Prev Next
Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training Wars: The “I Can But I Just Don’t Wanna” Kid

By Amalah

Dear Amy:

Your advice has gotten me through the first three years of my twins’ life (4 If you include my pregnancy) and I’m hoping you can help me now, too.

I started potty training my boy/girl twins at about 22 months. We did the boot camp method, and it worked really well for my daughter, but my son couldn’t have possibly cared less. She hated when the pee ran down her legs, so stopped peeing anywhere but in the potty. She hasn’t had a problem since. For him, apparently, the nice thing about a penis is the pee doesn’t run down your legs. He just peed on my carpet, my couch, my tile…you get the idea. And he enjoyed cleaning up.

So we tried undies. “Keep your undies clean so you can keep wearing Mickey Mouse!” It worked for a minute, but he doesn’t care if he’s wet! And he doesn’t care if we take away the undies. The worst part is that he has pretty loose stools (he’d eat his weight in fruit if we let him) and in the underwear it’s AWFUL. We’re back to Pull-Ups because at least we don’t have to clean those out (he also enjoys cleaning out his underwear, so it’s not a terribly effective consequence).

Now they’re 3, and he’s perfectly *capable* of using the toilet. He’ll go at bedtime (stalling, but he at least pees even though it’s usually after the Pull-Up is wet) and he’s even pooped on the toilet at church and at home. He’ll go pee or poop on the toilet when he wants, but some days he’ll just run around wet or poopy forever. He just doesn’t care, and it’s driving me insane!

You’ve written replies for kids who are avoiding potty training, and for kids who are too stubborn to sit on the potty, but he knows what he’s doing!

What do I do for a kid that *can* use the potty, but couldn’t care less about the natural consequences of *not* using the potty?

Am I Really Consigned to Poop Duty Until He’s Five???

For kids who seriously, continuously, do not give a flying crap (pun originally unintended but now I’m keeping it because HA!) about the negative “natural consequences” of not using the potty, you might have better luck by focusing on a super-duper amazingly POSITIVE consequence. Also known as an incentive. A reward. Whatever.

And no, I’m not talking about a sticker chart or M&Ms. (Which I assume you tried and your son was like, nahhhhh.) When a perfectly capable kid holds on this long, you gotta up the ante. Not necessarily in price. (Although I had a friend whose potty-avoiding son was closing in on 4 and had to literally promise him Disneyworld to get him to finally use the toilet.) You just need to find something he really, really, REALLY wants and then make that contingent on using the potty at home X number of times.

And it might take awhile to find That Something — I know I’ve told this story before, but to get my Halfway There kid (trained for pee, refused to poop) fully-trained, I started making literally everything and anything he asked for contingent on pooping in the potty. New toy? Poop on the potty. Fancy looking cupcake? Poop on the potty. I was like a broken record, and most of the time he responded by simply losing interest or dropping the request.

I made offers of my own: We’ll go a train museum or a water playground. I’ll buy you this or get you your very own that. This was an exercise in futility, because nothing I offered was worth it to him.

Then one weekend he watched 101 Dalmations at his grandparents’ house and asked if we could buy a copy for our house.

“Sure,” I said, practically on autopilot, “but only if you poop on the potty.”

And lo and behold, it worked. He really, really wanted a DVD of 101 Dalmations of his very own, enough to finally get over whatever mental block/fear/pure stubbornness he had about pooping on the dang potty. He went in and did it all by himself, and then came to me to ask for his reward. (Which we then had to get in the CAR and go BUY and at a STORE like non-streaming SAVAGES.) For about a week, he was allowed to watch the movie any time he successfully went (even in the middle of the night, sigh) so we could make sure it wasn’t a one-off kind of thing. Once the habit was cemented and it was clear he wasn’t likely to regress, we nixed the full movie and would let him watch part of it, then just maybe listen to the songs, and eventually pooping on the potty became just a regular ol’ thing that happened all on its own. HALLELUJAH THANK YOU CRUELLA DEVILLE.

So…that’s what I’d suggest you try next. At home, let him wear whatever is easiest for your sanity while you figure out what will truly incentivize him (since obviously running around wet/poopy isn’t enough of a negative natural consequence to him, but sure is a negative for YOU). Maybe there already is something that he’s asked for that you’ve said no to, but have in the back of your mind for his birthday or Christmas. Or just do what I did and make every little thing contingent on potty training until you hit upon that magic something.

Oh, and one other sneaky trick, since you mentioned him using the toilet at church: Is there at all a difference/distinction for him about accidents at home vs. accidents while he’s out? Like he’ll run around wet/poopy all day at home but gets maybe a tiny bit self-conscious about having visible accidents in front of strangers/peers? If so, RUN WITH THAT. Obviously you don’t want to publicly shame him or anything, but maybe getting him out of the house for long stretches of time (in underwear) with regular reminders that he’ll need to use the potty if he doesn’t want people/kids seeing him wet or poop his pants would help? (Since you KNOW he’s perfectly capable when he wants to, so it’s not like you’re setting him up for failure by expecting too much.) At home, it’s easy to just strip down and wash his dirty clothes and not be embarrassed, but those “natural consequences” might not be so easy to tolerate when it’s in front of other kids.  And even if peer pressure doesn’t work, having an accident away from home means that whatever fun thing you’re out doing will IMMEDIATELY come to an end because oops, you had an accident and now we have to go home and clean up there. Boo, this is no fun! Next time just use the potty and we can stay as long as you want!

Good luck, and let us know what ends up working for him! (Because he WILL train, I promise. At some point. Eventually. Sigh, children.)


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