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Continuing Toilet Troubles

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Q: My 2 1/2-year-old son has been potty trained for about three months now. He never wets his pants. He used to occasionally poop in his pants and tell me immediately. Now he poops in his pants every day. I ask him constantly if he has to go, but "no" is always the answer. I give him gum if he goes in the toilet. Should I raise the reward, punish him, or what? I know he knows what he is doing.

A: Some toddlers are not ready for complete toilet learning at 2½ years. Little boys, especially, may have more difficulty. Your son can easily see the pee coming out of his penis. That is visible and even under his control as he holds his penis down so that the pee-pee goes right in a potty. But he cannot see his behind, where the poop comes out! Some children get very worried that as they let poop out of the body they are letting go of something mysterious, even something precious.

Here are some strategies you can try to help your son learn.

  • Use a small potty that sits on the floor and feels safe to your child.
  • Make poop time on the potty a time when you read together and share picture books.
  • Be sure you feed your toddler lots of green vegetables and fruits. Then making a poop is not so difficult; the bowel movement is pushed out more easily because the stool is soft.
  • Please do NOT use punishment! That will confuse and even terrify your toddler.
  • Occasionally, let your toddler see a parent using a toilet to poop. Then the child knows that even his beloved grownups do poop as well as pee.

These strategies can help your son feel safe to use a potty. Sometimes this primitive kind of thinking amazes adults. It's hard to understand why the process seems scary or puzzling to little ones. But they think and feel sometimes in ways far different from adults. So respect your little one. Make poop time friendlier, less worrisome, and even more sociable for your child.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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