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Potty Training and Is My Toddler Ready?

Potty Training Wars: When to Surrender & Give Up the Fight

By Amalah

Hello! I just found your blog and have spent the last hour or so reading through all the potty training articles I could find. You have some very good tips, ideas and suggestions- just what I need! This is the only site I’ve found that has realistic answers to potty training questions. With that, I have some more questions. I’m sorry if you’ve already answered some of these and maybe I just missed it. 🙂

Last month, we started potty training our two year old (28 month old, to be exact) on a long weekend where we would be home the entire time. We went immediately to underwear (pull ups only at night) and explained that it was time to use the potty. The first day, she had maybe four accidents and then once she went on the potty, she was fine with it and did pretty well. I thought, “oh, this isn’t too bad”… little did I know.

She still uses the potty to pee, but only if we ask/bribe/beg. She has never told us she needs to go potty. She’s gone on her own maybe a handful of times without prompting, but that’s it. And that was weeks ago.

If we don’t ask her to go potty, then she’ll just have an accident in her underwear/pants. And it doesn’t faze her – she couldn’t care less about being wet. We have m&ms for when she pees on the potty, but that worked for maybe a week and now she doesn’t care about those. We try to have her help clean up, but that usually just causes a tantrum, then she’ll help a little (like one wipe of a towel) and be done with it.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to get her to go too. She says “no, I don’t like it”. Which I think she just means she doesn’t want to because you can ask her if she wants a cookie and she’ll say she doesn’t like cookies, then immediately ask for a cookie. Toddlers, huh? 🙂 so I don’t think she’s uncomfortable or has a UTI or anything like that. But we have had some tantrums and then we just back off asking and she’ll have an accident a few minutes later.

The second week or so of training, she would poop in her potty – she even actually did that on her own without telling us a few times. We gave her all the praise in the world, called grandparents who praised, basically threw little potty parties – haha. But that was short-lived. After that week, she absolutely refuses to poop on the potty. She’ll go in her room and poop in her underwear. Again, she couldn’t care less that she has pooped in her underwear. She doesn’t tell us she’s pooped, she just continues on with whatever she’s doing. We’ve tried m&ms, stickers and a potty chart where she can get special toys after she poops on the potty three times. She hasn’t pooped on the potty once. She’ll tell you that she gets stickers and a toy when she goes poop on the potty…she just won’t actually do it.

She goes to a Montessori school two days a week and usually does pretty well there. She’s had maybe two or three pee accidents there but usually does well. They’re pretty proactive in helping with potty training.

We’ve been at this for a month and the lack of progress is starting to wear on this momma. I’m wondering if I just tried too early and she wasn’t ready. Should I put a pause on potty training for a few months and wait for her to be more interested and initiate?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

If you plug “when to give up p” into Google, “potty training” is one of the top suggestions (along with pacifier, pumping and one lone non-mom-worry of potential relationship). Will any of those top results be helpful? Absolutely not! They are a cacophony of conflicting advice and not-so-subtle digs and brags and the occasional horror story.

“Don’t give up! There’s nothing worse for a toddler than giving up! Think of the mixed messages you’ll send!”

“Just stop, she’s too young, what were you even thinking, if you just wait for her to show interest and she’ll basically just train herself!”

“You just have to be patient! My DD was six months younger than yours and took three full days to train!”

“My kid didn’t crap on the toilet until the third grade. ABANDON ALL HOPE.”

I’m wondering what signs of potty readiness she was displaying that prompted you to start “officially” training? Did she seem interested at all? Did you read lots of books and gradually introduce the potty as a “someday” concept, or did you just up and decree it to be the New World Order one day? I am a big fan of the three day/long weekend/boot camp model of training, but I sense some parents take the all-in/immersive aspects of the approach a bit too far. There needs to be a gradual build-up/introduction and there DEFINITELY needs to be signs of interest and readiness from your child, as opposed to it being a decision you make 100% on their behalf. Otherwise the only person who is really getting “trained” is…well, you.

No judgement from me in that last paragraph, by the way. I absolutely am guilty of doing exactly that with one of my toddlers. I thought he was ready, mostly based on his age, what other people’s kids were doing at the time, and a vague bit of hubris that he seemed advanced in a few other areas (verbal, mostly) so clearrrrrrrrly he was going to train as soon as realistically possible.

The result: LOLOLOLOL.

I tried. I did everything that worked for my firstborn, everything I’ve preached and rambled about here on This Very Website, and lo, it did not work. He was not ready. Unless I was willing to live our lives as permanent slaves to the 30-minute potty timer, there would be accidents all the live-long day. (And even when we WERE doing the whole pump him full of liquids and then physically put his butt on the toilet every 30 minutes thing, he was still just as likely to have an accident exactly 30 seconds after he got off.) I was irritated and exhausted and missed being able to go places and do things without being on constant High Bladder Alert.

And so, you know. We stopped. I decided (especially since he wasn’t my only kid, and staying in the house for weeks on end wasn’t a possibility) after enough days had passed and I just wasn’t seeing ANY measure of real success other than occasional timing-based luck, to admit defeat and put him back in diapers. He did not care at all.

We tried again a few months later, once he started following his brother into the bathroom out of curiosity. He trained in three days.

But one anecdote does not a gospel make. Some kids really do take a very long time and you just have to power through a couple weeks of nonsense. A full month? Ehhhh, that’s probably questionable. It’s entirely up to you to decide whether the constant pressure/vigilance now is serving even the tiniest sliver of purpose, and if you’ve seen ANY progress that isn’t worth giving up on. You say she’s doing pretty well at preschool: That might be enough to justify sticking with things, especially if you can mimic whatever “proactive” steps her teachers do at home. Is there something they’re doing differently? (Set potty break times, a different potty seat configuration, etc.?) Is it maybe the peer group setting? If she doesn’t care about being wet at home, will she care more at say, the library? The playground? A store? Is it her teachers? Would she respond similarly to say, a babysitter or grandparent stepping in and reinforcing her training for a day/evening?

She IS young. Definitely not TOO young to train, but realistically, if she didn’t potty train for another six months she’d STILL land right in the middle of the “typical” range. I personally consider any age closer to 24 months than 36 months as training on the early side! (Though I did have boys, who anecdotally train “later” than girls, but I don’t think that’s a good generalization to make, as many, MANY girls aren’t ready to train right at 2 to 2.5 years old  either.)

SO. If I were you, I would take a good long look in the rearview mirror and re-examine the signs of potty readiness that prompted you to train.

Ideally, signs you want to see in potty training readiness:

1) Diapers staying dry for longer periods of time (including after naps), and a semi-regular poop schedule.

2) Solid verbal ability that includes telling you that they need to go, or that they’ve just gone in their diaper.

3) Pulling/tugging at wet/dirty diapers or asking to be changed.

4) Hiding when peeing/pooping, or giving some physical or verbal indication that they’re going.

5) An interest in family members’ bathroom habits and a willingness to copy/mimic those habits (even if they don’t actually go or do anything).

It sounds like, at a minimum, she’s missing sign #3, as she simply doesn’t care about being wet or dirty. Not every kid needs to check off EVERY one of these signs 100%, but man, that one REALLY, REALLY helps. (I don’t think my youngest child would have ever trained if wet clothing didn’t drive him up the wall. As soon as we stopped changing him out of his clothes too quickly, he was like, “This sucks. I will use the potty instead.”) If she’s missing any of the other signs, then it’s possible that yes, she just wasn’t/isn’t ready.

But! I’d also take a good long look at what’s leading to her (relative?) success at preschool and see if there is ANYTHING at all that’s being done differently. Then at least give whatever that thing is a try for a weekend (schedule/reward/configuration/peers/non-parent adults/etc.). If you’re still seeing a complete lack of potty training progress, try going back to diapers at home and see if she cares at all, or if THAT ends up being something that makes her go, “Oh. I don’t like this after all.” (And that might not happen right away! She might be happy to not be nagged about the potty all day for awhile, then change her mind about “baby diapers” in a few weeks/months.)

No matter what, though, and above all things: She WILL potty train, when she’s ready. I promise.

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

  • Lindsay

    My kid did great at school, just like yours. So she wore underwear at school. She had no interest at home, so she wore diapers at home. No big deal. It went on like this for maybe 4-5 months. Then she decided she wanted underwear all the time (except at night). By this time, she was really good at using the bathroom by herself (lots of practice at school!) so “training” at home was not even really something we had to do. All kids are different, but if you follow whatever lead they’re setting, potty training does not have to be miserable. Good luck!

  • Catherine

    I have twin girls who will be three at the end of December. One of them toilet trained months ago. Like before July. The other one, not so much. She sounds very much like your daughter (doesn’t care about being wet; won’t go in her own; doesn’t care about rewards; will only poop in a pull-up/diaper). We stopped being potty pushers. We have reluctantly come to the conclusion that she’s just not ready. We were really excited when she came home from daycare the other day declaring she had pooped in the potty! Alas, it did not happen. We continue to wait until she is ready.

  • Jeffiner Cox

    My daughter is 34 months, and I am ready to give up potty training and let her continue to wear diapers into high school. She showed all of the signs above, even number 3. We tried the 3 day bootcamp, and it resulted in accidents, tantrums, and constipation. She was young (closer to 2), so we stopped and waited a few months. We then tried just sitting her on the potty, giving her liquids, offering rewards, etc, and it resulted in no progress. She’s in full-time daycare, and even they are stumped. She is the only kid in her class to still wear diapers. We’ve tried panties and pullups, but she no longer cares if she is wet or poops in those (or in the diaper). My husband and daycare want to keep putting her on the potty as often as possible, and I’m going along with that, but honestly I don’t think we will make any progress until she decides one day “I’m going to use the potty.”

  • J

    Nothing profound to offer, other than support. We had a “false start” with potty training. He looked ready. He said he was ready. Turns out it was just the novelty of it for our kid, including at school. As soon as it was “expected” at school, he stopped trying there too, resulting in lots of accidents. We just waited him out. If he had successful days at school, great! Lots of praise. We kept everything “available” at home. Had options “underwear or baby diapers today?” And just overall stopped pushing. He changed his mind when he was the only one who had to stop playing to have a diaper change. We made it long (way longer than a potty break) and sort of made it as inconvenient/less fun as possible to be in diapers when we became confident that he was physically able to control it. At school they changed his diaper at the same time everyone else had potty breaks but they also added checks in just to annoy him (it took maybe one week of this before he was over it). Again, nothing profound but maybe another way to look at it if you think she’s physically ready but digging her heels in because she likes the control.

  • TiffanyBaxendellBridge

    We had a horrible experience potty training our son- we started it at 31 months, so about 2.5, basically because I knew he was going to need to be potty trained for PreK that fall (universal pre-K in DC is great! but my kid has a fall birthday and was going to be The Youngest Kid, so we knew we were pushing it before he was ready/interested). He was like yours- more or less willing to go along at daycare, with a total “I’m off the clock” attitude at home, unconcerned about being wet/poopy, total lack of interest in any reward we could come up with, etc. This went on for like 5 months, including the full-on potty rebellion for weeks when he transitioned from daycare to pre-K.

    Here’s what I think finally made the difference:
    – He just got older/more mature.
    – Mixed-age Montessori primary class where he was the youngest and finally had older kids to keep up with.
    – We decided that waiting for him to not like being wet wasn’t getting us anywhere, and started whisking him off, away from what he was doing, to be changed the moment we noticed an accident. He still regarded it as more or less about as inconvenient as a diaper change, but slowly started to understand that fun stops immediately upon soiling yourself and it’s just FASTER to use the freaking toilet already.
    – Once we knew he COULD control it and just didn’t care to, we stumbled into: Exactly one package of undies with his favorite characters on them, and all the rest are boring underpants. He got one pair of character pants per day. You want to wear these cool character pants all day, you have to keep them clean and dry. Otherwise, sorry buddy, the cool ones have to be washed and here are some boring ones to wear. You can try again tomorrow. Having to take off his beloved Blaze and the Monster Machines pants to put on some boring stripes and throw Blaze in the wash was a gentle, natural consequence that finally seemed to get through to him in a way that simply being poopy did not. I made sure all the spare undies, in the diaper bag, in the school cubby, etc. were the boring ones.

    If you don’t have a deadline you’re working against, definitely evaluate how much you need to be doing this right now.

  • Caro

    There is a potty-training backlash movement. If you wait, your kid will just do it themselves. This prevents constipation, UTIs and other health issues associated with holding it. Kids also need to develop the muscles and sensations. I don’t get the rush to potty train. Diapers don’t cost much and who wants to deal with accidents. Look up Janet Lansbury, Steve Hodges or google why not to potty train.