12 Common Potty-Training Problems

Working your way through typical potty-training issues.

The transition from diapers to potty is often not a smooth one. Find out about these common problems that come with toilet training and what you can do about them.

1. Your child doesn't recognize the need to urinate, even though he recognizes the need to move his bowels. This is normal. Some children don't gain complete bladder control for many months after they have learned to control bowel movements. Continue your child's potty training with this in mind.

2. Your child tries to play with the feces. This simply stems from his curiosity. You can prevent this without making him or her feel upset by simply saying, "This is not something to be played with."

3. Your son insists on sitting down to urinate. The majority of boys will want to sit while learning to go in the potty. Let him learn to urinate sitting down and, after he has mastered bladder control, explain to him that boys go potty standing up. He may pick this up on his own if he watches his dad or other male friends or family going to the bathroom.

4. Your child resists going to the potty. Resistance may mean that it's not the right time to start training. When your child seems to need to urinate or have a bowel movement, take him to the potty. Keep your child seated on the potty for only a few minutes at a time. Explain what you want to happen. Be cheerful and casual. If he protests strongly, don't insist.

5. Your child has accidents. Accidents happen. When they do, treat them lightly and try not to get upset. Punishment and scolding will often make children feel bad and may make toilet training take longer.

6. Your child gets upset when she sees her stools flushed away. Some children believe that their wastes are part of their bodies, so this may be frightening and hard for them to understand. Explain the purpose of body wastes and the body's need to eliminate them.

7. Your child is afraid of being sucked into the toilet. Many children fear being sucked into the toilet if it's flushed while they're sitting on it. To give your child a feeling of control, let him or her flush pieces of toilet paper. This will lessen the fear of the sound of rushing water and the sight of things disappearing.

8. Your child has a bowel movement or urinates right after being taken off the toilet. This happens frequently early in the potty training process. It may take time for your child to learn how to relax the muscles that control the bowel and bladder. If this happens a lot, it may mean your child is not really ready for training.

9. Your child asks for a diaper when a bowel movement is expected and stands in a special place to defecate. This indicates that she is physically -- although not emotionally -- ready to be potty trained. Instead of considering this a failure, praise your child for recognizing the bowel signals. Suggest that he or she have the bowel movement in the bathroom while wearing a diaper.

10. Your child urinates while sleeping. Like most children, your own toddler probably will take a little longer to complete nap-time and nighttime toilet training. Encourage your toddler to use the potty immediately before going to bed and as soon as he wakes up. Tell him that if he wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to use the toilet, he can either go by himself or call for you to help him.

11. Your child is only comfortable going to the potty with one particular person. This is normal. If your child will only go potty with you, gradually withdraw yourself from the process. For example, offer to help your child get undressed or walk your child to the bathroom. But wait outside the door.

12. Your child is regressing back to her diaper days. Anything that causes a child stress may encourage her to return to a previous level of development, particularly if the change is recent. Stressors include an illness in the child or a relative, a new baby in the house, a change from crib to bed, or a move to a new house. Give it time and it will pass.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; The Nemours Foundation; Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam, 1999)

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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