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Ask Dr. Meg: Child Struggling with Potty Training

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg,

I’m looking for advice. I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter who, all of a sudden, has become extremely difficult. She has begun throwing enormous tantrums, which I have immediately disciplined; however, I’m beginning to think there may be something more. We are in the midst of potty training, and she often struggles with pooping. When she needs to go, she often begins screaming and crying. I run her to the potty, and I know it’s going to be coming very soon. But the entire time she’s on there, she screams as though she’s demon possessed or being dismembered limb from limb, all the while struggling against me and hitting me as hard as she can. Within a few minutes, she poops, and it’s almost as though it never happened.

Every time she’s on there, she screams as though she’s demon possessed or being dismembered limb from limb, all the while struggling against me and hitting me as hard as she can. Within a few minutes, she poops, and it’s almost as though it never happened. – Didn’t happen with the 1st child.

– Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom-

Your daughter is not demon-possessed, she’s constipated! Regarding her potty training, here are a few things you must know. First, most children don’t like pooping in front of others. This is why so many children with diapers on run and hide when they poop. So, when you sit your daughter on the toilet, she feels a bit embarrassed (but she won’t show it.) Second, children who must strain don’t like to poop because it hurts- particularly if they are the slightest bit constipated. Third, your daughter may have a small fissure (tiny tear near the anus) that hurts when she poops and that’s why she howls.

Here’s what you need to do. Begin giving her some Miralax at night before she goes to bed so that the next day, her poops will be softer. Second, recognize that she’s a drama queen and don’t let her screaming bother you so much. Really. She knows that it really upsets you so she keeps it up. When she needs to poop, simply put her on the potty and then leave the room. Give her a book to read and let her sit there as long as she likes. When you are in the room, she feels as though she must hurry.

Regarding her temper tantrums, she’s hit the “terrible twos” pretty hard and this is throwing you into a tailspin. Don’t let it. They will pass. They do come on suddenly and many children who enter them thrash, wail, scream and cry. I have even seen children hold their breath and pass out! This does NOT mean that they are psychologically disturbed. They’re just passionate people who have a pension for drama.

The most important thing for you to do when she throws a fit is to not over react. Don’t panic, cry or show that you are rattled in any way. When a child is out of control, she becomes worse when she sees a parent freaking out. When she sees you calm, collected and in control, she will come out of the temper tantrum much faster.

Finally, don’t discipline her for the tantrums. Let her have them. But- remove her from your presence. Let her know that you’re happy to let her scream and thrash, but not in front of everyone. Pick her up and take her into the next room and make her sit on a couch or chair. Do this repeatedly and she’ll start to realize that screaming isn’t worth the effort. If you must take her to her room to scream, do that. This isn’t going to be easy because she may try to hit, bite or kick you. Hold her in a firm grip so that she can’t do these things and firmly put her in a safe place. Do this over and over until she stays put and she will eventually stay there on her own.

Discipline should be reserved for deliberate acts of defiance. These are the moments when you tell her not to do something and she looks you in the eye and turns around and does what you just told her not to do. In this case, she’s telling you that she’s in charge, not you. When she has a temper tantrum, on the other hand, she is very much out of control. Her mind wants her to do one thing and her body won’t let her. She will pass through the tantrums in time, but the only way she’ll stop defying you is if you let her know that you are the boss.

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