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We got our 3½ year old daughter toilet trained about a year ago. While she already showed good bladder control at an earlier age, the main obstacle to overcome was her uneasiness towards toilets, especially for pooping. This fear was overcome by reading a lot of books on the toilet. Either her favorite books as also some about the topic. You can't believe how many children poop books are out there...

Once potty trained, there were very few accidents ever since. However, about a month ago her fear from toilets resurfaced and she only feels safe to pee or poop in a select few. Mostly the ones at daycare or at home. The other ones creep her out due to the shape of the bowl, attached piping or what have you. In general she is not scared about falling into the toilet but scared that her pee might touch something scary in either the bowl or the piping.

More concretely she wouldn't go the toilet at a friends house and would try to ignore the need to pee. This in turn let to a few watering the garden situations, which coincidentally she has no issue with at all.

My question is, how can we help her to lose her fears of toilets again?

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    Would you be open to an answer advocating against trying to help her get over her fear of alien toilets and instead propose solutions to help her when the need to pee arises somewhere alien? Irrational fears sometimes call for irrational solutions. Jun 25 at 23:20
  • @anongoodnurse Actually, I would very much welcome a new angle to look at the topic, this being one of the reasons why I asked this question here.
    – magu_
    Jun 28 at 8:16
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It appears that you are a kind and empathetic parent, which is great, and is especially necessary in dealing with irrational fears.

You can't counter irrational fears with rationality. For example, telling a child that monsters don't exist will not decrease their fear of the monster they know is under their bed. You need to deal with their fears by validating the emotion, talking about their fear, gradual desensitization if the problem is amenable to this, and seeking solutions perhaps outside of the norm.

Validating their fears is not the same as agreeing with them; it simply means acknowledging that their fear is real. Try to find out if she experienced something traumatic (e.g. someone at preschool had an accident on the toilet and someone got mad), or what she thinks will happen if her urine touches a strange bowl or the pipes. Is there a toilet monster? Will it hurt her? Will the bowl or the pipes be angry/act up? Why is it threatening? Understanding her irrational fears will help you in your approach to the problem.

Desensitizing is time consuming; it's a chore. It would be a lot easier if, e.g., her fear was of dogs. But her fear is of toilets, so you kinda have to go there with her. Since she's not afraid of the toilet at home, this is more problematic. Do you still have her potty chair? Is it small enough to travel with? (There are some very portable travel potties.) What you do to help desensitize her depends on understanding why she's afraid. No reason is too silly; they're not silly to her. Perhaps you can go to a (clean) public restrooms at fast food restaurants or such where she can identify a threatening toilet. Have her use the potty, then dispose of her urine in the toilet together. If she's afraid of injury, note that the toilet (isn't angry/whatever her fear is.) Next perhaps you can have her use a strange toilet while you are there to protect her, holding her. Next, without you holding her (maybe just her hand.) Etc.

If this is not feasible, you can let her take the travel potty wherever she goes. If it's just to pee, she can pee in a paper cup (practice at home) and pour it into the toilet, wipe herself, and flush. Crumple the cup, throw it away, wash hands and it's done.

These are just suggestions; I'm sure you can come up with better ones when you know her specific fear. When she becomes more rational or her desire to be like everybody else is greater than her fear, she'll outgrow it.

Ideas to Help Reduce Your Child’s Fear and Anxiety About Using the Toilet

I had a lot of irrational fears as a child, including the toilet monster. In my experience, to be told my fears were silly was not helpful. In my case, I think some of it was because I watched too many horror movies at a young age and I had a very active imagination; my older brother and sister went to a movie theater for a double feature - one of which was usually a horror movie - every week, and I tagged along. I saw all of the classics and then some on the big screen. And I still love a really scary show!

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    Thank you very much for your answer and your kind words. We will try again to get to the bottom of her fear. She might be able to put them into words now, considering she's a bit older than a year ago. We actually never had a potty and went straight for the toilet. However, I really like your cup idea. I think that could help her enormously. Once that works it might even be worthwhile for her to empty the cup, thereby being the active party to dispose of her pee in the toilette.
    – magu_
    Jul 3 at 5:19

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