It Gets Better
You’re not alone if you’re struggling.
There was a time when I was absolutely, 100% convinced that I would be that legendary mother whose child actually went to college in diapers. Both of my children were late to potty train, but one of them particularly showed major potty training resistance, to the point where I was close to tears with every pack of Pull-Ups I bought. Sound familiar? Then rest assured: You're not alone, you're not a bad parent, and there are (believe it or not) ways to get even the most stubborn toddler to use the toilet.
Just realizing that there's a wide range of "normal" when it comes to the timing of toilet training can be a relief. Most children begin to show initial signs of toilet readiness around 24 to 30 months of age, as certified potty training consultant Jacklyn Gravel tells Romper.
However, it's not at all unusual for kids to start later. "Some kids just don't want to use the potty," parenting expert Tanya Altmann, M.D., tells Romper. Dr. Altmann, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), adds that trying to pressure your older child to train — say, because your chosen preschool has an underwear-only policy, there's a baby on the way, or you're just done with the whole diaper thing — will only make your toddler resist even more.
Hoping to end the training struggle? Here are some expert tips that can help your resistant child join the potty party.
Try a gradual approach
Some children are fine with a steady diapers-to-Pull-Ups-to-underwear training progression; others need extra help with the transition. Begin by talking with your toddler about your expectations in simple terms.
“For example, ‘On this day we are saying goodbye to your diapers and all pee and poop will go in the potty!’” Anneliese Schlachter, a certified potty training consultant, explains to Romper. “Make everything as fun, upbeat, and exciting as possible. You want your child to feel like you're on their team and you're mastering this skill together. Then when it's time to ditch the diapers, stay as consistent as possible and make sure you as the parent [or] caregiver have realistic expectations. You're looking for progress, not perfection.”
Don't let constipation get in the way
"Make sure your child's stools are soft," Dr. Altmann advises in her book, Baby and Toddler Basics: Expert Answers to Parents' Top 150 Questions. "If he is constipated and his stools are hard, he won't want to go in the potty because pooping hurts." This can lead not only to more training delays, but also to health issues if the stool becomes impacted. Offer plenty of fiber-filled foods such as broccoli, beans, apples with skin, oranges, and oatmeal to keep your child regular, and ask your pediatrician about giving a child-safe laxative if your toddler is becoming constipated.
Give your little one some kudos.
This is a big one, as positive support can go a long way, especially if you’re dealing with potty training resistance by a 4-year-old who is feeling behind. “I also like to remind parents to try and look for any opportunity you can to praise your child,” Gravel says. “Try to make it as specific as possible. Something like, ‘I know sometimes it feels scary for you to use the potty, but it was so brave of you to try sitting on the big potty today! Maybe tomorrow you'll get some pee in the potty too!’”
Try going commando
"Often, if a child is older, you know they know what to do, and they just aren't ready, spending a week at home naked and encouraging them when they have success is the best thing you can do," says Dr. Altmann. Pick a time when you don't have much to do, and just let them go around the house without pants. If your toddler starts getting that look, or starts to get squirmy, lead them to the bathroom and tell them it's time to try. After about a week, Dr. Altmann says they should be motivated to visit the potty without being prompted.
Put the responsibility on them
One good way to train a reluctant potty user is to stop all the reminding and nagging altogether. “Most resistance when it comes to potty training is from parental pressure — and I totally get it, we just want them to go to the freaking bathroom!” Schlachter says. “However, when we take a step back and show our children that we trust them to listen to their body, they will realize we're not going to force anything, and one day they'll just start going on their own.”
Tell your child, "I know you know when you need to poop and pee. That poop and pee wants to go in the potty, so from now on, it's your job to get it there. You don't need help." Then leave it at that. When you stop paying so much attention to their toilet habits, your child doesn't have a reason to fight back. And offer plenty of praise when your child does decide to use the potty on their own.
Bring in some incentives.
Bribery obviously isn’t the answer — you don’t want your little one to only go to the bathroom for the sake of a reward — but creating an association of happiness with the potty is helpful when it comes to potty training a strong-willed child. “It can also be helpful to create a fun and positive environment around using the potty,” Schlachter says. “A basket of toys specifically for potty use is usually a great motivator.”
You might even consider letting your child help choose the incentive. Rather than just offering an M&M for every potty visit, involve your child in the process. Ask your child, "What would help you remember to go poop in the potty?" and take it from there. Time-limited incentives, such as 15 minutes of playing a tablet game or painting instead of a toy or candy each time, are also great options here.
As Gravel explains, it’s easy for parents to think, “This isn’t working!” and change their whole approach to potty training at the first sign of hardship. But switching things up too quickly can be confusing for the child.
“Children love predictably and routine, even when it comes to things they may not like doing (think brushing teeth, going to the doctor, etc.),” Gravel says. “Instead of changing your methods, ease off on the pressure, questions, or reminders. Often, children who are exceptionally resistant to using the potty finally make progress when they gain the confidence in their own abilities.” If you notice any measurable progress during the first week or so, that’s a sure sign to keep going.
Agonizing over your child's training doesn't do anything to help; it just makes you a stressed-out, unhappy parent. “Potty training can feel stressful for both the child and parent, so look for ways to enjoy your child during the process,” says Gravel. “You're going to get annoyed, frustrated, or maybe even a little mad. Scheduling even 15 to 30 minutes each day to engage in an activity you and your child both enjoy together can be a nice reset for everyone.”
From my own experience, I can say that things got so much better after I adopted our pediatrician's no-big-deal attitude. I encouraged, cleaned up the messes, and trusted that everything would work out. Sure enough, one day, my resistant child told me she had to go, marched herself into the bathroom, and did her thing. Boom. Just like that. From there, it was a matter of days before she was completely trained.
Look at all the people you know. Can you tell just by looking at them who was using the toilet at age 2, and who wasn't out of diapers until 4 or 5? Of course not. Keep your perspective and your sense of humor, and you and your child will both come through this milestone smiling.
Jacklyn Gravel, certified potty training consultant
Tanya Altmann, M.D., parenting expert and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics
Anneliese Schlachter, certified potty training consultant
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