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Troubleshooting for the Stubborn Potty Trainer

Some children (often those who are described as “spirited” or “strong willed”) resist using the potty when parents initially attempt to potty train. For these kids, you will need some different tactics. Some ideas to keep in mind for these kids: 1. they need to feel in control. 2. you can create the rules, but if you pressure or even encourage too much this often provokes rebellion, 3. they still need encouragement but just a few words here and there about how you know they can do it. 

Here are some step by step instructions for a strategy to help potty train stubborn toddlers.
1. If you are currently trying to potty train and they are refusing to use the potty (crying, fussing, tantruming when you suggest sitting on the potty) then STOP. Do not ask them to use the potty. Do not mention anything having to do with diapers or potty etc. for at least 2-3 weeks. Potty training can NOT be a power struggle.
2. Be casual/low pressure. When you start back after a couple of weeks, act very casual about potty training and talk in positive language. Example: “I know you are growing up and big kids can put their pee-pee and poopers in the potty. I don’t know when you’ll be ready to do that but I know you will do it when you are ready! 
3. Get them sitting on the potty regularly. Do not ask them if they want to use the potty. Very matter of factly explain that there is a new reward (candy, toy, stickers, etc) that they get whenever they SIT on the potty. Without any emotion. Example “Oh, guess what, we have M&Ms now for anyone who sits on the potty.” Then, every 1-2 hours throughout the day ask them if they want to try to earn an M&M? If they say yes! Say okay, sitting on the potty earns M&Ms. If they say no. DROP IT for a few days. If candy or stickers etc aren’t motivating, try a new reward several days later. If they start getting upset when you suggest earning a certain prize then DROP any mention of trying to earn a prize for at least 1-2 weeks again. Note: Ipad/iphones are great rewards IF they are allowed limited access to these devices so that playing with them is a big incentive. So ask if they want to earn some iPad time. Then casually explain they only get to play with the iPad while they sit on the potty. If they aren’t interested in the iPad search the App store for a new game that would appeal to them and casually show them there’s something new on the iPad to try to get them interested. PLEASE NOTE: I suggest sitting in the bathroom with your toddler while they are on the potty holding your ipad/iphone to prevent any accidental drops into the toilet!!! This may mean a lot of time sitting in the bathroom waiting on your child to potty. I generally limit "potty attempts" to 10-15 minutes and then say "we can try again in a little bit but we need to plug in the ipad to give it more battery now." since some kids would sit on the potty all day long! 
4. Change the goal from sitting to peeing/pooping on the potty. Once they are happily sitting on the potty to earn their reward 6-8 times per day for several days. Very casually tell them the rule is now that they get the reward (candy/sticker/iPad) if something comes OUT when they are sitting on the potty (Pee-pee or poopers in the potty = reward). If they sit on the potty but nothing comes out, stay positive. Example “That was a great try! I bet something will come out the next time.”
5. Introduce underwear and change the goal again. Once they are regularly sitting and peeing or pooping on the potty then tell them it’s time to wear underwear like (insert older friend or cousin’s name they think is cool). Do not make a big deal about this as sometimes that can trigger the power struggle in a strong willed kid. When you’ve put them in underwear change the goal again to “You can earn the reward (candy/sticker/iPad) at lunch time if you’ve had no messes this morning.” Then again before dinner if they’ve had no accidents all afternoon. 
6. Expect accidents and remain calm. When they have an accident, stay calm and casually say “Oh no, you didn’t quite make it to the potty today. I know you can do it next time! Remember pee-pee goes in the potty.” Then drop it. Do not lecture. Do not plead. Just tell them they need to help clean it up (this is frustrating and makes a bigger mess but is important that they don’t get to play while you clean. Give them a paper towel or wipe and have them “help” you. If they refuse to help. Tell them they have to at least stay and learn how to clean (aka watch you). Then help them get changed into new dry underwear and clothes and again give encouragement “I know you can keep your pants dry this time and earn that reward before dinner/tomorrow etc.”
7. More encouragement. When they successfully pee or poop in the potty tell them you are proud of what a big kid they are and how they are learning to do something new. 
8. Stay close to home. Minimize time away from home for 2-3 days once they are in underwear to make it easier for them to always have access to the potty. 
9. Expect setbacks: Most kids take a few days to stop having very frequent accidents, then start doing a bit better, but then have setbacks where they have more accidents again. Do not stress. Just very casually say “Today you are having a hard time with the potty. I know you can do better this afternoon/tomorrow” and remember to have them clean with you or “help” you (watch) you clean up the accidents. Keep a bag with 1-2 pairs of extra pants and underwear and socks in your car at all times. If your child has an accident when you’re out somewhere fun (the playground, park, children’s museum etc. tell them you have to leave to get cleaned up. If possible, clean them up in the car and then leave to go home to “wash the wet clothes” instead of resuming the enjoyable activity. This can be a big motivator in the future.

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