Sigmund Freud believed that if a parent failed to properly potty train, the child could grow up to be what we now call “anal”, or too rigid and controlling. From a medical, if not a psychological perspective, Freud had a point. Potty training that works against the body’s natural function can contribute to children trying too hard to control their bowels, leading to some uncomfortable, and even serious, health problems.
Our bowels are meant to empty when they are full, and that is why we have the urge to go. It’s a signal like thirst or hunger, and it should not be ignored. It’s that simple. Children who are pressured not to have bowel accidents, or who are afraid of pooping in the toilet, may begin to “withhold” their poop. The longer the feces stay in the body, the harder and drier they get. The larger and harder they get, the more it hurts to pass them. The pain makes the child hold back more, which makes the feces even harder, and nearly impossible to pass.
What problems can develop from working against the body’s natural process?
- Painful bowel movements
- Chronic constipation and an eventual loss of the normal urge to go, along with a leaky bowel when only the liquid feces can get past the harder matter
- Fecal impaction, which can lead to an emergency
How can a parent potty train their child in the healthiest way?
The secret is to work with your child’s body and the bowel’s natural function. There are better times, and better ways to poop and if you take advantage of them, it should be healthier for your child, and easier for you. The following suggestions are good for adults as well.
- Sit your child on the toilet after meals. Eating stimulates the bowel.
- Get a stool. Squatting is the most natural position for defecating, so get those knees up, or at least even. No dangling legs!
- Don’t rush the process. Sit on the edge of the tub and read a book or just visit with your child. Relaxing is crucial to the process. Straining makes it hurt.
- Sit on the toilet after the same meal every day because your body gets into a rhythm called, you guessed it, regularity.
- Focus the training on rushing to the toilet, and sitting on the toilet and waiting, not on holding it back because it is inconvenient, for the child or the parent.
- Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and other high fiber foods, drinking enough fluids, and getting plenty of exercise, all help avoid constipation and the painful pooping that starts that scary feeling and subsequent withholding.
If you do notice your child in pain after eating or when trying to have a bowel movement, or a child who seems willing to cooperate yet is unwilling to do so, having constant, watery, bowel accidents, contact your pediatrician. Addressing any problems before they become chronic is very important. This is a natural process and working with nature, keeping the focus positive, will help your child comfortably attain this important milestone.