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Children's Health

At My Wits End on Potty Training!!!



My son is 3 1/2 years old now. I have had the potty training battle since he was 2 1/2. I am really at the end of the rope on this, and am in desperate need of guidence. I have tried the "goodie" training, when he goes potty he gets a candy, ect. I have tried pull up diapers, which he goes threw as regular diapers. I have tried big boy panties, I have tried the "go free" method. All to no avail. He would do his "deeds" sitting right next to you, in diapers, or not. We have had him go potty in on the toilet, and he will get off and poop in the corner of the bathroom. Running "free" he will squat on the porch. We have tried different pottys, we have tried "big boys dont do that." We have tried spanking, "no, no bad boy", we have even made him cart his dirties out to the trash can, and clean himself up. HE could just care less. What gets me the most, is he doesnt "say" anything. Nothing in regards to "I peed myself" or "I need to go pee" he just goes...on the go, and seems to have no worry or care about being wet or dirty. When we tell him "ok, lets go potty" it is a screaming bloody murder match as he stomps his way into the bathroom, then he hollars at the top of his lungs the entire time, it is a 50/50 chance as to wether or not he even DOES go. And when he claims he is finished, he hollars "Im all DONE" and wont get down until you go in there and tell him to. Even if you tell him "when your done, get down" he still wont. HE does this act even if you go with him, or let him go on his own. WHAT CAN I DO?? I know that there is no 12 year old that isnt potty trained, but this is effecting his learning, his ability to go to preschools, and I fear it will set him back to even go to K-garten!!! Please help!!!


I appreciate that this situation is extremely frustrating for both you and for your child. There are two battlegrounds all parents do well to avoid. The first one is coercive feeding. "No dessert if you don't eat your veggies!" or "You are going to sit there until you eat it!" The other battleground is toilet training. Our children always rule these battlegrounds. Parents are always losers, because both you cannot make a child eat or use the potty and because both parents and children feel badly about their battles with one another. At this point, you may not believe it, but your child wants your approval.

However, this heartfelt desire is at war with the fundamental, deeply rooted drive to be independent and to define who he is. The toddler years are Adolescence 101 in many ways. The issues of discovering who you are, what values and ideas are YOURS, and independence from parents are the same. In both age groups, children and teens need and want the love and support of their parents. Yes, they need limits, but they also need for us to tune into them and their needs. They need for us to let go of our agendas and desires and to not push against their fundamental drives for independence and self-determination. So, stop potty training efforts all together. Leave the battlefield. Make no negative comments or facial expressions of anger, frustration or displeasure. That is a tall order, but it is the way you will get around this problem. The longer you engage in a test of wills, the longer it will take to get to your goal.

Let him decide when he is ready to go to the potty or toilet. He is old enough to understand when you tell him that he should let you know when he is ready to start using the toilet or potty, that you are not going to fight with him any more because it makes you both feel bad. He will test you. Just clean up the mess and do not comment or make faces. No reaction at all is not very satisfying to a child. The need for your approval and attention will overcome his resistance when you are no longer pushing against him.

I know this is asking for a huge effort on your part, but it will be so worthwhile now and in the future. We often get a lot farther with guiding our children into the behaviors we want when we help them to see that behavior as their choice, not our decision or directive.

Take heart! You will reach the goal!

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University