resists using toilet
We are at our wits end and need immediate advice on this problem.
We've practiced attachment parenting, at least have tried our best,
since our son's birth and in most ways, our son is a happy and
healthy six-year old. Toilet training has been a major issue for years.
We've always felt if we gently guided our son to use the toilet and
didn't put too much pressure on him that he would simply become
Although he's urinated in the toilet for years, he still resists
having a bowel movement on the toilet. He will refuse to sit on the
toilet without a diaper and if we withhold the diaper and ask (and
sometimes in desperation, demand) that he have a bowel movement,
he'll withhold the bowel movement for days, which leads to
constipation and a huge, uncomfortable stool. When I've asked him
why he doesn't want to poop in the toilet, he says it hurts. I do
recall an attempt a long, long time ago when he sat on the toilet,
strained, cried and gave up. But at this point, however, I feel he's
taken this fear to an extreme and we've on the verge of seeking
In the past, I've tried encouraging him with charts and rewards
and that at least got him to go into the bathroom and sit on the
toilet with a diaper on (he wouldn't do this for the longest time).
Now the sitting on the toilet has stopped and he's reverted to
simply pooping in his diaper. I've withheld the diaper at times and
he simply withholds his bowel movement for days on end. And
ultimately, we have to give in. Since he's homeschooled, there's
been no compelling reason to pressure him to toilet train. However,
at this age, I feel it's time to find a way to help him use the
toilet normally. As far as seeking professional help, you are my
first attempt. I don't know how to go about finding a counselor in
our area who would understand how we've raised our son so far and
work with us within the framework of attachment parenting. Our son
still sleeps with us and was breastfed until he was five years old.
We don't spank, time outs have never worked so we don't practice
them and we deal with behavior problems often times by trying to
reason with him, by physically holding him and sitting with him. We
set limits with him and he usually respects them but there are times
when he refuses to do what we've asked. Major power struggles. We
try to use natural consequences for inappropriate behavior but this
doesn't always work.
I could provide more background if you need but at this point,
our main concern is the toilet training. I know people say to just
wait and he'll eventually do it but I don't think this is the way to
go with him at this point. There's some physical discomfort and fear
mixed in with the act of his having a bowel movement and it's now
become a major issue. I'm making sure his diet has enough fiber to
hopefully encourage more frequent bowel movements (pear juice, more
bran and whole foods, less cheese) but I've only begun to seriously
focus on his diet in the last few days (he's mainly vegetarian with
some occasional dairy in the form of cheese, no milk). Also, I'm
going to try and encourage him to simply sit on the toilet every day
at the same time and reward him with a surprise. Since he refuses to
sit on the toilet with his pants pulled down, I thought I'd allow
him to simply sit on the toilet for a few days and work into pulling
his pants down.
My son hasn't had a physical checkup in a few years but is due
for one. So I'm not aware of any physical disorder that might be
causing him pain. I feel that if he's experiencing some discomfort,
it's probably because he's a little constipated. He has no problem
whatsoever eliminating in a diaper. There's no strain or pain
involved at all. I think he's so comfortable doing it that way that
trying to move him over to using just the toilet seems like a big
challenge to him. Just me thinking out loud.
Please jump in with advice. I'm at a loss here. I feel like I'm
back where I was about two years ago!! Perhaps you have an entirely
different idea of how to proceed.
Thanks in advance for any help with this problem.
- C. M. Davids
Since you mention constipation, take a look at this advice reply:
"Constipation Problems for Toddler".
It may be that even a little straining is hurting him - after all he
says it is, so this should be taken seriously. If painful straining
is the problem, it would be more comfortable to use a soft cloth
like a diaper, rather than a cold toilet seat (have you tried a
heated seat? I've seen them recently in stores here in Canada). You
could also try a padded seat, or make a soft cloth covering for the
seat - he could pick out the fabric. That way it will feel like a
project of his rather than another demand being placed on him. When
I had a painful back problem a few years ago, sitting on the toilet
seat was my most difficult task of the day, even when the pain had
subsided. I later read that toilet seats put pressure on the sciatic
nerve, at exactly the worst place.
Sciatica or something similar, or simply the pain of straining,
are possibilities and reason to get another physical exam. And
definitely reason to watch water intake! I read recently that nearly
everyone in our society is dehydrated to some degree. This is
dangerous, because water allows the best transport for nutrients to
travel in the blood to all the various parts of the body. The common
recommendation is 6 to 8 glasses of water/day for adults, and as
much as is comfortable for children. To make it easier to add water
to the diet, start with a very small amount and work your way up -
you could even have a graph on the fridge to keep track. Be sure to
present this as something fun and interesting to do, and explain,
perhaps with a diagram of the human body, why water is so important.
Another possibility is that he was somewhat traumatized by the
previous incident. It may seem irrational for something like this to
last so long, but with children, it certainly can happen.
Re the emotional possibilities, it might be helpful to validate
his statement about pain, especially if you've been questioning it -
or he feels that you are (children readily pick up on our nonverbal
cues). Even just a quick acknowledgement may be helpful - "I'm
so sorry this is hurting you." Also on the emotional side is
what I call "the issue of issues". When a parent and
child, for whatever reason, find themselves locking horns over a
specific issue, it can create a real dilemma and a vicious cycle,
with the parent demanding, the child resisting, the parent demanding
more strongly, and on and on. Meanwhile the real concerns and
solutions can get lost.
Here is my own story. When I was a child, I was very thin and my
parents worried about my weight. After a while, I felt rather put
upon, between my parents' insistence and my brother's teasing. To
save face, I would refuse to eat. It became a matter of winning this
unfortunate game that had developed, in which (at least so it seemed
to me) the only way I could win was to starve! I even remember once
refusing to eat even though I was very hungry, then I sneaked food
after my parents left the room! The only way around this sort of
thing is to stay on the child's side so it's clear that the only
"winner" will be all of you, on the same side. It's about
the importance of being on the child's side and letting him know
this. That's where validation and empathy are so important.
If you've gotten into a vicious cycle where you are finding
yourselves insisting (or even just "watching and waiting"
expectantly, in a foot-tapping way) and he is resisting more and
more, you might try getting him off the hook by turning the tables.
The surprise may be enough to at least change the situation. Tell
him that you want him to forget the toilet and just use a diaper for
a month! Or even better, if circumstances allow it, tell him to
forget the toilet and use the diaper until he no longer wants to use
it - at that point, he can let you know when he's ready. It would of
course be extremely important for you to be consistent with this,
and give him the time that he needs or the time that you have
promised. It may well be that he just needs to feel allowed to make
this decision - especially if other things have been happening
around him that are out of his control. As Naomi Aldort wrote,
"Every stage in a child's life is there for a purpose. If we
can respect and respond to her needs fully during each stage of her
life, she can be done with that stage and move on." Of course,
all of the above are just possibilities - you know him best.