Q My son is nearly 5 and goes No. 1 in the big potty but he still won’t go No. 2. This really bothers me because I am five months pregnant, I work full time and I don’t have the time or the energy to train him anymore. I think he doesn’t poop in the toilet because he gets constipated, and I think he gets constipated because he is a picky eater. Although we’ve tried to train him in many ways, none of them have worked, and I’m out of ideas. So far we have;
●Inserted a small potty seat in the big toilet seat and bought a stool for him to reach it safely, but he wouldn’t climb up.
●Put him on the potty for what seemed like forever, but he cried until we took him off.
●Stopped using Pull-Ups, but he held in his poop until it got quite painful, and we had to put him in a Pull-Up so he would poop again.
●Asked him to clean himself up, but he laughed and thought it was funny.
And, of course, we offered him rewards, snacks and special treats if he pooped in the potty, but he refused to do that.
What else can I do?
A Your little boy might not pull down his Pull-Ups until you figure out what kind of guy he is.
What works for one child doesn’t always work for another, according to authors Sara Au and Peter L. Stavinoha, whose book, “Stress-Free Potty Training” (Amacom; $13), tells parents that toilet training should suit the child’s temperament. You can train your son in a flash, they say, if he’s a persistent person who focuses on a goal relentlessly or if he’s a perfectionist by nature. But that child still might need extra time to learn his skills because he wants to do them right.
It is harder to train an impulsive child, because he is usually so busy bouncing from one activity to the next that he forgets to go to the bathroom, and it’s also hard to train the sensitive child who is bothered by scratchy labels, seams in his socks and new experiences — like using the potty.
The strong-willed child usually gives the greatest grief. If you think your son refuses to use the toilet (or pick up his toys or eat his peas) simply because you’ve told him to use the toilet (or pick up his toys or eat his peas), you may have to get someone else to train him or learn to give your son his rules in a low-key, nonconfrontational way.
Tell him that he can still stand up to pee in the toilet, but you won’t ask him to climb on a stool to reach the little seat that you’ve put in the big seat that sits on top of the toilet so he can poop there. Instead, put a little potty chair in his room so he and his teddy bear can poop whenever they want. And be prepared to congratulate Bear when he uses it one day and to wipe your boy’s bottom to show Bear how it’s done.
You also have to show respect when you give rules to a strong-willed child — or indeed any child — if you want to get your own way. Tell your son that he doesn’t have to poop in the potty, but he does have to sit on it while he poops in his Pull-Ups so he’ll get used to the idea. And if this makes him hold in his poop? Quietly take dairy, chocolate and bananas out of his diet, because they are binders, and give him some bran in his cereal at breakfast and some stewed prunes at dinner, so his stools will be easier to pass. If constipation becomes chronic, it can last for years.
You also should tell your son that his body grabs nutrition from the foods that he eats and drinks, but it throws the rest away. This explanation will help him realize that his pee and his poop are trash. Just don’t flush the toilet while your son is still in the bathroom. It takes some children a while to realize that their poop isn’t part of themselves.
To learn more, read “Toilet Training” by Vicki Lansky (Book Peddlers; $13). The science is diluted, but it’s still the best and simplest book about a subject that matters so much at the time and is hardly remembered a few years later. For more consolation, please remember: your son will be trained by the time he gets married. And that’s a promise.
8 Send questions about parenting
Chat Thursday at noon Join Kelly for a live Q&A about parenting and other family relationships at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also read past columns.