The Dangerous Consequences of Potty Training Too Early

Parents whose 3- or 4-year-olds have trouble training are often blamed for waiting too long, but waiting isn’t the problem; it’s the constipation.

So, if you are training your 2-year-old because the preschool you’ve chosen requires children to be potty trained by 3, I suggest you find another school. Sending an early-trained child to preschool only increases the risk of potty problems, particularly if these schools don’t allow the safety net of a Pull-Up. Think about it: You’re placing a 3-year-old in an unfamiliar environment where, for possibly the first time in her life, she has no family members around for half the day, and you’re expecting her to interrupt her teacher during the story circle and announce that she needs to use the toilet or to climb out of the fort she’s just built with her friends and make her way over to the potty. Whoever thought that was a good idea has surely never set foot in a pediatric urology clinic.

Making matters worse, these kids are ill-equipped to deal with the sub-par restrooms and restrictive bathroom policies that may await them in elementary school and beyond. I have countless patients who have developed the capacity to hold their pee and poop from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – and have developed serious bladder problems and recurring urinary tract infections because of it.

Children who are newly potty trained need a lot of follow-up, no matter how well they are able to stay dry, and the earlier you train a child, the longer it’s your responsibility to monitor the child’s peeing and pooping habits closely. Children need reminders to use the toilet about every two hours. (And caretakers should never ask a child if he needs to go potty, because most kids will say no. It’s your job to instruct the child when to go.)

It’s also important to glance at your child’s poops whenever you have a chance (luckily, kids often forget to flush!). Look for poop that’s thin and/or mushy, like mashed potatoes or hummus (it’s the watery, diarrhea-like poops that signal a problem). Extra-large poops and thick, formed poops are signs of constipation.

You can also teach your child to check on his own poop and report its appearance to you. (Yeah, all this sounds gross, but these conversations are important for families to have, and lots of kids think talking about poop is fun stuff.) Finally, try to keep track of the last time your child pooped.

I know most parents dream of the day when they can be completely removed from their children’s goings-on in the bathroom. Heck, I look forward to that day myself. But don’t get too fixated on your own potty liberation. You need to pay attention to your kids’ pooping habits until you’re absolutely positive they have it down.

This article is adapted from It’s No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child’s Wetting, Constipation, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems.

Steve Hodges, M.D.
Steve Hodges, M.D.
Steve Hodges, M.D., is an associate professor of pediatric urology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and co-author of Bedwetting And Accidents Aren’t Your FaultIt’s No Accident, and The M.O.P. Book: A guide to the only proven way to STOP bedwetting and accidents. His website is

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