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We had every problem imaginable when we potty trained our little girl

We had every potty training problem in the book!

By Catherine Crawford |

I can still see Dee standing in the doorway, slightly crouched and holding her little belly – her three-year-old face frozen in a sorrowful wince. She was braced for pain but too young to know how to handle it. I’d learned the hard way not to approach her in this state, as she would just shriek and plead to be left alone. I’d just watch her and think this is all my fault.

My first daughter potty trained herself early, with almost no help from me or my husband. So when Dee turned two and showed no signs of a similar feat, I still held out hope that she’d get with the program sooner rather than later. By the time two-and-a-half rolled around, she was peeing like a champ on her Dora potty, but still requested a diaper when she felt a more significant urge. I began to lose patience, figuring that if she could control things enough to wait to be suited up, she could handle a little change of venue – one that didn’t result in my having to spread a towel on the bed (she’d long outgrown the changing table), lie her down and do the deed, my eyes watering from the stink.

As kids grow, naturally, so does their…output. Every time I bought a package of diapers, I said a silent prayer that it would be my last. I was well ready to be done with them but, sadly, Dee was not.

I started with the bribes. Dee knew better than to be swayed by stickers – she had already accumulated a drawer-full from goodie bags and doctor visits. There was, however, very little she wouldn’t do for candy. “Just try,” I’d beg. “Instead of putting a diaper on when you have to go, sit on your super cool potty. Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll give you three jelly beans.” Although at first this was a no-brainer, it didn’t take Dee long for her devotion to candy to wane: “I’ll just have a diaper, Mom. I don’t really feel like jelly beans.” Say what?

I soon began to suspect that Dee was just playing games with me. Roughly twice a day she would come up to me with the cheekiest grin, put her hands on her hips and say, “diaper time.” It was maddening. “Dee,” I said, “you’re a big girl now, you can poop on the potty, no prob.” She’d just continue smiling, and repeat “diaper time.” To counter her efforts, when it was time to deal with the aftermath, I would let her know how disgusting I found the whole ordeal. My husband would even cover his nose and mouth with a bandana to get the point across. At the time I didn’t blame him at all — the turds were approaching adult-sized, and it was repulsive.

Then one day, it looked as if there’d been significant movement, so to speak. The news came happily bellowing from down the hall, “I did it! Mommy, I did it!!” And indeed, upon inspection, Dora had been heavily christened. “Whoo hoo!” Everyone was proud. Grandparents were called. We had a congratulatory ice cream party for Dee. No more diapers!

Except – Dee still wasn’t ready.

Dee’s celebrated success was a cruel fluke. When nature called next, she was more adamant than ever that she needed a diaper, and we were more insistent than ever that she didn’t. I told her that I simply wasn’t going to buy any more diapers; she was welcome to use what we had left in the closet, but after that she’d have to figure it out.

There’s a lot of this whole experience I’d like to take back, but that threat would be the first to go. Figure it out? What does that even mean to a three-year old? Not long after this, my baby stopped asking for her daily diaper. Why? Because she had stopped pooping.

Dee developed a chronic stomachache, didn’t want to run or jump, and was utterly miserable for days at a time. I got calls from the nurse at her daycare, dumbfounded because, although Dee didn’t seem particularly fluey, and wasn’t running a fever, she just wasn’t her happy self. What had I done?

I turned to my favorite source for pediatric advice, Dr. Michel Cohen, or, as he’s affectionately known in our house, The Frenchie. It was in Cohen’s book, The New Basics, that I first read about “stool retention.” At that moment I vowed to ignore all of my instincts about the Great Dee Poop Crisis, and do exactly what The Frenchie recommended — back off the poor kid.

My husband and I apologized to Dee and told her she could use a diaper for as long as she needed to. But Dee was still very backed up. A steady diet of Miralax, prunes and apple juice helped to jostle things a bit but at this point, when the eagle eventually did land, and I’d be cleaning things up, Dee would apologize repeatedly, through the tears still spilling from the physical pain she’d just experienced: “Oh Mommy, I am sorry I’m so disgusting and you have to still wipe me up.” My heart hit the floor.

After about two more months, Dee quietly started using the potty to its full capacity. We didn’t make a big deal of it (to her face), but to this day, over a year later, I still keep a pack of diapers on the closet shelf – just in case she needs them.

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About Catherine Crawford


Catherine Crawford

Catherine Crawford edited the book If You Really Want To Hear About It: Writers on J.D. Salinger and His Work. She is a freelance writer and a columnist for the gaming and parenting website What They Play. Catherine lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two daughters, and one fish named Lisa Boy (a girl).

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12 thoughts on “We had every problem imaginable when we potty trained our little girl

  1. Anonymous says:

    Reading this makes me feel better. When my little girl turned 3, we decided to start the potty train for her. All her friends were claimed potty trained over a weekend by age 2 1/2. She was, late on potty trained, as told by our families. She started out doing great with just the small ones, and eventually insisted on using the big potty one month later. But, she just won’t do the big ones in the potty. I tried, pressured, bribed, showed her that I was not happy, she only did it 4 times in the little potty, crying and sobbing all through. Then, like your little girl, my little one also stopped doing the deed. We felt so bad and horrible that we consulted with our doctor, and decided to back off from it. So, she now wears diapers for the big ones, and on a steady diet of Miralax, okras, and apple sauce.

  2. Rebecca Ockenfels says:

    thank you my daughter almost 4 still goes back and forth between poop in the potty and waiting for her night time pull up we got frustrated for awhile but now we just let her do what she is comfortable with. Pee was never a problem she was like 19 months when she was pee trained.

  3. Sarah says:

    We have the same problem with our son who is 3 1/2. He is dry, day and night but will not do his poos on the potty or the loo. Just in his pants. And I am so tired of cleaning them up that he is back in pull ups. We have one year now until he starts school and I am starting to feel the pressure.

  4. Joan says:

    My advice for those who are facing this issue (pee trained, but the poop is taking longer) – find something the child really, really wants (for us, it was a big boy Diego bicycle), buy it and put it away until the child is ready. No pressure at all – just a statement – when you are out of your diapers and wearing underwear all the time for both pee and poop, you can have this. In our case, it only took a few weeks of seeing that bike to get our son to get over whatever was holding him back. He really wanted to ride and was so happy and proud when he acheived it! The funny thing is that he is convinced that you can not ride a big boy bike in a diaper – it is too uncomfortable and is just not possible. He even told his friends who were still in diapers that if they wanted to ride his bike they would have to borrow a pair of his underwear!

  5. Marisela says:

    Yikes! That is one of the reasons I PT my daughter at 20 months. I didn’t want her to care that much about it.
    I am glad your little girl is better now!

  6. Stoich91 says:

    What a sweet story! Sometimes it’s so easy for parents to be over-enthusiastic about outting the gross factor of diapers that we pass up on the all-too-important job of putting our childrens’ readiness, first.

    Love it! :D Great article

  7. Angie says:

    there is only one way to potty train, naked! no diapers, no underwear, no pants. If they go 1 day without poop, you have to give them a little “poo tea” (laxative tea), or they’ll get a hernia or worse. If the laxative doesn’t work, give a little more till they go or clean them out with a little castor oil.

  8. Kate says:

    I’m bothered by Marisela’s comment. Didn’t this article just say you have to potty train at the child’s pace? I thought I was doing something wrong when my son was not potty trained by 2 1/2 and pushed the issue daily until I realized he is not getting this, he is not ready. Your daughter was trained at 20 months because she was ready, not because you knew enough to train her early and avoid issues.

  9. name withheld cuz i mentioned my says:

    Castor oil would’ve stopped the retention problem. It did with my nephew.

  10. Maria says:

    My son had the same issue with being potty-trained for pee, but would only poop in the diaper. What finally worked (at 3 yo) was reading a poop book, and also showing him a picture of the whole digestive system, and explaining the process of eating food, what happens to it in our bodies, and then how the waste comes out (and that it’s not part of him). That seemed to be the turning point.

  11. Mina says:

    With the bases lodaed you struck us out with that answer!

  12. June says:

    What worked for us was the method we read an interview about on pottytrainingboysgirls . org
    Wish we knew of that method earlier!

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