Child looking up from the potty

The Toddler Who Won’t Get On the Potty in the Morning

By Amalah

First of all, I hope this message finds you and yours well. I just came across your article regarding the hard to wake toddler and a million “thank yous.” This piece of advice will be a game changer.

My question: I have a bad back and a solid kid. What would you recommend in regards to get him up and and on the potty? I cannot carry him. He is 3 years and four months and about 95% potty trained. He wears an overnight pull-up to bed and pees first thing in the morning with a lot of teeth pulling.

My husband is busy making breakfast during this point of the routine. Many thanks for any additional insights.


Do you think there’s a particular reason for his morning stubbornness, or is it more tied to his general resistance to waking up in the morning? Because a 3 year old should be more than capable of using a small stepstool and getting on the toilet independently, but it sounds like he’s battling you on that, either out of morning-related grumpiness or…I don’t know. Because he’s three and three just Be Like That, sometimes.

Troubleshooting the morning potty problem

1.  If his pull-up is wet in the morning, it’s possible he’s gone somewhat recently and doesn’t feel much urgency to go.  If that happens, try changing up his routine… that “fine, he doesn’t have to pee first thing after waking up, but he absolutely must use the potty before leaving the house.” If he is still fighting it after breakfast is made and on the table, your husband can do the heavy lifting at that point, so to speak, and be like: “No. Sit your butt down and pee.”

2. If his pull-up is dry and he just seems…still half asleep when you’re trying to coax him into the bathroom? He wants to lie down and moan into the floor? Try greeting him with something cold to drink or something small to eat when you wake him. A cold drink, in particular, will help wake and/or perk him up a little faster — and in particular, wake up the part of his brain that’s connected to his bladder and make him realize uh-oh I need to peeeeeee! Perhaps if he’s just slightly more awake and alert, he’ll do what he does the other 95% of the time.

3. If the pull-up is dry and you know he’s actively fighting you AND his bladder for whatever reason, you could consider letting him have a little accident. I know, I KNOW. That’s the last thing you want to deal with in the morning when you’re trying to get out the door, but hear me out. Try it on a weekend or a day off. Get his pull-up off and escort him into the bathroom, or as close as he’ll let you without having to physically intervene. Explain that you can’t make him sit on the potty — that hurts Mommy’s back, honey — so it’s up to him. Then step back, hands off. (Maybe have some towels or a cheap bathmat strategically placed on the floor ahead of time)

If he pees anywhere other than the potty, oh dear, Mommy can’t bend over and clean that up — that hurts Mommy’s back, honey. You need to help, here’s a towel. Then have him put everything in a laundry hamper, etc. He won’t clean it up perfectly, obviously, but the point is to make peeing on the potty vs. peeing on the floor a slightly easier choice by enforcing some inconvenient/not-fun consequences on the latter.

If pee on the floor is absolutely a Bridge Too Far for you, don’t take his pull-up off. Tell him, again, that you can’t make him sit on the potty. Admit that he’s in control of that part, but you know he knows what he needs to do. If he refuses, fine. The pull-up stays on until he goes — either in the pull-up or the potty. And like in the wet pull-up scenario, he doesn’t have to get on the potty super-first thing after waking up, but he absolutely needs to do before it’s time to leave the house. Hopefully, a kid who is 95% potty trained won’t particularly enjoy the sensation of eating breakfast in a wet pull-up and will drop this game on his own.

4. If he doesn’t drop it and starts consistently peeing in the pull-up on purpose, I’d say take over breakfast duty for a few days and have your husband handle the whole getting him up and getting his butt promptly on the potty and keeping him there until he goes. Once he has some consistent success, you can switch the routine back.

5. Finally, have you thought about having him transition to peeing standing up? I’m not sure if most of the struggle is getting him into the bathroom or getting him on the toilet (a little of both), so that might not solve the problem. But if he’s refusing to use a stepstool and will literally pee on the floor unless someone physically lifts him up and puts him on the toilet seat, maybe he could be coaxed into peeing if he’s able to stand up and aim at a Cheerio or something. (I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about peeing on Cheerios that’s deeply fun and satisfying to little boys at this age.)

Good luck and take care of yourself.

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.

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