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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Temper Tantrums—Intense in Public


Hi! I am the mother of a 3-year-old girl and a 6-month-old son. My question concerns my daughter. She is bright, curious, outgoing and extremely affectionate. However, since she was younger than one, she has always been prone to extreme tantrums. I have read every single one of your books and apply the ideas consistently. I have a lot of faith and confidence in the Positive Discipline philosophy. I believe it has had a remarkable effect on my daughter. My husband and I are trying to teach her (during moments of calm) how to manage her anger and frustration (deep breathing, going to a "special place" to calm down -with or without Mommy, playing with her toys or stuffed animals). Also, I try very hard not to engage in power struggles, since it seems that most of her outbursts relate to misguided power. (Ex: I leave the room without saying anything if she starts to throw her toys. After she calms down, I ask her to pick them up and she always does.) This approach works phenomenally well at home. She gets over her (minor) tantrums and we move on with the day. The problem is in public!!!!

I can't just "walk away" and disengage when she has a tantrum in public. The thing is, her tantrums in public are the worst tantrums I have ever witnessed or imagined in my life (and I'm a teacher and have taught many different age groups). Obviously, I absolutely can't reason with her or talk to her because she's hitting, kicking, punching my face (which really hurts and is embarrassing), banging things and screaming. When she was younger, I simply carried her to the car and kindly and firmly put her in her car seat and drove home. But now she is about 38 pounds. I'm a small person and yesterday when she had a tantrum in the library and I tried to put her in the car, I physically could not do it. I tried to wait for her to calm down, but she was MANIACAL. Someone offered to help me put the baby in the car, but no one could help me with her! I physically can't handle these maniacal tantrums now that she's heavier and I have a baby to shuttle around. How do I handle this kindly and firmly? She will NOT calm down in front of an
audience, so staying anywhere and waiting for her to calm down is not an option. Please help!!! I dread taking her to the most mundane places because I'm afraid of an outburst.

By the way, the tantrum occurred because the library put a new computer in
the children's section with children's software. Before story time, my daughter saw the computer and wanted to play with it. The librarian said that she would turn it on after storytime. My daughter was very cooperative about that. However, after story time two problems occurred: 1) Other children stormed to the computer and my daughter thought she was allowed to be first, and 2)The librarian could not figure out how to turn it on and said everybody would have to wait until next week. Within 10 seconds, my daughter turned into a completely different human being!!!


Robyn, You have my empathy--especially since it sounds like you are doing all the "right" things. You probably read about temperaments in Positive Discipline the First Three Years and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, so you know about Intensity of Reactions. A quote from the first book follows:

Children often respond to events around them in different ways. Some smile quietly or merely take a look, then go back to what they were doing; others react with action and emotion. Some children wear their hearts on their little sleeves; they giggle and shriek with laughter when happy and throw impressive tantrums when angry.

One of my favorite quotes from a book by Charlie Shedd called, Letters to Karen is:

A person's faults are the price you pay for their virtues. I'm sure that your daughter's extreme intensify of reaction includes many delightful virtues. So, what to do about the "faults?"

1) Some of this you just may have to live through and "try" not to be bothered about what others think. As she gets older, you can teach her more about managing her tantrums.

2) Know that some of her behavior may be influenced by feeling "dethroned" by the birth of a baby brother. Go to and click on the "video of Dr. Nelsen" and watch the top one on "dealing with the belief behind the behavior."
These first two suggestions are just about understanding her.

3) It may help to sincerely validate her feelings. You can listen to a wonderful example by going to and scroll down to the left and click on podcast and list to No. 46 on Taming Temper Tantrums. After doing this interview with Aisha, I was attending a birthday party for my one-year-old grandson. A three-year-old really wanted to open his presents. She had a temper tantrum when her mother wouldn't let her. I went over to them and asked the mother, "Can I try something." She gave her permission so I knelt know in front of the little girl having a tantrum and said, "You are really mad that you can't have those presents. You really want those presents." She stopped crying and snuggled into her Mom's lap. It is very important that validating feelings not be done in a mocking manner, but really trying to help the child feel "felt."

Of course, nothing works every time or with every child. However this suggestion goes along with the importance of just letting children have their feelings without trying to fix them or take them away. Just letting children have their feelings helps them learn that they pass and that they can survive disappointment.

4) By the time she is four, it will be very important to get her involved in family meetings and joint problem-solving sessions where she can practice using her problem-solving skills to find solutions to her dilemmas. During a calm time, you can start doing this with her now. Just don't expect the skills to "kick in" until she is four because of brain development.

5) Part of the the above can to use "curiosity questions," to get into her world and help her think for herself instead of "telling" her what to think. It might go something like this (but don't use a script--be in the moment and come from you heart). After she has calmed down, ask her what happened, how she felt about it, what other might be feeling (no lectures here), and what are her ideas to solve the problem? Of course, this doesn't solve the problem at the time of the tantrum, but it can be preventative--the more she learns to think in terms of finding solutions. This is a great way to teach children to use their personal power in constructive ways which decreases their need to misbehave as a mistaken way to use their power.

6) Since she is too big to remove her, use the tool of "deciding what you will do." Let her know in advance. This may be very hard in public, but you may want to let her know that you will just leave the room. (Remember, it is more important to help your child learn that to be concerned about what others think.) It could be that you'll become "the tickle monster" who tickles children who are having a tantrum. It could be that you have a special paper bag that you can put over your head. You could write on it, "I'm having faith in my daughter to learn that she can survive disappointment." I want to repeat, let her know in advance what you are going to do--and even role-play with her during a calm time. Whatever you do, it must be both kind and firm at the same time--never humiliating. (I know you already know this, but others who read it may not.)

7) Ask for a hug. Listen to podcast No.39 for a great story about the power of a hug.

8) As she gets older, you can teach her about positive time out. A good podcast to help you get ready for this is No. 47. (And, of course, it is explained more thoroughly in all of the Positive Discipline books.

These are just a few suggestions. Have you read about Temper Tantrums in Positive Discipline A-Z? That includes many more possibilities. Hopefully, one of these will help.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Greetings from China

Dear Jane,

This is Rita Happy Ely writing from China. I participated in the Positive Discipline training at Park Lodge Elementary in Lakewood, Washington, for several years. These sessions by your capable trainers made a huge difference in my thinking and in my teaching methods.
I came to the teaching profession late in life after some four decades as a journalist/freelance writer/editor. Like most others who learn important skills at a more advanced age, I wished I had "known then what I know now." My parenting skills weren't awful, but they could have been much better with the kind of insight offered by Positive Discipline tenets. All I could do was apply the concepts to my own teaching--and share them with young parents I knew.

Now I have remarried and have come to teach university students in Qingdao, China, a port city of 8.2 million people on the coast of the Yellow Sea across from Seoul, Korea. These decisions came fast, leaving me little time to clear my old classroom and select a few items to bring. Two important components of teaching/learning that continue to inspire me are Positive Discipline and the very companionable Paideia training I received at Park Lodge. These respectful ways of conducting learning experiences work just as well with university students in China as they do with young students in America.

Thank you for your continued work in promoting the respectful treatment of students. Your concepts returned to my mind forcefully yesterday as I began the first round of oral English assessments at this university. The testing mentality of an ultratraditional educational method has left its mark on these young men and women. In spite of my assurances that our "assessment" procedure was not a "test" and that they had nothing to worry about, I met face to face with a few grown young men who literally quivered and trembled as they tried to talk with me. If this is what "high-stakes testing" does to college students, I can only imagine how terrified young children are when they face disrespectful learning environments.

That's my Christmas greeting to you and a thank you for your part in offering a better way.

Very sincerely,

Rita Happy Ely
Qingdao University
Qingdao, Shandong Province