Just about all poop issues that are not medical or biological, like a blockage or food allergy, are rooted in fear and anxiety. Anxiety is quite a common thread in our world today. We are a fast-paced society with more pressure than ever for everybody to perform at optimal levels. We have
top-tier schedules with working parents, then secondary schedules for kid classes, play dates, eating out, shopping, and any other thing we want to stuff into our remaining time. Take this piece of advice to heart, parents: Before you potty train, slow things down. A slower-paced life with more relaxed times at home and a more comfortable atmosphere will lead to less anxiety in general and will help your child feel comfortable about potty training, pooping included.
Understanding why a child may have fear or anxiety about pooping is essential to knowing how to treat it.
Think about this: As long as your child has known you, they have passively experienced pooping in their diaper. I say passively because they never even had a choice. It was the way it was from the very beginning. So now, all of a sudden, we move into this place where this long-known way of life becomes a central focus of everyone that matters to you, and they tell you to stop doing it. Native Americans and Aborigines rebelled against new cultures coming into their home territory and telling them to change as well. It's part of our nature. Change is scary. This is why parents incentivize potty training. Because with a scary change, you feel like you need to give them a big enough benefit to make it worth it.
And so transitions become essential here. Talking about how the body works and teaching your children the facts behind biology can greatly increase your chances of successfully poop-training your toddler! One of the best ways to sneak this info into their brains is to take it to a broader level. Toddlers are primed for learning. Their brains are sponges ready to soak up facts, new ways, and even nuances of life. They learn to read emotions and then turn around to manipulate parents in a subtle, masterful way. Toddlers are far smarter than us. They will eventually slow down in their immense learning capabilities, but let's capitalize on those capabilities for now.
Two to three weeks before you being potty training, you need to cut all secondary schedules back to a minimum, preferably to nonexistent. This means no dance classes, no toddler gym time, and no art lessons. Now, all these things can still be had but without the transition of getting there on time. Dance at home! Paint at home! Make your own classes! You will naturally already have to be going places just to keep up with life (e.g., grocery shopping), so there are already transitional car periods and schedules you cannot remove, but don't let any more enter the scene. Also, doing these fun activities in the home creates a more nurturing environment. What you are actually doing by having your dance, art, and playtime at home is priming your home to become the ultimate safe learning environment, and that will play nicely into potty training.
Now it's time to learn. Get books about whales, squirrels, how food grows, how the body works—anything that points to the wonderful, complex natural world around us. And did you see what we just did there? We slipped pre-potty training knowledge into our children without them even knowing it. We never focused on potty training, and before we even start the process, they are going to learn to separate their poop from themselves. We want to break down nature into ways they can understand and learn. You are waking up their brain to start soaking in new things like the sponge it is and soundly placing body knowledge into their heads.
This method works well with two- through four-years-olds. It works beyond that age range as well, of course. Be careful how you present this to an older three-year-old or four-year-old. Chances are, if you haven't successfully potty trained by now, you have at least tried. Now a big spotlight is put on this area, and the children will be skeptical and on guard to your alternative agenda if you focus too heavily on bowel functions. Make it your goal to instill a fascination and wonder about how things work in nature.
Every “Body” Has a System
This is ultimately what any anxious or fearful child has to learn, that every "body" has a system. Knowledge takes away the mystery. Depending on the age of your toddler or child, they will not pick up every piece of information you feed them, but using kid language, you certainly can teach them about how everything is connected. And please don't worry. Offering your children information that may be over their head just reinforces that you know more than them. They will be more apt to listen to you about things later on in life as well.
Show them how the weather has a system. Where something scary like lightning comes from. How scary sharks are in the ocean, but they eat fish, not people (it's true, they only bite people by mistake and then let them go, but you don't have to include that part). And do you know how important spiders are to our world? Without spiders, we would be overrun with insects! Spiders help to keep things in order around us by eating those insects—then pooping them out. Taking things that are scary and demystifying them with reasonable explanations and pointing to the benefits and necessities of these wonderful critters will get your child ready to accept a whole new world. You will be fostering a love of nature and a respect for our planet, as well as prepping them to accept why other people do not wear diapers.
I want you to clearly explain why babies wear diapers as well. Many parents like to constantly point out that big kids wear underwear and babies wear diapers. They are using a guilt or shame tactic to try and encourage their children to rise to a new level, but they leave out an important piece of the equation—why babies wear diapers.
Diapers are necessary for babies to wear because they are constantly peeing and pooping with no notice. If Mom was breastfeeding a baby and the baby pooped on her lap, she would have yucky, smelly, brownish-yellow poop all over her. Since poop is never allowed to go back in the body once it is out, and since the baby is in the middle of eating, he could accidently eat some of this poop. That's why parents need to have their children in diapers. It gives the pee and poop a place to go until the baby gets changed.
Point out to your toddler how no one ever keeps a poopy diaper on for long. The diaper’s only function was to give the poop a place to wait until it could be thrown out or flushed. That is why adults don't need diapers. When a person is big enough to walk to the bathroom himself, he can get his poop right in the toilet, and the toilet throws it out for us.
It makes sense, right? Having this kind of conversation with your child will help them turn into thinkers. "Thinking" is actually a globally traded commodity. Every year, America outsources more and more jobs to foreigners because we are not creating enough high-quality thinkers in our country. My husband is a software architect, code-monkey, and infrastructures security specialist. He runs a few teams of programmers that build software platforms based on what the business departments ask of them. His job is to design the platform needed and guide programmers as they push the limits of modern-day technology and known coding techniques. His best asset is truly his mind.
However, in his experience with hiring, he does see that China and India are producing more quality thinkers than Americans who come with university degrees. Maybe this stems from a generation of more entitled youth and a culture that rewards children with trophies for participation. Maybe part of this is too many mindless cartoons, mounds of toys, and desires filled as soon as they are realized, and not enough family game time and dinners at the dining room table. And then again, maybe not. I will say no more. This area is not my specialty, but I do hope it encourages you to understand that the next generation counts on you. For our children to be valuable in the upcoming workforce, they are going to have to be thinkers.
So, reread the chapter on compliance, and take to heart what they watch on TV. Make a shift from Nickelodeon to documentaries. Make a conscious effort to rat out any source of fast-paced racing in life and replace it with a calmer, home-based learning environment where you shepherd in your child's future. Do this at least a few weeks before you ask them to change a vital part of their life forever. Applying this advice to your parenting style can single-handedly undo pooping issues by simply undoing the fear that surrounds them.
Let’s Teach Them To Trust Us
Gone are the days of your little one being swaddled in a blanket, wrapped in your arms, and nursed or bottle-fed—that sweet time of infancy that just seemed to slow life down a bit. We replace the scene with a slightly faster-paced place of learning and exploring. Our adorable little baby is now a toddler, checking out everything. Some of you may be at the point where your child is testing everything, including your limits. Some of you may even be beyond that, where your child is digging in his heels and demanding or resisting. And so you find yourself in a place where potty training is essential and mandatory, whether it is now or in a matter of months.
The scariest part of potty training is nothing more than the unknown; it is what doesn’t exist yet. How will you start? How will your child react? You may have heard some horror stories. Will you have one of your own? The best thing you can do to help yourself is to prepare, plan, and take time to understand all the intricacies of what is happening in your child’s physical and mental development. Learn the best planning practices for potty training, and then decide on the method that’s right for you. Just make a plan!
To start our potty training journey, let’s just watch for a while. Watching has two critical goals here. You will learn some key characteristics about your child that will help you potty train effectively, and you will convince yourself of the fact that your child is ready. Conviction that your child is capable of the task is absolutely necessary, and for most people I talk to, it is the greatest contributing factor to potty training anxiety. They just aren’t sure that now is the right time.
Now I’ll ask you a question, and watch your child for the answer. I encourage you to not just think about this answer and come to a conclusion, but really take a few hours and watch your child’s behavior with this question in mind: Does your child listen and follow parental directions consistently?
Why do I say “parental directions” instead of “your directions”? Because in many home environments, I find that a child is trained to deal with each parent differently. They may listen consistently to Dad but whine a lot to Mom, even if they do eventually comply. But what I find even more commonly is that the primary caretaker, typically Mom, has far more control over the child, and the secondary caretaker, often Dad, is labeled as the fun one—the one with no rules. This is simply bred from a reality of Mom being the structure of the home for the majority of the time and Dad swooping in after work to have fun with his kids! Whoever has less time with the children feels more obligated to relax rules and structure and to bond with the kids. I get it, and in a way, I can condone that. But in this season of potty training, it’s important for both parents to get on the same page and agree on a steady and consistent system for potty training. In short, I want you to talk about this with each other long before you start. If there are two parents in the house, you need to be a unified team so your child is exposed to consistent practices, and thus a predictable experience, in his potty training career.
Now, you direct your child constantly through the nuances of life: when it’s time to take baths, eat lunch, nap time, etc. And for the most part, you may have a compliant child, but what we are about to ask our kids to do is something out of the norm. Long before we potty train, I want you to test your child’s compliance level off the potty training playing field. I encourage you to take a week or two and systematically apply the following routine-altering techniques to your toddler’s life. The point of this exercise is not only to test compliance but also to teach it and establish who is ultimately in charge.
Remember, though, in this mini-program, we are not bargaining. If you always tell your child their choice comes after your choice, you will be instilling in them the idea that life is a give and take, and you can barter for anything. Life often is, but in the early years of life, it is not. You want to show your children that they can trust what you say. They don’t need to be in charge because you are competent, and they are safe and loved. It is so much work to fight and have to get your own way all the time. Successfully teaching your child to be compliant will lead to a calmer toddlerhood and an easier potty training experience. Compliance can be broken down into one simple word: trust. Say it often to your child. Trust me. Mother knows best.
You have four places to hit in life in order to alter your toddler’s routine and test/teach compliance while building trust:
- What to eat
- What to watch on TV
- What to wear
- What to play with
What to Eat
You might think your kid listens to you all the time about what to eat, but the truth also may be that you only give him what he’s used to. If you’ve got a mac n’ cheese lover who gets a lot of mac n’ cheese, then that isn’t effectively testing compliance. Take one week and set a menu. Children eat smaller amounts often, so think about your menu in terms of a child. It should include breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and maybe another snack before bed.
Vary your foods relatively widely, and only put common foods on the menu half the time. Stay away from processed foods, which are designed to hit triggers in us that satisfy our desire for salty, fatty, and sweet items, making our kids crave them more and reject fresh foods that can’t mimic these triggers. Your child will be free not to eat what they don’t want, but do not offer other alternatives. Remember, if you’ve set the menu to be healthy and tasty, there is no reason that you should be fighting with a child over what they will and will not eat. If you find yourself in this battle, there is an imbalance of authority in the home that will cause problems when attempting to potty train.
Some good, fresh foods that a child may or may not be inclined to try on their own are hummus, black olives, red peppers, carrot sticks, celery sticks, kefir, string cheese, plain rice, wheat berries, quinoa, toast with butter, eggs, and cucumber sticks. Offer new snack combinations as well! Graham crackers and milk, raisins in oatmeal, bananas or apples with peanut butter—these are good, tasty additions to supplement a fresh menu, and by combining foods, you will create new flavors for your child.
Be creative. Use colors, and keep it fun. Make it a point to sit with your toddler and eat the same foods with them. Demonstration and leading by example is going to be key in your potty training future. One other way to craft an open mind for your toddler is to talk about the new foods you are eating. Point out how the celery is so crunchy. Then point out how the carrot is so crunchy, and then talk about how the banana is not crunchy; it’s soft. If your kid doesn’t want to try new foods, you will pique his curiosity about these new attributes the more you talk about them, and you may even be teaching him something new! Test this later by putting crunchy and soft foods on a plate, and ask your kid to tell you which is crunchy. Correct him if he’s wrong, and reteach the concepts through food. I want you to see how many times you need to teach something before he can correctly answer. If he picks these things up quickly, it will help convince you of his ability to learn to use the toilet.
After a solid week of menu alterations, you have now successfully taught your child to trust you in new things. You’re not feeding him junk, and he had fun sitting with you, sharing and learning through every meal.
What to Watch
If you have a cartoon buff on your hands, make sure you begin to vary your television menu with non-animated shows. Some wonderfully fascinating programs are found in nature documentaries, but Planet and Life are both series that offer a wide variety of colors, animals, and scenery. Your child may not agree at first, but don’t let her change the channel. Put on what you want her to watch, and make sure it stays on, or it will be turned off. If she tries to change the show, tell her two to three times that you are choosing this show and that you will shut off the TV if she continues to change it. Then, follow through.
Not every show needs to be dictated by you, but her TV time should be varied between your choices and hers. Do not get into a place where you are making deals. During most days of the week, in this time of teaching compliance, you should be setting the TV programs 100%. Throw their favorite shows in your TV plan as well so they see you know what they like, which will help you teach them to trust you. Start out by making a list of all their shows, and during the first two days, you can play one to two shows that they like, and then throw in a third, new and different one. The next day, it should be one show they like and know, then a second they don’t know. The third day should start off with something completely new. By the end of the week, your TV choices should be at your whim as you look to entertain and enrich your child’s knowledge of the world outside his home.
What to Wear
I remember a time when my second child was two years old, and we were heading out to the department store. He insisted on dressing himself and emerged from his room in adorable inappropriateness! It wasn’t anything bad, but on our ninety-degree summer day, he chose to don super-cute rain galoshes. I told him that it would be too hot to wear those, and he told me he loved them and that he was going to wear them.
“But they will be hot, and you’ll be uncomfortable,” I said.
“No, they won’t!” he said.
I gave in, and we headed out. He wore those things all day until my husband got home. When he asked how long he’d had those galoshes on, I told him, and then he scolded me. I had told myself I was allowing a life experience to teach my son what it meant to be “hot” so he could make a more appropriate decision in the future. The real truth, though, is that my son was still learning the basics of how to get along in life. He didn’t even know his ABCs yet, and I was letting him suffer in the heat, thinking he could learn not to wear them again.
Well, what I really taught him was that if he wanted to wear rainbow galoshes every day of the week, it was his right, and he continued trying to exercise that right rather than learning from our previous day. I had a fight on my hands, knowing that my husband disapproved of my reasoning. And he was right. A two-year-old does not have the capacity to think about his own well-being through the hours of a day and consider heat as a factor to his comfort and well-being.
Think about all of those aspects in just that one choice. Leave that kind of decision-making to a child who has had sufficient life experience under wise guidance. That is our job right now, to not empower them in the overwhelming world of making your own choices and all the repercussions of those choices, but to first teach them basics—principles of life they can just learn without question.
Go to the closet or drawers with your toddler, and plan out outfits together for the next few days. Be very talkative about your choices, and ask lots of questions, but make sure you get some clothing items in there that are solely your choice and some that are solely their choice. You can hang the outfits in order, leave them laid out on the floor, or set them one on top of the other on the bed or dresser. Each morning, go to the stack with your toddler and get the next outfit you both agreed on. At some point during the week, I want you to suddenly change one of the outfits, but the change has to be your sole decision.
The point of this exercise is two-fold. We are demonstrating how to set a plan (like the menu plan) and how to follow it. We are also going to demonstrate that a parent can override any plan with no questions asked. Again, this gives you the opportunity to see if your kid fully trusts your judgment and will listen. But feel free to have fun with it! Maybe you switch out the chosen outfit with a costume! We want our children to feel safe and trust our choices.
What to Play With
Most of our children are entitled beyond reason. It’s true! Children in Africa find complete satisfaction in playing with a ball and a stick for the majority of their games. They don’t feel bad for themselves that they don’t have the entire Little People’s play set complete with the mini jungle gym. Their satisfaction comes in the form of community and games.
My most delightful exercise comes in the form of taking all the toys away from my toddler and making a clean sweep of their room. I am not a terrible, mean monster, but I saw firsthand my children’s delight when I taught them this lesson, and of course, I delight in their happiness.
Begin by determining where you can put all the stuff. You can use a garage, a shed, the upper shelves of a linen closet, the top shelf of your closet, or wherever you can store the items. Be able to see the toys clearly, and limit your child’s access to them. Organize the toys by type or play style. Some categories might be play sets, cars, action figures, arts and crafts, education, and imagination play or dress-up. Use this opportunity to clean the toys, throw away anything that is broken, or donate what you want to. A wise person once told me that donating something was giving it to God. She said God knows of a home that could really use it more than I could. Give it to Him, and let Him give it to someone else. This makes de-cluttering much easier for me!
Put all the toys away in the place you’ve chosen, and clean the room really well. Take one to three chosen toys down, and let your child back in the room. A child that walks into a clean room with only a few toys sees it as a blank canvas! I’ve seen time and time again when children become excited about old things. Old becomes new again! They actually forget about most of their toys because there is too much around them to focus on one thing. Rotate the toys every day, and each morning becomes like Christmas! They wake up to something new. When you’re choosing your toys, think about the brain functions that the different toys stimulate. One day could be an art day, one day a train table day, another might be teddy bear day, one day is fort-building, and another could be moon sand day. You can also rotate toys during naptime.
At each new experience, point trust out.
“Trust me, my child. Trust me. What I say you can do, and what I ask of you is for your best. Trust me. Now, pooping on the potty is okay. It will be okay now, and tomorrow, and when your my age!”