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How to Understand and Deal with Selective Withholding

Potty Training is challenging enough and one of the primary issues that many parents struggle with is retaining a sense of continuity between using the toilet in different locations, e.g. home and nursery, home and preschool, home and grandma’s house. A previous Family Seat blog post explained how to maintain a sense of continuity, but today we are focused on a slightly more complex issue – selective withholding.

Potty Training Regression

This issue can take many forms. It might mean a child withholding a number one or number two (most commonly, the latter) point blank and refusing to do it at all.

Another example might be a child that is fully potty trained at home and totally happy to use the toilet but regresses at nursery, or vice versa.

The first thing to do is take a deep breath. It can be extremely frustrating and it’s advisable to take a step back and know that you will get to the root of the problem. Don’t resort to punishment or pressure as these will likely have major detrimental effects.

Potty training is all about confidence and independence – withholding suggests that your child is struggling to achieve one or both milestones and needs support, not punishment. You do need to tackle it, though, and not just hope it will go away as long-term withholding can lead to major complications.

Discover the Reason Why

Start by ascertaining the reason why your child is withholding, communication is key, so try talking gently to them and asking them why they do want to use a toilet in a certain place. Stool withholding is more common with boys although it does affect both sexes. The issue is often attributed to a fear of using the toilet or even a rebellion against the process.

Perhaps your child is not quite ready for toilet training or just needs a little more comfort and support during the process, it may be as simple as they have developed a more enhanced level of embarrassment. At nursery or when out and about, there may be unfamiliar people around that make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

Or they may be nervous and upset about other events in their life – a house move, starting nursery or family tensions – which may manifest itself in their toilet training. Potty training regression and withholding are also common when a new sibling is introduced to the family.

Communicate with your child. Make sure that they understand that you are not angry with them but just want to help them feel better and be confident about using the toilet. If you do feel that your child is afraid of using the potty, assuage their fears by explaining the process and assuring them that nothing bad will happen. Encourage them by explaining that they will be very grown-up just like the adults of the house when they do use the toilet.

Appease the Rebels

On the flip side, if you believe that withholding is an act of rebellion, then it is advisable to cease all potty training chat. Once your child has nothing left to rebel against, they will feel like they have regained control of the situation and may well stop withholding as a result.

It’s also important to associate potty training with fun, relaxing thoughts and rewards. Use your Family Seat potty training Rewards Chart to highlight your child’s achievements and give them a tangible sense of progress. Sing songs on the loo and read books in the bathroom. Praise your child when they use the toilet but not overly so – this may result in him/her feeling pressurised even when you have entirely good intentions.

Ready or Not?

If you believe that the problem is associated with fear, you must make the decision over whether your child is ready to begin potty training. If not, pause and restart when they begin showing the signs of being comfortable with the process.

If you believe that they are ready but you are just facing some stumbling blocks, proceed in small steps to gradually increase their confidence. When a child is withholding at nursery or preschool, it can be helpful to sit down together with their supervisor to show them that everyone is ready to support them along the way.

Constipation is often a short-term side effect of withholding. If it becomes serious, you’re your child will associate having a poo with pain which will only exacerbate the issue. Include lots of fibre-rich foods and fluids in their diet to keep constipation at bay and ease symptoms. 

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