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Common toilet training challenges

We can’t tell you exactly what the toilet training journey with your child will look like. Each child is different, and each toilet training journey is unique.

However, we can guide you through a number of common toilet training challenges and problems faced by numerous toilet training parents and carers.

Our experience at the Mars Clinic, helping kids and their families with continence issues, has allowed us to develop a wealth of knowledge for troubleshooting toileting problems and setbacks. This knowledge can often be applied to toilet training too.

Below, we work through some of the most commonly asked questions or frequently discussed problems when it comes to toilet training.

toilet training toddler

My child will do wees in the toilet but not poos

Toilet training success does not always come straight away, and oftentimes your child may succeed in one area and not another. What does it mean if you child will only do wees in the toilet?

potty building blocks

What if my child will not sit on the toilet?

The toilet training journey marks an exciting time in your toddler’s life. Sometimes, though, children can become fearful of this process, as it breaks the routine that they have known in their lives so far.

going backwards

What if we are going backwards?

Do you feel like you have been toilet training for ages and are getting nowhere? Or maybe you feel like you are going backwards? It is very common, and it can be hard to know what to do next.

My child will do wees in the toilet but not poos...

If adults sometimes have difficulty breaking habits and routines, why should we expect our children to adapt to change with ease?

Think about it! Since birth, your child has: 

  • Never had to worry about their wees and poos
  • Become accustomed to life in a nappy
  • Had relatively little contact with a toilet, and potentially no contact with a potty

So it is going to take time for them to learn a new way of doing their business.

Jump forward now to when you have had some success with teaching your child to use the toilet or potty for their wees. There can be any number of factors that come into play when using the toilet or potty for poos is posing a problem for your child.

These factors may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fear of the bathroom, toilet, or potty
  • Constipation

What should you do?

This is a very common issue among the toilet training population, and if you are stressing over this aspect of toilet training, you are not alone. It may be useful to seek out some expert assistance at this stage, to allow for your toilet training progress to continue.

It is also important to remember that if your child refuses to poo in the toilet, you may need to put them back into a nappy in order to poo.

This may seem like a step backward, but a child who refuses to poo runs the risk of becoming constipated, and this can lead to more significant challenges, both during toilet training and even into early childhood.

If you have any concerns that your child is having difficulty with poos, it is recommended that you consult with a health professional. You can organise a phone consultation with one of our continence therapists to discuss your unique situation.

And remember to touch base with your GP if your child:

  • Is in pain
  • Has stopped passing stools for several days
  • Has bleeding, or is vomiting

What if my child will not sit on the toilet?

You have made the decision to start toilet training with your child – they seem ready, and you have all the equipment in place – but they are refusing to sit on the toilet!

This is not what you signed up for.

Avoiding early distress

During the toilet training process, it is very important that the toilet remains a positive place. Children can very easily develop negative memories, so there are never any circumstances in which you should force your child to sit on the toilet.

If your child becomes distressed, is crying or, even worse, screaming, as they sit on the toilet or potty, this will greatly impact the toilet training process.

Your child may create negative associations with the toilet and the toileting process if their initial experiences are unpleasant. And also, it is nearly impossible to relax and to allow your bladder and bowel to empty properly when you are distressed.

toilet training problems

What should you do?

Firstly, check why your child doesn’t want to sit on the toilet or potty. Maybe they saw a spider? Maybe they think they will fall in?
We need to provide gentle reassurance that the toilet is a safe place.

Next, we need to build up the positive experiences your child has with the toilet so these experiences can form positive memories . Think about how you can make it an enjoyable place to be (bearing in mind that it is not a place of play, so limit activities that detract from the toileting process).

Stuck for ideas? You can try:

  • Posters of favourite book or TV characters
  • Fun toilet paper and special soap
  • A high five or sticker for sitting on the toilet
The only limit is your imagination!

we are scared we are going backwards...

You have been going at this toilet training thing with your child for some time now, and yet your child seems to be having more accidents than ever before, or you have noticed a halt in their toileting education progress. 

In fact, you feel that your child may have taken a few steps back… We often refer to these circumstances as going backwards or regression.

This can be very stressful, and make you unsure of what to do next. But don’t worry, this is fairly normal and is a problem faced by many parents during the toilet training process. 

Below, we outline some of the reasons your child may be regressing in their toilet training progress.

  • As children learn new skills outside of toilet training, they can "forget" skills they have already learned
  • Your child's motivations may have changed - for example, your child may have responded well to a reward program initially, but their interest dropped off when the reward was no longer something new and exciting
  • Your child may require a different level of support, or they may require a different approach to toilet training
  • Your child may not be ready yet - if you have been persisting with toilet training for what feels like an eternity and you are not getting anywhere, you may need to take a break and pick back up when your child is showing even more signs of toilet training readiness

Unfortunately, regression, or going backwards, is difficult to predict from the outset of toilet training – but may simply require a reassessment of your approach to the process in order to get the ball rolling again.

To check if your child is showing signs of toilet training readiness, download the Get Set Checklist below.

Get Set Checklist

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