My Child Won’t Sit On The Potty

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie,

My child won’t sit on the potty. Jade is terrified of the potty and the toilet. If I ask her if she wants to go without a diaper, she has a meltdown. She is genuinely scared, and although I am in no immediate rush to potty train, I would like to try and get her over this fear. She is 2 and 8 months. Thanks, Maya

My child won't sit on the potty
Hi Maya, This is a tough problem, and I can understand why you’d like to solve it. It’s perfectly normal for children to develop fears of certain things, but whether they are transitory or persistent has a lot to do with how you, as the parent, react to those fears. Through my behaviour intervention services and my website letter program, obviously I get asked a lot of questions, so let me give you an example of how fears develop and persist. One family I worked with once had a little boy of around three who had a terrible fear of fire.

My child won’t sit on the potty: This is how fears develop.

Nobody in the family knew where this fear of fire originated from. They hadn’t had a fire at their home, nor did they know anyone who had been affected by one. They didn’t think he’d seen some scary fire story on TV either, but nevertheless, their little boy was deeply concerned every time his mother went away that she would die in a fire. He would have a complete meltdown every time she left the house, so much so that Mom soon didn’t want to go anywhere in case it brought on another panic attack. They consulted everyone they knew and spent lots of time on the phone discussing the problem with friends to see if anyone could help. They even asked their son why he felt like that, trying to reassure him over and over again.

When I came on the scene, the first thing I noticed was all the attention that the family had directed toward this problem. Everyone was concerned. The trouble with all that well-intentioned concern was that it was perpetuating the situation, drawing more and more attention to the fear, thereby guaranteeing that it was going to hang around. Mom stayed home because she was terrified he would have a meltdown, yet by doing so, she was ensuring that the very meltdowns she wanted to stop would continue. By giving in to her son’s fear, she reinforced in her son’s mind that there was something to be scared of.

My child won’t sit on the potty: So what can you do?

So how does this apply to you? Well, Jade has a fear. Nobody knows how or why she developed it, but she has a fear. The only thing now that matters is how you react to it. So here’s what I would do: First off, you have to remove the emphasis from the potty so as to take the pressure off, so drop toilet training for a few months. In the meantime, let her wear diapers again. When you reintroduce the potty, how you approach the issue will be critical. First, be cheery and show her through her expectations that you think she’ll cope just fine. Set yourself up to ensure that you deflect any fear she displays so that there is no feedback that perpetuates the problem. If she shows fear, acknowledge it, but show through your body language that you have great confidence in her ability to get over it.

It’s interesting, but a lot of times people betray their emotions through their body language. They approach things that worry them with trepidation, yet your child doesn’t understand your trepidation. If she feels it, she will react to your insecurity. Your little girl sees it as a case of if you are worried, then perhaps she should be too, and that creates a problem because children need to know you can handle everything and that you are their rock.

So when you go back to using the potty, don’t make a big deal of it. If she shows fear, don’t get caught up in it yourself. Don’t pay the fear any attention; just be calm and confident in her abilities, and then change the subject to something else. Avoid trying to force her to get over her fear by hanging out by the potty and offering encouraging words, as that will likely backfire. When she’s on the potty, don’t focus on her. Find something else to do in the bathroom so she is reassured by your presence without being distracted by it. Show leadership by showing her you have confidence in her ability to handle her fear by cleaning out the towel cupboard and singing cheery songs. If she’s successful, offer her modest praise and tell her you knew she could do it. More than anything else, be patient. Don’t worry, she will get over it.

To get more of your parenting questions answered, please visit my parenting services page.

I hope this helps.

All the best,


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