Overcoming Toilet Anxiety: Wonder Woman to the Rescue

In case the title doesn’t give it away, this is a post about poop. Consider that your TMI disclaimer. I hope that in sharing this story, that I may be able to offer some encouragement to other families dealing with the same issue.

Last week I had posted on Facebook about some progress being made with the child-who-was-afraid-to-poop. My girl is 4.5 years old, and has been otherwise toilet trained for nearly 2 years. Pooping on the toilet though, has been a monumental obstacle for her. It’s partly a sensory thing and partly an anxiety thing. We have tried everything and tried it again. Nothing has worked. She is not constipated. She goes when she wants to and has no trouble holding it as long as she needs to before she feels comfortable going.

This week I think I can safely say that she is turning a real corner in overcoming her anxiety. I’ve spoken with other moms facing toileting problems in older kids “who should be toilet trained by now” and this is really not as uncommon as I had once thought. It’s quite common in kids with sensory processing disorders or on the autism spectrum, though her sensory issues are mild and she is not on the spectrum.

So what did we do? Honestly? Reverse psychology: I told her to poop her pants. Allow me to explain. When school started in September I changed our goal and approach. Where previously all I wanted was for her to  just use the toilet already, suddenly all I wanted was to make sure that regardless of *how* she chose to poop, that she continued to only do it at home. I did not want her to become comfortable at school and start having poop “accidents” there. She generally only goes at home and I wanted to keep it that way.
We changed the conversation and told her that she needs to poop at home and not at school. That pooping is SO good for her body. That it’s healthy. And that if she needs to go in her undies, to try to take off her pants first so that they don’t get dirty too. That she will go in the toilet when she’s ready, and when she’s ready that we will help her.

She would go in her pants and I would tell her “good job, I am so glad that your body is going poop.” She thought I’d gone crazy and would say, “but I pooped in my undies.” And I would tell her again that I just want her to poop, at home, even if it’s in her undies. In her mind I had truly gone off the deep end because I was congratulating her for going poop in her undies. She would hide, someone would notice and tell me, and I would say (loudly so that she could hear me), “that’s okay, she just needs to go poop by herself right now.” Our boys thought I’d gone bonkers too. The stress level associated with pooping had become so high that it was just all bad in her mind. We had to change her thinking to believe that pooping is good. Because it is.

 

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This girl is my treasure. I would move mountains to help her overcome her poop anxiety, if I could.

Well last week, which was about a month into school and our new approach, she started to become willing to try to go on the toilet. At first she could not do it, but that was okay. Just trying without becoming upset was progress. I would congratulate her for trying and remind her that pooping is good for her when she would later go in her pants. But then one day she did it. I could see her becoming less afraid when she was trying to use the toilet so I was not surprised when she was able to go. Soon after, she was trying to go again, and she really *wanted* to be able to do it. She was getting upset but not because she was afraid like before – she was upset because she really, really wanted to go and couldn’t.
So in that moment I made a decision. I went into my room and took out a $10 Wonder Woman action figure that I had put away without her knowledge, intending to give it to her when she went on the toilet or for Christmas, whichever came first. Rewards had not previously worked for her, so that was why she didn’t know that I had this doll. But I figured, to hell with it. I showed her Woman Woman (which she had been asking for), promising that she could have it if she went. Well my girl dug deep to overcome her anxiety and go on the toilet to get the toy. Nothing was stopping her in that moment.
She was delighted. And I told her that if she poops on the toilet 5 more times, that she can get the Bat Girl one to go with it. Which was why, the next day or the day after, she came to me, asked for help, and she went *three times* in one day. My mother was worried about her going so much, but because she holds it for so long, that is just her normal. She will go not at all and then a lot in one day, and then not at all again. She did not go again after that day for a couple of days. I knew that she was going to have to go big time soon.
She did. She tried and told me that she could feel it pushing. Which was a huge milestone for her – being able to identify the feeling associated with going without running and hiding and being afraid of it. Still she couldn’t do it even though she tried her best. She did eventually go in her undies because she had to go so much, so very badly that she was scared to use the toilet. She went so much that I had to dispose of it in the trash rather than the toilet, which happens when she holds it for too long. She was so sad. She really wanted to use the toilet. I told her it was okay. I was just really glad she went poop because I didn’t want her holding all of that in. We focused on how much better her tummy feels and how we don’t want to keep that much poop in our bodies. Why? Because pooping is good for us. It has become our mantra around here.
I wondered if she would go back to going in in her undies after that. She didn’t. She has used the toilet properly twice in the last couple of days and earned her Bat Girl to team up with Wonder Woman, just this afternoon.
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So much has changed for her in the last couple of weeks. Being able to tell what the urge to poop feels like, and not be afraid of it. Being able to sit on the toilet and try to go, without freaking out. Those two things both had to happen before we were going to see success of any kind. Had I known that telling her she could poop her pants would be what helps her calm down and use the toilet, I’d have given her permission months ago.

It’s tough seeing an older child struggle with their own body. I’m not sure how long it will be before she is able to go consistently. She was in a cycle of holding it for so long that going was scary due to the volume, and then holding it more because she’s afraid to go. As she’s feeling the urge on her own and telling us so that we can take her to the washroom, she is retraining her own body to be okay with that feeling. It may take time for her to respond to “small” urges that she has been used to holding in. That’s okay. Seeing her be happy and excited just to try to use the toilet is huge progress. She IS getting it, one day at a time. That one big accident is actually the only one she’s had in a week. It wasn’t as much of a setback as it normally would have been. (Honestly if I pooped that much I’d freak out too.) Being able to go since then has boosted her confidence even more.

Her next goal is to go not one time or five times, but ten times on the toilet – and she will earn Super Girl to team up with Bat Girl and Wonder Woman. Where was the DC Super Hero Girls movie all this time anyway? Maybe all a girl needs is a hero to help her out! There won’t be rewards forever, and I’m honestly not sure why rewards are working now when they never have before, but after 2 years of struggle, it’s a small price to pay. She wants to be brave like the Super Hero Girls and I am so down with a kid who wants to be courageous in overcoming something that has been unbelievably difficult and discouraging.

I don’t know if sharing this story will help one struggling parent or many, but this is such a tough struggle to walk through with an older child that there was no way I could keep the things that have helped us, to myself. I’m praying that she doesn’t regress and that we continue to move forward on this.

I also pray for breakthrough and success for other kids and families trying to overcome toileting issues in older kids as well. I can honestly say that this is one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced with any of my kids and that is saying an awful lot. Hang in there. I’m hanging in there too.

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

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