Gentle Potty Training

Photography: Poppy Peterson

By Keri Hanson

With my first son, potty training was a fairly easy process after we let go of societal pressure to start before he was ready.

Initially, I tried after he had turned two, even though he had shown little interest. It led to many accidents, to him crying, and to me trying not to show frustration. I was leaning heavily on advice from other well-intended mums — “Once you start, there’s no going back. Commit fully to it.” Maybe their approach was right for them, but after three days of being house-bound and not making any progress, I decided we both needed to get some fresh air. I put him back in a diaper, and we went on a picnic. It was healing for both of us to spend an afternoon in the sun, not stuck inside, not stuck in the potty training process, not in tears. Later that day I came across a Lao Tsu quote on a tea bag: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” 

And then I knew. It wasn’t time.

We waited another six months, after he began asking to be changed. We did another diaper-less three days, and this time he barely had any accidents. He even woke up from naps dry, and often was dry in the morning. It was so much easier the second try. To not rush him. To not forge ahead no matter the tears. To allow.

It was so much easier the second try. To not rush him. To not forge ahead no matter the tears. To allow.

Modern parenting is constantly letting us know the correct timeline or socially acceptable way of raising kids — which is usually the opposite of what feels most natural and gentle to me. I’d love to say I always follow my mother’s intuition and respond only to each son’s individual needs, but I’m still learning. It can be a challenge to do things differently.

When my second son was almost three, he began to show signs that he was ready to be out of diapers. He took to using the potty chair quickly. In fact, he only had two accidents resulting in wet pants in the first week. But…

Bowel movements were much more of an issue. He simply held it for the initial three whole days. I put him back in a diaper. He finally went in his diaper — but it was painful for him. Which created emotional trauma.

From then on, he would get this look of sheer panic in his eyes, tell me he had to go, and then sit on the potty chair and not go. He grew increasingly constipated despite me trying everything to promote regularity:

  • Diluted prune juice.
  • Prunes baked into oat and flax and honey muffins that I told him were cupcakes.
  • Probiotics in his smoothies.
  • Sneaking slippery elm in his chamomile tea.
  • Extra focus on hydration.
  • Eating fats and avoiding binding foods.

I joked that I had become a full-time poo doula. I ushered him to the bathroom anytime he had to go. I encouraged him to wait a few minutes even after he assured me “There’s no poop.” We still sat. I told stories about everyone we knew pooping. Told stories about a bear that was stuck in a cave and wanted to come out and go for a swim. We read a cute book about a pirate named Pete learning to use to potty. We even tried magnesium chloride baths, pediatric suppositories and a castor oil pack externally — the latter two felt completely not gentle to me. Also, they were not all that effective.

I grew more anxious and worried about him not having bowel movements and his increasing constipation. He grew more anxious and worried about having bowel movements. Nothing seemed to be working. I made a second call to our caring Family Nurse Practitioner; she mentioned maybe we could try NET (short for Neuro Emotional Technique). I called and scheduled an appointment.

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