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Potty-Training Reset

Potty-Training Reset

By Amalah

First, Thanks for your advice previously. My darling kiddos never did stop taking off their diapers at naptime so we decided in January to go cold turkey and potty train. They were 26 months. (As a side note, naptimes they still take off their pants and underwear nearly every time, they just aren’t confined to cribs anymore, and so they trash their room and several times a week they use their carpet as a toilet. Lovely. So that didn’t help that situation at all.) We did a 3-day bootcamp, pants off, all-potty-all-the-time weekend and after the third day, they both totally got it. (#1 and #2, pretty consistently.) Sure, there were accidents, but that was expected and got better after the first week. They both did great for the first two weeks, we were able to discontinue M&Ms after about 4 days and the cheering and high-fives were enough incentive.

Sunshine and rainbows, right? Kid One has been awesome. No accidents in weeks, I would consider him fully trained. Kid Two, however, did great the first two weeks, then about 3 weeks ago started pooping in his pants. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And on the possibly TMI realm, the kid poops several times a day. But here’s the thing. He will go into the bathroom, stand in front of the potty, and poop his pants without making so much as a tiny effort to go into the potty. He does this nearly every time. He is uncomfortable and immediately asks for clean underwear. He poops his pants a half dozen times a day. Every single time he repeats the mantra “Poopy Go in potty! It’s accident. Accidents Happen and it’s OK!” (We have Elmo and Grover to thank for that little piece of wisdom.) I read the column you posted previously about kids only going in their diapers, but that is not exactly our issue. He knows he needs to go in the potty. He cheers and claps when his brother goes. He goes into to the bathroom as though he wants to use the potty, he just doesn’t. We put away all the diapers, and he’s almost entirely pee-perfect. He even wakes up dry most mornings and even gets up in the night to go if needed. (Kid One wakes up wet every morning, never gets up in the night, despite a near-perfect record in the day.) So together they equal one awesomely potty trained kid. Awesome if they weren’t, in fact, two kids.

So far we tried the stickers/new toy incentive. Kid One quickly filled his sticker chart and got to go to Target with Daddy (By himself!) and pick out a toy. Kid Two totally covets the Cookie Monster toy his brother picked out, and keeps talking about how he is going to get Elmo as his treat. Except he has earned exactly ZERO stickers because he has not made a single poopy in the potty. Meanwhile, the sticker thing is motivating Kid One like crazy and he’s 1 sticker away from his 2nd treat in a week. We have tried to go back to the bootcamp, following him around without his pants, rushing him to the potty when needed. Always to the “Accidents Happen, It’s OK.” result. He has asked a couple times to “wear diapers like baby” which I have responded by building up how awesome his Buzz Lightyear underwear are and how he’s such a big boy. And how Buzz, and Woody and Elmo and Captain America and whomever else I can think of at the time all go poopy in the potty so he should too. I am out of ideas, but I am exhausted with changing his pants a dozen times a day, the laundry, oh the laundry, and I am dreading going into public because he is a ticking time bomb. I am running out of ideas. I know there may be nothing I can do, he just needs to figure it out on his own, but seriously, it’s going to be summer again soon and I don’t want to be reluctant to go out of the house and enjoy it because my kid poops his pants ALL. THE. TIME.

So once again, oh seasoned veteran parent of boys and collective brilliance of the internet, please fix my kid’s issue. Thanks a billion.

Okay, so I’m going to preface my advice — or soften the blow, depending on how you look at it — by saying that I was given this very advice, not so very long ago, about my adorable and delightful middle child. Who went through an extended potty training regression after the birth of my third child, especially when it came to poop. I brought it up to our pediatrician, having tried everything I could think of, including stickers, rewards, bribes, praise, ignoring, you name it.

“Put him back in diapers,” she told me. “Tell him diapers are for babies. And only babies poop in their pants. You’re not shaming him. You’re just telling him the facts.”

I felt uneasy, initially — we were SO CLOSE, I was SURE, and I was worried this would be kind of shame-y and defeatist and maybe we’d see even more of a regression if we let him take that step backwards. Especially since he seemed to welcome the return of the diapers and pull-ups. He was jealous of the baby! So maybe he wanted to be a baby! And would have no motivation to finish training, now that accidents were off the table, etc. etc.

But you know what? It was the right call. It saved my sanity (I did have that pesky newborn at the time, after all) to not be fighting the poop battle or cleaning up accidents, and it turned out the happiness over the diapers was incredibly short-lived. Maybe two weeks later? A month? He decided that he was not a baby after all and was tired of being treated like one, and that was that. He pooped on the potty one day and refused to even consider anything but his big-boy pants the next. Done.

So. Honey. Put that kid back in diapers.

I mean, when I’ve dealt with the halfway-there kiddos, we were dealing with one poop incident a DAY. You have a kid consistently having multiple accidents a day, every day, with or without diapers, standing in front of the toilet and making no effort. That’s not a halfway-there kid, I’m sorry. I mean, if you had a kid who could poop on the potty but peed his pants the rest of the time, you’d have him in some good absorbent pants, right? He’s not ready, either mentally or physically or something. And the fact that he’s asked for his diapers back means he probably knows it.

He’s still on the young side — especially for a boy, if I may engage in sweeping generalizations about maturity and that girls seem to train easier/faster than boys. He obviously gets a good amount of the process, but something just hasn’t finished connecting all the dots. Maybe he doesn’t get as much “warning” as his brother, or is getting a little too much fiber. Or he just can’t be bothered with stopping what he’s doing so many times a day to be bothered. I don’t know. And the truth is you’ll probably never know “why” either. But I can tell you that continuing to drive yourselves collectively crazy with HALF A DOZEN POOP ACCIDENTS ON A DAILY BASIS is not going to solve anything.

Call for a potty-training ceasefire. Since he’s doing great on the pee front, you could do pull-ups that let him hold on to that bit of independence. Or cloth training pants with a flushable liner inside to help make clean-up easier. Or you could go completely back to diapers, or do a combination. Either way, your priority now should be to stop the accidents happening in underwear, rather than pushing him to go on the potty. You should be able to leave the house. You have to be able to leave the house. So do whatever you have to do to be able to leave the house.

I promise you — PINKIE SWEAR PROMISE — that he will poop on the potty. At some point. Probably in a few months. I also promise that there’s nothing you can do to push that date up, realistically. Begging, pleading, bribing, training yourselves to plop his butt on the toilet every time you think his face looks a little weird…none of that works when you’re dealing with a kid who isn’t ready. And while your son shows some signs of being ready, none of them are quite as compelling as the whole HALF A DOZEN POOP ACCIDENTS EVERY SINGLE DAY thing.

You have twins, but they are two different kids — while the peer pressure can certainly be handy, it’s okay and normal if they train at different ages. (There was a six-month age difference between my first two children’s respective training ages.) Keep doing what works for his brother for now, then phase out the stickers/rewards when he’s done. And then don’t be afraid to bring them back in the future for your other son. When he’s ready. From the sound of him, he’ll probably let you know when he’s ready.

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

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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  • Jadzia@Toddlerisms

    April 24, 2012 at 3:18 am

    I don’t have twins, but two of my boys are 10 months apart, which is not exactly the same thing but there are similarities.  We potty-trained them at the same time and this exact same thing happened.  With the OLDER one.  

    Putting him back in diapers really is the best call here.  Because I think the number one (uh, so to speak) thing you don’t want to do when potty training is have it turn into a power struggle. And it sounds like that’s what is happening.

    When we did this it was just like Amalah said.  A couple of weeks later the kid decided he did want to be a big boy after all, and got with the program.  And then the younger one, who had been imperfectly trained up to that point, got competitive and within a week or so?  Potty trained boys.  But it took a looong time to get there–months of work followed by “overnight success.”

  • Janine

    April 24, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I totally agree with Amalah. We had our son almost completely potty trained, and we hit a regression a couple of weeks later. He just wasn’t fully “getting it” no matter how much we explained or rewarded, and we were dealing with multiple accidents a day. A friend of mine recommended backing off and trying a few months later (this was October–she recommended waiting until after the holiday stress, wise advice!) We tried over Martin Luther King weekend, and by the end of the weekend, he was fully potty trained. He just needed that extra few months’ maturity. Once he was ready, it was very easy. Don’t worry, he’ll get there!!!

  • Cheryl S.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Amy’s right again! Put a diaper back on him. Period. I wouldn’t even make a big deal. He’ll do it when he’s ready and you are a SAINT if you’ve been cleaning multiple poop accidents a day!

  • Olivia

    April 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    My daughter just turned 3, and she’s in pull ups, which I swore I wasn’t going to do. We did two solid weeks of cold-turkey, reward-linked training over the xmas holidays and she only went in the potty twice. Despite showing all the signs of being ready, she just isn’t emotionally. I went with pull ups after a particularly bad morning when I lost my temper. I knew at that point it wasn’t a matter of her not knowing what to do, she just simply doesn’t want to now for whatever reason (could be because I’m pregnant). It really was the best decision. I talk about it a lot with her and she says she’ll start using the potty after the baby is born, but honestly, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. She only wets two or three times a day, and poops once. If she was using the potty I’d still be helping her there and to wipe so I don’t find changing a pull up to be a big deal. She’ll decide on her own when she’s ready.

  • susan

    April 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I agree that you would all feel relief with switching back to diapers, but I don’t like the ‘diapers are for babies, etc.’ talk that was also suggested. It IS shaming to say that and it will feel like a failure on his part, especially if his brother is having zero problems with PT. I would recommend making the switch back to diapers for him and telling him ‘I think I was pushing you to PT and you’re telling me that you’re not ready, so let me know when you are’. The difference is subtle, but it’s there. Good Luck!

  • Alexa

    April 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I agree with Amalah that it is not shaming to say diapers are for babies. They are. And when speaking with toddlers, it is vitally important to use language/concepts they understand. However, I think one of the reasons that phrase worked for Ezra is that he actually had a baby in the house whom he was jealous of, and he was actively trying to reassert his role as mama’s baby by crapping his pants. Your boys are a bit different since they are twins. I would suggest going with the above suggestion to tell him that he may not be ready for underwear. I would also consider keeping your other son in a pull-up at night, since his issue with wetting the bed is likely due to being a deeper sleeper than his brother or simply lacking muscle control. It is actually quite normal for kids to stay in pull-ups at night for awhile after they are fully potty trained in the daytime. No reason to have to wash his sheets every morning if he’s just not ready either. Just give them both some time. They’re almost there!

  • Candace

    April 27, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Also, I would mention to the OP to review a previous article re: keeping kids in their bed for naps…by using the silent treatment. We did this with our little 2 year old and he knows the “night night rules” are “stay in bed and go to sleep.”  No ifs ands or buts, and he NEVER leaves the bed anymore. So prepping him with the rules and using the silent treatment and return to bed method really worked for us.  But you have TWO! so god bless you and good luck.  

    Really there is no reason for them to be up and trashing their room during nap time and using the carpet as a toilet.  That needs to be handled, or I would just give up naps entirely.  A friend of mine who had twins did that, and her girls just go to bed just before seven every night because they are exhausted.  You might try that?  No need to buy stock in Stanley Steemer you know?  And I totally agree its just time to go back in diapers 26 months is very early for boys.  Boys are different than girls. I have two! No better no worse, just different.

  • AmyRenee

    April 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    is the pooping multiple times a day thing new? And are you SURE he is going into the bathroom, then pooping, not pooping, then going in the bathroom? I just ask because it’s possible he’s constipated or withholding and the multiple poops a day are stool that is leaking out which he doesn’t have control over. Look up encopresis, this is what we’re going through with my 5 year old right now – his muscles have been so stretched that he doesn’t feel the urge to go. If this isn’t the case, are the poops at least at the same time daily? Could you go back to a boot camp when you put him on the potty at those times daily? But I agree with the others – put him back in diapers but keep taking him to the potty on a routine, and make a HUGE deal if the diaper is dry and even more so if he goes.
    One last thing to consider – privacy. My son used to take off his diaper and poop in his room EVERY TIME. We tried potty training and he did fine on pee but still pooped in his room. We finally figured out that he just wanted to be alone when he poops, so we set him on the little potty and closed the door down to just a crack, then sat outside the bathroom with our backs to the door. No one likes to be stared at while pooping.
    I would also recommend the advice from a previous post about cleaning up poop in underwear & diapers with the cold shower sprayer in a matter-of-fact way, while emphasising that pooping in the potty doesn’t get your butt icky so you can just use toilet paper (or toddler flushable wipes, my son LOVED those)

  • Em

    May 3, 2012 at 8:39 am

    For a period if time my daughter would only poop during nap time and would take her diaper off. If I put her in underwear she would poop in those. I tried everything I could think of/read (except cold showers/spray) and nothing was working. Eventually we switched to supervised “quiet time”. I didn’t want to do this, especially since I was pregnant with twins & needed my down time, but it has made drastic improvements & has been easy to do. You can buy a playmate or cheap carpet scrap and keep it in the corner, and I.stricter them that this is where they will have rest time. She has to stay on her mat with quiet toys and books and can only get up to use tbe potty. So far she has only had 1 accident and I was able to catch it as soon as it happened.
    Now that she knows the rules I can go about my business (cleaning, phone calls, etc) and she barely even notices. And now she only loops in tbe potty! Good luck!

  • Em

    May 3, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Wow autocorrect! “Playmate”= playMAT, “loops”= poops.
    Anyway, the gist of that was, no more poop smearing, yay!

  • Keri Pinch

    October 31, 2014 at 8:17 am

    My youngest son is 2.5 years old and up until 2 weeks ago I thought we had cracked potty training, but then he started to pee. Indiscriminately. He pees in his clothes, he pees on the floor, he pees on the furniture. I am at a loss as to what to do.  He is still using the potty or the toilet to have a poo, so I am assuming that this regression is behavioural but I have no idea what triggered it, or how to tackle it. 

  • Stephanie

    April 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    My son is 5 and still not toilet trained and I have no idea what to do!!! He has apraxia of speech which caused many delays as well as sensory issues but now he seems to be a happy little boy and mostly caught upto his peers. He is in JK and recently his teacher sent all his pull-ups and diapers home saying he hasn’t had any accidents at school in 4 months! He goes to the washroom does it all by himself !!! However at home, is a completely different story. Today alone I changed 6 underwear !!! So frustrating! He even says “big boys need to use the toilet and babies use the potty and im a big boy” but he still Continies to pee himself all day at home!

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