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Anxiety and Accidents

Anxiety is an ugly beast. It makes people's bodies react in a way that's more appropriate to being attacked by a bear than for most of the modern stresses we face. It makes people feel terrible, avoid things they love and do things that hurt them. It's difficult to recognise and verbalise for adults and a thousand times harder on young children.

When it comes to toileting, anxiety is relevant on two fronts.

  1. It can be behind many of the common issues children have around training including hiding from or avoiding the potty, refusing to give up nappies and withholding stool.
  2. At its worst, anxiety can send our bodies into a state of such fear that our bowels and bladder let go completely, creating an embarrassing situation.

So how do we deal with it? And, more importantly, how do we teach our children to deal with it?

Sadly, anxiety is something that our family is all too familiar with managing. Here's some advice based on our personal journey.



I struggle with this. It's so much easier to tell myself, "he'll be fine", than to accept the reality that my boy may not be able to cope with the normal tasks laid in front of him.

The thing is that...

  • Maybe the things you had hoped to do as a family aren't the best for your child right now
  • Maybe the stuff that the kids in your coffee group are doing aren't what your child is up to right now
  • Maybe the amazing, fun, busy day you've got planned just isn't going to work for your child right now

No amount of pushing or coaxing will change this in the long term so best that you accept



Adapting doesn't have to mean that you miss out altogether or that your life should revolve around irrational fear. It just might mean that you back off for a bit, do a few less activities, that you schedule in more one-on-one time with your child or that you spend more time settling your child into a situation before leaving. Make changes to lower your child's overall anxiety level.

With regard to potty training, this may mean that you go back to nappies for the time being.



When your child's general anxiety level is under control you can work on building slowly toward a goal. Build your child's confidence with lots of positive reinforcement for every single baby step they make along the way. After all, they're staring their fear right in the face and stepping forward anyway - doesn't that deserve some serious encouragement?!



Young children often find it extremely difficult to communicate their anxieties. Help them learn to verbalise their feelings by giving them the words they need. When they're upset you might say, "I can see you're very upset right now". If they're reluctant to do something you could ask, "are you feeling scared?" Talk about the feelings of characters in books, games and TV shows.


Give them time and space

Sometimes kids just need a little time or space to process what's expected of them. Being nagged or reminded constantly can get in the way of that. Try backing off and letting them take a moment. You may be pleasantly surprised.


Have their back

We have a rule in our house. No matter what, no matter how rude or loud or horrible either of my boys have been, I am always available for a cuddle. So, even if anxiety has got the better of them and it's come out as poor behaviour, they still know I've got their back. They also know their behaviour will be addressed but that doesn't change my emotional availability to them.

You may notice that my advice doesn't fit perfectly with the busy, social lives most of us live. Children with elevated anxiety levels do need our time and patience. Rushing or pushing will only make things take longer and get worse - believe me, I've been there! Back off your own expectations and you'll do just fine.

2 thoughts on “Anxiety and Accidents”

  • Rachael Humprhies
    Rachael Humprhies 07/05/2016 at 8:51 pm

    Thank you! It didn't for a second occur to me that it may be anxiety causing our toilet training problems! But this is exactly what my 4yr old is like. She tells me she doesn't want to go to the toilet because she's scared. Will go days without pooping just to end up having accidents and is constantly terrified she's going to get in trouble even though I've tried to be as gentle possible with her. I have of course lost my patience with her at times, especially last year while going through yet another hellish pregnancy but then there was a week where my, then 18 month old, had roto and they both lived in nappies for the week because I was completely by myself and after that I was just all men. And let her stay in nappies until the summer when she then got freedom bum and things are slowly getting better :) but thanks again for shining the light

    • bathandpottytime
      bathandpottytime 08/05/2016 at 2:16 am

      I'm so glad I could help Rachael. It sounds like you've been on a really tough road so it's natural that you would lose patience from time to time. Big hugs to you! Having your daughter back in nappies during the toughest time was probably the best thing you could do. It's quite common for children who develop a fear of the toilet to get into a cycle of withholding stool, getting constipated, then having uncomfortable accidents, which reinforce the fear. I touch on this in my article on hiding to poo. You may also like to look up Dr Alan Greene as he has good info on this topic and refers to it as the D3 Cycle (Discomfort, Dread, Delay). The key is to break the cycle and that will happen with understanding, support and possibly medical intervention or a high fibre diet to promote more regular, less distressing motions. All the very best and let us know how you get on!

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