3. Does COVID-19 and Potty Training Really Have All That Much in Common?

Covid-19.  SARS-CoV-2.  Coronavirus.  “The Virus” as our kids seem to call it.  We all use different names for what is going on at home.  Our world has been turned around in many aspects due to the current pandemic plaguing our country and other countries around the world.  You can’t turn on a TV channel, radio station, Facebook newsfeed, or blog post (oops!) without someone mentioning it.  Most of us will remember these times for the rest of our lives.

But it may not just be the virus we remember, but the feelings associated with those thoughts.  As Pediatricians there is a high level of concern for children picking up negative feelings from friends, lack of activities, poor social media interactions, home life, or other changes that could affect them for the rest of their lives.  This could later lead to early onset of depression, anxiety, social regression, or other mental health issues.  

The way we talk about today’s current situation is extremely important.  Our kids pick up on our thoughts and feelings on just about everything.  Have a favorite sports team you cheer for?  I bet your kid is a fan without even knowing the rules of the game.  Ever yell at another car with your kids in the backseat?  I bet you have heard them say the same thing another time down the road.  Scared of spiders?  Which one of you jumps up on the chair first? 

So, how are you handling the current pandemic situation?  The more stress and anxiety you portray now, the more your kids are bound to project that in the future.  I am not saying don’t follow social distancing rules or other changes to keep you safe, but do so in a calm and collected way.

Now, what does this have to do with potty training?  It seems in our world we have made the concept of using the bathroom a taboo subject.  When I ask a kid in the office how they are doing with pooping, I usually get a mixture of giggles, eye rolling, embarrassed silence, or utter disbelief that I brought up the subject in the first place.  Kids don’t want to talk about their poop, let alone any other bathroom habits.  I would wager at least 50% of them haven’t even looked at their own poop in the last 6 months.  Have you?

This is not something new they have learned.  It is a thought engrained in them slowly over time.  Sometimes as parents we avoid using words like “poop” or “pee” or anything else associated with bodily functions.  We may decide to use silly words instead or display discomfort in the topic all together.  As kids grow up, they may adapt this as well, leading to a negative connotation to the concept of “using the bathroom.”  This can often times lead to chronic constipation issues or other issues in relation to bathroom use.  

I typically tell parents to use “potty” words frequently and often, even in a child’s infant stages.  Not only do I want kids to be able to express at a young age their urge to go, but I want them to treat it like the rest of the normal language used at home.  You may run into an occasional “You’re a poopy butt!” from your 3-year old, but in the end it is worth it.  The hope is that they will eventually treat using the bathroom as normal; similar to going outside to play.  Just don’t have them drop their pants in the neighbor’s yard. 

Sometimes you can go a little overboard on focusing on the bathroom.  This may be where my failure comes into play.  Our 3-year-old has been potty trained for a while now, but he occasionally has issues with pooping (I almost typed out “Number 2” but promised myself I would only use the preferred potty words).  This has led to stress on the toilet, resulting in long drawn out bathroom trips, incontinence issues, and rarely using aids like suppositories.  When he does poop, he gets a LOT of positive praise.  Smiling.  Clapping.   Cheers of joy.  Cause hey, who doesn’t enjoy a good poop?  

But now when he tries to go and CAN’T, he will sometimes have a sad face, look up at me and say, “Dad, do you still love me?”  “What??” I exclaim, staring at this sad looking face sitting on the toilet.  “Are you mad at me that I didn’t poop?”  Let’s be honest.  He says it in the cutest most adorable voice, but still.  This is when you know you made pooping celebrations a little too vibrant.   

So again, how does all this tie in with the current pandemic?  Simple.  Our kids pick up on everything.  Our fears; our anxieties; our joys; the slightest way we say certain things.  And then it becomes a part of them, one way or the other.  

So just like I want “potty” words to be seen as normal at home, I also want the conversation of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, etc, to be felt as calm, informative, and not something to foster fears later down the road.  That way when we do get to have the ability to interact and mingle with our peers more, we haven’t produced any underlying anxieties.  

The situation right now is already crappy.  Let’s not plug the toilet any more than it needs.

Imperfect Dad, MD

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