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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!

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

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

    November 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    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 her, switching to panties, and the first day was ok, and then she’d just dig in and say, “Nope!” And then we would have a week of LOTS of laundry and cleaning up messes. What worked – patience. We just waited. We kept talking about it, and one day she said she didn’t want to wear the PullUps any more, and I told her she needed to use the potty then. I also offered her a jelly bean if she went on the potty, and that worked. I’d totally tried exactly that several other times before, but she finally reached the point where she wanted to. Your kid is NOT going to be wearing a pull up forever. If you wait a little longer, he will let you know he is done with them. The fact that he goes at school and goes when you are out means that he can TOTALLY control this. And that means that he won’t start using the potty until he WANTS to. Just stay patient and keep offering him incentives you think might work. One day he will suddenly take you up on it and that will be it.

    • Myriam

      November 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      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 home. Or you can use the toilets, as you wish”!

  • IrishCream

    November 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    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 more ready for a weekend bootcamp approach.

  • Karen

    November 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    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 are, but it’s a fact we daycare parents have to admit to ourselves, that our kids spend the majority of their waking hours 5 of the 7 days of the week with their caregivers in their house or center. My son probably sees our house as his “place to eat dinner and sleep at night.”

    28 months is really young still from a cognitive point of view, perhaps this isn’t really a behavior or stubborn thing, he just really isn’t as comfortable using the toilet at your house since it doesn’t happen as often.

    • Kate

      November 17, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      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

    November 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    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 done. Sorry for the rant.

    • MR

      November 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      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 good as it is important to be able to stand up for yourself and your beliefs), but it is completely different than with my youngest. With my eldest, you pretty much just have to hint that picking up her toys would make you happy, and she will clean and organize the whole room. Even as a toddler, her usual toddler stubborn was just… different. With my youngest, asking her to pick up her toys just results in an outright, “No!” and refusal to do so. Since timeouts don’t work, I just have to redirect her back to what I asked her to do. It has taken over 45 minutes of “You can’t go play until you pick up this toy.” and taking her back over and over before she will finally decide to pick it up. This is a pretty regular occurrence in my household. It is exhausting and a true test of patience. So, yes, she gets the characterization of “stubborn and strong-willed”. But, in her teens, she is going to be EXCELLENT at resisting peer pressure. 🙂

  • Amy Renee

    November 17, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    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 offer potty as the middle of an activity, not the end, because when you say “clean up your toys it time for potty before lunch” is no fun, but taking a “potty break” and then coming back to the activity encourages th idea that potty does not equal end of fun activity. The other one is to make a huge deal about dry pants – you ask every half hour if he has dry pants, and if so then give a “yay!” and high five, etc. Same thing with right before the potty. So its not shaming the wet pants, (we simply describe wet pants as “no fun, let’s put on fresh ones”) but making a special big deal about staying dry.

  • CJ

    November 18, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    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

      November 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      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

    November 18, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    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 (and does; she still resists if we insist she go, which we do before long car rides or whatever. Just not when we’re staying around home). Eventually, she just got there on her own–very little fuss, very little mess. Of course, this was closer to age 3, which you might not be okay with if you really want him to train now. But after this, I’m a big fan of a hands-off approach and just letting kids get there when they’re ready.