Bathroom Blues: My Child Is Afraid To Ask To Use The Bathroom

When my eldest was undergoing the process of potty training, we encountered a little hump in the road. Suddenly, the little three-year-old who already graduated from nighttime nappies is afraid to even look at his favorite potty.

Suddenly, we were at a standstill with potty training and we didn’t know what went wrong… until we realized what caused it: a toilet cleaner advertisement.

It turns out that he watched the ad where scary and evil-looking germs lurked in the toilet. He was so scared of it. I imagined he thought about scary-looking germs in his potty too (we got him one that looked like a real toilet).

You may be just beginning your potty training and experiencing difficulty. Or like us, maybe it’s been going well and suddenly you can’t progress further or your child regresses for some reason.

What causes potty training regressions?

Regression happens when your child steps back or suddenly lose the abilities they once were already capable of. It is the state of returning to a less-developed stage in their growth in terms of physical, mental, and emotional acumen.

In potty training, regression is something that is very obvious to parents (well, because there’s a lot of mess usually involved). It is also a common occurrence during the process -a few steps forward, then a couple of steps back until the child perfects the process.

Generally, the causes for potty training regression can be grouped into two major categories: emotional and physical. The emotional factors has something to do with the mental state of the child, while the physical factor involves their body and its function.

Here are a couple of examples:

Emotional Factors

  • Stress, fear, anxiety or phobia
  • Starting school, changing classrooms or teachers
  • The arrival of a new sibling
  • Moving to a new house
  • Parents going through a divorce
  • Experiencing accidents in public and feeling ashamed

Physical factors

  • Constipation which makes it painful to go potty
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Stomach flu or intestinal bugs

Sometimes, it can be a combination of both physical problems and emotional stress that causes the regression. Examine your child closely and observe their behavior. Also, note the changes that are going on around the home or school.

Why is potty training difficult for some kids?

Potty training regression explained

Potty training is a natural process. However, it is also a learned process, just like walking. It will take some time and a lot of practice and fails to achieve potty mastery.

Some kids might get it in one go, but most of the time, it takes several days and several tries before they get it right. For some children, it may even take months of on-and-off attempts to get there.

Here are some of the reasons why potty training is difficult for your toddler (and for you!)

  1. They are simply not ready. If you’ve read our previous post on potty training, there are potty training signs of readiness that you should watch out for even before attempting to start potty training.
  2. They are ready but lack briefing. You cannot just decide one day that you are going to take the diapers away without fair warning to your toddler. It can take a few days in advance to prep a toddler to get ready to start the potty training process.
  3. Potty training is not a pleasurable experience for them. You know that feeling of relief you get when you go to the toilet? Your child should be able to enjoy that feeling too. If they feel coerced, forced, or scared into pottying, they won’t see it as a positive experience.
  4. Your child gets upset when he sees his stools being flushed away. This may seem funny, but it is a real thing among many children. Some children think that their stools are a part of them, mainly because it came from their bodies.
  5. Your child is afraid of getting sucked into the toilet. It is a real fear since they are still quite small in proportion to an adult-sized toilet. Starting off with a cute little potty or adapter might solve this.
  6. Your child still asks for a diaper when feeling the urge. This may be a setback but it is actually praise-worthy. Asking for a diaper before having to go means being able to recognize the sensation of having to go potty.
  7. Bed-wetting. Bedwetting can occur even long after your child has already been potty trained. It can indicate stress or other problems in older children, but it is a common occurrence among toddlers who still lack bowel or bladder control when in deep sleep.
  8. Your child may like to play with his poo. The horror stories of some parents who find their playrooms smeared with poop are real too. This behavior is not to deliberately frustrate you but merely a sign of curiosity.

What to do when encountering these difficulties

Always remember that how you react has an impact on how your toddler will proceed with potty training. The goal is not to get them potty trained as soon as possible. It is to develop positive associations with using the potty.

Make sure to keep a cool head when dealing with potty issues. Approach your child in a reassuring manner. Try to understand their viewpoint and their struggles to see where the issue is coming from.

In this manner, you get to the root of the situation and develop positive potty habits instead of getting angry with your child and putting bad vibes towards the pottying experience.

How do I encourage my child to ask to use the toilet?

Encouraging your child to ask to use the potty

Most of the time with pottying, patience is the key. However, there are certain things you can do to encourage them to ask to use the potty.

  1. Be patient. Getting flustered, frustrated, or even mad during potty training will make your child feel that using the potty is a stressful activity. He will associate it with negative feelings and avoid it at all costs.
  2. Involve your child in the process. If they get to pick their potty, their big-kid underpants, and their potty toy, they will be more inclined to ask for the potty as much as they need it.
  3. When starting school, make sure that their teachers are informed of their potty training status.
  4. Practice with your child. If they’re going to have to ask another adult (such as a teacher or daycare provider) to use the potty, it would help if you have a ready script that you can practice with them. We taught our little one to raise his hand and say “Can I go wee please?” It does not have to be something eloquent, but rather easy enough for them to utter when they need it.
  5. Teach them hand or body signals for instances when they are having a hard time to ask verbally. This may include tugging at the pants, pointing to their undergarment, or any action that you and your child agree translated to “I need to go potty.”
  6. Make it a fun activity. Sitting for prolonged periods trying to relax their bowels and bladders can be challenging for little kids. Having something to entertain them will make time pass quickly and make the ordeal more tolerable.

Potty fun time books (top picks)

Good books to read with your kiddo on potty training

Reading something fun and entertaining can keep your toddler occupied while seated at the potty. It takes their minds off the waiting game. At the same time, it is a good opportunity to further develop your child’s love for reading.

Here are some of our top picks that you can get on Amazon:


It can be a stressful thing to go through potty training with a child that is afraid to ask to go to the potty. A good portion of successful potty training relies on effective communication between adults and children.

Whether it’s due to regression or other difficulties that you or your child may be facing, what matters is that you are patient. Keep your eyes on the long-term goal of having your child develop good potty habits instead of rushing to get immediate results.

When your child is afraid to ask to go to the potty, try to take a closer look and figure out if something is causing it. Only when you address the root of the problem will you be able to move on towards achieving true potty training success.

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Vanessa is a freelance writer and a two-time certified boy mom to a toddler and a preschooler. She believes that raising happy kids is a delicate balance between doing your best as a parent and seeking help when you need it.

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