Ask Bubbe: My Toddler Won't Use the Potty – Kveller
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Ask Bubbe: My Toddler Won’t Use the Potty

Dear Bubbe,

My toddler son (2 1/2) adamantly refuses to wear underwear. He’s gotten to the point that  he only sits on the potty after he has already eliminated in the diaper. He has properly used the potty in the past and we praised his use and the hand washing afterwards. But he no longer stalls going to bed by requesting to sit on the potty nor does he say “Yes!” when we ask if he wants to sit on one.

When should I worry? What should I do? We are going to stay with my MIL over the 4th of July holiday & she has very strong opinions – I really don’t want her to pressure her son &/or my son on this subject (or any others, but that would be a second post…)


Dear Aviva,

I will start from the worst case toiletting scenario and work backward to normal stuff. The worst is the child who, for one reason or another, holds back from pooping at all, then passes a large, hard stool which causes pain and spasm to his anus, after which he refuses to poop, because it hurts, or is even unable to because of the spasm, and the whole sorry cycle escalates until the whole family ends up dancing around this poor child, while he dances around in pain and holding his sphincter; and then the liquid stool leaks out past the impacted stool, and the child is constantly soiled, and the nursery school kids mock him and you end up having to see a pediatrician, a pediatric gastroenterologist, and a psychiatrist for 6 months until the situation can be cleared up. This is a nightmare and can have various triggers; toilet training coercion could be one.

So, a 2-and-a-half-year-old who wants to stay in his diapers for a little longer is NORMAL. You can offer him the potty, especially after meals when there is a natural reflex to eliminate, or if you can identify facial expression or body cues that he wishes to do so; you can praise him for using the potty or even just sitting on the potty; you can read him cute little potty training books; you can buy a nice potty chair and let him decorate it or leave it around for him to just chill out on; but if he would just rather not use the potty, then that’s OK. If he is anti-undies, that’s OK too. If you can coax him into underpants with fun characters (Spiderman seemed to be a favorite in my house) then that’s nice, but he will have accidents, and that’s also OK and not a punishable offense and no reason for a geshrei (to yell). If there are too many accidents, he ain’t ready! Pull-ups can be a useful transition from diaper to undies, but we survived without them in the old days.

Some kids are shy about using a potty, but when offered will put on a diaper just to eliminate, and then switch back to underpants. But really, until around 3, I really think there’s no need to be pushy about any of this. I know there are opinions which differ and I know that it is nice if a child is fully trained by day and night by 3, but it’s OK if he’s not, and it isn’t that common anyway. Recent research has shown that 25% kids aren’t trained before 31/2 – 4 years.

Now, as for the Shvigger (mother-in-law); oh, so much to say. I have a shvigger, G-d bless her, and I am a shvigger, and we come in all temperaments. But try practicing this line: “Thank you for your help and advice and your kind concern, but really, it’s not your business.” It worked for me back in the day, and we have maintained a respectful and positive relationship since. If you can’t see yourself doing that, then just tell her that the doctor (ie me) told you about all the terrible things that could happen if the child isn’t ready for potty training. Refer her to paragraph one.

And remember: he won’t go to the chuppah in a diaper!

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Shyrla Pakula is a doctor, lactation consultant, cookbook writer, Orthodox Jew, former parenting columnist, the mother of seven children, and a grandmother to six. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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