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What to Do When Kids Get Scared to Go Poo


I was in the kitchen and I heard some crying from the living room. I ran in to find Goldie, just turned 2, sitting on the potty. Her face was bright red and she was shaking. Whatever she was pushing out was super painful. She was all alone and had gotten very frightened. Usually, she’ll just wonder over to the potty all by herself and calls me over when she’s finished. But, this time it was scary and it had hurt. I helped her finish, then cleaned her up. Unfortunately, she was still constipated the next day and the SAME exact thing happened. It was a bad combination of me not being there and of it hurting, and then it was all over but the crying.

The next day, she was terrified to go. The day after, we all got sick with this crazy flu that had us in bed for almost a week. The week after, I had to go to work full time, while everyone was still recovering. Everyone was stressed and tired and sick and I didn’t really have time to deal with the poo situation immediately. Every. Single. Time. She had to go, it was a nightmare. This is the kid who has been potty trained since she was 15 months old. I’ve done elimination communication with her since birth, so ever since she was about 2 months old, all of her poos landed either in a bucket, toilet, sink or potty. Even though she is only 2, she has been well and truly toilet trained for a long time.

We tried prunes, probiotics, drinking more water, etc. And, although the bowel movements were now soft, she was still majorly scared to go. To get her to go, I had to hold her over the potty or toilet while she screamed and tried to wiggle away. Letting her go in her undies was not an option, as that was very disturbing for her. So, it was either hold her screaming over the toilet or nothing…

Address the Fear
One of the best ways to eliminate fear is through laughter. To get Goldie laughing about poo, I let her watch me going to the toilet and pretended to push really hard and to say “Owww.” In a way that I knew would make her laugh (being careful not to make her more scared). We also pretended to get dolls to go and in the same scenario, pretend that it hurt, etc. If I had been really organized, I could have let her play with brown coloured play dough in the potty to let it represent poo, but I didn’t have time to find some brown play dough. Instead, whenever she did do a poo (with all the crying and screaming involved), I would show it to her afterwards and we would say funny things like, “Wow, big one!” Or, “Nice log!” or “It’s a poo pile!” and we would all start laughing (not at her, but with her). Everyone got involved too, my husband and my older daughter would say, “I want to see too!” They would take a look and everyone would laugh, and be like, “Wow, what a fantastic poo, Goldie!” Of course, not making too big a deal of it, but more like an excuse to have fun.

Address the Trauma
I realized that the biggest trauma Goldie had endured, was not so much of the pain of the poo, but that I wasn’t right there when she got scared.

Every time I sensed she had to poo (and I knew because she would start scratching her butt furiously), I held her over the potty and she screamed bloody murder and she tried to escape. I certainly wasn’t hurting her, and I’m 100% sure that her butt wasn’t hurting her, rather that she was releasing the trauamatic memory of being alone on the potty.

Thus, the crying.

Crying is a natural inborn healing mechanism to help us overcome from traumatic events. Each time I held her over the potty, she was releasing a little of the stress from the scary event of having a painful poo when I was not there to help her. She really tried to escape, but there was nowhere for her to run to… I tried it many times. I would let her go and then she would run back to me and say, “I have to poo, mama, huggle me.” It was clear that she wanted me to help her poo on the potty, but was scared to do it by herself. So, I would take her back, hover her butt over the potty and after about a minute or two of crying and trying to escape, she would do a nice soft poo. (If she had not be potty trained, I definitely would not have chosen this approach).

To a passer-by, this crying and poo thing probably would have looked like a torture session, but I could sense that she really needed to get this crying out. Every time I held her over the potty, I would say things like, “Mama’s here, I’m going to hold you, I’m right here to help.”  

While it did take about a week to sort the poo issue out, it was over fairly quickly. Through laughter and tears, she overcame her poo-fear rather quickly. I probably could have had it resolved in a few days if I hadn’t been so sick and/or working. She’s back to normal now, with no residual poo issues. Kids can develop lots of issues around eliminating, so it’s really important for us parents to be comfortable and to address the problem with full understanding of all the emotions involved.

In case you’re wondering, the photo is of a stuffed poo we actually have in our house. Yes… I know… just don’t ask…

It’s important to be sensitive to your child’s situation. I was only holding Goldie over the potty because I knew that’s where she wanted to go. If your child is more comfortable eliminating in a diaper, then certainly let them do that instead!  It’s also important to never tell a child that their poo is ‘yucky’.

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