DD's potty-phobia is making life complicated!

freezetagJune 25, 2008

My daughter (age 5), fears automatic flushing toilets. And toilets in unfamiliar places. It's not a recent thing - she has been this way since potty training; it's just that it becomes more and more of a problem as she gets older, and goes to more unfamiliar places. Mostly I just carry a change of clothes for her, and make sure she uses the bathroom before we leave the house.

Yesterday, though, her babysitter told me that dd wouldn't use the bathroom at the movies and had wet her pants. Her babysitter drove back to get a change of clothes, but obviously, this is far above and beyond what I could expect her to do on a regular basis!

Sometimes they go on field trips lasting several hours, and it's not practical to ask whether dd can bring a change of clothes everywhere she goes. Leaving it in the vehicle is also not always an option (e.g. going back to the car while at the zoo or museum might take 20 - 30 min).

So my options are:

1. Have dd wear pull-ups on field trip days

2. Have dd stay home on field trip days (which will involve my using a vacation day or hiring another sitter)

3. Figure out how to get dd over her potty-phobia (it seems to be flushing that is the most frightening)

Anyone have any other ideas (or know how to accomplish option 3?)

DD used to be terrified of the bathrooms at her school, but last summer we visited the school on a regular basis and did some conditioning which involved:

- being able to walk past the stall

- going into the stall

- being in the stall while I used the toilet

- using the toilet, then leaving before flushing

- using the toilet, then staying in the stall while I flushed

- using the toilet, and flushing afterwards.

So that probably seems odd, but it worked and she was able to use the bathrooms all year at kindergarten with no problems. But I don't know how to condition her for the unknown bathroom. Maybe we could take a pre-field trip trip every time (not super practical, but more so than hiring another sitter).

I'm hesitant to post this - it seems so ridiculous. But dd's fear is very real to her, and we really do need to figure out a solution!

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My daughter freaked out the first time she did a bowel movement in the toilet. I called my mother to find out what that was all about. She said some toddlers will react this way because they're grossed out by the feces and see that it's coming out of them! I had to show her that I did the same as her and it was natural.

When she flushes the toilet at home, does she close the cover first or does see look at the feces going down the "drain"? Maybe she feels safe doing it at home and then, with other toilets, thinks she might "fall in" and go down with the feces. You never know how their little minds work!

Did you ask her why she's afraid of certain toilets?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 1:00PM
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I'm not sure what, specifically, bothers her. She says that she is afraid it will flush while she is sitting there (who can blame her - no one likes that! The ones where I work do that all the time, and it is most unpleasant.)

I don't think she is afraid of falling in, because she is most likely to be afraid when a toilet is a. unfamiliar, b. automatic and c. noisy. And I think if she were afraid of falling, she might be more afraid of round vs. oval toilets, or high vs. low toilets, which she is not.

At home, she is supposed to close the cover (but forgets most of the time) :) I have not noticed her focusing on, or avoiding, the contents of the toilet - any more than normal. Usually she's in a hurry and zips in and out fairly quickly.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 2:40PM
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DD was afraid of a vacuum cleaner way into her teenage years. kids are scared of strange stuff.

DD also used to refuse eating in other people's houses. We would go visit friends at a summer cottage and she would refuse to touch food the whole day. She would only eat at home and grandmas and preschool. never at people's houses.

she refused to use bathrooms in poeple's houses if something was not spotless clean in their bathrooms. Like one spot on somehting, and she would not sit on a toilet.

Oh she was potty trained very early but when she started to go to preschool she refused to use the bathroom there and insisted on waiting to go home- was not a good idea.

Anyways it all passed. i have no soultions, all i know: it shall pass.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 2:52PM
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Have you tried flushing the toilet while you are on it at home to show her it isn't dangerous? And then let her try it at home. Then maybe try it somewhere else, like school?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 4:53PM
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You should mention all of this to your family doctor. She may have an anxiety disorder. My daughter has generalized anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders and they are very common... for people as young as 5 years old!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 6:10PM
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Sorry, but I'm with Khandi on the clinical anxiety. And this goes over the top... But - that said, I have several friends whose kids have been this way. (Autistic spectrum with anxiety issues). A friend's daughter used to be terrified of open electrical sockets or rooms where a light bulb was burned out. ('The electricity was broken.')

What has worked best for them is similar to the desensitizing conditioning you did at her school. Visit lots of unfamiliar bathrooms - just visit. Look at the toilets and become very familiar with how the automatic flushing mechanisms work. You might try covering the sensor with a piece of toilet paper to see if that will prevent it from flushing too soon. Have her activate the flusher without sitting or using the toilet at all -- just to make the thing work. Keep up the desensitizing. Talk with her about it and praise her for being rational. Maybe go to a mall and go into all of the store's bathrooms. Then do another mall the next week. Find a place with lots of restaurants and hopefully, also other things that will keep the trip from being 100% torture.

Some experts recommend talking about the fear as if it were a little voice outside her head -- a part separate from herself that the rational child can be the boss of. Give that little voice a name (like 'Scaredycat) and have your daughter tell 'Scaredycat' that She's the boss of her! and that Scaredycat can't tell her what to do!. (Be sure to separate the fear from the child so it's clear that 'Scaredycat' is the problem and your daughter is the strong one who will beat 'Scaredycat'. It's important that your daughter know you're not calling her Scaredycat.)

Praise the victories and small steps, reward the efforts, downplay the occasional failures.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2008 at 7:33PM
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I agree, it's time to discuss this with someone who can help you--get a referral from the pediatrician, if need be, for a professional with expertise in conquoring childhood phobias.

However, there's one obvious solution to the field trip problem. If one option is keeping her home with you or a sitter (and you're going to either have to pay a sitter or lose a day's work anyway), why can't you or the sitter accompany her, carrying a tote bag of whatever is necessary. Of course, that's a very short-term solution, and doesn't address the problem. It actually plays into it, by accommodating her, but it might be something to consider for now, until you can get her the help she needs nad she's better able to cope on her own. Just so she doesn't feel even more isolated than she must already. I'm sure, if you explained the situation to the teacher, and were maybe willing to drive yourself (if bus seating is limited), the teacher would be more than happy to have you meet the class and tag along.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 7:44AM
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My son was afraid of the garbage truck. ???? Not all trucks, just the garbage truck. And it wasn't the sound because he loved fireworks and jetplanes made him giggle with glee. Who knows. In the meantime, make it fun and give her the control in the fun. Act like it's the most fun in the whole world to get to flush it. And then race her to it, but let her flush it. Then say, yea, you win! Sounds silly, but just making scary things fun seems to work best with kids. It's problaby because it's difficult to be anxious and have fun at the same time.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 10:15AM
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When my son was 4, his phobia was a motorized wheelchair. His preschool teacher's son had CP, he was about 10 at the time, and used the chair. His school bus dropped him off at the preschool about on hour before I picked DS up.

His fear was like your DD's. He would go nowhere near that chair, panicked. He would have peed his pants if he had to walk past the chair to get to the bathroom. His teachers would have to pick him up and carry him across the room if he had to pass that chair. I found him at pick-up a few times cowered under a table with the chairs pulled in tight around him.

If the son was on the floor, DS was not afraid of him. But that WC scared the life out of him, so when the son was in that WC, DS would run from him like his life was in danger, screaming in terror. I was so upset b/c I thought he might be hurting the son's feelings, and felt like a failure b/c no on else's kid was scared of the WC!

So I found a store that sold wheelchairs, a medical supply store with a showroom. I called, explained my issue, and the staff was so nice! They made time to help us out, we went in, the manager showed him all the chairs, the parts of them, how they work, let him use one. Ended the fear! (I will never forget the kindness that manager showed DS, the time she took for us when there was nothing in it for her, there are good people!) Next day at school DS kept his eye on that WC, but he was no longer panicked. Eventually, he accepted it as part of the furniture in the room, he'd talk to the son while he was in it.

It was like Sweeby's talking about, desensitizing. And he needed to learn that in a different environment, with no pressure. There were no words I could use to get him to understand he was safe, it took a physical lesson.

I like Sweeby's idea about personifying her fear, talking to it, being the boss of it. That will be empowering, and it will teach her skills to overcome other fears as she grows. Talk about it to her, ask her about what she thinks will happen, what really does happen, how it makes her feel. Go somewhere every day if possible just for the purpose of using the bathrooms.

It's hard to be patient with something so irrational. You are doing a great job at handling it, being compassionate but still strong.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2008 at 1:33PM
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Well, I'm glad to hear that other kids have overcome their irrational fears - would hate for dd's career choices to be limited by the bathroom facilities (gee, I'd love to run for Senator, but the Capitol building only has auto-flush toilets...guess I will just keep my job at the mini-mart where at least the toilets are safe...).

Stephanie, dd is like your son - in a complete panic at the thought of being near an automatic toilet. Dh is a plumber - wonder if accompanying him to the plumbing supply house would be helpful?

I also like the idea of making a game out of flushing the toilet. It does sound silly, but she loves that sort of thing, and it's how I get her upstairs to bed on time - sometimes a race up the stairs, or a challenge to see which child can be dressed and ready for bed the fastest, etc.

And will mention this to her ped on our next visit.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 7:02AM
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A trip to the plumbing supply store might be great for your DD! Or help your hubby 'fix' your toilet at home. I know she isn't scared of that one, but could be a little 'this is how they work' education might be very empowering for her.

Not to 'diss' your pediatrician, but most ped's wouldn't know squat about this type of thing unless they happen to treat a lot of kids with phobias, OCD, anxiety, etc. A child psychologist would probably be the better person to consult with.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 1:53PM
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My grand-daughter had this same problem when she was smaller....so her mother had to go through this also....but she did out-grow it. It seemed to start when she was potty training and went into a store where they had auto-flushing and when it flushed, she was terrified that it was going to suck her down the toilet. My DD knelt down in front of her and held her tight and that seemed to give her comfort...but it was hard to overcome.
I hope that with time, this will improve for her also.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 10:38AM
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Normally I just lurk, but I registered today just to answer this question. Take a pad of post-it notes with you. Cover the sensor on the toilet with one before your child gets on the toilet. Then when she is done, has her clothes back in place and is ready to exit the stall, only then remove the post-it. The toilet will flush when she is prepared for it, not before.

Whatever you do, don't allow her to keep peeing her pants. She will be humiliated by her classmates for it and she will also possibly be ruining other peoples' furniture. If necessary have her wear pull-ups on those occasions that warrant the need.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 6:14PM
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