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  • Writer's pictureDr Martine Prunty

Emotional Issues and Toileting

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

One common source of frustration and anxiety amongst parents is toilet training. Parents receive frequent, and often conflicting, advice from others which can lead them to make unhelpful comparisons with other children and cause despair when they face challenges. It’s not uncommon for setbacks and regressions to occur along the way so try to keep the following points in mind.

Do not force your child into toileting-training just because you are ready. They need to be ready. As a general guide, girls tend to be ready earlier than boys and you can expect readiness to occur some time between the ages of 2 and 4. Trying to do it earlier than they are ready often leads to emotional consequences for the child such as anxiety, which can then turn into physical issues (eg constipation) as anxiety causes them to freeze or hold. Once this is happening, it is a lot more time consuming to try and undo.

What kinds of toileting behaviours might indicate an emotional problem?

· School age children who begin having daily accidents after a long period of dryness

· Frequent bedwetting in older children

· Repeated soiling in inappropriate places (eg the corner of a room), known as Encopresis

What are the usual causes of emotional toileting problems?

· Major change in a child's life

· Family conflict

· Stress

· A punitive approach to toileting accidents

What can you do?

· Avoid shaming or embarrassing your child as this often leads them to resist going to the toilet and sometimes to hide their accidents from you (eg hiding wet or soiled underwear, attempting to clean up the mess).

· Make a big deal about any gain, no matter how small, to encourage them to do more of these behaviours.

· Remain calm and supportive, especially when you are most frustrated!

On a personal note - my 5 year old still has toileting accidents most days. Now that he’s more verbal he sometimes tells me he’s too busy to go, and most recently he told me that when the poo comes it makes him turn into a statue. It was a light bulb moment for me to understand that he freaks out at the signal. But what was most significant about understanding his emotions, was to know that I need to work on my own behaviour more rather than his.

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