What do you do when your child is resistant to potty training?
Potty training is a challenge for most parents and toddlers. Remember it is a “partnership” between you and your child to work on this developmental task. You cannot force it, you can only assist in the learning process. Occasionally I will see parents who have tried over and over to potty train and their child is now 3 or older and still wearing pull ups or diapers. Parents are frustrated, children are frustrated, and often the potty training has become a power struggle, disciplinary process, or scream fest.
There are some children that develop some potty training resistance. Children who are age 3 or older and not potty trained after at least a couple months of trying are usually having some resistance. There are several reasons why this resistance may develop:
- The child may have developed some fear of sitting on the potty chair or going potty
- Flushing the toilet may have scared the child at some point
- The child may have been pushed too early to potty train before being ready
- The child may have been punished for accidents or forced to sit on the potty
- The child may have experienced inconsistent potty training from many different care givers
- The child may have experienced a painful BM resulting in fear and stool holding
- The child’s temperament may be more stubborn resulting in a power struggle with mom and dad
- The child may be enjoying the extra attention from accidents and attempts at training even though it is negative attention
- It is rare, but there are some medical problems that may cause a delay in potty training. Discuss this with your child’s doctor especially if you think your child is a bit delayed in other areas.
What is a parent to do? Give up the power struggle!
- Give all responsibility for pottying to your child
Often a child will finally decide to use the potty only after there is no longer a power struggle. Talk one last time to your child about using the potty and tell your child that it is his or her job to put his or her pee and poop in the potty. Apologize for reminding him or her so much to potty or forcing him or her to sit on the potty. Then no more talk about the subject. Pretend that you are no longer concerned about him or her using the potty. When your child no longer gets any attention for not using the potty, he or she may decide to use the potty to get attention.
- Do not give any reminders about using the potty
Allow your child to decide when to use the potty. Do not remind or ask. Constant reminders are pressure and pressure is a power struggle. Let your child do it all by himself or herself on his or her own time. That feeling of success from doing it “his or her way” is powerful. This is difficult to do if you are a “control freak” or more of a type A personality. However, letting go of the power makes a world of difference for some children that have fought to gain control.
- Find the right incentive for going potty.
Every child has one or two motivators—it may not be the traditional sticker or M&M. Make an offer that your child can’t refuse. Go somewhere special, have the special toy that he or she loves, and in addition give lots of positive words and touch. Everyone has their price!! Sometimes it may work to actually ask your child what reward he or she may like if they use the potty…I will do anything for chocolate, but not all people are the same!
How to pick your incentive:
Ask your child what reward would help him or her remember to use the potty.
Give the incentive immediately. Delayed rewards like a visit to the park later are not as effective. Immediate rewards like M & Ms work better.
If the reward is a toy or activity, only allow your child to use the reward for about an hour, then put the reward away until the next time it is earned.
You are in control of the incentive. In other words, the incentive is a privilege not something your child owns. He or she will get to play with the new toy—but not keep it. Your child can watch a video for an hour, play a game for an hour, but not be in control of either.
Provide special incentives for breakthroughs such as: ice cream, going to pick out a movie, and then watching it that evening or other special activities your child chooses.
- Put your child in underwear. No pull-ups or diapers, ever.
Tell your child that there will no longer be diapers. Let your child pick out the new underwear. Even if there are multiple accidents, do not fold. You may use a diaper or pull-up for BMs if your child is holding stools. Let your child have the BM in the diaper and then change back to the underwear.
- It is your child’s responsibility to change clothes if there is an accident.
As soon as you see that your child is dirty or wet, ask him or her to change. Your job is to help enforce this. You may assist in the clean-up—but it is primarily his or her responsibility. If your child refuses—then appropriate discipline like a time-out is warranted.
- Do not punish or belittle your child for accidents.
Respond gently and matter-of-factly to accidents. Remember pressure only will delay success at this point. Take a deep breath and remain calm. Attention to the accident will actually “reward” the child..attention is attention to a child even if it is negative attention!
- Request that all caregivers respond in the same way.
Be sure that you have extra clothing at daycare and ask that they follow the same process. Explain the process to everyone! Both parents, grandparents, friends, anyone who will be caring for your child must be on the same page. If you receive pressure from others regarding your apparent “leniency” in potty training—respond that you are trying a new approach and stick to the plan! You do not need to explain your parenting choices!
I promise—your child will be potty trained!! This is a big milestone for both you and your child. Approaching this with patience and a plan will make this a bit easier. That being said—it is a big job. I think the next hardest thing to help your child learn is multiplication tables!!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.