Toilet Troubles

Hi Janet,

It looks like I may have prematurely introduced my 2 1/2 year old to toilet training. I made a little potty available (and started reading him the book “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz) at about 18 months. He showed interest and went before bath time every night for about a month and then lost interest, so I let it go.

Now he recently showed signs of noticing when he peed in his diaper, so I said we would go to the store and buy some “big boy” underwear and start using the toilet. This is where I seem to have made it my agenda instead of waiting for him to ask. I guess my biggest fear was that — since he’s still pretty non-verbal — he wouldn’t tell me without me asking.

His body seems ready as he’ll go on cue when I tell him it’s time and ask him which toilet he would like to use (no BM in the toilet yet though), and he loves wearing his underwear, but he’s definitely not asking to go on his own.

Now, in the last day or two, he has started resisting using the toilet. I also make it a requirement to wash hands after using the toilet (which he can do on his own), and he has recently been refusing that as well, so I wonder if that has been playing into the situation at all. It’s like using the toilet is fine or washing his hands is fine, but having to do both is just too much work, and he’d rather have his diaper changed…

So is the gist at this point to stop asking him if he wants to wear a diaper or underwear and put him in diapers until he asks for underwear or the potty? He does ask for the underwear (“I want raaaaar!”, as they are pirate underwear), but he doesn’t want to do the process of using the toilet in order to use the underwear…after reading all of these posts I am still needing some clarity from your perspective if you wouldn’t mind…

All my best,

Hi Amanda,

Yes, you are absolutely right about your boy resisting your agenda, which is a very healthy thing to do when you are two and a half — and this is why toilet learning can be such a delicate process. It sounds like he’s ready in every area except emotionally, the area we influence most.

When we have an agenda, especially when it’s about something our toddler controls (like his bodily functions), he can’t help but want to push back. So, our best solution is to let go of our plan whenever possible and, instead, patiently follow our child’s lead (while also giving the comfort of boundaries, like not allowing our child to urinate all over the house).

What happens when he needs a BM and isn’t wearing diapers? This can be problematic, because some children will “hold” and begin a vicious cycle of constipation. The constipation creates painful BMs, which then leads to more holding and more serious constipation.

I would keep your boy in diapers for now, but definitely make it clear that it is not for punitive reasons. The diapers are to help him feel secure while he is in this transition, and that’s what I would tell him.

“I hear you wanting to wear the underwear. I think you might be ready soon. When you are ready to wear the underwear, use the potty and wash hands, please tell me and we’ll make the switch together. In the meantime, I want you to be as comfortable as possible, so we’re going to use the diapers.” Then drop it completely.

You might also consider finding an easier way to wash his hands…a wet wash cloth, something that you could do to assist him. Better yet, give him a choice: “Do you want to wash your hands under the water or with the wash cloth? Would you like my help?” These choices give him more autonomy and also allow him to choose a little bit of the nurturing he receives during diaper changes.

The problem with “big boys” is that they don’t get as much hands-on care as “little boys” or “babies” do. Being a big boy or big girl — growing up — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (which I can certainly attest to after just celebrating a “very big girl” birthday). There are gains, but also losses. Not living up to being a “big boy” can be cause for shame, though I know you don’t mean it to be. I would avoid those terms altogether.

Since you are so aware and insightful, I’m sure this situation will resolve itself soon. Please give me an update…



I share more on toilet learning in 3 Reasons Kids Don’t Need Toilet Training (And What To Do Instead) and also recommend Toilet Learning Made Easy by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby




(Photo by emerille on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I’m not clear on whether you’re already doing so, but just in case, it might make sense to start the habit of full hand washing (for him) after each diaper change? Even though theoretically his hands aren’t doing anything. That way whenever you do start transitioning to the toilet, hand washing should be more automatic and less of an extra chore.

    1. Great idea, Meagan. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Janet! We just “met” on Twitter. I’m glad I read this, our 15 mo old has shown great interest in the potty and has impressed everyone by peeing in it, but I have a suspicion this is just the very beginning of a long process and he’s probably going to go through those phases of losing interest etc. I had a question though, when he pees, the first thing he wants to do is touch it. How do you explain it’s not ok without suggesting that pee or poo are yucky? Is it also ok to give major kudos and encouragement when he does pee in the potty? Thx in advance for your insights!

    1. Hi Helene! I understand the excitement and desire to give major kudos…but, yes, this can get in the way, because it can turn a process that is intrinsically motivated into one about people pleasing. With toddlers that is especially “dangerous”, since the healthy development of will at this age means going against our wishes… and we can’t set a limit around going on the potty. This is in our child’s control. If we get too excited, toddlers usually want to go the opposite direction.

      But placing his hands in his “stream” is something that you can help with. “I can’t let you do that, because it makes the pee go everywhere, and it needs to go only in the potty. I understand wanting to touch it, though. If you’re having a hard time, I can hold your hand.”

  3. Thanks for the post Janet.
    My 3.5year old has been going to the toilet now since the beginning of the year but he seems to occasionally, maybe 1-2 times a week, do BM’s in his undies or whenever I put him in a nappy for sleeptime. I ask him if it’s scary, if he wants me to sit with him or if he wants to sit by himself. He says he does it in his undies because it’s funny. What can I do to change this habit.
    And as Meagan mentioned washing hands while still in nappies is a great idea we used to do that too and even now if he does BM’s in his nappy or undies he still washes his hands, it’s now a habit for him as we never have to remind him.

    1. My 4 year old does the exact same and I have no idea how to stop it either. It’s been happening for quite a while now though and it’s exhausting‍♀️

  4. Hi Janet
    Thanks for another insightful post.
    I am 100% in the school of thought of not pushing, as a general rule of thumb in motherhood. And I totally agree that manipulation, guilt, shame or rewards have no place in the learning of toileting.
    I am also convinced that with a healthy attitude towards poos and wees no child will reach their graduation wearing nappies… 😉
    But I do wonder if it is less about “the right time” and more about a healthy gradual exposure to toileting. Children living in more traditional societies won’t be found wearing nappies at the age of 2, and probably not even at the age of 1. Their parents don’t wait for special signals and specific times, they are just gradually exposed to the concept of toileting, and are held over appropriate spots for pooing and weeing since before they can crawl… It’s not that I think anything done in traditional societies is necessarily good, but I think it points to the possibility that children are ready for toileting from much earlier on than is widely accepted in our society, and that perhaps the most important is the how, not when..
    I also wonder if it’s not comparable to learning how to self sooth and fall asleep on your own. If I had waited for my son to tell me when he is ready I would likely still be waiting (though not forever I am sure). Instead there was gradual nudging in the direction from birth, and after the skill was mastered, there were still regression periods where I needed to firmly set the rules for sleeping again. My 20 month old son has developed a great relationship to sleep. He smiles when he’s off to bed and says hi to me in the morning. But if it were completely up to him to decide when, he would probably still prefer I rocked him to sleep…
    I do feel slightly caught between the two ways of thought, and have yet to come to a conclusion..
    Any thoughts?

    1. Mihaal, I agree. We did “elimination communication” (the traditional early exposure to toileting based on his cues, such as squirming, grunting, or our just knowing that he was likely to have a bowel movement after he nursed) with our first, and he chose to be in undies at 16 months. An international trip at 20 months meant he wasn’t in control of when he could go and got resistant to telling us, so we went back to diapers for a couple of weeks until he again felt more in control by asking to go to the potty. Since then he has been completely potty proficient (he’s 3.5 now and still asks for help with pulling on undies and wiping).

      I think the two big factors in potty learning are exposure (are they “diaper trained,” or have they always been encouraged to keep their innate awareness of bodily functions?) and control (do they feel more in control by just going whenever they want in a diaper, or do they feel empowered by being able to request potty trips, wear cool undies, and never sit in a wet or poopy diaper?)

    2. I have a friend from Russia and she began potty training her daughter at 6 months and was wearing underwear by age 1. She explained what she did, which consisted of putting her daughter on the potty (with diaper) an hour after she would drink. She then did the same without diaper.

      It made sense, but unlike my friend, I did not have a grandmother that could help me with this process. I also did not want to be “tied to the potty”.

      I think it all depends on your circumstances.

    3. Here’s how I see this, Mihaal… Rocking a baby to sleep and holding her over a toilet are actually similar in that they are both adult-directed approaches that don’t allow for autonomy… They don’t honor readiness. The parent has an agenda and the child follows it.

      1. No the child needs to go and the parent notices it and follows them!!

      2. I agree with annaka! I don’t really see how holding them over a toilet is so different from putting a diaper on them. They can’t put a diaper on themselves either. With both situations we are helping care for them until they themselves are ready. Just my two cents.

        1. i also agree that holding over a toilet is equally, in fact more, respectful than diapering as long as it isn’t forced against the child’s will and is in response to your child’s cues, patterns, and routines. it is perfectly in line with the granting of autonomy.

  5. Your posts are so incredibly timely. I love it! Do you (or readers) have any recommendations on potty chairs? My son is 17 mo, do you recommend that I have one out for him already? He likes watching us and helping flush…is there a too early??


    1. Thank you! I don’t think it’s too early as long as there is no agenda around the child using the potty. 🙂

  6. Our son is 15 mo and has been peeing and pooping in the potty for about 2 weeks. A few times a day around his usual pooping time, we will ask him if he wants to use the potty and either he shakes his head no or runs to the bathroom and points at the toilet. Once he’s on there, sometimes he just wants to play with the tp, but more frequently he goes #1 and sometimes #2. Whether or not he actually produces anything, as soon as he wants off, he does the hand sign for ‘all done’ and whether or not I feel like he’s really done, that is when I let him off the potty. Although he never asks to use the toilet entirely on his own, and is spurred by our question, I feel like this has been an empowering experience for him. We do gently nudge him but he is leading in the decision making. I have a feeling this could continue for a very long time until he is totally out of diapers but for now, its an interesting learning experience for us. He likes to give a high five after a poop. I haven’t thought of that as harmful in the past. Is that considered motivation for people pleasing?

    1. Amelia, the way you are approaching your son’s toilet learning sounds fine to me. I agree that “this could continue for a very long time until he is totally out of diapers”, but then again, maybe not. Only your son knows for sure. Keep in mind that he is just entering an age when resistance to his parent’s wishes is healthy. Willfulness, resistance and rebellion are part of becoming a more independent two year old. So, I would be careful about congratulating him for going on the toilet, because that could backfire by making it something he has to NOT do in order to assert his independence. Does that make sense?

  7. We have a 3yr who has easily been going potty (#1) since April. One day he was ready and hasn’t looked back. But #2 has been more of a struggle. He doesn’t have accidents (except once he had a potty accident where he was very surprised and upset but we were calm and relaxed). But he often holds it in until it hurts (and plugs the toilet). We’re not sure how it started, but he’s clearly afraid it will hurt coming out so he holds it in which makes it hurt more and justifies his fears. We are currently trapped in the cycle you mentioned here:

    “…because some children will “hold” and begin a vicious cycle of constipation. The constipation creates painful BMs, which then leads to more holding and more serious constipation.”

    It’s getting worse and we don’t know how to help relax his fears or to acknowledge the pain he needs to go through when his BM get backed up. How can we help him move beyond this within the context of healthy emotional development?

    1. Kameron, I’m sorry you are going through this — it has apparently become a common issue. Did you happen to read the article I linked to by Steven Hodges, M.D., a pediatric urologist? It’s a eye-opener: Google him and you’ll find more articles and he’s also recently written a book, which I’m sure would be helpful.

      Beyond that, I would consult your pediatrician and consider contacting Hodges (I believe he has a blog) or seeing a local specialist. Behaviorally, I would let go of any agenda surrounding toilet learning, which sounds like what you are already doing. Wish I could be of more help.

      1. Elanne Kresseer says:

        We had an experience with our daughter that was sort of like this. It had nothing to do with potty learning, but we were in Hawaii when she was around 19 months old and she was, by her choice, spending large parts of the day without any clothes on. A couple of days went by and I realized that she hadn’t pooped. I decided it must have been because she didn’t have a diaper and so was holding it. So I tried to put a diaper on her for the part of the day when I thought she would go, but by then I think she was already constipated. Then it became hard for her to poop and when she finally went it was painful. That one experience started a viscious cycle of her holding it because she was afraid it would hurt and then it getting to the point where it did hurt. Honestly I finally put her in the bathtub to see if the warm water would relax her enough to let it out. And it did, which may sound yucky, since she pooped in her bath water. But I didn’t care because it was so important that she get it out with minimal pain. So we cleaned out the tub and gave her another bath.

        The important thing is this. The fear of painful poop lasted for months after that. My husband and I both realized that this could turn into a very serious problem and so we did a few things. We gave her a good quality probiotic. Not a lot but a small dose to make the bm a little more soft so that it was easy to pass and with the idea that we needed to undo any connection between it being hard and painful. She was and is still in diapers so this was fine. Then when she would start doing a “poop dance” going up on her toes trying to hold it in out of fear we would very matter-of-factly and gently say, just let it out, poop needs to come out. Then no more. We didn’t make it a big deal. Sometimes she would be scared and want me to hold her. Other times she’d really cry and I’d empathize but stay very low key because I didn’t want to add to any drama around it. I’d ask her if she wanted me to fold her legs up to make it come out easier and then do it if she wanted to. Sometimes she was too scared for that. But with the probiotic even if she missed a day because she was able to hold it in, by the next day she would likely poop despite trying to hold it and it would come out easily. Then we’d again make no big deal, just change her diaper as we always had.

        We also read the book “Everybody Poops” by Taro Gomi. It seemed to bring some levity to the situation. She is almost two and it has only been in the past month that she is back to pooping without any concern. So those few days had an emotional impact of a few months.

        I also think it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor. I thought too that it might be helpful to hear another parents experience with it.

        1. I love the way you handled this situation, Elanne!

  8. Hi Janet,
    A family I work for potty trained their two-year old daughter early this summer. A month or less later they went away for about a week without her and she has never gone back to completely using the potty on her own and holds in her pee for a long time and almost never uses the potty for a BM. Diapers are used at nap time and bedtime. Add to this the fact that our schedule has changed, her friend is in school three days a week now..she only sees her once a week now and she has to share time with her friend’s new baby brother when I watch her AND she moved into a new house this past weekend. She has been peeing on the floor. Any suggestions?

  9. Hi Janet,
    We have followed this approach (asking if he’s ready to use the potty) but he says he wants to wear diapers like a baby. Let me back up: when he was 2.5, he was being potty trained in school. We followed along and he enjoyed the novelty. He was pretty good at keeping his pull-ups dry during the day and going potty in the toilet when we asked him.

    Then, 3 months later, I had a baby and he started a different school. Since then, he’s had no interest. We tried the 3-day method on weekend, per the advice of several friends, and he was only interested in the prize on the first day. He seemed pretty happy with his one new toy and didn’t need the rest of them as motivation to not wet himself and use the toilet. We decided he wasn’t ready and not to push it. We’re bringing it up again because he is nearing his third birthday and I’ve read that boys can be more set in their ways past 3 yrs old. (He also can’t go to his school without being potty trained in the 3 yr old class.)

    So I’ve been asking him if he’s interested in wearing big boy undies, but his answer is “No, just diapers. I’m not a big boy, I’m a baby.” I just casually say, “ok, well let me know when you’re ready.” I don’t know if this is because there’s a new baby (he hasn’t reverted back to a pacifier or bottles or anything else), if its because NOT pottying in the toilet is his way of asserting independence as ou mentioned above, or what.

    What do you suggest? (And no, we don’t have the luxury of choosing a different school that will accept non-potty trained 3 yr olds.)

    1. Laurence P says:

      Hey Finley,

      I had a similar problem with French school, where children go at three and must be potty trained.
      We were speeking about potty training and trying it on weekends, without much success (or with no success). We began in the beginning of july to be really more insistant, there were no improvement for a month and a half. Then 15 days before september, he started peeing on his potty.
      He had accidents at school almost every day, then every day during the nap. But people at my school were cool and it improved all year long. Accidents at school have now been really unusual for a long time. But I know he only pees there(no pooh).

      At home I stopped to rush him. I think that the school agenda unfortunatly transformed potty in a problem when he just wasn’t ready. I told him that at home I could take care of it, but that at school two people had 25 children to take care of and that wasn’t possible. Today peeing is ok, but not pooh, and not sleeping times.

      I don’t think boys are set after 3, in France people say it takes longer for them… He improved all year long and can pooh when he is outside home. At home, he prefers diapers for naps and night and I think that unfortunatly he is waiting for them to pooh. I’m trying to do what they acheived at school : clean nap. For the rest we’ll see.

      I know the picture is far from ideal. But I think that because I had to rush things, it will take more time in the end.
      Maybe you can inquire to know what exactly they mean about “potty trained”. Three can be really young age to acheive this, so they must have accidents (my son was three two weeks after septembre when some other children were already three and an half…). My school was cool and he was given time. In some schools they accepted this type of children only on mornings… But I’m sure that people are kinder and more supportive in the States.

      All this story to say that you aren’t in an ideal situation. If your son isn’t ready it might be tough and stressful for you. But he will make it at the end even if it might take longer at home. The good think is that he did it ounce, so he must be able to do it angain if he feels it’s needed. Maybe some books about school would be helpful. In almost all French books they say something about school and the potty… Then you can be honest : tell him you’re cool about diapers, but that he must have some times with underpants to be ready for school.
      Then you’ll see…
      I tried many things except bribing (I don’t beleive in it and felt wrong to me, of course non punishment as well). I also stopped to be “over-happy” when IT happened. I hate being happier for a pooh than for a nice drawing, and I feel that a clever child easily sees the manipulation…

      Best wishes about your training and school for yout boy !

  10. Hi Janet, great post & very timely as I am having difficulties with my just turned 3 year old. About 6-ish months ago he would go pee on command, odd occasion he would poo. However he would not take himself, not once. So if I didn’t take him he would just wet himself where ever he was. I tried reminding him etc but nothing.

    Eventually I put him back in nappies as he started resisting all together. He tells me when he is doing a wee in his nappy sometimes, but lately has been absolutely flat out refusing to let me change him. Especially when he has done a poo. He will even tell me he hasn’t done a poo at all. Sometimes he will say ‘not yet’ so I ask him ‘ok in 2 or 5 minutes?’ but no matter what he answers with it doesn’t happen. He just screams at me. A few times I have left him but it hurt his bum so now I try & remind him that it could hurt his bottom etc but nothing has been helping at all.

    I’m concerned he won’t want to become toilet aware any time soon & it’s becoming tiresome fighting with him everyime he poos.

    I realise it will happen in it’s own time, I don’t even know what I’m after with this post – reassurance? suggestions? anything? lol

    thank you!

  11. Gabrielle says:

    Hi Janet, Wow. Timely post. My 3.5 yr old is a 2nd child, has always wanted to do what her older sister does, & pretty much potty trained herself ~age 3. (The first took so long to train I had no expectations or goals for the 2nd.) She would go frequently, which seemed to be more for attention than a real physical need, and that got annoying. I don’t know when exactly that changed, but now she almost always has wet underwear, sometimes her pants are wet, and often she won’t say anything. (Only one time recently was it a big gush onto the floor. So I think she definitely has some control over it.)

    I don’t know if she doesn’t feel the urge until she becomes aware of wetness, or she doesn’t want to tear herself away from her activity, or if it’s some sort of reaction to how we would respond when she went to the potty so often before. (Now when I offer her the potty more frequently, or tell her we have to go before leaving the house, she refuses.) I don’t know if it’s a regression because the summer has been tough on all of us… and unfortunately yelling has become all too common in our house (really working on that!). Sometimes she’s totall dry in public, & sometimes she’s soaked. I just don’t know what to make of it, and I’m really worried it’s going to happen in school this year & they’re going to kick her out. Thankfully, we do have some time…

    Once trained, she sometimes would stay dry overnight, but I was nervous & kept a diaper on her. She would whip it off in the morning first thing. Now she keeps it on & wants to leave it on until I dress her (which, during the summer, has been after breakfast but that’s an easy thing to change).

    Anyway, do you have any insights? (I’ve gleaned some of my own just in writing this. Yikes – bring on the mommy guilt.) But any feedback and advice is appreciated. Thank you!

  12. The most important concept in this post is the evils of making boys feel that they are not growing up fast enough. The shame that comes from that lasts a lifetime–it’s like lead in your emotional system–it doesn’t go away.
    The most useful thing that anyone said to me as I was raising my first child (decades ago) was: “Oh, Rick, look. You don’t have to make it happen. Do you know any 10-year-olds still in diapers? The question is how the process affects the quality of your relationship with your child. If done right, it has no impact at all, cause toilet training has nothing to do with relationship.”
    Thanks again for being so spot on.

  13. had to go back to this post for some encouragement, janet! we recently had to go from underwear back to pull-ups because sisi was regressing and starting to hold her bms, and i could tell she was feeling a lot of shame and fear during her accidents. she would look at me and say, “mommy is so frustrated.” she could just tell. and i just couldn’t lie and say, “no, i’m not frustrated” because i was so so so frustrated :/ we are going back to pull-ups for both of our sakes! and i need to reassure her that it’s not out of punishment. hoping to undo some of the damage i may have done. this article is the best post on potty training i’ve come across. thank you!

  14. My daughter has been using the toilet for several months (she just turned 3), but only to pee. She flat out refuses to use the toilet to poo, and prefers doing it in her diaper. As such, I have not switched her to underwear, even though she has stated that she wants to. I told her that she would have to both pee and poo in the toilet before I would give her underwear, and to let me know when she is ready. However, there seems to be no signs that she is going to be ready anytime soon, and she is already 3.

    In addition, although she does pee in the toilet, she doesn’t like too, and prefers to just do it in her diaper and have me change her, because she doesn’t like it wet.

    I kind of prefer letting her set her own pace and previously have not really been concerned about her toilet skills, but as she is getting older, and nothing seems to have changed in the last several months, I’m wondering if there is something I can do to help encourage her.

  15. I know exactly where you are coming from Amanda! My 2.5 year old is exactly the same. I almost feel like I “missed” the opportunity a year ago. She was interested in the toilet, and even went on a few times by her choosing… but I didn’t press the issue and she stopped bothering with the toilet until a month ago.

    Fast forward to today – She flat out refuses to wear diapers since we introduced underwear. Its been a messy three weeks, and she is embarrassed when she has accidents (which are only occasional, maybe 1 every other day) but then will refuse (like I said) to wear underwear. I mean REFUSE, she gets so upset if I even bring up the idea. We are making the potty sort of… not a big deal. If she goes, great. If she messes.. we clean up and she helps us.

    My fingers are crossed that this resolves itself for you quickly!

  16. Hi Janet!

    First of all, thank you again for your blog! You have no idea how much it has helped me be a better mom for my daughter 🙂

    I have a question about toilet learning. For about 2 months now my 3 year old has been using undies mostly every day without accidents. However, she only has BM while wearing a diaper (either before or after nap when I put her diaper on again for sleeping), if she’s wearing underwear she’ll ask for a diaper to have a BM. I don’t make a big deal and just put her diaper on, she’ll go, and after I change her she’ll ask for underwear again. So my question is, if I should keep doing this (putting her diaper for BM when she’s wearing underwear) or tell her that if she’s wearing underwear that means that she wanted to use the toilet. I don’t want her to “hold it” since she can become constipated so I rather let her use a diaper, but I’m wondering if by doing this I’m delaying her use of the toilet for bowel movements (sometimes I feel she’ll never use the toilet for that! LOL)

    1. Cecilia, I hear you. I’m in a similar situation with my 2.5 year old. She’s 100% wearing panties (even for nap) at daycare. But she holds her bm all day until she gets home and asks for a diaper. She also is not interested in panties at home and wears a diaper or pull up all weekend. I’ve been following her lead and hoping at some point she’ll decide to bm in the toilet and stop wearing a diaper at home but I’m worried about her holding bm during the day as it sometimes causes constipation then starts a cycle of holding due to anticipation of uncomfortable bm.

  17. Nikki Rudolph says:

    At 15m we started potty training. No more diapers during awake periods. If she started to go , I’d whisk her to the toilet or potty. At three weeks we ditched diapers at rest periods. Sometimes she wakes up dry sometimes not. We are at the end of 6 weeks with this…half the time she signs and we go/she goes and uses her own potty. Half the time she has accidents. This is all at home. If we go outside or do errands, she stays dry, or uses public toilet or lets me know to take her.

    I’m so confused.

  18. Kelly Reya says:

    Hello and thank you for your post…
    I have a question for you. My daughter is going to be 4 soon. She was using the toilet for pees and poos and then had an illness which lead to a pretty traumatic and severe poo accident and hasn’t gone back to using the toilet since. After that, her brother was born (a huge adjustment). I am basically having a hard time trusting it will happen as she is almost 4!!! We have had open conversations about going on toilet and she says she is scared. We have said that mom and dad can help teach her and it doesn’t have to be scary. And she seemed open to that. I don’t want to push her but I also don’t know anyone as old as her still in diapers! Any suggestions? And thanks 🙂

    1. “… I don’t want to push her but I also don’t know anyone as old as her still in diapers!”…

      There are plenty of children that age that are still in diapers. My son is 4 and 1/2 and still wears them 🙂

      Just want to say hang in there.

  19. Hi,
    I’m wondering if you can give us any advice or reassurance – I think we have really messed up our son’s potty training but I don’t know what to do now. He’s just over 3.5years old. Back when he was 2 he didn’t mind sitting on the potty and even had one wee in there. Then suddenly for a reason we never understood he was adamantly against the potty. Since then we have periodically tried getting him to sit on the potty/use the potty/toilet seat and he absolutely refuses. We’ve tried the usual stuff of charts and rewards, we’ve also tried laying off and telling him we trust that he’ll tell us when he’s ready. But he never seems to be ready. When we mention it, he basically says he wants to be in nappies all the time and he isn’t ready. I go between being ok with that to being frustrated, and my husband is getting really fed up. We’ve now told him they don’t make nappies as big as he is and that he’ll have to give them up soon (fastening them tighter so he feels that they’re a bit uncomfortable). This just seems to stress him out, and he still is highly resistant to anything to do with the potty/toilet. I just don’t know what to do now. If you have any suggestions or encouragement it would be very welcome!

  20. Hi Janet, I find your advice & podcast extremely helpful, encouraging and relevant as a SAHM to two girls (ages 2 & 4). Would you give the same advice about putting the child into diapers in your original answer to the potty training question to a child who will be 4.5 years old next month? The explanation you gave about switching to diapers is just what I want to say to her to help her with toilet learning. She has pee accidents daily and doesn’t seem emotionally ready to get to the bathroom on time. I am curious if the reaction to her wearing diapers from friends & at school would be harmful to her if she were to show up in diapers as she was diaper free last year around these peers. I would appreciate your insight and am happy to provide more info if needed.

  21. Shanna Sellers says:

    This is coming from one desperate momma. I’ve already done about everything wrong that I possibly can with potty training my second (a boy). My little girl was so easy and I expected he would be similar. However, he struggled to go poop in the potty and after going through constipation, long toilet sessions and his dad getting deployed we decided to put off training for a while. Now it’s a year later and he’s 3.5 and I’ve been anxious to make some headway. His diapers have gotten hard to clean up, and I was so tired of changing them that I put my own agenda before his. We’ve tried and backed off for another several months now. He likes to wear his spiderman undies, but he still won’t go poop on the potty. He holds it when he’s wearing his undies as long as he possibly can (sometimes 3-4 days) but he refuses to try on the toilet. He immediately goes into a fit saying “I can’t. It’s too hard.” I’ve never gotten mad at an accident, but the lack of being willing to sit and try does make me frustrated and fights have ensued. We’ve spent full days of wearing no bottoms and periodically spending time on the toilet with a book or show. He somehow manages to hold it until he has undies or pullup on again. It has completely discouraged him, his father and myself. I’ve read enough now to realize all the things I’ve done wrong. I just need to figure out where to go from here. Do we go back to pull ups and wait it out? I know he has constipation issues. What is the best way to get his little system working again? I feel so trapped and emotionally compromised in this problem. I have a lot of guilt over all the things I’ve done wrong and I can see this issue spilling out to other behaviors and influencing other parts of our lives. All the research I’ve done online has made me feel like I’ve messed him up for life. :'( PLEASE HELP!

  22. I would love to hear some success stories from more people who tried this and had it work. So far it is not helping my four and a half year old. I have completely given up pressuring him, and he seems fine with being changed like a baby again! I can’t handle this forever! I would love to hear how long it takes… Thanks!

  23. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your always sound advice. We have been wanting to toilet train our 3 year old for a while now but she has had increasing distress around pooping for about 6-7 months, so we have held back on this. After many Dr’s appointments, tests and scans she has finally been diagnosed with ‘retentive constipation’ i.e. fear of pooping resulting in withholding behaviour, due to an anal fissure (which is now healed but the emotional trauma remains)

    But my question is, the specialist suggested we use the language of removing the poop as a separate entity from her and starting to refer to it as ‘naughty Mr Poo’ and talk about how we have to ‘Get naughty Mr Poo’ out of her tummy. I am okay with the theory of removing the ‘blame’ from her to the BM… but not the ‘Naughty Mr Poo’ language… seems too reductive to me. Do you have any suggestions if better language to use?

    Thanks so much in advance.

  24. I am in a similar boat with my almost 4 year old (2.28) I have been following his lead and trying not to pressure him but he has to be trained by February for prek. He has no issues with pooping on the potty, pee either but only when he wants to. Otherwise he will hide and poop in them or sit in wet undies until i notice. I’m certain he can feel my anxiety about this as much as I try not to show it, I’m human. I know he has the control it’s the emotional thing. I give him a lot of the choices above, i have tried reminders (examples of responses “I can’t use the potty”, he will try to distract me from it or ask me to leave the room. It is not just me but other care givers as well. I have tried not doing reminders and he still has accidents. I don’t show any emotion whatsoever as I know he’s looking for me to he angry etc. Any advice you have is welcome.

  25. How do we approach night time?
    My son has started toilet learning and seems to be responding well!
    He likes us to give him his space too!

    But for a few nights as we still have him in a nappy at night he will not wee in the nappy, get up in the morning and do a mega wee! He sleeps 6-6 but with wake ups in between so if he needed a wee I’d assume he would just go in the nappy or leave the room?

    Should I be waking him in the night? Is this too early for him to do this? Is this risking having urine in his body too long at that age?

  26. I introduced a potty with my little girl at around 15 months or so- at that point, she was scared of it, so she took a long time to warm up to its presence in our home. She also struggled with chronic constipation, and fear concerning bowel movements, so we were working on that aspect (in diapers). I did get her some underwear with owls to see if that would encourage her to use the potty at around 21 months, and she would choose to wear them occasionally, becoming upset when she wet them. I tried not to pressure her, offered the potty (sometimes she wants to sit, sometimes not), and clean up of she has an accident. Over the past several weeks, her constipation has improved, she has become more independent about diaper changes (bringing diapers, wipes, taking off her diaper, etc.) and over the past two days she has started refusing diapers all together. I have been trying to follow her lead, but she always says no if I ask her if she wants to use the potty for bowel movements, and now it seems she is now becoming constipated again. I don’t want to impede any progress or discourage her from her potty learning, or force her into a diaper, but I also cannot allow her to go back to painful bowel movements and unhealthy constipation. Thank you for any advice!

  27. Hi Janet. I have been reading and listening to your materials on potty learning as we are struggling with our three and a half year old, M. Her twin sister learned in the way you suggest before she was two – really just did it herself – but nursery insisted that we train M when she was about two and a half, saying that she understood and if we waited too long we might miss it. I wasn’t convinced but she was moving up to another class and was not “allowed” nappies there. It was a bit of a disaster and has been so for over a year. Nursery insisted that we did not go back to nappies. I am deeply regretful as we have ended up with all the problems that you’ve mentioned in your materials: she sits down and holds on, she refuses to go, she lies, she will wee or poo in her knickers when the potty is right next to her. She also suffers from constipation and has been having medical help for this – she actually did so before potty training started but it has worsened I’m sure as she holds on. We tried star charts and rewards, choosing her own knickers in the shop and lots of praise for using the loo which I also regret. After these initiatives she often goes well for a week or two then goes back again. We’re never angry but as you say, she likely senses our frustration/disappointment. We recently talked about ideas that might help her have fewer dirty knickers and I suggested nappies and she said no – so we can’t completely back off (and nursery wouldn’t allow it). She chose “magic” as the best idea. We could back off and just deal with the dirty knickers until she is ready? Would I tell her that’s what we’re doing? Can I still leave the potty nearby? And can we still ask, like the whole family, that she goes to the loo before car journeys? Both still wear nappies at night and I’m going to follow their lead on that. I’m nervous about “backing off” as part of the Dr’s advice is that she has a long sit on the potty after breakfast. I so hope we haven’t caused long term issues. Any adivce you can provide very gratefully received. Many thanks in advance.

  28. Hi everyone,
    My 4 year old has to go to school in 2 weeks. Over here in the Netherlands it is a requirement that they can go to the toilet by themselves, because the teacher can’t help al 28 children with that. But my daughter can’t wipe herself after pooing. And we are getting eager.
    It is not that she is resisting and she had more than a year of practice going potty. But when going to the toilet for number 2, she just doesn’t wipe or something.
    we tried modeling (letting her watch me when she initiated), a made up wiping song, a pictogram procedure. but nothing helps.

  29. DENISE WEINER says:

    Hello, this is a great read. My situation is a little different. My son will be 4 next month and goes to the bathroom no problem at school both pee and poop. However at home it picks and chooses when he wants to use the toilet. I was trying to force and I understand that I might have caused some of the issues. But I am not sure how to help him now. I have pulled back and we went back to pull ups however, I feel like its a game to him on when he wants to use it and he used the toilet just find at daycare. Anything I can do to help make him more comfortable going at home. Thank you Denise

  30. Hi Janet, my daughter was fully potty trained and pretty quickly in August. She will be 4 in March. She has since regressed. What it mostly seems like is that she doesn’t want to and or realize when her bpfy is telling her to go potty because she is busy with other things. She doesn’t full on wet her pants, just pees a little and then tells me she needs to go potty. She will also sit on her foot almost to keep her poop in, then poops a little, then comes to tell me. She is very smart and knows what the potty is and what its for. A few likely contributing factors, she was VERY constipated when we started, but now she seems fine pooping on the potty and we have her constipation pretty well under control. We went on vacation right after her bring Night trained and that reversed that a bit. She started a day care in September and it is 100% outdoors. The potties they use are just little cartridge types in a tent. I don’t think she minds it too much. Lastly, I used the Oh crap method, so there was a lot of pantless times and she still prefers to be pantless around the house and when she is, she will go to the potty with out accidents. I’m a single mom so there’s no one else around for her pantlessness… I’ve really tried to let it go, but I also feel like 4 years old is maybe beyond the age where that’s effective. I’m sure she senses my discouragement as it pertains to her having to be fully undressed and regressed when she’s outside, especially now when it’s cold and she’s in full snow bibs. I dont know what to say anymore that doesnt feel like her that im applyimg pressure. Any help would be so greatly appreciated.

  31. Emily Sloan says:

    Our son started having regular pee and poop accidents regularly just before he hit 3 years old after his baby sis was born. He had been PT’d for about 6 months before the regression hit. We went back to full on diapers. After about 5 days of wet, poopy, diapers not changed as often as they should, he got the picture, and realised diapers do not feel as good as they used to. Then after those 5 days, regression gone..

  32. Jennifer Smith says:

    Hi Janet.

    My daughter will be 3 in just over a month. We have taken the “follow her lead” approach with toilet training, especially since with our first child, we used rewards and charts, which caused her to be a terrible withholder with pooping. So our second child has already pooped on the toilet all on her own. She just got up one day and said “I have to go poop” and then did it. But it just hasn’t been consistent. She started asking for panties so we allowed them, but there have been pee accidents (the first time it happened, my husband was home sick and I was overwhelmed that day, so I admit I showed some frustration). And also she seems to have a hard time stopping what she’s doing. We always offer her the choice of a diaper or pull-up or panties and the majority of the time now she chooses a diaper. Some days she will ask to use the potty and other days not at all. And when she does, it turns into a game. She will pee and then want to play with the toilet paper. Then she will say she is done and flush and then she will sit back down and say she has to pee again or go poop, but she doesn’t. And when I tell her it looks like she is done and it’s time to get off and I am going to help her down now, it turns into a power struggle most of the time. And then she will refuse to wash her hands and it turns into me physically forcing her to wash them and then it turns into a meltdown. I try to say as little as possible and acknowledge that she does not like what is happening and try to not show my frustration, but it continues to happen. This has especially become an occurrence during the bedtime routine as a stall tactic. Once we finish the bedtime routine we remind her that she can use the potty before bed if she wants to, but once she is in her crib we won’t let her. That has worked, but then the usual stalling while on the toilet continues. I’m just not sure how to get out of this power struggle that we are stuck in right now. And I feel like every time this happens it’s discouraging her. And it’s not just around toilet learning, she is testing our leadership in many other ways. She is a very intelligent, intellectual, and sensitive almost three year old and is extremely verbal so we have always had good communication. But she is just so resistant to help or being told how or what to do and it can quickly turn into a meltdown. I think she is definitely struggling with the transition and letting go. How do I find the balance between confidently letting her lead and stopping the testing/stalling/resisting behaviors?

    I am so grateful for you and your work, it has gotten me through so many hard transitions. Thank you.

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