Prev Next
Potty Training In the Real World

Potty Training In the Real World

By Amalah


I love reading your blog and advice column. You actually helped me calm down and talk to my husband (calmly) about standing up to his parents. Even though she ended up seeing them twice in the visit to my parents (my mom had been up there and said their daughter had been cleaning since her boyfriend had been hanging around) and they broke the simple rules my husband and I agreed on but he needed that nudge to stand up to them and has been much better.

Anyway the real issue is potty training. My daughter is 21 months and we’ve been told she’s too young but she is definitely ready, age aside. She has been telling us for months when she has to pee, and gets upset when she does in her diaper and insists on sitting on the toilet afterwards, and she consistently wakes up dry from 2-4 hour naps. We’ve been putting it off trying to give her time to adjust to other milestones first. So we’ve given her time to get used to her twin bed (she could get in and out on her own before we put her in it, promise) and that was the final one we felt we needed to get done before potty training.

So we started potty training a week ago and it’s going miserably. She is holding it for ever! She will tell us she has to go and start spreading her legs and bouncing around and once we get to the toilet she cries and screams to get off. I try to calm her down and distract her and she’ll sit there forever and nothing, ten minutes after hopping off she’s peed or pooped all over the floor (we’re doing no clothes, underwear are just too distracting for her for some reason). We have potty seats in our living room and her bedroom for quick access and a reminder to her but she just plays with them. She has always followed us into the bathroom and watches us go. We have a “potty bell” so she knows it’s time to at least try to go. I push liquids, lots of watered down juice and milk and it is amazing how long she will hold 3 sippy cups of fluid! I bought M&Ms and I’ve had no reason to give her any so I started giving her one just for sitting on the toilet to maybe get her excited about it and no luck.

We’re being consistent. I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong, I mean she obviously doesn’t like peeing in her diaper or the floor but doesn’t realize there’s only one other alternative. The only thing I’ve noticed is she knows that if she can hold it long enough she will get a pull up at night, I figure she will eventually start holding it through the night like she did with nap plus I have a small washer and it takes 5 loads of laundry to wash everything on her bed or basically all day. Please tell me this will get better or I’m not doing it right. And I’m sorry if this is something you’ve covered I’ve searched the archives and couldn’t find anything like this.

Frustrated With The Potty

Oh, potty training! It really is the worst. And from where I sit, with two potty-trained children down and one still in diapers whom I have no intention of pushing out of diapers ANYTIME soon, things are actually going pretty typically for you. Yes, you hear story after smug story about kids who trained in a day or five days, but the reality is that it can really take a few weeks before you even hit the first “lightbulb” moment. Some people will probably chime in and say that your daughter is just too young, but she’s so borderline and showing enough signs of awareness/communication and you’ve put in a solid week of “being consistent” already, so I’d encourage you to keep with it. You’ve done all this work and by giving up and going back to diapers, you may very well be setting yourself up for an even bigger battle later, because she’ll know you will give up eventually if she doesn’t cooperate.

The whole “holding it” problem is a VERY common one (and there’s no single magic bullet solution for it, I’m afraid), but it’s actually — really and truly — a sign that your daughter IS ready to train. She CAN control her bladder and “where” she does and she can keep herself dry. You just have to get her to work through whatever other side issues she’s got going on that are keeping it from being a seamless transition from diapers to potty. (“Seamless transition” being the Mythical Flying Unicorn of potty training, by the way.) She might be scared of the potty (also common), she might be simply testing you in a battle of wills (OH YOU BET THAT’S COMMON), or she might simply not grasp the benefits of what you’re trying to do and need some baby-steps rewards in the meantime.

So I would continue doing what you’re doing, with a couple possible tweaks:

1) Put her back in underwear, distracting as they may be. Start talking up her “dry pants” Ask about her “dry pants.” Praise the freaking heavens out of her dry pants and make a big deal out of her dry pants. DRY PANTS! You can even give M&Ms or stickers for dry pants at first. Then do one reward for dry pants but TWO rewards for actually “going.” Warn her when she sits (or refuses to sit) on the potty that she needs to go or else she’ll have “wet pants,” and wet pants are SAD and NO FUN. (Not “bad” or “naughty.”) Since she hates being wet in a diaper, see how she reacts to a 10-minutes-after-a-potty-break accident in her big girl pants that you’ve spent ALL DAY praising her for. She (hopefully) won’t like it one bit, and in my experience, the accidents-while-clothed tend to have more impact than a mess on the floor.

2) Give her some responsibility post-accident. She needs to put her own soiled underwear in the hamper or laundry; she should help you mop up the mess on the floor. This isn’t some manual-labor shamefest or anything. Just be matter-of-fact about it that big girls need to clean up their toys and their potty messes, and hey! Next time, right? Next time we’re gonna get this stuff in the potty! DRY PAANNNNTS!

3) Pick a single potty style/location and stick with it. This isn’t anything you’re doing “wrong,” exactly, just a different approach. We NEVER had any luck with having multiple free-standing potty seats, for whatever reason. I think they just confused my kids more than anything. They watched us use the real toilet, but here! You pee in this small modified bucket thing in the dining room. Once we switched exclusively to the Baby Bjorn seat adapter on the full-sized toilets, we actually saw some progress. Your mileage may vary, of course: If your daughter seems scared of the real toilet, by all means stick with a small potty chair. Just move it into the bathroom (that’s where you want her to go, after all, and where you’ve been modeling all this time). Use the “dry pants” prompts as a reminder to her instead of the seat itself.

4) Get a good waterproof mattress pad for her bed, and consider covering her pull-up with a waterproof diaper cover or nighttime training pant. Accidents — especially at night, when she’s likely too young physiologically to keep herself dry even if she WANTS to — are par for the course. I’m sorry, for you and your overtaxed washer. Keep as little bedding and as few toys on her bed as the weather and her comfort allows.

5) Give yourselves a break. Does she have any other regular childcare provider? A babysitter, Grandma or some other “favorite” relative? Have them come watch her while you and the hubs go see a movie. (Argo is excellent!) Give them the rundown on your potty training approach and have them continue it. When your daughter sees that oh, EVERYBODY is going with the potty-training new world order, something might click and you’ll see some success. (Or even if it doesn’t work, hey, you guys got out of the house and away from the puddles and the tears for a few hours.)

Don’t give up! It’s always darkest before dawn — or maybe just the dampest. Your daughter’s breakthrough a-ha! moment could be right around the corner. Don’t beat yourself up because it’s taking longer than you thought — this is just the not-so-fun reality of what potty training looks like in the real world, for lots of kids and parents.

Published October 29, 2012. Last updated October 29, 2012.
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.

icon icon
chat bubble icon