Toddler with Potty Learning Fears
Dear Dr. Laura,
We are proud parents to our amazing 30 month old miracle daughter, who was conceived after 10 years of TTC and through the miracle of IVF. She is an amazing person. Warm, loving, happy. She is our everything, and we've spent hours and hours playing with her, reading to her, teaching her about her world through play and fun. We think she's as bright as a button, she has a huge vocabulary, knew all her colours at 15 months, said her first sentence at 18 months - "Read the book! Come on Mumma!".She has been breastfed from birth, and we did baby-led-weaning. Always following her lead. Always trying to be positive parents.
But things are not happy at the moment. After telling us she didn't want to wear nappies anymore we started potty training. She had consistently been dry for naps and overnight, and more than showed the skills in other areas too. She chose her potty and off we went.
Dr Laura, physically she's been doing so well. The odd expected accident, but we're so proud of her and constantly tell her how well she's doing. When she has a wee or poo her face is a picture. It lights up like Christmas and she says "I'm doing it Mummy! I'm doing it!"
But outside of these times she has become very clingy. Only wants Mummy and cries a lot more, and she also increasingly wants to nurse in more than the usual nap-time and night-time. She has started throwing things, has hit herself and generally seems not her usual self.
We understand that this is a huge milestone for her, and a huge challenge, but how can we help her through this? She does not want to wear nappies and so leaving it for a while is not an option.
Dear Proud Parents,
Your little girl is doing just fine. This is a big milestone and she has some fear around it, which is coming out in clinginess, extra nursing, throwing things, etc. She needs to let off that anxiety (which is another word for fear) and the best way is through giggling.
Play with her. Specifically, play with her about potty issues. Pretend you have to go to the bathroom, dance around, but say you're too scared to go. Then go, with her help, and be so relieved. But do this whole thing in an exaggerated way that gets her giggling. (Wink at her in the beginning if you need to, to signal that you're playing.) Extend this bathroom/potty/poo/wee play any way you can that gets her giggling. Sing nonsense potty songs, wear a toilet paper or diaper hat, whatever.
When you play this game, ask each other questions like "What if I can't make it to the bathroom? Oh, no! That would be a disaster!" and the other one can answer "Don't worry, I will love you no matter what. Everyone has accidents sometimes." Certainly this is one of her fears.
The other way to help kids with fear is to play physical games that are just on the edge of scary, enough to get them laughing. So "boo" games, letting her ride on your back while you gallop around the house, etc. These have no obvious connection to the potty but just help with any fear.
Your daughter just needs your help to get these fears out, and I think laughter will do it and you will see her relax. But you might also see her throw a fit about something inconsequential, and sob her heart out. That's good too. The fit part would be flailing and struggling, which is the way kids let out fear they've stored up. You can help her access her fear in this way by setting a kind, clear limit, for instance when she tries to throw something. Catch her arm and say "I won't let you throw that, Sweetie." Welcome the feelings from the resulting meltdown. Afterwards, you'll see that your daughter has off-loaded the tension she's been carrying around, because she'll be more relaxed and back to her sunny self.
I want to add one thing. It might help for you to be a bit more relaxed about your pride in your daughter's accomplishments as you relate to her. Naturally, like all parents, you take pleasure in your child. But when children feel that we care so very much about them using the potty, that can be too much pressure for them. This is a good lesson for now and for the rest of her childhood. Relax a bit more, and she'll relax a bit more also. You can't give her too much love. But you can make her feel too much like the sun rises and sets with her accomplishments, and that's a bit too much responsibility for a little one.
Hang in there and love your little girl through this. She will be fine!