Potty Training Tips: How to Win the Potty Wars

Do you feel like you missed the window on toilet training your child? How to get your kid on his way to elimination independence.
Cari Wira Dineen, Contributor
Articles> Potty Training> Potty Training Tips: How to Win the Potty Wars
kids sitting on toilet

When Kate Motz decided to put her son, Kyle, on the potty at 2 1/2, she felt pressured to have him potty trained for preschool.  "I'm a planner mom -- I read all the books, watched all the videos, and figured I knew all the tricks," says Motz, a mom to three from Manhattan Beach, California.  But after four weeks of pushing him to stay dry, putting him on the potty for what felt like hours each day, and using pull-ups with no success, she finally gave up.  "I just wasn't cut out for battling with him day-in, day-out," she says.

Sound familiar?  "The struggle to start potty training is a familiar one, but it actually doesn't have to be a struggle at all," says Alanna Levine, M.D. a pediatrician, a mom to two, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  Here's how to put an end to the potty war happening in your house.

Is Your Kid Ready to Potty Train?

Does it seem like every other kid on the block is potty trained except for yours?  Don't freak out.  While most children are ready to start toilet training when they are between 22 and 30 months, every child is different.  So Dr. Levine suggests that you let your child decide when he or she is ready.  "The whole point of teaching your child to use the toilet is to transfer the responsibility of realizing it's time to go from you to him," says Dr. Levine.  "If you start too early and become the 'potty police' asking your child every 20 minutes if he has to go, what's the point?"

Wait until your child is developmentally ready and self-motivated and the process will go much more easily.  And whatever you do, remain calm: If your child senses stress, a power struggle might ensue, warns Dr. Levine and that can lead to your child chronically withholding stool which can be very painful.

But what if your child has to be potty trained for preschool?  Find a different school, recommends Dr. Levine.  "If you try to speed up the process, you'll probably end up slowing it down," she says.  "When your child potty trains is not a measure of his or her intelligence," says Dr. Levine.  In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, of the children who started training between 22 and 30 months of age, boys were fully trained at an average age of 38 months, while girls were trained slightly earlier, around 36 months.

Still, there are those few children that will resist the potty.  According to the AAP, if your child is 4 years old and refuses to use the toilet during the day, you should consult your pediatrician.  It's possible that your child might have a physical issue -- such as weak bladder muscles or a urinary tract infection -- or a developmental delay that is prohibiting her from progressing in potty training.  Before you begin enforcing a potty training boot camp, keep in mind that few children continue to wet their pants during the daytime once they go to kindergarten, points out Levine.  "The humiliation of having an accident in front of the whole class is usually enough to get the most stubborn children to accept the potty," she says.  "Peer pressure, in this case, can be very beneficial."

Here are the main cues that your kid is ready to try the potty:

  • Your child tells you when she needs a diaper change.
  • Your child tells you before she is going.
  • Your child stays dry for 2 hours straight in a diaper.
  • Your child asks to wear underwear.

Training Tools

Build excitement with books and videos.  Once your child starts to demonstrate these cues, then read books and watch videos about toilet training.

Set an example.  So long, privacy! Welcome to a world of bathroom cohabitation.  Allow your child to accompany you to the bathroom to see what you are doing.  You can place a kid-sized seat in the bathroom, but Dr. Levine suggests you wait until your child asks to use it before you offer it.  "I think the process should be completely driven by the child for the greatest chance of success," says Dr. Levine.  And get ready for the public announcement of your own potty success ("Mommy made a poo poo!").

Buy fun underwear.  Choo Choo undies!  Where do I sign up?  Build some buzz over graphic underwear and once your child makes the switch, "go for it and don't look back," advises Dr. Levine.  "The message is, 'You wear underwear now' so don't put a diaper on for your own convenience," she says.  You should be completely committed to the process or you will be sending mixed messages.

Reconsider the Pull-ups.  Levine discourages the use of Pull-ups.  "Kids should either be in diapers that they're allowed to pee in or wear underwear that will get wet if they have an accident, which is a natural negative reinforce," she says.

Go portable.  You've probably seen them at the parks and thought "I'll never tote a toilet!" but now you see how convenient a foldable commode is (more than begging a bodega owner for a bathroom key and crossing your fingers it was cleaned recently).  A portable potty can reinforce toilet training while you're out and about.  And don't forget to carry around a spare set of clothes in case of accidents.

Rewarding Potty Training Success

"If your child has a successful day, praise him for the accomplishment," says Dr. Levine.  Reward charts and even small bribes, such as a cookie or a small toy, are great positive reinforcements.  Just don't punish accidents.  "Positive reinforcement is more powerful," says Dr. Levine.  What if you're seeing a lot of accidents?  Most likely your child isn't ready.  "Put away the underwear and try again when your child shows interest," she says.

That's exactly what Motz did.  She put her son back in diapers and stopped talking about potty training.  She stopped watching potty-training videos and stopped putting him on the potty.  Then about a week later, Kyle announced, "Mommy, I don't want to wear diapers anymore."  "He went upstairs, took off his diaper, put on his underwear and never had an accident again!" says Motz.  "I discovered for my other two children to just wait until they're ready to start potty training.  It's not a perfect science, but what in parenting is?"


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(7) Comments
Cindy S.
Cindy S.
My daughter sows some interstate on the bathroom and potty as she just yearned 2 yet I ask if she has to go she'll say no mama or no bathroom mommy, so I'm am wondering if she's not ready or if I should get some under war and press on word..my son was stubborn at this age and wasn't potty trained until age 3 but every child is diff, and my daughter will sit on her potty when I do wondering if I should make it fun and keep at it and how so? Or should I wait???
March 3, 2015 at 1:35 PM
Latasha D.
Latasha D.
My daughters are 2 and 3 turning 3 and 4. My older daughter is fully potty trained for about 2years now but my other daughter is refusing all together. In the beginning when my oldest (Genesys) started my youngest (Mackenzie) was doing it with her and I thought we would kill two birds with one stone. Well I was wrong. We have let it go and let it go and let it go, but nothing seems to work. She says that she wants to wear her big girl panties but she stands there and says "Mommy I have to go potty" and then goes potty in her pants on purpose. I know that she knows when she needs to go because she will use the potty for a day or two and then go back to going in her pants. I don't know what else to do because she doesn't seem to care if she uses the potty or not and I am sick of my car and my house smelling like pee because she thinks it is funny to pee and poo in her pants where ever she is. All of this stuff is stuff that we have already done and I know that she is ready, but I just don't know what to do when she is just being defiant. No matter what we bribe her with or reward her with or anything like that she just doesn't care. I am not going to send her to some place where they say okay when her preschool says it's not I think that really sends a message that this is okay for some and that she is in that group. Besides There isn't a preschool around here that will take her and I'm not going to drive and hour or more out of my way just so she can go to preschool.

I am at my wits end and I don't know what to do. How do I tell her that this is not a game and that she really needs to use the potty. She really doesn't care about anything enough to use the potty. I guess that I am just so frustrated that I don't know what else to do. Leaving her in the pull-ups says that she doesn't have to be a big girl and that she is still a baby (which she reminds me of everyday) and she feels that she is can still pee in her big girl panties. If there is anyone out there who can help me please do!!!
July 25, 2011 at 5:35 PM
Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.
My son is 2 1/2 years old and loves Thomas the train. We have been potty training him with pull-ups and underwear. We use the underwear when we are at home and send the pull-ups for when he is at the sitters. She has a boy who is 3 and he is being potty trained, so some of the tips I used were from her because she is a mother of four and my son is my first child. I figure if I learn how to train him then my daughter will follow right behind him and it will make the training easier for me the second time around. Training him this way seems to be working because he is going on his own its just taking time. Maybe he is ready for the pull-ups to be taken away.
June 30, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Kim C.
Kim C.
we are trying to train our grandaughter who is 2 1/2, some days she does well by going on the potty. but we do use the pull ups all the time, if she is at our house i will let her run around without anything (shirt or dress on) and she tends to want to go and does go on her own. she does tell us sometimes that she has to go. lots of times we will think that she is going to go poo on the potty, she has gone poo on the potty a couple of times. then we put the pullup on and she does it in them. we do not have her 24/7, but do the best that we can with her. i met a little girl the other day that is just barely 2 and she is trained!!!
June 28, 2011 at 7:57 AM
Colleen K.
Colleen K.
My four year-old boy has been dry for over a year but refuses to have BM's in the toilet. No trauma, no fear of it, just states that he doesn't want to. We have told him that the preschool he wants to go to requires that he be able to use the potty every time and he started telling everyone who asked him if he was going to preschool, "Nope, I still poop in my pants so I can't go". We DID find another preschool that will take him but I feel like that sort of sends the wrong message (that only SOME people think it's not right that he still won't use the potty). We have worked with his pediatrician and she did put him on daily doses of Miralax but it just makes it all more messy and has not encouraged him to use the potty. We are trying very hard to not comment when he has a BM in his pants (DAILY) but it's getting exasperating!
June 28, 2011 at 7:22 AM
Heather B.
Heather B.
Thats wat we did for our 5 year old and 3 year old. My oldest was stubborn as can be, and it took a long time. But when he was three and wanted to go to preschool we told him that he had to be a big boy and use the potty. He was trained in three days and I got to register him. My doter she coppied her older brother, and was trained in a week. Now I am waiting for my 17 month old to be ready, he says "poo-poo" now, and shows little interest in it. But still isnt ready, I hope he will soon cuz itl be nice not having to buy diapers anymore!
June 27, 2011 at 2:45 PM
Kathy P.
Kathy P.
the potty training article was great. my neices son is almost 2 and he is being trained now and doing good. he likes for u to clap ur hands and say yeh when he uses the potty.we also tell him that hes a big boy going to the potty.
June 9, 2011 at 1:13 AM

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