Potty Training

Hi Sharon,

My four-year old daughter, “J”, is bright, friendly, active and creative. Her one major problem is that she won’t poop in a potty or toilet, only in a diaper. She will even say “Big girls can poop in a diaper,” as if she is assuring herself that it’s okay. (I tell her it isn’t.) She does urinate in a potty or toilet, without problems. This is driving us to distraction, and often in the morning (when we are rushing to get ready for school) she will take 10 or more minutes to poop, standing, writhing and groaning with exertion. I’m also concerned that her nearly 2-year-old sister “M” will think this is acceptable behavior concerning defecation. We have tried many incentives and schemes; only 3 times (twice accidentally) has “J” pooped properly. I am just handing her diapers and waiting for her to make up her own mind about this. Is this correct or should I take a more proactive stance?

Pooped out Mom from Midwood

Dear Pooped out Mom,

Thanks for the question; it is actually one I have heard before.

It is common for parents to feel that problem stages our children go through will last a lifetime. They don’t. There will definitely come a time – probably sooner than later – that this will be a distant memory. In the meantime it would probably be a good idea to rule out any medical problem that is contributing to her “writing and groaning.” Doctors, nutritionists, and other healthcare professionals often have suggestions that can help loosen stools or lessen her “10 minute” exertion. Health food stores might also have some simple suggestions to ease her struggle. After ruling out medical problems try not to bring too much attention to it for now. You could keep handing her the diaper or keep a small pile in the bathroom for her to take when needed. A compromise of using a diaper in the bathroom might be a step in the right direction, if it can be suggested in a relaxed way. Worry and tension can turn into power struggles very quickly. Power struggles between parent and child rarely help resolve complicated problems.

One way to ease the tension that develops for all parents when they are “driven to distraction” by their child is to figure out ways to be playful. I have heard of similar issues with high functioning young girls. Often little ones who do well also hold in some of the tension that crops up in the course of their busy days. Laughing and playing, especially when your daughter is winning the game can help everyone relax and enjoy themselves. Try a few weeks when you put this issue out of your mind and make sure there are lots of play, laughter and Mommy daughter times when you completely enjoy her. Time like this can make hard problems seem easier to solve; you may even think of some new strategies.

You say that your daughter is “bright, friendly, active and creative.” She sounds wonderful. Take time to enjoy her while you are taking the steps to figure this out. And feel free to contact me personally if it this is still an issue in the future. Thanks again for the question.