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How can I get my child to use the potty?

I've been trying to get my 4-year-old to poop in the potty for a year, and preschool won't take him if he hasn't learned. What can I do?
Submitted by Parents Team

There's enormous pressure to teach kids early, but bodily functions like breathing, eating, and -- unfortunately -- bowel movements are simply not things you can make a child do. Pressuring your son is bound to turn into a power struggle. Instead, let him know that you're going to back off by apologizing to him. (You might say, "I'm sorry for bugging you about pooping in the potty. We know this is something only you can do.") However, you should also see your pediatrician to check out any physical cause for the problem, such as constipation. Once that's been ruled out, there are ways to help without making him anxious. For instance, encourage him to sit on his potty while you or his dad use the toilet, even if he's fully clothed. Also let him empty the contents of his diaper into the potty. If you let him set the pace, there's a good chance he'll be ready in time for preschool. --Sally Lee

Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission from the July 2004 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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