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Child's Temperament Affects Potty Training

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

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.

That way, parents can recognize the things that the child is learning and doing right rather than focusing what they're not doing, and it gives parents an opportunity to work on those items in a step-wise fashion.

For example, if a child asks for a pull-up it means he or she is gaining control of their bowels, but may not be ready to use a toilet. Schonwald says the parent may then suggest that the child take the pull-up and take it to the bathroom to have a bowel movement but not use the toilet.

"That takes off a lot of the pressure," says Schonwald. "Then when they start feeling more success and they do it in the bathroom; it becomes a lot more manageable."

Strategies for Potty Training Success

Experts say these findings show that recognizing a child's temperamental traits can help parents overcome common toilet training difficulties.

Schonwald says children who have a hard time staying on the toilet may have a problem with persistence and may need a special toilet time activity to keep them interested.

Other children who don't want to go into the bathroom may be reluctant to try new things, and the parent may have to find a way to make the bathroom more welcoming, such as scheduling brief play times in the bathroom.

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