Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Toilet Training


I am a newcomer to Positive Discipline and am thoroughly enjoying the lessons I'm learning each day and week. I am the mother of a 2.5 year old girl and am expecting another baby in May. I am a stay at home mom, and my husband works out of the home, so we're both around all the time. My approach to parenting up to now has been a combination of a Mary Poppins "firm but fair" style and utilizing the same techniques my parents used with me which were consequential in nature – I've been using time outs and a light spank on the bottom in rare cases (which I am now eradicating from my "toolkit"). Whenever I discipline my daughter in any way, I always explain to her what I have deemed as inappropriate and I try to give her examples of more acceptable behaviour in the future. Any act of discipline is always wrapped with how much I love her - always.

About my current challenge – toilet training: I've read your past frequently asked questions, and I feel I have a behavioural versus physical issue to address. I believe it comes down to control. I am hoping that you can help diagnose that this is the case and prescribe some new approaches for helping correct the behaviour. Since she is 2.5 and we have a baby due just one month before she turns 3, I am a little worried about her regressing as well.

Here's a rundown on how we've approached toilet training thus far:

- Bought her a potty when she was 20 months. She was showing interest and was able to listen and manage more than one or two tasks at a time. We introduced her to it and started with having her just sit on the potty when Mommy did, fully clad.

- After a few months we had her sit on the potty without her pull-up or diaper at various times of the day. We'd read and sing while she sat on the potty. Often there was no result which was fine. Then on a few occasions there would be wee-wee. And immediately following there was a "hooray" dance and song as we celebrated her success.

- In the months following her 2nd birthday we realized that she was opting to go in her diaper and was not asking to be changed. She was quite happy staying in a wet (even very wet) diaper. So, we bought big girl panties to hopefully make her more aware of the wetness and encourage her to not like being wet. We'd go through several panty changes a day. In that same time period, I noticed she was not comfortable at all with going poo-poo on the potty, so after lunch, I'd put her in a diaper to make sure she had her daily movement – otherwise, she would constipate herself. I thought – "let's just conquer wee-wee, then we can worry about poo-poo".

- Then when she was 27 months, she started Nursery School 2 mornings a week. We started to regress because for a few mornings a week, she was in pull-ups and was quite happy to go back to her old habits versus requesting a visit to the potty (even after encouragement from her caretakers).

- At this time, to try to encourage her to use the potty, we developed a "Success Chart" and monitored her track record with stickers and 1 gummy bear treat for each successful trip to the potty for wee-wee.

- We started to see some success with the potty chart. So, we thought we'd ramp up the treat for doing poo-poos and we offered a trip to the ice cream shop if she did poops. (I was reticent to using bribery methods, but tried to think of it more as a positive incentive…). Then, out of the blue one day, she ran to the potty and made poo-poos. Boy, did we celebrate and congratulate her. That was the first and last time she did it.

- When she hit 2.5, so did Christmas. And during the week or so with my family here, she really regressed. She didn't make an effort to get to the potty at all. We all chalked it up to it being an overwhelming time, though it was frustrating.

- Now, at the beginning of '08, I feel like we're at the same point we were in the Summer months just following her 2 nd birthday. I really feel little progress has been made. On the rare occasion she requests to go to the potty at nursery school, which is a great step forward, but it's still occasional. We haven't again had a visit to the potty for #2s - and wee-wee accidents are frequent. Sometimes she'll just go wherever she is and then proudly announce that she made wee-wees (mind you, not on the potty). That said, she does make it to the potty once a day usually – and occasionally it can be up to 3 or 4 times in a day.

She is a very clever girl and my husband and I feel she is exercising control here. We believe she is very cognizant of what she's doing and that some of the wee-wees off the potty are intentional or it's simply a display of laziness… she just doesn't feel like going to the potty.

We are continuing to encourage and celebrate success, but we're getting very frustrated that there isn't improvement when we can see that she really does know what she's doing. My husband is beginning to feel like it's time to get firm with her. On a couple of past occasions he's tried to ask her why she didn't go to the potty versus just standing in the den or playroom to do it. She answers with "because I was playing, watching TV or just didn't want to". And on the "don't want to" theme. If we ask her to try to go to the potty, she refuses yelling "nooooooo!" and running away. If we try to make her, the rebellion escalates and we certainly don't want to turn this into a disciplinary seeming initiative for her. Similarly, when she's going to make poo-poo, she'll often say to me: "Do I have a diaper on?" And, I'll say… "yes, but let's go make poo-poo on the potty!" I'll sometimes mention the ice cream incentive as well. But it is often met with the same scream of "noooooo!"

Her nursery school is trying to help parents ramp up potty training so that the children will be fully trained by the time they come back in the Fall of '08 (all three year olds have to be out of diapers). I feel that I've tried every bit of advice found in the literature they've given me and everything I've read so far online. Some people have said, "oh, just wait for summer and keep her naked for a couple of days and then she'll have it down". Problem there is… she loves being naked (we have "naked playtime" every evening before bath where she just gets to streak around) and is quite happy to wee-wee anywhere without giving it a second thought.
Anyway – I feel we've tried lots of things and aren't making much progress.
Any advice is appreciated!

Thank you!

Kind regards,



Jennifer, Sorry, but I love it that your email proves everything I teach--that punishment and/or rewards are not effective motivators for long-term effects; that parents make way too big a deal out of potty training (which really means training themselves, not their children); that what worked in the good old days (parental control) does not work with children today (children no longer have models of submission--a good thing); that children will use their personal power one way or another--constructively or destructively--and the more parents try to control, the more children will rebel; that children really want to do what big people do (use the toilet) unless the only way they can gain a sense of power is to rebel against all the control. Kids eventually see through reward charts as just another way for parents to control them. If you read any of the Positive Discipline books, you'll learn that a primary purpose of our philosophy is to teach children self-discipline, self-control, cooperation, responsibility, problem-solving skills, and most important--to feel capable and to feel good when they make a respectful contribution in homes or classrooms. None of this occurs from punishment and rewards (which teach external locus of control) instead of internal locus of control.

By the way, you can expect severe regression when the new baby is born and your daughter experiences "dethronement." I don't have time to go into what these means, but it is normal and helps when parents understand it. Right now it seems to you that you'll have this problem forever, but, no matter how many times you hear it, you have no idea how quickly it passes. If you understood this, you would relax and many problems would disappear just because of your relaxation. You will benefit so much by reading some of the Positive Discipline books and/or listening to the CDs. For now, I'm including an excerpt from Positive Discipline A-Z on potty training. I know you have already done some of these things, but with an attitude of control rather than inviting cooperation. My new theme for success is "Connection before Correction." Listen to free podcast Nos. 49 and 39 and on

Potty Training from Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott

"I hear so many conflicting ideas about toilet training. What is the positive discipline way?"

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

Toilet training has become an issue that is blown out of proportion in our society. It can be the origin of feelings of guilt and shame, power struggles, revenge cycles, bids for undue attention, and competition between friends to see whose child is potty trained first. If you simply don't worry about it, your children will become toilet trained in due time just because they will soon want to copy what everyone else does. However, if you are still having challenges with children over the age of three and it isn't a medical or sexual abuse problem (see sexual abuse), you may have helped create a potty power struggle.


Wait until after your child is two-and-a-half years old before you even start toilet training--unless he begs to start sooner. If your child trains himself sooner, lucky you. Notice the words "trains himself". When most parents say my child is "potty trained," what they really mean is, "I'm potty trained. I'm trained to remind and nag and to catch him looking like he is ready. I'm trained to hand out the M&Ms and to put stars on his chart every time he pees or poops in the toilet."

When introducing your child to toilet training, get a small potty chair that he can manage by himself. At first let him sit on it for as long or short a period of time he wants without having to do anything. He may enjoy having a stack of books to read by his potty.

During warm weather, take your child and the potty chair out in the back yard. Let him play naked while you sit and read a book or simply watch. As soon as he starts to urinate, put him on the potty chair. Say, "Way to go." You may have to do this often before you child learns the socially appropriate place to urinate and defecate. If you are okay with a little mess, you can do this indoors too.

Lighten up and make toilet training fun. One parent emptied the toilet bowl and painted a target in the bowl. His son could hardly wait to try to hit the bull's eye. Another made potty time a mom and son affair. Both sat on their respective pots reading a book.

When you introduce training pants, do not humiliate or shame your child when he has an accident. Don't put him back in diapers. Simply help him clean up. Say, "It's okay. You can keep trying. You will soon learn to use the potty chair."

Avoid rewards and praise like stars on a chart or candy treats. Instead use encouraging statements, such as the ones above. Rewards can become more important to your child than learning socially appropriate behavior.

If you are engaged in a potty power struggle with a child between the ages of three to four, disengage. Teach your child how to take care of herself (clean up her messes and use the washing machine) and then mind your own business. That may sound harsh, but you'll be surprised how quickly the problems go away when you become unconcerned.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

Keep using diapers (without even talking about toilet training) until your child is old enough to talk about it. (You may be surprised by how early they ask to use the toilet like Mommy and Daddy or their friends who don't wear diapers.) You can then work out a plan together that might include pull-ups as a transition stage.

If your child is still not toilet trained by the time she is three years old, be sure to get a doctor's evaluation to see if there is a physical problem. If there is not a physical problem, you may be involved in a power struggle. Guess who will win!

Stop nagging. Allow your child to experience the consequences of his choice with dignity and respect. During a calm time, teach your child to change his own clothes. When the pants get wet or soiled, kindly and firmly take your child to his bedroom to find new clothes. Then lead your child to the bathroom and ask if she would like to change alone or with you there to keep him company. (Do not do it for him.)

If he refuses (which is unlikely if you have truly dropped the power struggle), ask, "How does it feel to have soiled pants? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? Where are the places you can play when you have soiled pants?" (See the next suggestion.)

During a calm time (when your child is dry) brainstorm with her places she can play when she's not in clean pants. Outside or in the bathroom (have some games in a drawer) or a basement might be appropriate. Be sure this is not a humiliating experience, but her choice. "You can change your soiled pants or play in one of the places we agreed on."

Teach your child (age four and older) how to put soap in the washing machine and push the buttons to wash his own clothes.

Find a preschool where the staff is willing to handle toilet training. It can happen quickly when the facility has small toilets that children can use themselves and children have many opportunities to watch each other use the toilet successfully. Many preschools also have frequent toilet routines that help children learn quickly.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can discover that they can learn socially acceptable way to handle normal life processes in due time without guilt and shame. Mistakes are nothing more than opportunities to learn.

Parenting Pointers

Children often feel frustrated and powerless when faced with expectations they don't feel they can live up to. This is often the reason behind their misbehavior. Children may try to prove they have power in useless ways—by refusing to do what you want.

It hurts when parents don't give unconditional love. Children may want to hurt back without realizing that is their hidden motivation. One way to hurt parents is to refuse to do what is important to them.

Take comfort in knowing that your child will probably be toilet trained by the time she goes to college—and even much sooner when power struggles are eliminated. Relax and enjoy your child.

Booster Thoughts

The mother of a two year old told her daughter, "This weekend we're going to work on potty training. Whenever you feel the urge, let me know, and we'll go in the bathroom together and you can sit on the potty instead of going in your diaper." All weekend, she gave her daughter her complete and undivided attention, waiting for signs or signals from her daughter. By Sunday night, her two year old was completely potty trained. Though she had a few mistakes from time to time during the following year, she mostly used her potty chair willingly and on her own.


MomTo2JAWS said...

I have a seven year old son that is still not potty trained. His excuses are usually I didn't know I had an accident or I didn't want to miss whatever it is he was doing. He complains of a stomach ache everyday. We have had CT scans and X-rays done. They just show constipation, for which he is taking Glycolax. My five year old has been potty trained for several years and has never had an issue. I am so frustrated because no one seems to know what to do next. Can you help me?

Unknown said...

We were having this same issue with my 6 year old son. We consulted with a urologist, who gave us some great suggestions. First, he said to deal with the constipation - offer more fruits and water throughout the day. Next, we needed to get him to use the potty at regular intervals - every 1 1/2-2 hours to help him re-train his bladder, which was thicker than normal due to him holding it in for so long. We got him a vibrating watch that discreetly vibrates every 1 1/2 hours. My son loves it, since it gives him the power back and lets him know when it's time to go. It has eliminated our power struggles over the issue, and in 2 months time, he has had almost no daytime accidents. Even the nighttime accidents have diminished considerably. The most important lesson for me was the need to take ME out of the picture - in other words - I needed to find a way to stop trying to control my son's potty issues. The more I nagged, begged, and pleaded to make him use the potty or the more I showed my upset over the resulting accidents, the more likely my son was to dig in his heals and refuse to acknowledge the need to go. Our urologist even felt that my son couldn't real distiguish when his body was telling him to go, so my constant statements like "listen to your body..." were not helpful. For now and perhaps for the next 6-9 months, we will use the watch. Our urologist recommended waiting until he is dry day and night for several months before we discontinue using the watch.

Steve "Weak Prostate" Jenkins said...

I have 4 years old son with that issue to but he is diagnosed of weak bladder. And this giving us the hard time on training him to urinate. But now, he is on better situation as we are in taking session in bladder control.

Anonymous said...

I really love Positive Discipline! It is a way of life with my three children.
I have one point to interject with Toilet Training.
Developmentally speaking, children at 18 months show an active intrest in the 'potty'. Toilet Teaching is an evolution and natural act. It is not something a parent does when he/she has a child that is 2 1/2 years of age. I highly encourage parents to begin addressing the concept of 'going potty' around 18 months. This does not mean constant hounding-just laying the foundation. Purchasing the potty, allowing the child in during the parent's potty sessions and letting them run free out in the back yard naked. Once a child is older (about three years of age)- the concept of power stuggles with the potty become greater. They are able to think more logically and have a new set of developments mentally, that allow fears to get in the way of their toilet teaching. I agree with you that parents have turned this natural occurrence into this big deal, when it really is, "Everyone Poops". But, these same parents are looking for a step-by-step approach, where there really isn't one--so giving them the step to start at 2 1/2, may be mis-constued as, don't even address it until then- and that could lead them down th e path of power struggles and withholding and more stress than necssary.

Unknown said...

I have a 6 yr. old who has not and will poop in the toilet not once. She is strong willed and stubborn and do beleive it is a power struggle. She is not constipated at all. goes once or twice a day in pants. She has a 4 yr old sister fully potty trained. She is normal no disabilities. We have tried everything. From taking things off of her that we thought were important to her. To now giving her 30 min time out in room when poops her pants. We even went to extent of ignoring it for a yr. Nothing. She cleans herself up also. We have just now started trying positive dicsipline when she does poop in her pants. I send her to room for 30 min then when done i hug her and say love you and i know you are trying and next time you will try better. So was wondering if you had any suggestions with postive discipline on this.

Unknown said...

Amber, I feel for you. Wondering if you have ruled out any kind of phobia around the toilet or if there is fear there. I have heard of kids being afraid of the toilet and such, though it sounds like this problem is only for poop and not pee too??? As your daughter is 6, she should be able to completely clean up after herself and perhaps do the laundry as well. If you try to take yourself out of it, and just continue to tell her over that she is loved and that you believe in her ability to learn to use the potty. Then, set the expectation that she is responsible for her clothing - rinsing them out, throwing solid stuff into the potty, and running the laundry every time it happens. She needs to do this, so you can stay out of it. Provided there is no physical problem (and I assume you've ruled that out), she will grow out of this problem. Does she attend school and do the accidents happen there as well? Most likely the time-outs are not going to be very effective for this problem in my opinion.

Amber said...

We have stopped all time outs and have giben things back that we took away from her because feel like itwas still drawing too much attention to it. She cleans self up I have nithing to do with it. Am trying to stay out of it and not say a word. I do believe is a power struggle. She is not in school we homeschool. But I know if was in school would hold til came home. Because she hardly ever poops in pants in public. She is a very smart girl and I just wonder when it will end.