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Potty Training: Out-Stubborning the Stubbornest of Stubborn Kids

Potty Training: Out-Stubborning the Stubbornest of Stubborn Kids

By Amalah

Dear Amy

I need help. My daughter has just turned 3. She is totally ready to be potty trained. We’ve tried it once before and failed miserably.

My daughter is incredibly stubborn. Just like all 3 year olds are, but mine is something special or so I like to think, since I can’t find anyone with a similar situation to mine.

She is totally capable of going potty. She just won’t. Flat out refuses. Even if we take the diapers away & force panties, she will hold it the entire day until bedtime.

She doesn’t care for panties. She doesn’t care for bribes. She doesn’t want chocolate, toys, cupcakes, or a trip to somewhere special.

I’ve asked her daycare to help & take her with her friends who are all potty trained. She doesn’t care. Her daycare will only allow her to come in panties if she is fully potty trained, otherwise pull ups it is. Which isn’t a problem for her because she thinks pull ups are panties and has a huge fit when she needs to go but won’t go in a pull up or on the potty. If there isn’t a diaper, she will hold it till there is.

Please can anyone help? I have a 20 month old as well who is super interested & I’m thinking of just going ahead and potty training her because she is showing so much interest. It doesn’t make her older sister the slightest bit jealous either if her little sister is getting sweets for trying or even praise for sitting on the potty.

(On a side note, 6 months ago when I thought my oldest WAS interested and ready, we had to hold off due to a huge international move to a new place with no family or support structure.)

Any help, or advice is so appreciated!!!!!

Thank you in advance!!


When all else fails, potty-wise, you are basically left with two options:

1) Drop the issue entirely. And basically wait/hope/pray that at some point in the future, she’ll change her stubborn little mind all on her own, preferably before it starts jeopardizing daycare/preschool attendance. Let’s call this one the Waiting For Godot option.

2) Boot camp. Around the clock. For as many days as it takes. No diapers, at all, not even at night.

“Boot camp” is basically the “potty train in less than a day” approach, only stretched out over a more realistic timeline, because hahahaha yeah right. It’s not fun. It’s hugely inconvenient (especially for working parents or anyone who likes to, you know, occasionally leave the house). It will take you back to the horrible nights of sleep training and make you question everything about your life and parenting skills because oh my God, I went to college and I thought I was a reasonably intelligent/capable adult and yet I’ve just spent 72 hours straight trying to force a fellow human being to use a toilet.

Those cons aside, it will probably most likely work. So…yay?

Here’s what you do. You bank some personal days at work (and hopefully trade off with your partner, if it goes more than a day or two). You block off a (preferably long/holiday) weekend where you do not need to go anywhere or leave the house at all.  You get a good night’s sleep on Friday evening. You start first thing on Saturday morning.

No diapers, no pull-ups. You can either put her in panties or keep her naked. (Or panties with clothes, to up the discomfort factor of accidents.) You absolutely load her up with fluids and fiber. You then set a timer. Since she’s a champion holder, I’d say set the timer on the longer side, like 20/30 minutes.

When the timer goes off, she sits on the potty. Even if you have to physically pick her up and hold her there, she’s GOING TO SIT ON THE POTTY. You set another timer for how long she needs to sit, she can bring a book or toy or play with a screen or whatever, but you’re gonna need to assert some serious parental authoritaaahhh and keep her on the potty for at least a few minutes. 15 is the ideal, but feel free to start with three or five if she physically fights it, then extend it as the day(s) go on.

Some parents find a tiny reward for even just sitting can help. Others don’t bother, since if you’ve gotten to the boot camp point it’s pretty darn likely that your kid doesn’t give a crap about your stupid rewards, and it’s better to simply frame the whole thing as Today You Will Start Using The Potty, Like It Or Not (aka THIS! IS! HAPPENING!).

If she has an accident, she helps clean it up with a paper towel and is responsible to changing out of her wet clothes herself. If she holds it and holds it, you keep offering fluids at a higher-than-average rate. (Special treats like juice or chocolate milk can help.)

And here’s what I think will be your personal turning point: SHE DOESN’T GET A DIAPER AT BEDTIME. You keep going. You put a waterproof mattress cover on her bed, strip away any and all unnecessary bedding or toys, and you extend the potty timer to every hour or so but you. Just. Keep. Going.

Again. Shades of sleep training hell and sleep deprivation. But I think you’ve got to do it. Once she realizes she’s been holding it in all day in vain and you’re STILL not going to give her the diaper she’s been counting on, you’ll have finally managed to out-stubborn her. She can either finally pee in the potty or pee in her bed. It’s completely up to her.

If she has an accident in bed, she will help you strip and change the sheets and carry them to the washing machine. You will not raise your voice or scold or shame. You will grit your ever-loving teeth and assure her that accidents happen and she’ll make it to the potty next time.

And then you give her a drink of water and set the timer again. And again.

If Sunday comes and goes and she’s still having accidents or refusing to go on the potty, enlist another capable adult to tag in so you can get a break. Don’t send her to daycare on Monday — she doesn’t leave the house until she trains. But I’d recommend booking a babysitter (since family isn’t an option) for a few hours on Sunday or Monday so you can go out for dinner or see a movie or whatever your sanity needs.

(There’s also the chance that once someone who is NOT Mommy or Daddy shows up and is ALSO in on the potty-training bandwagon, she’ll give up the fight and use the toilet for them. That’s what happened for us, at least — our toddler more or less fought US tooth and nail for about 48 hours straight, but then his favorite sitter showed up and took over the timer and the no-diapers stance and that was that. He went for her and the next morning got up and scurried to the toilet all by himself, like some kind of MIRACLE.)

And that’s…basically it. You definitely only want to attempt this if you are 100% committed and 100% confident that she is capable of training. Because once you start, there really isn’t any going back. You cave and give her back a diaper at any point, and you’ve basically wasted your time and been successfully out-stubborned.

(Caveat that if you find that once she IS consistently using the potty during the day but having regular accidents at night, that means she’s just not physiologically capable of waking herself up. That’s fine. Either give her a potty timer next to her bed or put her in a pull-up. Since she views pull-ups as underwear, I don’t think it will cause a big setback to have her sleep in one to catch any overnight accidents. But I would still start off with no pull-up at night to 100% prevent her from intentionally waiting until she’s wearing something absorbent.)

Good luck! Personally, I predict one or two accidents in bed and that will be it. That’s the one thing she’s been able to avoid because she knows a diaper will show up eventually. Take away that “eventually” and I bet she’ll realize that as much as she wants to fight the potty, wet sheets or wet clothes are way worse. (I had ANOTHER kid who had zero reservations about peeing right in his clothing, but only because he knew someone would change them for him immediately after. We solved that issue by making him responsible for changing his own clothes, and not offering any assistance. He tired of that game REALLY QUICK.)

And yeah, I’d go ahead and get the younger one started on potty training, if she’s eager and showing signs she’ll be successful at it. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with two simultaneously potty-trained children!! Can you even imagine? No. Stop imagining. You’ll probably just jinx it. Shh. Forget I said anything.

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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