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Health & Parenting

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Child's Temperament Affects Potty Training

Temperamental Differences, Not Parenting Style, May Explain Toilet Training Difficulties

Temperament Linked to Toilet Training Difficulty continued...

Timothy Schum, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has conducted several studies on toilet training and says the results of this study aren't surprising.

"I think people have suspected that children who have difficult toilet training may also have difficult temperaments, and this study lends some support to that theory," says Schum. "Parents need to be aware that children who have these temperamental traits may take longer to toilet train.

"Temperament traits can't be changed very much, but if you are aware of them, as a parent, you can become more tolerant," says Schum.

Constipation Is a Common Problem

The study also showed that constipation was a common problem among all the children, but it was much more prevalent among those with toilet training difficulties (78% vs. 55%).

Although the study was not able to determine whether constipation was the cause or result of difficulty potty training, a related study in the same journal showed that constipation often precedes toilet training problems and may cause children to refuse to have bowel movements on the toilet.

Schum advises that parents and pediatricians closely monitor children for signs of constipation during toilet training. Rather than waiting for a child to complain of pain associated with bowel movements, he recommends that parents take notice of what their child stools look like. If they become hard or unusually large, it could be an early sign of constipation.

"They should preemptively improve the child's diet and make sure they are getting enough liquids and fiber so they don't progress to the painful part," says Schum.

If it does become painful, the child should be evaluated and treated for constipation by a pediatrician.

Understanding Potty Training Difficulties

In addition, the study showed that many difficult toilet trainers were likely to hide stools or dirty underwear and ask for pull-ups or diapers in which to pass stool.

Schonwald says that when a parent encounters that type of behavior it may help them to understand that it means that the child already has a lot of the developmental skills necessary to toilet train but isn't quite there yet.

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