Psychological Effects of Potty Training

If you’ve heard the term “anal retentive” and know something about the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and his theories, you probably get that potty training can affect a person’s psyche. An anal retentive person, according to Freud, is one who was punished during toilet training, causing the person to become orderly, a rule follower, neat and stubborn. Whether you believe Freud’s theories or not, there are definitely some psychological issues regarding potty training.

Psychological Trauma

You can cause psychological trauma to your child if you punish or shame him into potty training or if you are harsh with him for having an accident, says Dr. Pete Stavinoha, a Dallas pediatric psychologist and coauthor of “Stress Free Potty Training” on Parent Dish. More child abuse occurs during potty training than in any other developmental milestone, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A child cannot psychologically process abuse by an adult in his life. He may start regressing to a younger age, have bad dreams, lose interest in activities, and become angry and violent.

Child's Sense of Control

Your child might be physically ready to be potty trained, but he might not be psychologically ready. Around the age of 2 years, the potty training era, kids also tend to be pretty negative. In other words, they say “no” a lot. Your 2-year-old probably has no greater fun than telling you he doesn’t want to do something, thereby exerting his newfound power over you. This is hardly a conducive potty training environment. If you push during this time, you might enter a battleground where, if you lose, you will set a bad precedent in your parent-child relationship where power has become more important than the training to the child.

Your Sense of Control

It’s better to wait until your child wants to potty train than to force the issue and possibly lose, according to Dr. Michael K. Meyerhoff, parenting author and director of the Epicenter Inc., an Illinois family advisory and advocacy agency. Be nonchalant about the issue, projecting the attitude that it’s no big deal to you. If you bribe or punish for not using the potty, you’ve created a power struggle.

Show Pride Not Relief

Once your child is ready and wants to potty train -- maybe he is embarrassed for being treated like a baby in front of playmates -- tell him how proud you are of him when he’s been successful. That attitude is more likely to get you good future results in the potty arena. But if you approach your child with an attitude of “Finally“ or “I thought you’d never do it,” your child might rebel and start a power struggle war.