I personally found potty training to be a rather surreal parenting experience. I did the whole "train the your kid in three days!" thing, where you basically trap yourself and your child in the bathroom for 72 hours straight. It was kind of like that James Franco movie where he gets stuck in those rocks. Except with less arm cutting, and more Pete the Cat books and pee on the wall. Anyway, my kid blessedly didn't seem to have any real fears of the potty. But many kids do. And yes, some of these toddler potty fears can seem truly ridiculous. But for toddlers, the struggle is all too real. Below, I unpack some of the more classic/absurd toilet terrors, as well as offer some solutions on how to combat them.
Like the kid who's afraid of losing part of themselves down the toilet. I know. Hilarious. And sounds like the child will one day star in a four-part special on Hoarders. But no, this is a real thing. Romper reached out to Dr. Tovah Klein for some insight on this bit of weirdness. Klein is the Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success, and she said that “for some children, the idea of a part of themselves going down the toilet is scary. They have no way to know that poop will go down but other parts of their body will not. Think about a 2-year old. In their world view, if a large poop from their body could be flushed away, why not an arm?”
So it isn’t that the child can’t bear to part with their precious poop. It’s more that they don’t yet understand that certain parts of the body — like clipped fingernails and hair trimmings — become separate from us, and are to be disposed of. So how to help them grasp this concept? Dr. Klein says to “assure the child that only poop goes down the toilet (and pee), no other part of them can go. Gentle reassurance has to be repeated so they feel OK.”
What to Expect takes this idea a bit further, and suggests actually bidding farewell to the poop as a means of making the separation less frightening for the child. So stand over the bowl and read Lord Byron’s “When We Two Parted.” Break out the guitar and croon Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”. Or simply give a little wave and say “Bye bye! Safe travels, poop!” Whatever it is you need to do to help your kid feel better about sending their excrement off into the great beyond.
But your child's fear of the flush could also attribute to this self-imposed potty ban — a toilet flush can be loud, dude. And an automatic, public restroom flush can sound like a banshee has crawled out of hell to eat one's soul. The noise can be truly scary and unsettling for kids, especially for kids with sensory issues.
Dr. Klein suggests that "if at home, tell your child before flushing the toilet and [show] them how they can cover their ears if they don't like the noise. A 'heads up' can help them in feel in control. Or give them the option to leave the bathroom before you flush."
And for those ear-splitting public restroom flushes, maybe carry a small vial of holy water to sling at the seat while screaming "I repel thee!" Or just put your hands over the kids' ears. Whatever seems easier.
Absurd, of course, but if you think about it from the perspective of someone who stands eye to eye with the bowl, the potty looms large. And contains a swirling hole that leads to the unknown. It can be lot for a small child (especially one whose imagination is in overdrive) to take in and process. As their understanding of the laws of physics are not tip-top, it makes sense that they might think they too could get sucked down into the void. Or think that some potty beast is lying quietly in wait, ready to strike the moment that perfect little toddler bum comes to rest upon its home...
So how to combat this anxiety? Well, more reassurance, of course. And doing what you can to demystify the bathroom. The Potty Genius suggests doing a toilet tour, where you go check the potty out at a time when you aren't using it, and talk about how it works, and what to expect.
Or you could investigate The Potty Rocker — a rather curious product I stumbled upon. This potty play kit includes a figurine that looks like if Mr. Monopoly from the board game had a midlife crisis and became a hipster. There is also a storybook, as well as some "silly" suggestions for making the potty more fun. Things like cutting eyeholes into diapers to help your kid realize it's actually diapers that are scary, not the potty! I guess so your kid can stop worrying a toilet beast will eat them and instead worry about haunted Pampers.
And some kids just think poop belongs on their toy shelf. I mean, this is my own personal theory, which is based upon the bizarre amount of excrement-themed toys currently on the market. Between games like Flushin Frenzy and Poopeez action figures, I’m surprised there aren’t more instances of children attempting to salvage things from the toilet for playdates. We live in a world where feces can be purchased as a cheerful plush toy. So who knows, maybe kids are like, “Wait. I don’t get it. Why is this poop bad, while this one gets to grace my pillow?”
Regardless of how absurd a child’s reasoning might be when it comes to their aversion to the potty, the most important thing here — as with all things toddler — is patience. And wine. Or meditation. Or whatever it is you do to keep yourself from tearing out your own eyebrows and screaming, “Poop feels no pain, for the love of all that is holy!” to the heavens.
The kid is gonna figure it out eventually, I promise. And when they do, you can reward them with this poop trophy. Which for some reason exists.