Everything seems to be going just fine with EC (or potty training), when suddenly your LO has a total nuclear meltdown about using the potty. What gives? Join us for today’s episode where we talk all about what can cause potty meltdowns, what you might be able to do to try to avoid them, and how to survive them.
You Will Hear:
- The difference between potty resistance and meltdowns
- Prevention strategies for most tantrums surrounding the potty EC
- How to best support your child through a potty meltdown
- What to do after the meltdown has occurred
- Strategies for helping your child achieve potty independence more confidently
Links and other resources mentioned today:
- First 5 California - Meltdowns vs Tantrums
- Go Diaper Free Book
- Tiny Potty Training Book
- My baby resist the potty - Podcast #230
- Passing the baton - Podcast #59
- “Passing the Baton” Young Toddlers EC Program
- Potty Pause Resolution MiniCourse
- Getting GEC Back on Track MiniCourse
- Wrapping Up EC MiniCourse
- Regression at Walking - Podcast #196
- The re-set - Podcast #46
- Mini Potty
- Go Diaper Free Store
- Tiny Undies Store
Download the Transcript
If you can't listen to this episode right now (um, sleeping baby!?)...download and read the transcript here:
EPISODE 234: Surviving Potty Meltdowns
Hello, and welcome to the Go Diaper Free podcast. I'm your host, Nicole Cheever, Go Diaper Free Certified Coach and mama to three kiddos who all went through EC and potty training at different ages and stages.
Hey everyone, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining me again today. I'm Nicole Cheever with Go Diaper Free, and this is episode 234, Surviving Potty Meltdowns. You can find the show notes over at godiaperfree.com/234. When you're done listening here today, please head over and leave us any comments you have, ask us questions. We'd love to hear from you.
For those of you who are new on this podcast, we focus mostly on elimination communication, which is simply helping your baby with their hygiene and their pottying needs from as early as birth. You can start at any age between zero and 18 months. Once you start to get close to 18 months, you're really getting into potty training territory, but what we're talking about today applies to both. You can have potty meltdowns anytime during EC or potty training. They're going to be most common in that 15 to 24 month window when they're starting to become toddlers and more self-aware, to when they're full-fledged toddler two-year-olds. You can also have potty meltdowns with older children.
I wanted to talk about this on the podcast because it's something that seems to be a huge deterrent for some people. They have heard about the epic disasters that other parents have had while trying to do potty training, so it scares them. It prevents them from wanting to try potty training, let alone EC. But I'm here to tell you that meltdowns, unfortunately, are just a part of having a toddler. There are some ways you can prevent them and we'll talk about that, but you're not going to avoid meltdowns altogether just because you're waiting longer to potty-train your child. In fact, some might say that you are more at risk of having meltdowns around the bathroom routine the longer you wait because your child has grown very accustomed, and sometimes very attached, to the diaper. And we want to help you out of that. At Go Diaper Free, our main goal is to help you break free from full-time dependence on diapers, and this is one way to do it, is to help you learn what you're going to get into if you're going to be confronted with any meltdowns and help you get through those.
First, let's talk about what a meltdown actually is because there is a difference between meltdowns and resistance. A lot of you who have been practicing EC since your baby was young may have had some resistance at certain phases, but a meltdown is an entirely different animal. The definition might vary depending on your parenting philosophies, and in fact, what we're talking about today, how to handle them and how to prevent them, will also vary depending on your parenting style and philosophy.
First 5 California has a definition of meltdowns that I will link. They typically occur when the child is already stressed. I like to use the acronym HALT. It's hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Works great for adults, too. If you can identify one or more of those feelings in your body, then you are more at risk of having some kind of emotional turmoil, and that's what a meltdown really is. It's not just a resistance or tantrum over something. It's a full-fledged nuclear meltdown, like when your brain completely shuts down and you're having a hard time processing. And that's what happens when a child has a meltdown. There's no logic, there's no reasoning, there's no redirecting. Their brain is on pure survival mode. They might be crying, screaming, hitting, throwing things.
They could be really physical with it. According to First 5 California, it's not because they want something, it's just an emotional internal crisis that they're having where their brain is not able to recover from it. They could unknowingly be unsafe during a meltdown. So that's your number one priority during a meltdown is keeping yourself and your child safe, however you feel best doing that. But according to First 5, and this is a key that I think is very important, the meltdown behavior will continue through to its end even when the child is not getting attention for the behavior. So if you practice gentle parenting or social emotional awareness, you might use a strategy where you try to redirect your child or you try just not to acknowledge the undesired behavior, and that may help for tantrums, but apparently with meltdowns it doesn't at all.
I have a few short examples to give you from my experience, both as a coach and a parent that might help drive this home for you. I had a client who had tried to do the hybrid plan for 12 to 18 month older toddlers that's in the Go Diaper Free book, and she tried to do it around 15 months.
Now granted, she did a lot of research. I think she suffered a little bit from information overload because rather than just sticking to the Go Diaper Free method, she'd read several other books, taken an online course, and really just bombarded herself with different opinions on pottying. And one of the main reasons Andrea wrote her first book, EC Simplified (now Go Diaper Free) is because she wanted to distill down all of that information out there that really muddies the water and confuses parents and bring it down to a very simple step-by-step plan. So she tried to follow the step-by-step plan with her 15-month-old daughter, and she admitted that she put on the pressure, that she was very stressed throughout the process, and that she really hovered and put a lot of pressure on her daughter to get the pee in the potty. By the time I came on board, they were trying to decide if they wanted to continue with EC or if they wanted to wait and do more of the potty training experience from The Tiny Potty Training Book once their baby got closer to that 18 mark, or even passed it.
What I observed with this child was that she was very well aware when she was wet, both from what I saw and from what her parents reported, and she knew what it felt like to need to go pee. And while I was with them, I observed her having a complete and total meltdown because she wanted the diaper to pee in. She had to pee, and she did not want to sit on the potty. That was the main thing that her mother had put on the pressure about was sitting on the potty. They had practiced regular sitting on the potty when it wasn't potty time, which overdoing that can absolutely contribute to resistance. That's one of the reasons we never recommend putting your child on the potty on a timer like every 15 or 20 minutes, for example.
So she had to pee. She did not want to sit. She refused to sit and would arch and do the whole thing when you tried to put her on any kind of potty device, whether it was the small potty or the seat reducer or even holding over the big potty. And while she was having this total meltdown, throwing herself on the floor, here and there she was leaking urine because she could not hold it anymore. She was screaming, crying, tears down her face, laying on the floor, almost inconsolable. The only time she was able to calm down was when her dad picked her up and kind of bounced her and soothed her. She just did not want to pee in the potty, but she also did not want to pee all over the floor or all over herself, so that was a major meltdown.
Another one that has happened with me with my child is she had some constipation issues that we are still dealing with, and she had a few painful poops, and what that has done is created a lot of anxiety around poop. Even though I've taken a lot of measures to change her diet, soften her stool, and make sure that she's not having anymore of those hard, painful poops, it's not totally in my control. She still has anxiety. She's still nervous about it, and so she will hold it for long periods of time, still sometimes creating more of that hard stool, and she will cry and scream. She'll signal that she needs to go potty with her hand signal. She will sit on the potty, and as soon as her bottom hits the toilet seat reducer, she arches and wants to get off. So she knows she has to go potty. She's sitting on the potty, she's wanting to go, but as soon as she gets right up to that point where she's going to start to poop, she backs off because she's afraid. What I've had to do is hold her in a squat position over the sink, facing the mirror so she can see me and herself while she's crying and screaming, tears streaming down her face, holding her in that squat and just reassuring her, “It's okay, baby. It's okay. You can poop. Go ahead.” And as soon as I start to see it come out, I put her on the potty and she's able to poop and calm down.
Other instances where these meltdowns can happen are in places where you have not yet fully passed on the baton. There's something that your child is developmentally ready to do for themselves and you are still doing it for them. You have not put the training in place for them to take that step and take responsibility for it. In the Go Diaper Free book and in The Tiny Potty Training Book, we have the building blocks of potty independence, and those are all of the steps that your child will need to complete before they can be independent on the potty. And what often happens is your child comes up to one of those points before you've actually done the teaching, so they want to take it on, but they don't have the ability.
An example is getting on the potty. Maybe you have a seat reducer like I do that's just too high on the potty. There's no ladder, there's no step stool, no way that they can get on themselves. So they start having a lot of pee misses because they want to get on by themselves. They don't want your help, but they can't. Putting those elements in place, handing over the reins for those different points, for each of those steps will go a long way to preventing this. Of course, most of the time when you hit resistance, that is when you want to teach whatever the resistance is around, and you'll usually just get a tantrum out of it. The meltdowns tend to happen when there's a traumatic experience like being terrified by one of the auto flushers in a public bathroom. You could have a public bathroom potty meltdown because that's the only potty available, and your child is terrified. You could have the poop meltdown like I talked about. And then the pee meltdown for my client was at least in part because mom and dad had gone back and forth and gave the diaper back. Most people are familiar with the scenario where a toddler will only poop in their diaper, and mom and dad exacerbate that and feed into it by giving the diaper back and giving in every time. This had happened with pee with this child. So it was the same scenario where she knew if she held on long enough that she could get her diaper back and she wasn't having it any other way.
Unfortunately, these meltdowns tend to be more likely the longer you wait to even just introduce your child to the potty, because some children can show fear towards the potty if you wait too long to let them sit or explore it. In general, starting as soon as you can, if you're listening to this and you have a three-year-old and you've never let them sit on a little potty, this is your sign. Start today. Because a lot of these things can be avoided but not entirely because again, they're not all within our control. The meltdowns tend to be more emotional. It's an internal emotional struggle. Really all we can do as parents is try to set our children up for success so that we're not confusing them. This is why we say that EC is really only appropriate until 18 months, right around that 18 month mark. You may have a go-getter that it happens at 15 months, you may have a chill baby that it doesn't happen until 21 months. Somewhere in there is when your child is going to turn into a toddler, need those clear boundaries, strive for mastery for themselves of all the different skills they need for their life. If you hang on too long and keep them a baby and keep them in those diapers, you're putting yourself at risk and them at risk for these potty meltdowns because they've created an emotional attachment to the diaper. Or again, you've confused them by flip-flopping, going back and forth.
I'm going to link an episode here that I just recorded recently, episode 230 about resistance at many stages. If you're still confused about the difference between resistance and a meltdown, I want you to go listen to that episode or read that transcript and get an idea of what the resistance is. The resistance really is telling you you need to teach something. Your child is striving for more independence, but it's typically just a refusal. Like, “No, I won't sit on the potty,” and runs away, and then pees on the floor two minutes later. It's not a complete knock down drag out meltdown.
I'm also going to link episode 59, which is passing the baton so you can get a little bit more information on what I was talking about with the building blocks of potty independence.
I'm going to give you a few little tips here for prevention strategies. Again, this is an internal issue for your child when they're having a potty meltdown. When they're already having some kind of struggle with the potty and then they hit one of those HALT instances where they're hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, overstimulated, sugared up, any of the above, they will be more likely to have that resistance and that tantrum tip over into a meltdown. So there's really not a ton you can do except try to avoid those things and sometimes, like the instances with the poop withholding and the auto flushers, there's not really anything you can do about it, but get through it.
But there are a few things you can do to help smooth out the road for your child to become potty independent. I already mentioned teaching and giving access. We have a couple mini courses and a program all about passing the baton. Our young toddlers EC program, “Passing the Baton,” does a deep dive into teaching all of those steps, start to finish. What ages it's appropriate to teach each of those steps and different strategies for getting your child independent in each of them. We also have a few mini courses. One is the Potty Pause Resolution MiniCourse, because potty pauses usually are due to a lack of knowledge somewhere. They don't have a skill in part of the process that they want to take on themselves. We have Getting EC Back on Track, if you've gotten off track and you need to refocus. We have Wrapping Up, another EC mini course, and that's really just like the passing the baton, but in a smaller chunk, it's a little bit more of a general overview. The wrapping up mini course is great if you just need a little boost, and “Passing the Baton” is if you really want to deep dive into that.
The other thing is to chill. Easy, right? Not. As a parent, it is so hard to see your child go through this, especially if, like First 5 California says, there's nothing you can do about it. Your child is going to have this meltdown whether or not you're actually responding to the behavior or giving them any attention. So the priorities are keeping your child and yourself safe, and trying to bring as much calm to the storm as you can, whatever that looks like for you. Whether it's deep breathing, whether it's quiet singing, whatever it may be, but taking on a body posture and an attitude that this will pass, I just need to be the stability for my child in this moment.
Like I said, when I'm holding my daughter over the sink and trying to help her poop, I do a lot of deep breathing, just in through my nose and blowing out through my mouth and I make it slow. I try to count to five or six as I'm blowing out. I will sometimes sing to her very quietly. I will reassure her, even though she doesn't fully understand all of my words, I will tell her, “I know, I understand. I love you. It's okay. I'm right here. It might hurt a little bit, but it's going to be okay. You're going to get this poop out. Let's get the poop out.” Things like that. So whatever kind of mantras you need to try to stay as calm as possible. Trying to avoid those HALT instances, the hungry, angry, lonely, tired. I'm going to link episode 196 as well, which is an episode on regression at walking, because the regression tends to happen again when they don't have those skills. If you're grooving and jiving with EC and then you hit walking, usually around a year, and all of a sudden you're having misses everywhere. Pee all over, they don't want to sit on the potty, the whole nine yards, you're hitting regression because they want the independence. So if you really need to drive that point home for yourself, go ahead and check out that episode as well.
A couple other things to help you as the parent, even though you can't really do a ton to help your child, are checking in with your outlook and your priorities, your mental head space. What is the worst that could happen? Is there going to be pee on the floor? If that's the worst that could happen, that's something that could be cleaned up. Yes, if you have carpets or rugs, it might be a little bit more difficult, but what is our long-term goal? Asking yourself these questions can be really important, and reminding yourself of the answers, especially in these stressful moments. Is your long-term goal to always get all of the pee in the potty or is it potty independence? Because if it's always to get every pee in the potty, number one, highly unrealistic, and even those of us that practice full-time EC really only shoot for about 50% until we're working on wrapping up, and in the wrap up process, yes, you're going to try and get 90, 95% in there until they're a little bit older. But if your end goal is potty independence, a lot of these misses and tantrums and even meltdowns are necessary. They have to go through this process. And this is, for me as a parent, one of the hardest things to come to terms with, even the third time around. There are some things that your child needs to do for themselves. There are some roads they need to walk alone. You can be there to support them emotionally, physically, however you need to, but they need to walk this road. They need to get through this process. You are there to support and reassure and cheer them on.
Potty independence at the end is all up to your child. You can use all the tricks, read all the books, supply all the necessary equipment, do all the teaching. Your child has to take that baton that you're trying to pass to them. So that can be really hard to come to terms with, and that can make us stress out unnecessarily and try to fix the situation when there's nothing to be fixed. My daughter has to experience these poop meltdowns to trust her body eventually and realize that it's not going to hurt every time. Even though that was a really big scary experience and it happened a few times, it's not going to be forever. And nothing I do is going to convince her of that. Just going through the process is going to be what solidifies it for her. So I know that's really tough. That's life, right? We don't have control of our children. All we can do is what we can do to help them and everything else, we just have to leave to them.
Lastly, I want to touch on what to do moving forward. So your child had a potty meltdown. You survived it. Congratulations. But now what? So in the instance of my client, they did decide to do a re-set. They decided to stop with the hybrid plan and wait. A re-set typically is only two weeks if you're still going to practice EC. That's in episode 46 that I have linked. They decided to wait until their daughter was closer to two. They were going to have more time over the summer to focus, relax. It wasn't going to be as stressful, and they wouldn't be trying to cram it into one weekend while they were both working full time. So that was what they opted to do, that was best for their family, and they're going to revisit it again when their child is closer to two over the summer.
Another strategy is doing your best to rebuild trust and confidence in the potty process. Holding space for your child and understanding that this was hard. In the case of poop withholding or being scared by the auto flusher, that's going to take a lot of time and it's sometimes easy to get frustrated as a parent and just go, “Oh, come on, you were doing this just fine before.” They're not now. Take that breath. Come to terms with the fact that now it's scary. We're going to have to kind of start from the beginning. Hopefully they'll get there sooner this time, but take the same steps, go back to basics and take all the same steps you need to to rebuild their trust and their confidence, whatever that looks like. If your child was getting up on the big potty and you were so thrilled to not have to clean out the mini potty anymore, and now they don't want to get on it, guess what? We're bringing out the mini potty. We're going to take a deep breath and we're going to bless and release it. We're back to the mini potty. We're going to clean it out as long as we have to, and we know that we are capable of getting back on the big potty because we've done it before. So again, being that great support and encouragement for your child, and allowing them to take that time they need to process and to rebuild their own trust and confidence in the process.
I'm also going to link episode 142, which is about correcting potty-centeredness, where you as the parent might be putting on all the pressure because you're frustrated and because you want to be further along than you are, or you want to be catching more than you are. So that will help you kind of come to terms with this spot that you're in.
And that's it for today, everyone. Thanks so much for sticking around. We talked today about surviving potty meltdowns, what they are, how they differ from resistance, some things you can kind of do to prevent them, but also how you can support your child through them and what things you can put in place to try to move them along to potty independence a little bit more confidently. Please make sure you go to godiaperfree.com/234. Go ahead and leave us comments there. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast so you can be up-to-date on everything we're coming out with. You'll get an email every time we release a podcast with a little description of what it's about so you can tune in when it's something that you need help with, and we also keep everyone on our email list informed of all the events going on. We just had another successful Go Diaper Free week. Thank you so much everyone who participated in that. And any of the sales that are happening are going to be right there in your inbox anytime you need it. Don't worry, no spam allowed.
Now, I want to hear from you. Head on over to that comment section, godiaperfree.com/234 and let us know have you dealt with potty meltdowns? What strategies have you found helpful in your EC or potty training journey? We'd love for you to share with our community. Let us know what strategies have been helpful to you and what other questions you might have. Thank you so much again for tuning in. Next time on the podcast, we're going to have another troubleshooting question about what to do if you just can't read your baby's timing or signals, so make sure you tune in again next week. We will see you then.
Thanks so much for listening. This is the Go Diaper Free podcast at godiaperfree.com. We'll see you next time.
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About Andrea Olson
I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)