Irritable bowels don't necessarily complicate potty training.

How to Toilet Train a Toddler with Irritable Bowels

by Shellie Braeuner

Every mom looks forward to the day when she can bid diapers goodbye. But toddlers who have special needs may require extra help when it comes to conquering potty training. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, irritable bowel syndrome is a digestive disorder that affects people of all ages. IBS symptoms include cramping, constipation and loose stools, which can all make potty training more difficult. A toddler may feel his stomach cramp up, think he needs to use the potty and become disappointed when nothing happens. On the other hand, a child may experience embarrassment when loose stools cause an accident, particularly in public.

Talk to your pediatrician. If your child has already been diagnosed with IBS, work with your child’s doctor to create a plan of action. Pediatricians use a variety of different therapies to help their young patients calm their bowels.

Change your child’s diet. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Also cut out sugar substitutes and caffeine.

Start the potty training process when the child’s IBS is inactive. IBS has periods of activity and remission; don't start potty training while the toddler is actively struggling with pain and irritation.

Have the child sit on the potty chair at regular times throughout the day. To help him relax and not rush his time on the potty, try reading books to him. You can even keep a few in the bathroom next to his potty chair. Even if he doesn't succeed with every trip to the potty, be sure to praise his efforts.

Hang a potty training chart where your child can reach it. Give him red stickers to add to the chart whenever he tries to use the potty. Give him blue stickers whenever he manages to use the potty successfully. Set goals for the stickers together. For example, when he earns five blue stickers, he gets a visit to the park or the opportunity to watch a movie.

Use disposable underwear at night if your child has an active period of IBS and cannot control his bowels. Reassure him if an accident occurs that he should never feel shame about his body or potty training.

Items you will need

  • Potty chair
  • Books
  • Potty chart
  • Red stickers
  • Blue stickers
  • Disposable underwear


  • Help your child learn to relax at potty time and the rest of the day. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, stress and anxiety contribute to IBS flare-ups.
  • Talk with your pediatrician if your child's symptoms change.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images