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Ask Elizabeth: Flusing the Fears of Potty Training

Q: My son is afraid of the flushing of the toilet. How can I get him over this fear? Melissa, mother of Liam.

A: It’s not unusual for a child to peer into the toilet and watch the water swirl down a hole to the tune of a loud flush and become afraid.

Kids all get past this fear, but here are a few ways to help him overcome his anxiety:

For now, wait until he leaves the room and flush for him. After a week, casually flush while distracting him by talking or playing. You can chat about what happens when the toilet flushes. Get a book from the library about plumbing. Maybe play a game: Stand a foot from the toilet. Take turns tossing Cheerios into the toilet, and then flushing and watching them swirl away.

Q: Our son is newly potty trained. He’ll now pee on the potty but he asks for a diaper for bowel movements. He’ll actually hold it until we give in! Ronnie, mom to two-year-old Xander.

A: The first step is to figure out what’s causing this. Children typically resist having a bowel movement on the toilet for these reasons:

• Bowel movements take too long to wait for and an active child dislikes having to sit still.

• After being used to the sensation of stool coming out into a diaper, the feeling of sitting on a toilet is strange.

• A child is used to standing or moving during BMs and sitting still on the potty is an uncomfortable change of routine.

• Your child thinks his waste is part of him and doesn’t understand why he should flush it away.

• Your child had a bad experience, such as being splashed during a movement, or having a messy accident.

• Pain from a previously difficult or hard stool makes a child afraid to go on the potty.

• A current case of constipation is preventing usual elimination.

It’s so important that you don’t get angry at your child or make him feel ashamed. Your child isn’t doing this on purpose, and he isn’t trying to make you mad.

Don’t make your child sit on the toilet and “try” or push. Forcing BMs can create small tears or hemorrhoids, which cause all-day pain.

Here are some tips on ways to move past this potty-training roadblock:

• Make certain that your child is drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

• Be sure your child eats plenty of fibre-rich foods every day, like vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

• Limit foods that constipate such as bananas, rice, applesauce, cheese, citrus juice and carbonated sodas.

• Make sure your child has plenty of daily exercise, which stimulates digestion and prevents constipation.

• Be sure that your child is urinating every one to two hours. Regular urination is necessary for regular bowel movements.

• Teach your child to go when the urge hits. Don’t wait!

• Purchase 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 have a bowel movement.

• If your child will only go in a diaper, begin to have her do so in the bathroom. Progress to having her sit on the potty, in her diaper if she’d like. Once she is used to this, suggest taking her diaper off.

• 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.

• Help your child relax on the potty by reading books, telling a story, singing a song, playing music or chatting.

Q: We’re in the process of potty training and it seems like we can’t do a day without an accident! Help! Lyla, mother to two-year-old Isabel.

A: Even for a child who’s doing great at potty training, it’s perfectly normal to have one or more accidents every single day. Even children who have been trained for six months or more may have an accident once a week. The best solution is to be prepared for these with proper cleaning materials, easy access to a change of clothes and a relaxed attitude.

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series, on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Visit her blog at

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