- Toilet anxiety is perfectly normal when potty training young children. Any type of transition can be stressful and bring on new fears.
- Listen to your child and discuss what’s bothering them. If you can pinpoint the exact source of their fears it will be easier to alleviate them.
- Be open and honest with your child. Honesty is the best medicine against anxiety!
Why is My Child Afraid of the Potty?
Diapers have been a way of life for your child since they entered the world, and suddenly they’re being asked to poop in the toilet? Of course it makes sense that for some children this could cause stress, fear, and anxiety.
It’s not at all unusual for toddlers to view the toilet itself as the source of their uneasiness, leading to specific fears around the toilet and bathroom when potty training.
If your child cries when placed on the toilet or runs from the bathroom when you try to get them to the potty, then you know you are dealing with a child with potty anxiety. Don’t worry! There are many ways to allay these fears!
What Can I Do if My Child is Afraid of the potty?
- Start slow. Practice having your child sit on the potty with clothes on. No pressure, no pooping, just sitting, even with the lid down. Read a book or sing a song while sitting.
- Make it safe. Make sure the toilet is comfortable and safe with a secure toilet seat and step stool. You can even get a potty seat with handles to make the toilet feel extra secure.
- Leave the door open. Some kids may feel claustrophobic in the bathroom with the door closed. Open the door and see if they feel more relaxed.
- Warm up that seat. Maybe it sounds silly, but some kids really are just not comfortable with a cold potty seat. You can actually find toilet seat warmers to take the chill off, although it may become harder to use a toilet without the warmers as your child gets older.
- Use rewards. Give your child a small candy or fun sticker for sitting on the potty. Remember, at this point we’re not concerned with “success” on the toilet, just sitting and overcoming anxiety. Here are some fun potty training reward ideas.
- Leave the bathroom. Skip the real toilet and work on sitting on a potty chair on the floor. Move the potty chair to a room where your child is more comfortable.
- Set a timer. Set an alarm on your phone and practice sitting for 10 seconds. When the alarm goes off, your child can get up! Increase the time intervals slowly throughout the day – 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc.
- Musical potty. Play a favorite song when your child sits on the potty and stop the song when they get off. Make a game of it.
- Roleplay. Get your child a potty doll with toy potty seat and practice putting the doll on the potty. If you don’t want to buy a specialized potty doll, then just have a favorite stuffed animal use the potty instead.
- Model behavior. Bring your child into the bathroom with you and show them that you sit on the toilet and everything is ok.
- Read books. There are so many books about potty training for young children. Get a few from your library and read books with lots of pictures of kids safely sitting on potties.
- Flush it down. Take your child’s dirty diaper and shake the contents into the toilet. Have your child help you flush the toilet and explain to them where it goes.
- Make it pretty. Decorate the potty with stickers or cut out images from magazines. Decorate the wall around the potty or even decorate the bathroom door.
- Use color. Pour small drops of food coloring in the toilet to watch the water change colors. Some kids are afraid of the water in the toilet and this can help calm those fears. Once you’re fully into potty training, turn the water blue, then see how the color changes after your child has peed in the toilet.
What Should I Avoid if My Child is Afraid of the Potty?
- Stay calm. Don’t get visibly upset about your child’s anxiety; this will just lead to more fear! Keep your cool and use your most supportive voice when talking about the toilet.
- Do NOT tie your child to the toilet. It may seem obvious, but it has to be said. If your child sits on the potty then jumps back up, a first instinct may be to restrain them and physically hold them on the toilet. Trust me—this will just make matters worse.
- Do not add to their fears. Don’t explain the horrors that never happen in the toilet if your child hasn’t even verbalized these fears yet. For example, don’t tell them that bugs won’t crawl out of the toilet while they’re sitting on it if they haven’t mentioned this fear themselves.
- Monitor screen time. Be sure your child isn’t watching any scary movies or short clips in which animals or monsters crawl through plumbing. This won’t help with their anxiety about pooping on the potty!
When Should I Seek Help if My Child is Afraid of the Potty?
Listen to your child. If they seem to be worried about a specific incident that happened in their past in the bathroom, you should reach out for counseling help.
Children may also develop gastrointestinal issues and have pain or constipation while pooping and this can be the source of their fears. In this case you would want to talk to your pediatrician.
Most of the time, however, potty fears are perfectly normal and with a little help and a lot of support your child will be happily pooping and peeing in the potty in no time!