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Child Caring

She will grow out of her fear of the potty, honest!

My daughter is 3 years 4 months, bright, articulate, wonderful in every way. She has been potty trained since 20 months and does not have accidents. (She is a heavy sleeper though and wears a pullup at night which is wet every morning. Naps are underwear and dry.) But, she has never, not even once, pooped in the potty. She asks for a diaper when she has to go and goes to her "window spot" to do it. Then I clean her up and she is back in underwear.

She has a genuine and deep fear of pooping on the potty. She is not constipated, goes almost daily (almost at the same time most days) and eats healthy with lots of fiber. I've tried "running out of diapers" but she withholds for days. We tried this recently and she held it in for 3 days and genuinely tried to poop on the potty but whimpered and sobbed that she is too scared. I know withholding can lead to constipation and other issues so I gave in. She won't say why she is scared exactly, just that she is scared of the poop coming out while she's on the potty. We tried not talking about it but she is somewhat obsessed with it herself (talks about her friends and stuffed animals pooping on the potty). She absolutely knows what she is supposed to do but is just too scared to do it. She sees her friends do it at school but says she's just not ready. Tried bribery, showing her presents that she can get when she poops on the potty - does not work. She has little potty, big potty, you name it. She is happy to have the poop be put into the potty from the diaper and knows that is where it is supposed to go. Her baby sister, who is 17 months, has actually started telling when she is going poop so my older daughter is trying to teach her how to poop in the potty even though she won't do it herself! I am at my wit's end and when I read about this issue online I see that there are many kids who have this problem and it can continue until they are 5 or 6!! We have made ZERO progress with all our efforts. She won't even do it in the bathroom, just screams that she needs her window spot. I don't think it's a "control" issue but a real fear. She is otherwise a delight. Has control over lots of choices in her life. Any ideas other than just waiting for it to resolve itself, which I fear may take until she's in real school?

From: Boston Mom, Boston


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Dear Boston Mom,

My best guess is that your daughter is afraid that she, too, will fall into the toilet and disappear wherever it is that the poop goes. Which is why she can tolerate watching the flushing process when the poop comes from her diaper: her body parts are not in jeopardy, they've been safely contained by the diaper.

This is not rational, but most fears aren't. Fear of losing a part of your body (most little kids think their poop is a body part but they don't make that connection with pee) is typical of this age. Ever wonder why young children kids like Band Aids so much? It's because the bandage keeps the rest of their body from oozing out.

At some point, she will age out of this and I predict it will be sooner than you think. The fact that she talks to friends and to stuffed animals about it is a huge, healthy clue that she's working on the fear. Meanwhile:

>Back off. Tell her you're there to help her, she doesn't have to use the potty until she's ready, and she can decide when that is. Be neutral about the "window spot." In fact, the more neutral you can be about it, the sooner it is likely to feel babyish to her. Continue doing what you're doing about giving her age-appropriate control and praising her for big-girl behaviors. But keep the potty piece out of it.

Let her see you using the toilet (if you're comfortable) so she sees you don't fall in and nothing bad happens to you.

Initiate a conversation that isn't about her and doesn't happen around toileting time: "Some kids worry that when they use the potty to make a poop, they might disappear, just like the poop does." That not only will give her permission to verbalize her fear if she can but it also tells her this is nothing to be ashamed of. But again, don't push it.

Well, no, your daughter isn't "potty trained." But she does seem to have an awareness of her bodily needs and functions, it sounds like she's got appropriate routines in her life, as well as opportunities to exercise control in age-appropriate ways.