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Potty Training and Is My Toddler Ready?

Potty Training Sans Peer Pressure

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve been a loyal reader of your blog and the Smackdown since before I had my almost 28-month old son, (who incidentally, seems to be a clone of Ike, awesomely crazy hair and all). Any time I need to win a parenting argument with my husband, I just quote you FTW!

I know you get a million potty training questions, but here’s another desperate one. My son goes to daycare fulltime during the day and will pee in the potty all day there. He wears pull-ups, and has a whole impressive routine where he marches into the bathroom himself, climbs up onto the big boy toilet (no potty seat!), pees, wipes, gets down, puts back on a pull-up and pants, then washes his hands. All. by. himself. MAGIC! I swear, this woman is a miracle worker. He still won’t poop in the potty, but he’s starting to sometimes try to. I think he still doesn’t have as much control there, so we’re not rushing it.

The problem is that he won’t use the potty at home. Like, outright refuses to. It’s probably our fault because we were kind of lazy about it at home at first, but now that we’re actively trying, he won’t do it.

He’ll often tell me he has to use the potty when we’re out, or over at grandma’s (though there I think it’s just an excuse to go use the upstairs bathroom, which is usually forbidden), but at home, nope, no go. He’s an incredibly stubborn kid (plus really big and strong at almost 35 pounds), so there’s really no forcing him to do something without it getting ugly really fast. Plus, I don’t want him to have negative associations with our potty.

I’ve tried regularly telling him we’re going to the potty and trying to get him to go with me into the bathroom. Nope. I’ve tried asking him if he needs to use the potty. Nope. I’ve tried bribes with gummy bears (a treat he doesn’t usually get), which worked the first few times, now nope. An offer of a mini cookie worked once or twice, but again, it failed after a few times. We haven’t tried a sticker chart, but I honestly think he’s not going to get the association. I’ve tried telling him we’ll do something in advance and it usually leads to him thinking we’re going to do it now, then having a meltdown when we don’t.

So, where do we go from here? I want to have him working towards being fully potty trained, but I don’t want to undermine his good work at daycare by souring him on the whole thing at home. Should we do a no-pants weekend and try to do a 2-3 potty training marathon at home? Are there other techniques we’re missing?

Thank you!

Hmm, this IS a different flavor of potty stubbornness. Peer pressure at school is often a huuuuuge help, but usually we assume the effects will carry over at home, at least a little. I’m assuming you’ve spoken with the Miracle Worker at daycare about this? Maybe asked for her take or advice on the situation? Because yeah, I don’t want to undermine what she’s doing. But at the same time, given everything you’ve already tried, the only remaining suggestions I can think of would likely involve some changes at daycare as well.

Because I’d suggest ditching the pull-ups. I assume that’s what he’s wearing at home? And I assume his daycare prefers he wear them just in case, or because pooping on the potty isn’t quite 100% there yet? But I don’t know. In my experience, pull-ups can really be more of a hinderance than a help for some toddlers, particularly if they continue to wear them after having repeated, sustained success at using the toilet. They’re a nice backup for us adults, but they can ALSO send a really mixed message to a toddler. “Yep! You’re a big kid who uses the potty…buuuuuttttt it’s still kinda optional, because nothing really dramatic happens if you decide to just go in your pants.”

(I remember buying the ones with the disappearing design on the front to indicate wetness. I cannot even express how little of a crap [PUN!] my child gave about those dumb stars or moons or whatever.)

Since he’s proven himself to be capable of using the toilet at school and when you’re out, and not really receptive to positive rewards or incentives (those are NOT bribes), your best bet is to call his stubbornness bluff and let there be some natural consequences by his refusal to go at home. In this case: wet pants.

When I first start potty training, I typically go from diapers to a no-pants, bare butt stage, just because the whole “getting to the potty on time and getting your pants down” is more of a stage two for kids just starting out. Since your son has mastered that at school, I’d skip the no-pants weekend and buy him some underwear. And then dress him as he usually dresses for school. I would ALSO talk to his daycare and see if they have any super-strong resistance to him wearing underwear there, just so everything stays consistent.

I know the poop thing isn’t super consistent yet, but he IS trying, so maybe underwear will help him in that department. At least there’s not a HUGE difference between stripping off a soiled pull-up and tossing it in the trash vs. sending soiled pants home in a plastic bag. (And let’s be honest, we’ve all gotten those Bags o’ Disgusting sent home at some point — multiple points! — even AFTER our child was technically trained and in underwear full time. It shouldn’t be anything his daycare doesn’t deal with on a regular basis.)

This was the advice, by the way, we got from our own preschool Potty Training Miracle Worker. She recommended no pull-ups (though the slightly absorbent cloth training underwear was okay for just starting out). And when our little ball of stubbornness decided to train for a week…and then promptly untrained for a solid month, she advised us to keep him in underwear and then — when an accident happened — to NOT immediately strip off the wet clothes. Basically wait until it bothered him.  Or until he wanted to go somewhere or do something, and we could point out that nope, we can’t do that with wet pants, sorry.

He STILL tested us at home for about two days, but only to a certain point. He’d initially tell us that nope, he was clean and dry and fine even when he was so clearly, obviously NOT. But then, when we didn’t argue or move to change his clothes, he’d only make it about 20 minutes before giving up and taking everything off. At which point I’d promptly dress him all up again in underwear and pants (so no consequence-free puddles on the floor, or anything). Then it was 15 minutes, then five. Finally he was like, SCREW THIS, I WILL JUST GO SIT ON THE STUPID TOILET.

Every kid is different, of course, but I will say there’s no way we could have finished training that stubborn child using pull-ups, and maybe your son will be similar. Same deal if he’s wearing diapers at home, since your letter wasn’t clear if daycare and home are different — it’s time to banish the training wheels, so to speak.

Keep it SUPER POSITIVE, by the way — don’t purposely add to any distress over the wet clothes by shaming or scolding. Be as matter of fact about it as you can. When you pee in your pants instead of the potty, your clothes get wet and it’s not very fun or comfortable. I mean, it’s a fact we all have to live with.  Let him choose when to remove the wet clothes, but hold firm on the expectation that he will get dressed again and he will wear underwear again — there are no diapers or pull-ups left in the house anymore, another fact of life that no amount of stubbornness or tantrums will change.

(Hopefully he won’t just strip his clothing and underwear in a fit. If he does that, and has an accident on the floor, make sure he knows he’ll be expected to help clean it up, every time.)

Good luck!

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 [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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MR
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MR

This was my kid. She totally COULD do it. She just didn’t want to. Normally I totally agree with Amy – ditch the PullUps. However, in this case, I’d try it for a few days, see if it works, and then if it doesn’t, put him back in them. Because, he is CHOOSING to not go at home. And, if he is as stubborn as my kid, he will continue to choose to not go at home until he decides he wants to. For my kid, getting wet was not a motivator at all. We tried it several times with… Read more »

Myriam
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Myriam

I think MR has a good point, but I would not use pullups, I would go back to diapers if you see that Amalah’s plan doesn’t work. Pullups should be used as such, as back up, and to allow a kid to be independant when attempting to go by himself. If your kid is using them as diapers,meaning not even attempting to go to the toilet, then go back to diapers. They’re cheaper than pullups and are more absorbent. It’s not a shame tactic, it’s just “Mommy doesn’t have enough money for pullups, so you will be wearing diapers at… Read more »

IrishCream
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IrishCream

28 months is on the younger side to be fully potty-trained, too, and it’s a tough age because they’re really discovering and reveling in their ability to say “no.”  You could always try taking a step back at home to remove the power struggle aspect. Let him do his thing at day care, but at home he wears diapers (Amy’s spot-on about the pull-ups) and you stop offering the potty as an option for a month or so. If he wants to use it, of course that’s fine, but otherwise, no pressure. After a little time off, he might be… Read more »

Karen
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Karen

no suggestions, just another perspective. My son will be three in Jan and goes full time to a home daycare near our house. We’ve been unable to get to nap normally on the weekends for months even though he really needs one and naps for two hours mid-day at his babysitter’s house. This past weekend, we happened to drive by the daycare house and he said, “There’s Tami’s house! That’s where I live.” Before everyone cues the sympathy music, my kid, and my other kids as well for that matter, is super happy and not confused about who his parents… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

I would agree with you except that he asks to go when they’re out and about and in other peoples houses which seems to negate the idea that it’s a familiarity issue.

Karen
Guest
Karen

And, sorry, but I don’t really get this whole thing about characterizing kids as stubborn and strong-willed. I mean, has any child ever just floated through being two doing everything that they were told to do without objection? Sure, (hopefully) by the time they are adults they learn to place their needs in context with others’, but that happens because we as parents teach them to how to do that by starting from a place of respect for their agency, otherwise we just end up with kids who learn that subjugating others’ preferences is the preferred method of getting things… Read more »

MR
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MR

Ah, I have to respectfully disagree with you on that. My youngest is incredibly stubborn and strong-willed and has been as long as she has been able to communicate. By that, I mean that the usual incentives don’t work with her. She couldn’t care less about a star chart. She doesn’t care if anyone wants her to do something, if she doesn’t want to do it, she won’t. Whereas timeouts worked for my eldest, they have NEVER been effective for my youngest. My eldest can definitely be stubborn and strong-willed too (I actually consider both of those things to be… Read more »

Amy Renee
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Amy Renee

I 100% agree with asking daycare what they do and copying their routine as much as possible. I would guess that at 28 months he might not be trained so much in the sense that he’ll tell you he has to go as it is that they put him on the potty every hour and he goes then. I’d start with trying to copy the daycare weekday routine on a weekend – for us, the phrase “Miss Julie says you always sit on the potty before nap time” works for us. Two more things that worked for us were to… Read more »

CJ
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CJ

Just curious, what happens when you ask him why he uses the potty at school, but not at home?

It could be there is a legitimate reason behind the reluctance to use that toilet. Too high? Too big of an opening? Too slippery? Doesn’t like the toilet paper? Got scared once a long time ago? Maybe try asking him (while looking at it, with his pants ON, and after explaining that you’re not going to use it NOW), and see what he says.

Jenelle
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Jenelle

I agree with CJ – most daycares have toddler-sized toilets, while most homes do not. Even with a detachable children’s potty seat, a large toilet may seem intimidating. And I know my son had trouble making the association between the plastic potty and the toilet, since obviously all the people he had seen “going” used the real toilet. 

Allison
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Allison

My daughter was similar–lots of success at daycare, but totally unwilling to use the potty at home. We essentially just gave up all efforts to train her; any pressure from us, and she resisted. She was getting lots of practice at school, and had the option of diapers, underwear with inserts (basically the cloth version of pullups), or underwear at home. She varied in what she chose, and almost never had accidents when she wore underwear. We also didn’t usually even ask her if she had to go; we trusted her to go when she needed to, and she did… Read more »