that doesn't have a potty training tale of woe. What is surprising is that most parents aren't aware of how common potty training issues really are.

Five Common Potty Training Problems and How to Solve Them

Many problems that parents see when trying to potty train their children can be avoided simply by waiting until the child is ready. Choose a time when there is not a lot going on and you are free to focus on the process. Be consistent and never bribe your child to use the toilet, and never punish your child if he has an accident.

Problem #1: Child Just Isn't Interested

Many children are not interested in using the potty yet, because they are simply not developmentally ready. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are certain signs that you should look for to see if your child is developmentally ready to use the toilet. Your child may be ready to engage in potty training if he:

  • Wants to wear underwear or seems interested in using the toilet
  • Can follow directions
  • Can answer simple questions
  • Stays dry for two or more hours at a time during the day
  • Wakes from naps dry
  • Tells you that he needs to go using either words or facial expressions
  • Doesn't like dirty diapers
  • Can pull his pants on and off

The best thing to do if your child isn't interested in using the potty is to let him be. If he's not interested despite a little encouragement from you, it may be that he simply isn't ready yet. While it might seem like this stage lasts forever, rest assured, it doesn't.

Problem #2: Regression

Everything is going great - your child is eager to learn how to use the potty, stays dry for the most part, and you have chalked it up to potty training success. Then one day your child wakes up and starts having accidents, stops pooping in the toilet, or may even stop using the toilet all together.

Regression in potty training is quite normal. According to Dr. Sears, regression is most often triggered by a major change in your child's routine. This can include things like a new school, new caregiver or babysitter, or any other change in the family's routine.

While regression is frustrating for a parent, it can be a sign to you that something is going on with your child that stresses him. With that said, the key to handling regression is to be consistent and reassuring.

  • Treat potty accidents matter-of-factly, even allowing your child to help take responsibility for some or all of the clean up efforts. Don't make a big deal about it, just acknowledge that the mess has to be cleaned up, and move on.
  • Seek opportunities to be reassuring and supportive apart from the potty. If your child is regressing because of a transition, extra reassurance and mommy time could be the cure.
  • If you are expecting a transition, such as a new baby, a new caregiver, etc., wait to potty train your child or train him well before the transition happens if he's ready.

Problem #3: Fear of the Toilet

potty seat and child
A potty seat may ease fears.

If you think about it, it is fairly reasonable for a toddler to think it's possible that he could get accidentally flushed down the toilet. Of course he won't, but he doesn't yet have the cognitive abilities to understand that - especiallly if you train your toddler younger. There are several ways in which you can handle this, and no one method works for each child. Sometimes, you just have to use the trial and error method.

  • Buy a seat that sits on the top of the toilet so that the opening is smaller and more child-sized.
  • Buy a small potty chair for your child to put next to the toilet.
  • Put your child's favorite books in the magazine holder in the bathroom, hopefully distracting him so he forgets he is afraid.

The bottom line is, if your child is so afraid that he absolutely refuses to try, back off for a few months and try again later. Chances are, once he's old enough to understand that he cannot accidentally fall into the toilet and be flushed away, his fear will abate.

Problem #4: Refuses Toilet Training

You ask your child to go, and he just flat out refuses. There are tears, possibly a tantrum, but the bottom line is that your child is not putting his little tushie on that toilet. While this can be a really frustrating scenario, it's important not to engage in a power struggle with your child over the toilet. Some children realize very quickly that in their world, toilet functions are one thing over which they can exercise complete control.

If your child is one of those children who has decided that this is a battle of epic porportions, simply refuse to engage. Once he realizes that there isn't a battle to be fought over the toilet, he's likely to show an interest in using it.

Problem #5: Won't Poop in the Toilet

There are some children who are willing to pee in the toilet, but for whatever reason, pooping scares them. This can become a serious problem because if your child withholds his poop, he can become constipated. If your child is constipated, pooping may be painful or difficult, which in turn reaffirms his fear of pooping in the toilet.

Gentle encouragement and some common sense are the keys to success here. Your child may greatly benefit from using a potty chair that sits on the ground. Sitting in such a position makes it more difficult for his little body to withhold poop. When he does poop in his potty chair (or even in his diaper), show him that the poop flushes down the toilet and let him help in the rest of the potty routine of wiping and washing hands, suggests Karen Deerwester, author of The Potty Training Answer Book.

Also, make sure that his diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables so that his stools don't become too hard.

Potty Training Woes

It's important to remember that potty training does not equate good parenting. While many parents find it frustrating to go through the potty training stage, remember that it doesn't have to be. Be consistent both in your response to accidents, and in how you train. It's helpful if you choose a period of time when there is not a lot going on so that you are home and your child's surroundings are familiar. Above all, be patient. Potty training is a developmental stage and rest assured - your child will get it.

Potty Training Problems