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Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training Wars: Boot Camp Rebellion

By Amalah

Hi Amy-

Thanks for your previous help with our crazy sleep issues. We put a gate up at the door and after 3 nights of her crying, the issues have essentially resolved. She still takes time to fall asleep, and will still cry a bit- but frankly- I’ll take it.

We now move onto potty training. We tried training her once around 20-months old because the mom and nanny were saying it’s time. She wasn’t ready (as I suspected) and started crying every time we put her on the potty. So I let it go.

She started preschool this September. All of a sudden- she began to show signs of interest. She was asking to go about half the time, and keeping herself dry half the time. Even had some naps of dryness. And when she did go in her potty- she would tell me right after. So I put her in pull ups until I could tackle the 3 day boot camp. (FYI- she’s now 2.5yo).

So here we are. Day 3 and it’s a disaster. We’ve tried variations of naked, undies, leggings, and undies and leggings- and she does not care at all when she’s wet. We make a huge deal when she does go on the potty and she gets chocolate chips. I try to take her every 30-40 min and she fights me and goes nuts. Even bribery doesn’t work. And sure enough- she’ll have 3/4 accidents in a row in a matter of minutes after we try to make her go.  We have her clean up her mess and take her wet laundry to the washing machine.

So what am I doing wrong? What am I missing? Do I keep at it? Is she just not ready? Is she a kid that will decide all on her own when she’s totally done?

I’m very discouraged and very lost. And have no idea what I’m doing. (And my family is zero supportive help.).


I think what we have here is an unfortunate case of 20/20 hindsight: Boot camp wasn’t the right approach for this kid, and possibly putting her in pull-ups for an “interim” period between initial readiness and a super hard-line approach kind of muddied the waters a bit.

Boot camp is NOT for every kid. It’s one approach of many. I typically see it as a good one for older, stubborn kids who are ready to train…but refusing to take any initiative on their own to make it happen, or for whom the more gradual approaches just aren’t finalizing the deal.

That was not your daughter. Sounds like she was in the process of training herself — asking to go, using the potty independently, etc. You probably should have just let that process continue on its own rather than kinda…putting a pin in it until later with the pull-ups. The pull-ups introduced her to a non-diaper option that wasn’t underwear and the potty and thus…oh, why should she continue working on the potty to get out of diapers like her preschool friends.

(However, since I remember your previous letter about your daughter’s night terrors and that you guys have gone through a move and a new baby and all kinds of crazy life changes, I hate to say “oh you SHOULD have done such-and-such instead,” because I understand that might not have been realistically possible at the time.)

It’s also possible she still remembers the premature attempt at 20 months and is just always going to fight being physically “put” on the potty or “told” when go because that ended up being a negative experience for her.

Since she was taking control of the potty training situation and making her own choices, at her own pace, you suddenly trying to take the “control” away from her with a military-like approach, timers, cleaning up, etc. didn’t go over too well. I’m guessing “strong-willed” is an adjective you’ve used about her before, or heard from others. She’s rebelling because the potty was supposed to be HER choice, because SHE decided it was something she was interested in. (Probably mostly due to her peers at school, who do, at least, remain a motivation for her.)

Most potty training experts would probably tell you to keep going, not to stop, eventually she’ll get it. Me? I’m not an expert. But I do know when something is a complete and utter disaster, sometimes you have to throw in the towel for everybody’s sanity.

You sent this email quite recently and I deliberately decided to answer it ASAP since you’re still in boot camp failure hell: I would personally stop. I would put her back in diapers. NOT pull-ups. Diapers. The thing she was wearing when she began to show initial interest. And then I would BACK OFF.

I do think she’s a kid who will decide when she’s ready. And she was super close to ready, so next time (and there WILL be a next time, I promise!!) she starts showing interest, just go with it. Real casually and gradually. Take her to the potty and praise her, praise her dry diaper at naps, maybe save the chocolate chips for when she goes completely independently. It’s her thing! And you’re cool with it, but not super overly invested in it.

The main drawback with the child-led approach is that it can be difficult to know when you can really and truly make the switch from diapers to underwear. Start with underwear at home at first and expect some accidents, then let her venture out in underwear once she’s getting through most days at home okay. (Also talk with her teachers about what their expectations are about sending her in underwear. I bet an accident at school will be MUCH more motivating that all the low-stakes ones she’s been having at home over the past three days….)

So it’s kind of a bummer, I know. Please don’t beat yourself up about any of it…potty training sucks and it can be really hard to know how best to to go about it. Stop the boot camp, put her back in diapers. If she protests and asks for pull-ups, use that desire to your own advantage. “Nope, pull-ups are for girls who at least try to use the potty. When you’re ready to try using your potty again, we can say bye-bye to the diapers.”

Depending on how entrenched she is in her rebellion against the boot camp, she might not even care about the diapers. At first. She might just continue with zero progress for awhile. Because for HER, it’s not about being physically ready, she needs to be mentally ready. And ready to do it HERSELF, thank you very much.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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