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Potty Training Problems

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I need some ideas on how to get a stubborn 3 year old boy to have a bowel movement on the toilet. He will urinate on his own.

A: Seems like you're involved in the war of the bowels, a war where everyone loses. I'm assuming there is a battle because you used the word stubborn, which implies that you think he can make a bm on the toilet but won't.

First, step back and stop the battle over his bowel control. You know the old adage "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink". Boy does this apply to kids whose parents are trying everything(and indicating their displeasure and disappointment) to get their kids potty trained. You have to relax about this and let him come to make his own decision on when he wants to use the toilet to defecate. He already has urinary control(which is physically harder to master than bowel control) so that should be praised and celebrated.

Keep a potty chair in sight and tell him he can choose to make his bm's in his training pants or on the potty. Tell him he can tell you when he has to make one or go over to the potty and pull down his pants and do it on his own. The first step is to get him to tell you when he has to make a bm. Where he makes it will be his decision. When you feel he is choosing the potty more than his pants you may want to locate the potty next to the toilet and then give him the options to make it in either place. You might even tell him he could practice on the toilet and make it in the potty for a while.

Stop the battle. Ease the tensions. Praise any progress. Let him be in control of his body and let go of seeing this as a control issue between you and him. Your burdens and his will soon disappear. Good luck.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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