When my youngest son was toilet training, I used to sit near him while he did his business. When he was done, I’d erupt in a loud chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” which he took as great encouragement.
But if you’ve got a toddler who’s afraid to have a bowel movement, you could have a challenging road ahead.
“It is common for kids to be reluctant to poo in a potty or toilet while toilet training and to succeed in urinating in a potty first,” says Dr. Beth Gamulka, adjunct clinical professor at the University of Toronto and staff pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children and The Scarborough Hospital. “It might not be fear as much as not being in a comfortable and familiar position to succeed.”
The urge to urinate occurs when the bladder is full. “It is like a balloon and the release of that balloon simply requires the child to relax a valve. There is no other significant effort involved and children who are learning to control their bladders feel much better once they empty their bladders (much like adults!).”
But anyone who has watched a diapered toddler in pooping mode can appreciate the concentration, grunting and need to assume a comfortable position to succeed in filling that diaper. There are some children who lie down, others who crouch and still others who need to stand.
“It stands to reason that some children might then have difficulty when expected to sit on a toilet seat with their feet dangling in the air,” says Dr. Gamulka.
Some toddlers will scream and cry. Others will stubbornly refuse to poop in the toilet, or even hold their bowels. This can be frustrating for parents and painful for toddlers because the most common consequence of avoiding pooping is constipation.
“Children who are learning to control their bowels and resist having a bowel movement by withholding develop large hard stools that become more difficult to pass,” says Dr. Gamulka. “Hard stools can be painful and can make toddlers even more reluctant to poo because of discomfort.”
Pointers for Reluctant Poopers
The key to successful toilet training (for both bladder and bowel) is to follow the cues of the child. “Toddlers need to be ready and willing to try to sit on a potty and the experience needs to be positive and relaxed,” says Toronto pediatrician Dr. Beth Gamulka. Try her tips with your apprehensive toddler.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.