4 year old refuses toilet and potty: Hi, I'm really... - ERIC


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4 year old refuses toilet and potty

Tenafric profile image

Hi, I'm really struggling with my 4 year old son. He simply refuses to wee or poo anywhere other than in a nappy. I live in Belgium and am struggling to find support, particularly as we are not fluent in french. I've tried the ERIC helpline countless times but just can't get through. I don't know what to do and I worry the decisions I make are making things worse.

We had a a day of potty training when he was 2.5 years old and he did really well for the day. Just a few accidents, but since then he has literally refused everything.

There were spells when he would throw the potty across the room and refuse to go near a toilet. Over the summer we got him to sit with a nappy and wee inside the nappy (quite some progress) using m&m's as rewards. But as soon as we take the nappy off it's like a psychological block. Sometimes I've felt like he's trying to wee in the toilet, and when it doesn't come he's disheartened, thinks he can't do it and is reluctant to try again.

He has learnt to withhold his wee and poo very effectively. Last year he went to a kindergarten 9am-noon where he was supposed to be toilet trained. He wasn't of course. This was the biggest mistake ever. He went without a nappy and just learnt to hold his wee and poo until he got home. At which point he would want a nappy and fill it completely with wee in seconds. He has had problems with constipation and is on laxatives.

He is now at school until 3.15 pm and we've been trying all summer just to get him to do one wee on the toilet. It's been so stressful. He hasn't managed it. He went 3 days to school without a nappy, by day 3 he was holding his wee all day. So I spoke to the school who were supportive and he's in nappies at school. There's no sign of a change in his attitude. I feel like we're going nowhere but I'm terrified this habit of holding all the time will lead to really long term problems.

11 Replies

Have you tried places a nappy in the potty so he can wee or poo in that? Some children do find it really stressful. My daughter who is 5 1/2 is terrified of the toilet. She will still only use the potty to poop but I'm going with it and I figure she'll get there in the end. She wasn't properly dry until she went to school and it took a term before she decided she would use the loo to wee. There are lots of helpful forums on Fb which might help you re. potty training/refusal to use the toilet. A book called gentle potty training was also very helpful for us. It may be that it's a power struggle and as soon as you relax about it he'll decide to get rid of the nappy. Good luck! It took us almost two year to get day time dry and we're just about there with nighttime. You're not alone! Some kids are just not ready! xx

Tenafric profile image
Tenafric in reply to Cat_lady_44

Thanks for your reply. He hates the potty with a passion so we've been trying with the toilet. Tried a nappy inside the toilet seat, I think he really wanted to do a wee in there but when it came to it he couldn't. He became dejected and wouldn't try it again.

We certainly don't keep pressuring him all the time to do it. We're on a break at the moment and will try again in a week or two. I have an appointment with a child psychologist, but not sure if it's the right thing to do, it might just add pressure.

I'll take a look at the gentle potty training book and FB forums.

Thanks again.

Cat_lady_44 profile image
Cat_lady_44 in reply to Tenafric

No problem. Poor boy. It’s so hard for them isn’t it? Hope the book and the forums help xx

Tenafric profile image
Tenafric in reply to Cat_lady_44

It's so hard for him, and yet as an adult it seems so easy and simple. I just wish I knew what he was really thinking xx

Eddie21 profile image
Eddie21 in reply to Tenafric

Hi there, I am going through these same issues with my four year old and have also been considering perhaps seeing a child psychologist. On the odd day when I have convinced my son to wear pants rather than a nappy he has held it all day 6am until 7pm a couple of times! I have been able to persuade him to sit on the toilet and potty before but as soon as he feels like it is going to wee/poo he will stand up and says he won’t/can’t do it. Tried everything...sticker charts, letting him watch something while sitting, read books etc etc. I wondered how you were getting on and if you did see the psychologist?

Tenafric profile image
Tenafric in reply to Eddie21

Hi, our issues have improved but are ongoing! The psychologist has been positive and helpful, but isn't a solution in itself. Our psychologist works almost exclusively with us, she met my son once and I'm not sure she even mentioned toilets or anything she was just looking for sign of anxiety/tension or any other red flags. She's been helpful in that we picked a strategy (after speaking to ERIC helpline) and she helped us implement it, stick to it, understand how our son might have got mixed messages from us and she helped us create a reward system that really works for and motivates my son.

The most helpful resource was speaking to someone on the helpline. I tried each day for months. Couldn't believe it when I got through.

By the way, my son is still in nappies and he's 4.5. But he's now at a stage where he will sit on a toilet and wee with a nappy on that's unstrapped at the sides and pulled forwards. It's slow, but it is progress.

Eddie21 profile image
Eddie21 in reply to Tenafric

Thanks so much for responding. That’s amazing progress! Could I ask how long it has taken you to get to that stage please? As in from when he started just sitting on the toilet with a nappy on with no expectation to do a wee/poo.

I did speak to ERIC a few weeks back and the lady was brilliant. I explained everything we have tried over the past year or so and was advised to follow the disimpaction guidelines to ensure that he is not constipated before going back to the very start with the potty/toilet training.....that way I can rule out constipation as playing a part in his mindset. So currently going through that and once that’s over with I am going to go right back to basics. I have written a rough plan that I am going to try and follow.....it’s going to take months by the sounds of it! I regret not doing this earlier but I guess I have been hoping that he would just snap out of it one day. With him starting school in September I don’t think I can just keep hoping that one day he will surprise me and just do it. I find it so frustrating when people say you just have to be strong and not give in....tell him there are no more nappies and he will have to do it eventually he can’t hold it forever etc etc. He can and does hold it all day long and those days are traumatic. Refusing to give nappies just does not work for us.

Thanks again for responding.

Tenafric profile image
Tenafric in reply to Eddie21

I know, people really don't seem to understand that just refusing a nappy creates even more problems. With us it led to my son withholding his poo all the time as well, and of course he got constipated, so that's when I decided I was never doing that again.

It was actually quite quick going from the beginning, just sitting on the toilet to weeing on the toilet with a nappy on and sides down, that maybe took 8 weeks. The problem is we have been stuck at this stage for quite some time. And it gets really frustrating, I have to keep reminding myself how far we have come, rather than getting frustrated at how we have stalled!

At the beginning I was surprised how receptive he was when I spoke to him frankly and honestly about the problem and how we were going to tackle it. I was expecting resistance but got none (this made me realise how much he had internalised the pressure and confirmed he needs and wants help to get there - he's not going to just snap out of it on his own).

It goes in fits and starts. Once he went and put a pull up on and went and sat on a toilet and did a poo! We couldn't believe it! He did that about 3 times and now hasn't done it for about 3 weeks. The last few days he's been slightly under the weather so he hasn't sat on the toilet at all. I think it's also about the rewards, how excited he is to receive the next one. For him it's totally toys that get him excited. It cost us a fortune before Xmas so we've had to tone it down a bit and give smaller rewards. What was great about the stickers/rewards systems is that it finally gave him positivity and praise in the bathroom. Now we can say well done and be proud, and he is so proud when he does something new, it's really sweet!

One other observation, try not to have a time limit in your mind for how long it will take. I think this caused a lot of our problems. It's actually ok if he starts school in nappies, maybe it's worth talking to the school as soon as his place is confirmed, otherwise you will be anxious and it might transfer to him. I tried to hide my son's problem from his school (we are in Belgium under a different system and quite a traditional school). Things are much better now the school (and I) accept he is at school in a nappy. That's just how it has to be for now.

I feel like I have written an essay! Sorry! But as you know there's not many people who understand how hard and upsetting it is!

Good luck and let me know how you get on...

Hi I’m having trouble with my son using the toilet to poo. It took him a long time to to potty train doing wees but seems to have cracked that. He’s never liked sitting to wee he’s always like standing at the toilet like daddy. Have you tried that? Going to nursery helped him become more independent doing wees and tells us now. We still have the odd accident though and he still wears nappies at night. I’m tearing my hair out trying to get him to poo on the toilet so you’re not alone.

Tenafric profile image
Tenafric in reply to EmmaB85

Thanks for your message. It is nice to feel there are other going through these problems. My paediatrician acts like she's never even heard of a 4 yr old who's not potty trained 🙄

We did try encouraging standing up wees for a while in the summer, thinking this might be easier, but it didn't seem to make a difference and perhaps in the end was more confusing for him. Who knows?!

We've made a little progress using ERICs help. I think difficulty pooing on the toilet is more common. We will just continue with our rewards and nappy loosening system and pray it gets us there in the end. It's a long road.

Good luck!

EmmaB85 profile image
EmmaB85 in reply to Tenafric

Thank you and good luck to you too x

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