By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My 3-year-old daughter is fully potty-trained for urination – no diaper at night or naps. She refuses to use the toilet for a bowel movement, however. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of the toilet and gives nonsense answers to our questions about why she won’t go or what would help.

A. For many parents, successful potty training doesn’t merely mark the end of diaper mess and expense. It is a reassuring sign that their child’s development is moving forward.

But the age range for potty learning varies widely. A child’s readiness often begins only after she has mastered walking and gotten over her excitement about it. Then she can sit down and stay still.

Potty learning also depends on the child’s willing participation. She will need to learn to sense when her body is ready to have a bowel movement. She will have to get herself to the potty on her own and sit there, though far more exciting things beckon.

She must also learn to part with her bowel movement – a major challenge for a child old enough to have questions about her body but too young to understand many of the answers. What happens when something that seems to be a part of her body comes out?

A number of children’s books help explore these mysteries. But it is best to read them to the child without saying anything about her potty progress. She’ll figure out the connections on her own.

Pressure from parents may add to her confusion. A struggle distracts the child from her task and gives her a certain power over her parents. This is one of those struggles that parents can’t win. Potty learning just won’t happen without the child’s cooperation.

A child who urinates in the potty and knows when she needs a diaper for her bowel movement is almost ready to complete the process. If parents can feel reassured by her progress and relax, the child will relax too.

If – without making a fuss – they can convey their confidence to her that she will use the potty when she is ready, sooner or later she will do so.

The accomplishment is a point of pride not only for the parents but also for the child. She needs to know that using the potty is her job – and that when she accomplishes it, the success will be hers, not yours.

For more information: “Toilet Training: the Brazelton Way,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton heads the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at

Reprinted with permission from the authors.