Advice Column, Toddler

Mastering the Fear of the Toilet

  • Mandy Rodrigues
  • Category Advice Column, Toddler

Meet Felix, my three-year, nine-month-old son. He’s potty trained. You don’t know me, so you can have no idea how much of a big deal this is. Those of you with mothers-in-law who remind you that their offspring was fully toilet trained by 18 months of age, I want to tell you Felix has been toilet trained for exactly three weeks. We’re very proud.

The toilet training drama process started last year. Like, 9 months ago… Summer, we were told, made a good time to potty train. Boys could wee in the garden while they learnt about bladder control and toilet technique. Felix’s friends at school enthusiastically demonstrated the technique to him. Felix remained unimpressed – and unwilling to whip out his manhood for all to see. In fact, he wouldn’t use the toilet at school at all.
And when my little squirming, hopping, straining bundle of boy came home in the afternoons, he’d be so stressed from holding it in that I had to beg and cajole and force him onto the loo just to get him to wee there. The relief was instant, he’d go back to his old self, and we could all get on with the afternoon.
And so began the Longest Toilet Training of All Time.

Since about – what? September last year? –  if anything stressed Felix out, he’d be back in nappies. He’d been dry at night for weeks and weeks, but allowed us to leave his nappy off overnight maybe twice. There was a time he got very stressed with a bit of a bullying situation at school – straight back into nappies for school too (which made the other kids call him a baby, which didn’t help…. ARGH!)

He’d go to the loo with his dad, and then refuse. He’d enjoy, strangely enough, loos in public places (because he loved the hand driers). And then he wouldn’t.  It was up and down like a playground seesaw.
Then there was the unfortunate time where Felix had a bit of constipation, and the poo hurt on the way out. Next thing we knew, my previously very regular child was hopping around the house every afternoon, desperately sucking it up and trying to keep the poo in. His record was seven days faece-free. He would only “go” once I’d finally relented and put a nappy on him.

I must have gone through five or more jumbo packs of nappies, every time thinking, “This is the last pack we’ll be buying, surely.”

Felix undoubtedly had poo issues and I was getting increasingly stressed as to how we were going to resolve them. He wasn’t happy, we weren’t happy.

I had no idea how common fears about toilet training are until I saw some moms on The Twitter talking about the issue. And our saviour stepped in: @EmyDiesel sent a tweet containing a link to an article I have long since lost. But it changed everything. The article quoted paediatrician Dr Alan Greene and started off by saying that no child WANTS to be unable to master his fear of the toilet. No child wants to be in nappies when his friends aren’t. He’s not doing this to punish you – he’s doing this because he’s stuck in a place and can’t get out of it.
The 3Ds cycle starts when a child has a bout of constipation, or somehow has a sore poo: Discomfort. This makes him Dread the next poo, and therefore Delay it. Voila: you have a poo issue.

Just seeing it in print was like a lightbulb moment for me.

Dr Greene also had some good suggestions, such as first getting your child to poo, in the nappy, but in the bathroom. Then on the toilet (with nappy still on), then loosen nappy, etc.
I had started giving Felix a probiotic every morning (seriously: (spoiler alert) Best. Tip. Ever. Do it right now!) I was about to start trying the Dr Greene advice when, on his own, Felix suddenly relinquished his poo issue. Once a day I made him go to the loo for his post-school wee, and while there, he announced, almost surprised himself: “I made a poo!”

Well, the celebrations that went off in my house that afternoon, you might have thought it was New Year. I went dilly. I rewarded Felix something silly. Now Felix makes a poo almost every time he’s on the loo. I swear he grew a centimetre taller in a day. He carries himself with his old, usual comfort in himself and his body. He’s calmer, and happier at school. He finally negotiated that milestone, and he’s proud and relieved. Most unlike-Felix fashion, my shy boy told a handyman in my house ALL about the poo he’d just made.

I am equally happy, and proud, and relieved. And also: poorer. Because Felix has cottoned on to the “rewards” issue very fast. Every pellet he produces is accompanied by the shout, “I made a poo! Can I have a new game on the iPad?”

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