I get asked a lot about why toddlers and young children are happy to wee in the toilet, but not so happy to do anything else, or why some children hold onto their poo.
One of the most common and frustrating toilet-training roadblocks is when a child happily wees in the potty but demands a nappy, or uses their pants, for bowel movements.
When I was a Reception Class Teacher some children would actually hold on to their bowel movements all day at school, which creates severe constipation, and that further complicates the issue.
It’s helpful to understand why children typically resist having a bowel movement on the toilet, or hold back from going.
- Bowel movements take too long to wait for and an active child doesn’t like having to sit on the potty or the loo for the extended length of time it might take to pass a poo.
- After being used to the squashed, squidgy, warm sensation of a stool coming out into a nappy, the feeling of letting it loose into the air is sometimes unsettling, strange & scary for some children.
- A child is used to standing or moving during bowel movements, and sitting still on the potty is an uncomfortable change of routine.
- Your child thinks the poo is part of them and doesn’t understand why they should flush it away.
- A bad experience, such as being splashed on the bottom with urine or water during a movement, or having a messy accident, can upset your child and they may want to avoid it happening again.
- A pain poo from a previously difficult, or hard stool, can make your child afraid to poo in the potty.
- A current case of constipation is preventing their usual movement.
Don’t try to solve the problem without understanding why it exists.
Once you’ve identified your child’s possible reason for avoiding a bowel movement you can create the best plan for helping them to have a regular and natural movement.
Become a detective to your child’s possible reasons.
Then while you put your plan together consider these basic dos and don’ts.
What not to do:
Don’t get angry. Don’t scold, shout or nag your child or make them feel ashamed. Your little one isn’t doing this on purpose, they’re not trying to make you cross, frustrated or embarrassed and they don’t understand how to solve this any more than you do at the moment.
Don’t make your child sit on the toilet and “try” or push. Bowel movements come out when the body is ready, and forcing them can create small tears in the anus (fissures) or haemorrhoids, which cause all-day pain in the rectum. This will cause your child to avoid pooing even more, which leads to constipation, which creates hard stool, which causes more haemorrhoids, and on and on and on which created a rather negative and stressful cycle of pain and frustration and anxiety.
Don’t let your child strain when they sit to try to poo. Of course, a little bit of pushing can be necessary for a normal bowel movement, but if your child is grunting, straining and forcing, it’s a sign that either they’re not quite ready to go, or are somewhat constipated. Get them to drink a large glass of water, or to eat a piece of fruit and then try again in ten or twenty minutes.
Don’t ever make your child “hold it.” When they announce the need to go, or if you notice that their body signals are indicating a need to go, find a toilet immediately. Delaying and holding contributes to constipation and other bowel problems.
What to do:
Make certain that your child is drinking plenty of fluids all day long. Stick to water and juice (apple, grape and prune juice, but not orange or other citrus juices.)
Be sure your child eats plenty of fibre-rich foods every day: vegetables (especially raw ones), fruit, wholegrains, brown rice, and oats. Avoid giving your child junk food, refined sugar, sugary fizzy drinks, sweets and chocolate.
Limit foods that constipate such as bananas, rice, apple sauce, cheese, citrus juice and fizzy drinks.
If your child has food allergies or lactose intolerance (milk products) these can cause constipation for them. If you suspect this may be true talk to your doctor or Health Visitor.
If your child has been constipated, apply petroleum jelly, coconut oil or nappy ointment to their rectum before potty visits to ease soreness.
Make sure your child has plenty of daily exercise, which stimulates their digestion, prevents constipation, and is necessary for proper elimination.
Be sure that your child is weeing every 1 ½ to 2 hours. Regular urination is a necessary component to regular bowel movements.
Take your child to the potty first thing in the morning and ten to 30 minutes after a full meal when bowel movements are likely to happen.
Teach your child to go when the urge strikes. Explain that the poo is trying to come out and they should go straight to the potty or loo.
Buy a soft, padded child’s adapter seat for the toilet, or a potty chair with a soft seat. Some children find it difficult to sit on the hard surface for the length of time it takes to make a bowel movement.
If you find your child has had a bowel movement in their pants, calmly take them to the bathroom. Flush the poo down the toilet with a comment to explain that’s where it goes. Get your child to sit on the potty/loo while you wipe their bottom, and let them know that soon they’ll do their poo on the potty or in the toilet. Be calm, respectful and relaxed.
If your child will only go in a nappy, start to take them into the bathroom. Progress to getting them to sit on the potty, in their nappy if they like. Once they’re used to this, suggest taking the nappy off and putting it into the potty as a ‘pocket’ to catch the poo.
You might find it helpful to cut through the crotch of the nappy so that it still is wrapped around them, but the bottom is open to let the poo drop into the potty.
Make sure that your child sits long enough to empty their bladder or bowel each time they use the toilet. Make it a relaxing three to five minutes, chat, sing, read a story.
Make sure that your child’s legs are comfortable and knees are slightly apart and that feet are firmly planted on the floor or a sturdy stool.
Get your child to close their eyes, and take a few deep breaths while you talk or sing softly as they will relax which helps the process.
Play soothing music during potty sitting as this will anchor a happy, relaxed experience around going to the loo.
If your child is giving signs of needing to poo, but on the toilet and not having success, try getting your child to lean forward and rest their upper body against you while you rub the lower back gently. You can also get them to sit backwards on the toilet and lean against the tank.
I’ve also been working with a Mum going through a divorce and her 4 year old has been having accidents and whilst most parents assume that kids who soil their pants are simply misbehaving and being naughty or lazy, the truth is often that their child has a condition known as encopresis.
This little girl suffered constipation as an infant and has built up anxiety around going to the toilet exacerbated by the changes in her routines and lifestyle due to her parents splitting up.
Read more here -> about Encopresis (soiling)
Relax, create a natural, positive environment around going to the loo and be PATIENT and kind to your little one. This too is a phase and shall soon pass. Take the long term view.
If your child starts having accidents after being clean for some time, then look at what may have changed recently – a new baby, a new school, a change of home circumstances, a divorce? as children are very sensitive and may have picked up anxiety around a change at home or school. So have a chat and find out.
If you’d like to work with me call me on 01883 818329.