Coping With Accidents and Other Common Potty-training Issues
The path from diapers to underpants is rarely smooth. Parents who are prepared for some bumps along the road are in a better position than those who are shocked the first time their child balks at using a public toilet or loudly insists he doesn’t need to pee, only to water his socks a few minutes later.
Every kid has their share of accidents and near-misses; that’s just par for the course. But here are a few tips to help you prevent accidents and handle them when they occur:
Take it slow: When your child uses the potty or toilet, try to remind them to relax and not to rush. If they completely empty their bladder during a trip to the bathroom, they may not have to go again quite so soon – and may head-off having an accident in between bathroom visits.
Remind, remind, remind: Kids often become so absorbed in what they’re doing, they completely forget that they have to go to the bathroom or simply put it off until it’s too late. It’s a good idea to encourage them to use the potty or toilet at regular intervals: when they first wake up in the morning, before or after a meal or snack, before leaving the house, and before bed. And if you see them dancing around from foot to foot or grabbing their crotch – get them to the toilet pronto.
Don’t lose your cool: No one likes to clean up their kids’ messes, but remember, your kid didn’t lose control of his bladder just to complicate your life. He’s probably rather unhappy about the situation, too. Try to approach the accident aftermath calmly: Don’t scold or discipline your child. However, it is perfectly appropriate to take the opportunity to gently suggest to your child that the next time he has to pee or poop, he might try to get to the bathroom a bit sooner.
Take precautions: If your child is accident prone, it’s probably a good idea to keep a change of clothing (or even a couple of spare outfits) on hand – when you go out, at school, and at grandma and grandpa’s house. No one likes to walk around in wet clothing, and, frankly no one likes to hang out with anyone in wet clothing either.
Another issue parents commonly encounter is a power struggle. If your child begins to manipulate you – insisting you sit in the bathroom with him, reading stories for hours on end, for instance – or refuses to use the potty unless you reciprocate with a treat, consider backing off the entire project for a few weeks.
As much as you want your child to be out of diapers, he won’t really get there until it’s his idea too. Power struggles may be a sign of a potty-training false start – a common problem. If things just aren’t working and it’s driving you both crazy, there is no shame in returning to diapers for a few weeks or even months, resuming project potty when your child is ready.
Of course, some kids’ issues go beyond the occasional accident or power struggle. You might encounter a major stumbling block or two in the road to total toilet-training success, but don’t worry; you’ll get there.
The following pages outline the most common issues – and offer some suggestions for fixing them.
Scenario: Your child has been using the potty or toilet reliably for weeks or even months. Suddenly, he or she has started having pee or poop accidents – perhaps frequently – or flat-out refuses to sit on the potty any longer. What do you do?
Solution: Think about everything but the potty issue, experts say, and you may find the clue to what’s going on with your kid. Regression sometimes occurs when a child is going through a change that is having effects he or she is not expressing verbally. For instance, has your child started at a new preschool or daycare or switched babysitters? Is the family gearing up for a move or unpacking boxes from one? Has a new sibling joined the family or is your growing belly prompting lots of attention to a sibling who hasn’t even arrived yet?
Just think about how sick and confused you sometimes feel when you’re going through a big transition.Well, your child has to suffer through some major life changes as well – but without the same years of experience and maturity you bring to the table. He might not be able to tell you in words whatever it is that’s freaking him out. So he’s telling you he’s stressed in other – possibly messier, and certainly less convenient – ways.
But here’s what you need to know: Reacting to stress by regressing on certain major developmental milestones is perfectly normal, no matter how much stress this may place on you as her parent. As much as is possible, try to empathize with your child’s difficulties and do your best to help your child try to talk through his or her fears or difficulties. It doesn’t hurt to ask a few gentle questions in an attempt to pinpoint the problem. For example, you may want to ask, “How are you feeling about your new preschool?” or “What do you think it’ll be like once the baby is born?” Sometimes just acknowledging these fears and knowing that you understand will help your child feel more secure. It may take some time, but eventually (and possibly sooner than later) she’ll regain all the ground she’s lost.
Regression can drive a parent crazy, but keep in mind that it’s not unusual and not permanent.
Public Potty Fears
Scenario: Your kid is using the potty just fine at home but freaks out when you take her into a public toilet: They’re just so big and scary and noisy. (Let’s face it; they’re not always pleasant.) Her refusal or reluctance to use public toilets is making it difficult to leave the house and getting in the way of your family’s life. What should you do?
Solution: Some children are afraid of adult toilets, while others adapt to them right away. And some kids are just freaked out by the hubbub of public bathrooms. But whether you’re using a potty or adult toilet at home, at some point you’ll have to conquer the world of public toilets (or even toilets at friends’ houses).
You have a couple of coping options:
Option 1: Adapt
You could embrace your child’s fears and offer a workaround solution. For instance, some parents find that bringing along a portable potty ring can help turn a big toilet into a more potty-like experience (and make it more suitable to small bottoms). Some parents even bring along the very potty ring their child uses at home. (It may not be so easy to carry around, but at least you’re getting out of the house.)
Other parents choose to carry a portable potty, such as the Potette, which snaps into position to provide an instant potty option (with specially purchased bags or even regular plastic bags from the grocery store – though look out for holes). Many of these portable potties also fold up small enough in between uses to fit in a tote bag or a large handbag.
Option 2: Shrug it off (kindly)
You could basically just sally forth figuring that, eventually, if your child has no alternative, she’ll learn to use the public toilet. Explain to your child that different toilets are just that: different. Also explain that while she can use her potty at home if she chooses, outside the house the potty is not available – toilets are. If she understands that it’s either that or wet clothes or missing the birthday party with the cake, games, and all her friends, she might just get with the program.
Helpful hint: A quick cure for those auto-flush toilets that can alarm even seasoned adults: place a post-it note over the sensor to prevent untimely and frightening flushes.
Sooner or later, however you decide to cope for the short-term, your child will eventually get it. Until then, be sure to bring lots of changes of clothing with you. If your child’s fear causes her to have an accident, there’s no reason to let it ruin your day.
Scenario: Your kid is a potty-going pro, totally trained except for when she becomes so absorbed in play she forgets to go – and has an accident. Or when she’s having such a good time doing something and delays so long that by the time she realizes she can delay no longer, it’s too late to get to the bathroom in time. What should you do?
Solution: Lots of kids, even when they’ve gotten the potty process down pat, have the occasional accident when they become absorbed in play. Solving the problem depends somewhat on your child’s development. For a very young child, it may mean you should back off the training for a while; maybe she just needs a bit more time to conquer the process completely. But with an older child, you might just want to make sure you give her more frequent reminders.
Of course, that means you have to remember to remind her, and you too can get distracted. It might help to give your child – and yourself – some regular external cues. For instance, many parents find that reminding a child to use the toilet just before leaving the house and upon arriving at any new destination helps. You may want to go before or after each meal or before some other routine part of your day and certainly first thing in the morning and right before bed at night.
One approach is to let your child know that it’s “time to check for pee!” every time you’re about to embark on a new activity. If you encounter resistance, you can say, “That’s OK, let’s just give it a try and see what happens.”
Make it clear that you don’t require her to produce anything – the idea is for her to just give it a try and learn to read her own body’s signals. And once you get a sense of her schedule, you can make the trips to the potty routine but only as frequently as seems necessary.
And if – or, more likely, when – they pee or poop, even when they said they didn’t have to, don’t gloat about having been right. Just matter-of-factly point out that you never know, and that sometimes it’s just best to try and see what happens. It’s a lesson they’re still learning, with your gentle, consistent help and understanding.
Scenario: Your child is totally toilet trained when it comes to peeing – using the potty like a champ and proud to be wearing her underwear. There’s only one problem: She refuses to poop on the potty or toilet, holding it in to the point of painful constipation, which just seems to make her more reluctant to go the next time. You find yourself involved in an epic power struggle over something you never imagined yourself digging in about: poop. You don’t know how you got to this point, but you’re also not sure how to get out. You don’t want to be fighting with your kid about pooping, of all things, but you’re frankly getting worried about her. Why won’t she just relax and poop on the potty? What can you do to help her?
Solution: First of all, know that you are hardly the only one to have encountered this problem. People may not be chattering about it at the playground (though perhaps they are), but for a significant number of kids, peeing in the potty may seem very easy, but pooping in it represents a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Theories abound as to why, but the important thing to know straight off the bat is that it’s normal, though it will require your help and sympathy.
Your child’s reluctance may result from constipation, or the constipation may be a result of the reluctance. It can be difficult to tell what’s causing what. (Some small children withhold stool for so long that they become impacted, which can cause involuntary leaking of fecal liquid; parents may misread this as diarrhea or a child with anal incontinence, when really what’s happening is extreme constipation.)
Whether it’s a cause or an effect, constipation is something you can directly address. Try increasing the amount of fluid or fiber in your child’s diet or try a stool softener. (Talk to your pediatrician about what he or she recommends to make your child’s bowel movements softer and easier for her to pass.) Making sure pooping is not painful for your child is at least a first step in overcoming her reluctance to use the potty.
But it may also take a little more work on your part.
Here a few other things to try:
- Back off and offer her a diaper or pull-up to poop in. Then, when she poops, empty the poop into the potty or toilet and reinforce the connection verbally, gently reminding her, “Poop goes in the potty.”
- When she poops, even if it’s in a pull-up, encourage her to do it in the bathroom. At first, let her choose her own spot in the bathroom. Then gradually encourage her to sit on the potty (it may be the most comfortable spot in there anyway) to poop, even if she’s still pooping in the pull-up or diaper. From there, you might be able to undo the diaper or pull-up and remove it. Or if the child objects to its outright removal, some people cut a hole out of the bottom, so that the poop goes in the potty, even though she still has the sensation of wearing it.
- Praise your child when she makes progress, but try not to lose your cool when she doesn’t. Remember: She’s not doing this to make your life miserable. And she’ll get it eventually.
Be ready to take a break from potty-training and let her go back to her diaper or pull-up for a while. Not all kids are toilet trained at the same time, and yours may just need a bit longer.
While some experts (especially the boot camp variety) advise parents to ditch the diapers all at once (even overnight), most parents keep their kids in diapers for a time after daytime dryness is achieved. In some cases, it takes only weeks or months, in other cases, nighttime bladder control may not kick in until years after a child has mastered potty-training during the day. One common rule of thumb is to wait for five mornings in a row of dry diapers before embarking on nighttime sans diapers.
Even when your child makes the transition to going to bed without that trusty diaper on, you can expect the occasional accident, at least for a while. It’s perfectly normal and clean-up should of course be dealt with calmly and matter-of-factly (if sleepily). If you find yourself stumbling half-lidded through too many middle-of-the-night clean-up calls, however, you may want to reinstate the diaper for a while. Remember, there’s no deadline here. Your child will be night-potty-trained eventually. In the meantime, just do what works best for your family.
Pull-ups: Some parents find pull-ups useful in making the transition: They can be easier for kids to put on and pull off themselves, making independent bathroom use easier, should they wake and need to go. Plus they have the advantage of looking more like underwear than diapers, so there’s no shame. (Some parents, however, consider this blurring of the diaper/underwear line a demerit.)
Mattress covers: Other parents swear by plastic mattress covers: They may be crinkly, but scrubbing down a urine-soaked mattress at 3 a.m. is no one’s idea of fun.
Easy access: You might also make sure your child can easily get in and out of her bed. And some parents find it helpful to leave a potty nearby and encourage their child to take control of any nighttime needs.
Take precautions, manage expectations: It’s important to recognize that even once kids pretty much master nighttime bladder control, accidents may still happen. Be sure to have your kid use the bathroom right before going to bed. And in some cases, you may want to limit the amount of water or other liquid your child drinks right before bedtime (not that you want your kid to go thirsty).
Celebrate success: When your kid finally masters nighttime bladder control, praise him, embrace him, show him how proud you are. It’s a big thing, and he should feel pleased with himself for his rapidly developing independence.