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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!!

C

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 amyadvice@gmail.com.

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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Comments

  • MR

    You aren’t alone. My youngest was like that too. Perfectly capable of potty training. She would even do it occasionally, but the slightest little anything about encouraging her, and she would full out stop. Only she peed in her pants on purpose. I actually wrote in to Amy about it because it was sooooo frustrating. And she gave me the same advice (that worked) – full stop, don’t make an issue of it. Act like it doesn’t matter, act like it is no big deal. We said a lot of “Oh well, you’ll pee in the potty some day.” I think it was about 3 weeks of that before she realized it wasn’t a battle any more, and that took the joy out of it. She decided one day that she wanted to wear panties, and that was it. Seriously, waaaay easier in the long run than doing bootcamp with my oldest. Just don’t push it. Don’t bring it up unless she does. Just don’t make it an issue at all. If your youngest is interested, work on potty training her, but don’t make it an issue with your oldest. Don’t get into the power struggle, because this is flat out one of those things you cannot make your child do if they don’t want to. GL.

  • Mel

    My older child showed signs of potty training interest and readiness nearly a year ago. But it was early, I was pregnant, and I didn’t do anything with it because *I* wasn’t ready. And then that door closed. 🙂 She wouldn’t sit on the potty, full stop. No encouraging in the world would help. Finally, a couple months ago, we were able to convince her that she could wear pullups like the other kids if she sat on the potty. And she allowed that to happen, but still refused to pee or poop on it. Then, about 2 months ago, her teacher offered her fruit snacks if she peed on the potty. That was enough of a motivator suddenly that 3 days later she put on panties full time and has had like 5 accidents since. So my advice is that she’ll be ready when she’s ready.

  • Myriam

    Being ready to potty train is not just a physical thing, it’s also emotional and psychological. I’d go for the “drop the issue” approach for a little while longer (she juste turned three, she’s not a “late-trainer” yet). If, in 6 months, still nothing, I’d try Amy’s advice.

  • Katie

    On the bedtime thing–if you’ve got a spare mattress pad or two, layer the bed up (pad/sheet/pad/sheet), ditch the flat sheet, and use a washable blanket for a cover.  That way, when the accidents happen, you can just strip off the wet layer and be done with it all.  (While minimizing special middle if the night out of bed/attention time 🙂 )

    Good luck!

    • IrishCream

      I was shocked to find that a friend of mine completely changes the sheets and throws her kid in the tub if there’s an accident overnight. I just throw a towel over the wet sheets (waterproof mattress pad underneath so I’m not worried about damage) and hit ’em with a few baby wipes. I’m all about minimizing the out of bed time for myself! : )

      • Myriam

        It’s indeed just pee! Change the pj, quick wipe with a warm facecloth, and back to bed!

  • Cassie

    The no options thing worked for me. My oldest just did not want to poop on the potty. When I knew he really had to go, I took him to the bathroom and sat with him. I read him books, and basically just kept him distracted until nature took his course. Once he successfully went, he was fine. 

    He never said he was scared, he just seemed super stubborn, but I think he was scared. Staying with him and keeping totally positive was way more effective than I expected it to be. 

  • Liz

    Yay Amy!  The boot camp approach worked for us, too. We were calm and cheerful and gentle, but today is Underwear Day and this is how it is now, kid. We also did a reward chart, but had no success until we went boot camp-style. I hope it works well for you!  Day 3 or 4 seems to REALLY click with the kiddos. 

  • Gabbi

    I agree with the boot camp thing, but we had extreme success by focusing on staying dry rather than using the potty. Praise and treats are given for staying dry for 1/2 hour and then the chill sits on the potty (or sits just after wet with no treat). Gets kids who can hold it to have a positive experience before even sitting on the potty, so it’s not about being stubborn anymore. Lots of fluids are key!

  • Felicity Marie

    I’m going to vote for the first option here. If she just turned 3, she really, truly might not be ready to be potty trained. We dropped the issue with our daughter and at 3 years, 3 months she decided it was time. She went into underpants during the day and continued to have accidents a few times a week until…she just stopped. That was at 3 years and 9ish months. A few weeks later we forgot to put her in a diaper for bedtime, she woke up dry, and that was that. She was officially a “big kid”. (Her words. Adorable.)

    If at 3 and a half she isn’t using the potty, then I’d say boot camp it up. I would just hate to see your kiddo go through boot camp and have you realize on day 5 or so that maybe she just can’t do it. 

  • EG1972

    My very stubborn son (I know boys are often later to train than girls), just wasn’t having it, no matter what we did, so we dropped it. He decided was ready before he turned 4, and then it was an almost overnight thing. I am a strong believer in ‘lazy’ parenting, or as I prefer to think of it – waiting until they feel ready.

  • Amy Renee

    Another +1 for focusing on staying dry and for sitting on the potty, more so than on actually going – which you can also do with the younger one. We also don’t use the word accident – we just say “Oh you got peepee in your underpants, that’s no fun, let’s clean it up.” Because when your children are stubborn, its not always an accident.

    And if a bath is required to clean up, it’s either just stand in the tub while being wiped down with a washcloth, or its full body washing including hair – but usually there is no fun toy playing time, because that can be seen as a reward to my kids.

    Also, I feel like I mention this every time, but my kids (especially my oldest) wants privacy to poop – so I would close the bathroom door to a crack and sit just outside it. That helped.

    Another thin that makes a difference even now is that we don’t use potty as a transition, especially from a fun activity (playing with toys) to a less fun one (going to nap). Instead, we “take a potty break” and then come back to the fun activity, even if only for a few more minutes – because sometimes the battle wasn’t really about going potty, it was that resisting going potty meant resisting going for a nap, etc.

  • Nat

    Ugh!!! This was me a year ago.  I have the stubbornist of stubborn little girls who, like yours, was smart as a whip and fully capable of recognizing when she had to go potty and being able to hold it ALLL day long, but refusing to go. We tried everything too… bribes, charts, new panties, “boot camp” but nothing worked.  It was a sensitive subject for me and I hated how all of our extended fam, friends, acquaintances all had to pipe up and add their 2 cents about what to do (just trying to be helpful, but I was like, “yeah… thanks… don’t you think we haven’t tried that!?”) I even took her to the doctor a few times and she just told me to not make a big deal about it and let her do it when she wanted to.  She said some kids are just stubborn and it has to be THEIR decision, period.  So we waited… and finally, a few months before her 4th birthday, ta-da… Miss Stubborn Diva decided she was ready and started going potty on the toilet and was fully potty trained day and night from that moment forward.  I, however, am still traumatized by the potty drama and dread doing anything with our now 2 year old son, even though he doesn’t have his sister’s stubborn streak.  GOOD LUCK!  🙂

  • Melissa

    My super stubborn 3 year old pulled this crap early this summer. What worked… Ignoring it. Personally, I didn’t have the fortitude to boot camp around the toilet for 3 days. And it only made him more resolved to do it his way. Which was to run outside and go in his pants behind the bushes. Then suddenly he decided the time was right.

    If the younger one is ready… Go for it. The older one will follow. Fighting over it just isn’t worth it.

  • Caroline

    I’d definitely go with this approach. But I’d go further, there would be a bit of shaming (not serious nasty stuff of course), and there would be no rewards. The reward is that you’re not in urine-soaked clothing. There. This is a child who is very stubborn and that’s fine, and having a good strong backbone is great, but this is not acceptable and you are the parent. What you say goes. Since you are certain she’s totally ready, then that’s the way it’s going to be. It will be hell, but she will quickly realise that there’s no more nice-nice and certainly no rewards. Those were the first stops along the route. Now it’s just the Hard Way. The hard way includes being cleaned up in a way that is brisk and not actually pleasant. The reward is that not happening anymore. Amalah has hit the nail on the head. Just stick with it and you’ll get through.

    • vanessa

      dude there’s a HUGE difference between what Amy is talking about and what you’re talking about. Your way is…creepy.

      • wendy

        I agree. You are suggesting hurting the child physically and mentally. Not cool at all. 

  • S

    Serious question here, how do you force the stubborn ones to sit on the potty? My son was one of the magical ones that just did it all on his own. One pee accident at home. Bought new underwear and that was that (age 2 years 10 months). My autistic daughter is almost 4 now and not ready (has no clue she’s going pee or poo much of the time). We need to practice sitting on the potty but i can’t bend her in half and force her down like I can in a car seat. How do you make them sit?

    • Corinne

      Honestly, if they really really really don’t want to, you can’t.  My now 4yo was this level of stubborn. Trying to force him to sit on the potty was nearly impossible and was accompanied by extreme levels of hurting me to make me stop (which I guess is kind of fair, I was holding him down against his will, I would probably hit, kick, scream, and bite in an effort to get free if someone held me down against my will).  

  • Debra

    I actually thought of writing Amy because my youngest “makes mules look complacent” son is four and a half and was having none of it despite trying just about everything. I finally did a modified boot camp approach. I couldn’t take time off work but when we were at home, I made him go naked from the waist down during the day since he’d just pee in underwear. He hated it so much but would run to the potty every time he had to go and after about a week he started wearing underwear of his own choice.

  • mandi

    I’m in the middle of it right now, my kid can go, he just chooses not to sometimes (grrr) but for the holding it, after he was holding it for 4 hours, I would put his little potty in the bathtub and run warm water on his feet and legs. They are powerless to hold it then! it got him to finally realize that “hey, I can release my bladder here and it’s ok” and was the thing that finally clicked to get us as far as we are (which is he’s been done with diapers for 3 months, but still has accidents daily, mostly when he just chooses to not get up and go because something else is more fun).

  • Corinne

    Ugh. I have this child.  He’s now almost 4.5 and is fully potty trained, if that gives you any hope.  He started showing readiness signs around 2, then 2.5, then 3, each time immediately falling back into stubborn if we tried to progress the issue. No interest in rewards. Holding it for 7-8 hours at at a time before finally peeing all over. A few months after 3 we decided to do the extreme boot camp since I wasn’t working out of the house anymore.  So much failure. Trying to hold him on the potty got me bitten, screamed at so loudly it made my ears ring, hit, scratched, and whacked in the nose with his head hard enough to make my nose bleed. So that was fun. Just putting him on the potty definitely resulted in him hopping down off the potty and defiantly peeing on the floor (complete with snotty threenager tone, argh). Trying to make him help clean up after accidents had similar results.  It’s remarkably difficult to force another human being to do a thing with their body if you care about not permanently hurting them. It also felt super wrong to me, because we’re all about bodily autonomy and respect for other people and I was basically teaching him that yeah, all of that, except when Mommy decides you need to do a thing. I’ll make an exception for his health and safety (you’re getting your 4 year shots, non optional, you must ride in a car seat in the car), but potty training just wasn’t that. I just gave up. Fine, you can wear pull ups (at school) and diapers (at home). I don’t care. If you want to wear a diaper in college, I guess that’s why they make them in adult sizes. I didn’t rush to change him though – I let him complain to me. If you want to be fully in control of your bladder and bowels, fine, all you. He eventually just kind of decided he wanted to go in the potty. His teacher gave us the Pirate Potty training book, which seemed to help a bit, but mostly it was just letting him be fully in charge, because making it a power struggle meant I would lose. 

  • Briana

    Similar situation over here. Our daughter is a little over 3 and she is potty trained in the sense that she wears underwear and she tell us when it’s time to go and goes to the bathroom but she will only go (on the toilet) if she is wearing a diaper or pull up. We tried the boot camp approach to get rid of the diapers and she held it for 24hours at which point we gave her a diaper out of fear fr her health and she immediately went. She also ended up with a UTI because of holding it in so long because she wouldn’t ask to go anymore because she didn’t want to disappoint us because she couldn’t go with out a diaper. So I’m not sure the boot camp approach is always a good option. I also am not sure she is being stubborn. At 3yrs old I think she would love to be able to go on the potty like her friends and expresses that but physically cannot get herself to relax her sphincter because she is so scared. Crossing our fingers that changes sooner rather than later.

  • Lori

    I wonder if she may be using diapers as a “safety blanket” of sorts. Her resistance may be anxiety more than stubbornness. You mentioned a recent international move, but even without that toddlers can cling to the known safety of a diaper. It may help to provide a transition object like a doll or toy that she can turn to for comfort during this change, similar to sleep training.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really like this you trying to break them psychologically. Almost every technique says don’t use force. This is not a place you want to fight if it’s a fight involving their body the child’s going to win. Also I can see a lot holding going on that can lead to constipation.