What do you do when your child won’t potty train? It can be one of the most frustrating things you’ll deal with as a parent, especially if you have already invested a lot of time (and money) into learning.
I think that we sometimes put too much emphasis on readiness these days. You don’t just sit and wait for your child to start magically showing all the signs on a pre-written checklist. Nor does a lack of interest necessarily mean he isn’t ready to learn. After parenting 8 children so far, I can attest that most children don’t show all the “signs” and they can learn pretty much anything that’s age and ability appropriate. And what are the prerequisites to potty training? Communication and elimination. Being able to pull pants up and down is great, but not essential. That your toddler may not be interested is not a shocker or a deal-breaker; there are so many more fun things to do then sit on a potty! So there’s no reason to rush in. But you don’t have to wait until all the planets align, either.
Here are some troubleshooting tips for motivating a reluctant trainer:
Get rid of diapers
Let your child know in advance that all the diapers (and super absorbent trainers) are going away. There will be choices – commando (with a big shirt or dress on) or “real” underwear. That’s it. This helps motivate both of you because there ARE going to be messes on the floor, and the couch, and pretty much anywhere else your learner finds himself.
Give a gift, a really good one
If you don’t want to fool with doling out M&M’s and stickers for weeks (or months) on end, go for the nuclear weapon and promise a much bigger reward. This is something that your child is just DYING to have or do. Make it very clear what this prize is, and remind him of it often. If it’s a toy, you could set it in view but completely out of reach. If it’s a party at the local water slide then hang up a picture on the fridge.
End the power struggle
Too many times it ends up being a battle of wills, especially with an older child who knows what to do, but just won’t. So just quit talking about it and leave potty-training in the hands of your willful child for a time. Just walk away from the whole thing. Don’t remind your child to go. Don’t say anything when he has an accident. Don’t reward or praise him when he does go. Think of it as “his thing.” Many stubborn children will react to this by training themselves. They just wanted to take ownership of the process.
Fluids and Fiber
Make sure you rule out possible problems like constipation and urinary tract infections (our 3 year old girl had one and it caused frequent accidents). And give lots of extra fluid on training days so that when you ask “Do you need to pee?” your child will more likely answer “Yes!”
Forget the mistakes
Nearly every normal child has setbacks during potty training, so don’t let yourself (or your child) get discouraged. Falling off a few times is part of learning to ride a bike. Mixing up letters just happens when you’re starting to read. And even the best piano players miss a note sometimes. Whenever an accident happens, move on and encourage your child to do the same. Always have a “We’ll do better next time” attitude to ensure your child’s training will not be hampered by distress or anxiety.
Set clear goals
The whole potty training thing can seem overwhelming to toddler. It’s something hard that big kids do. It may not seem exciting or interesting. If your child is dragging his feet, give him attainable goals to work towards so he can experience successes. Some ideas:
- While he’s playing set a timer. Say “when the timer beeps, I want you to stop playing and go try to use the potty. Then you can come right back to your toys.”
- Whenever he has an accident, give him something easy to do, even if it’s just flushing the mess down the potty.
- Present a small challenge in the form of a question: “Can you go pee on the potty while I’m not looking? See if you can trick me!”
- See how many pairs of underwear he can keep dry one day. Set them out in the morning so he can see how many there are, and issue the challenge.
- Play his favorite song and say “Every time we hear this, we’ll go to the potty!” Most children will get a kick out of the mystery involved (when is Mama going to play the song??) and the challenge of immediately stopping what they are doing and running to the potty.
Resurrect the diapers
Sounds odd, but here’s another trick that sometimes works. If potty training has been a rocky experience, talk to your child about bringing the diapers back again in a very matter-of-fact way. “There have been a lot of accidents this week, so we can get your diapers out again if you like.” Some children may surprise you by first accepting and then completely rejecting the proposition, because they see it as a big regression and don’t want to go that far in the other direction.
Remove the spotlight
Some children do not like Mama breathing down their neck during the learning process. For a child like that, make everything more accessible so he can handle the basics alone. Designate one diaper pail that he can toss soiled underwear in. Provide wet wipes which clean better than dry toilet paper (limit your child to 2 or 3). Teach him to empty the bowl if using a child-sized potty. Have him put away all his clean underwear. A bonus to this approach is that the more your child does on his own, the more he will be motivated to train. He’d rather be playing than cleaning up messes and helping with laundry, right?
Do you have solutions to share that worked for a child who was reluctant to train?