Potty training problems: A evidence-based guide for prevention
© 2006 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
Common potty training problems include
- potty training resistance
- refusing to sit on the potty (“toileting refusal")
- stool withholding
- refusing to defecate in the potty
- chronic soiling
Most kids experience one or more of these problems. In
some cases, the causes are organic. For instance, when otherwise
continent children begin wetting themselves during the day, it’s
important to determine if they suffer from urinary tract infections or
bubble bath urethritis (see guidelines 11 and 12 below).
according to Dr. Barton Schmidt, most potty training problems have behavioral causes (Schmidt 2004).
With the right approach, parents can help resolve these problems or
avoid them altogether. The guidelines below are based on published
studies and the recommendations of pediatricians experienced with potty
Guidelines for health, safety, and better cooperation
1. Prepare your child for potty training
You may avoid some
potty training problems by planning ahead.
2. Avoid direct confrontations
If your child is
uncooperative, it’s better to back off and try again later. Coercion can
lead to all sorts of potty training problems, including constipation,
urinary tract disorders and phobias (Schmidt 2004b).
3. Don't force your child to sit on the potty
Physical coercion tends to backfire. See Guideline #2.
4. Don't restrain your child if she wants to get up
Again, see Guideline #2. Instead, try to make potty-sits
entertaining. This may include talking with your child, playing games,
reading stories, and providing your child with “potty-time" toys.
5. Don't punish or scold your child for accidents
She may start holding back her urine or stool which can cause health problems and delay training (Schmidt 2004b).
6. Use a potty chair (not a toilet)
Children need stability and leverage when they sit. If their feet are
left dangling, kids have more trouble controlling their voiding muscles
7. Avoid potty chairs with splash guards
Boys can catch their genitals on them when they are moving on or off
the potty. If you teach your son to pee sitting down, show him how to
hold his penis down so the urine goes into the potty. If your son
prefers to stand, let him pee in a bucket (Schmidt 2004a).
8. Take steps to prevent constipation
Constipation increases a child’s risk for developing potty training
problems like stool withholding, toileting refusal, and chronic soiling
(Taubman 1997; Blum et al 2004). Make sure your child drinks plenty of
fluids (at least four cups a day) and consumes plenty of fiber (Sears et
al 2002). If your child has a constipation problem, consult your
9. Don't encourage your child to strain
Straining can cause disorders of the bladder and sphincter muscles
(Weiner et al 2000). If your child can’t urinate without straining,
report this to your pediatrician.
10. Consider scheduling a few routine potty visits during the day
Some pediatricians (Brazelton and Sparrow 2004) recommend that all
potty sessions be child-initiated (no prompting from parents).
this approach is a matter of personal preference. Another approach
features regularly scheduled potty sessions, such as immediately after
waking, after meals, and before bedtime. When potty sessions are treated
as a part of the daily routine, kids learn to expect them without being
nagged (Lekovic 2006). Scheduled potty sessions may also have health
benefits, including the prevention of urinary tract infections (Bakker
11. Beware of bubble baths and soapy bathwater
The soap can cause an inflammation of the urethra, which makes
urination painful. Girls are more likely to develop this problem than
12. Help your child wipe
Most children don’t master wiping skills until they are 45 months old
(Schum et al 2002). Good wiping is especially important for girls.
Because the female urethra is shorter than the male urethra, it is
easier for bacteria to invade the female urinary tract and cause
infection. Teach girls to wipe front-to-back.
If you suspect your
child has a urinary tract infection (UTI), seek treatment at once. ANY
ONE of the following signs may indicate a UTI:
- painful urination
- a sense of urgency (even when there is little or no urine to void)
- pink urine or blood in the urine
can cause potty training problems. But, more importantly, they can
cause serious health problems. Untreated UTIs can damage the kidneys.
References: Preventing potty training problems
For details on coping with potty training problems, see Dr. Barton
Schmidt's article in Contemporary Pediatrics (Schmidt 2004b). This, and
other articles cited, are listed below.
Bakker W. 2002.
Research into the influence of potty training on lower urinary tract
dysfunction. Unpublished MD dissertation, Department of urology,
University of Antwerp, Belgium.
Blum NJ, Taubman B, and Nemeth N.
2003. During toilet training, constipation occurs before stool toileting
refusal. Pediatrics, 113: 520-522.
Brazelton TB and Sparrow JD. 2004. Toilet training the Brazelton way. Cambridge, MA: deCapo Press.
Christopherson ER. 1991. Toileting problems in children. Pediatric Annals, 20: 240-244.
JM. 2006. Diaper-Free Before 3: The Healthier Way to Toilet Train and
Help Your Child Out of Diapers Sooner. Three Rivers Press.
Schmidt BA. 2004a. Toilet training: Getting it right the first time. Contemporary Pediatrics, 21: 105-119.
Schmidt BA. 2004b. Toilet training problems: Underachievers, refusers, and stool holders. Contemporary Pediatrics, 21: 71-82.
TR, Kolb TM, McAuliffe TL, Simms, MD, Underhill, RL and Lewis M. 2002.
Sequential acquisition of toilet-training skills: A descriptive study of
gender and age differences in normal children. Pediatrics 109: 48-54.
Sears W, Sears M and Watts Kelly C. 2002. You can go to the potty. Boston, MA Little, Brown and Company.
Taubman B. 1997. Toilet training and toileting refusal for stool only: A prospective study. Pediatrics, 99: 54-58.
JS, Scales MT, Hamptom J, King LR, Edwards CL. 2000. Longterm efficacy
of simple behaviour training for day-wetting children. Journal of
Urology, 164: 786-90.
Content last updated 12/6