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Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training Wars: The I Prefer a Pull-Up Kid

By Amalah

I have a 3 year old granddaughter who is fully potty-trained but just won’t go on the potty or toilet. She tells me when she has to go to the bathroom and I put a pull-up on and she calls me when she’s finished, I clean her up and put her underwear and pants back on….  It’s been almost a year and she only had maybe two accidents where she wet the bed at night and that’s it. I’m at my wit’s end but she flat out refuses  to go on the potty.

Please help!!

What happens if you withhold the pull-up? Does she hold it in or have an accident? A lot of toddlers will request to use a pull-up well after it’s been established that yeah, they CAN use the potty, they just…prefer not to, right now, like little Bartlebys. Here are some thoughts:

1. Withhold the pull-up, but with some considerations

Withholding the pull-up isn’t always an option — some toddlers possess superhero-like ability to hold pee and poop in, to the point of urinary tract infections or constipation. You DO NOT want that. But it’s usually the first step you need to take in this particular battle of wills. Tell her there are no more pull-ups, so she’s welcome to sit on the potty instead and can call you when she’s finished, as usual. Or you can sit with her and keep her company if she’d prefer. Read her a favorite story or let her play with an app or some other incentive if she’ll agree to at least sit.

2. Try a half-way strategy

If you’re afraid she’ll injure herself if you go completely cold-turkey on the pull-ups, you can try bargaining: She can get a pull-up but only AFTER she agrees to sit on the potty for five minutes. Try to wait until she REALLY has to go, and then throw every distraction you can think of at her in an attempt to get her to relax and stop focusing on holding it in. If she doesn’t go right away, that’s okay: It sounds like there’s a fear of the toilet here that might need to be conquered in baby steps. (Also normal: Toddlers often feel like part of “themselves” is falling into the toilet and getting flushed away, which feels very scary to them.)

3. Go back to diapers

You can also try going back to regular diapers. She probably knows that pull-ups are at some kind of step up from diapers and thus “baby diapers” (go ahead and call them that) might not be as appealing of an option to a “big girl” like herself. I did this when one of my children began regressing after the birth of a sibling. He was NOT pleased to be wearing the same thing as the baby, let me tell you that, and the accidents stopped pretty soon after that.

4. Rewards and praise

I’m also curious about what your granddaughter does when you’re out and about. Do you carry pull-ups in case she needs to go at the park or store, etc.? What if you offered her a deal that pull-ups/diapers have to stay at home and aren’t allowed to come with her anymore? (Almost like what you might try when weaning them off a pacifier or thumb-sucking lovey.) She’s probably old enough to know that having an accident in front of other kids is NOT COOL, so if you could spend a couple activity-packed days outside of the house you might be able to get her go somewhere else. And again, if this is rooted in a fear or nervousness around the toilet, any step you can take that might get her butt on the seat will help her incrementally conquer that fear.

And lastly, incentives incentives incentives and praise praise praise. She’s probably past the point where a simple sticker chart will hold any appeal, but trading in the pull-ups in exchange for a much coveted toy or outing might make it worth her while.

Good luck!

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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