Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How To Potty Train a Strong Willed Child

Our older child, Patrick, was so easy to potty train. A few years later our world turned upside down with the birth of our fun-loving feisty little firecracker who we named Abigail. This child has always had her own thoughts and opinions and steel will to go along with her opinions.

We’ve been struggling with her total lack of willingness (not ability) in the potty training arena. To see her whole saga, check out this post.

Image credit: sskie
But as of today – we’re 7 days diaper free with only 1 accident. This includes all bodily functions, as well as naptime and nighttime. It also includes trips out into the world while wearing underwear. Okay – so she still wears a diaper at night (because of our fear) but she wakes up dry each morning. But we no longer have to ask her about the potty. She just does it. She tells us when she needs to go, goes to the potty, pulls down her own pants and underwear and just goes. When she’s done, she gets up, dresses herself again, and is done. No, we're not totally there, as we still have to learn to use the big potty and how to use public restrooms (I shutter at the thought of this one), but I feel the biggest hurdles have been crossed.

Some people will tell you that children should lead the way. Maybe they should but we don’t really ascribe to that. Seriously…the diaper thing works for them. They do their business without stopping what they are enjoying and then you, as the parent, scoop them up, clean up their mess, pamper their bottoms with powder, and send them off on their merry way. What have they got to lose in this?

I know you cannot force a child who is not physically ready, but also don’t underestimate their ability to learn new things and mimic what they are shown.

So many people told us to wait until our strong willed child was ready, as in, when she decided to tell us, “I’m going to start using the potty now.” If you have a strong willed child, you know that this won’t happen as long as they feel in control of their current routine. You have to push them along too.

But they are different from more passive children. You have to work around their rebellion to get to the core of things and get them to do what you want (and sometimes NEED) them to do.

So what did we do to potty train our strong willed child?

  • DO offer the potty when you think they are ready. Even if they aren’t willing, it will put the idea in their mind. And you never know until you ask.
  • DON’T force a child to sit on the potty. This will not make the potty or potty training pleasant for either of you.
  • DO offer incentives if needed. Some children like stickers, candy, a special book or toy.
  • DON’T give in to the tantrums if they want the special treat without the cooperation. And if you have a strong willed one – there will be tantrums.
  • DO keep offering incentives until you find the one that works. And remember – just because it works now doesn’t mean it will work next week.
  • DON’T punish a child for an accident. It happens. They are still learning and this is a whole new concept for them. Sometimes they do not realize how quickly it will be happening. Sometimes they get distracted by what they are doing and forget to tell you. And if you take two steps back – think of how hard it will be to get the process going again.
  • DO have the child help clean up the accident, put their underwear away in the laundry and put on another pair themselves. Doing it for them does not instill the consequences (not punishment) of the accident.
  • DON’T think that there is one method that works. Each child is different. Take all of the advice you can get and find out which of it works for you. If none of it works, it’s okay. Make up your own. There is no single solution.
  • DO sing your child’s praises. Tell them how proud you are. Call friends (who understand this truimph) and relatives and let them tell him/her how awesome they are. Let them her you bragging to your friends. And whatever incentive was offered – make sure you follow through. Don’t make yourself into a liar.
  • DON’T give up.

I promise, they will get it. The younger they are, they might need incentives. The older they are, you can use logic (to a 4 year old - you can’t go to the pool this summer if you aren’t potty trained so let’s start working now so you can swim this summer). You just have to find out what works for your child.

For us, it was the promise to wear a dress that was already hanging in her closet. Seriously…that’s all it took. It just took us about 8 months to figure that out.

What about you?  Have any tips you can offer those who are struggling?  Do you have a strong willed child? 


  1. ...all of them :D!
    I found what worked best for me was to wait. A 2 year old has difficulty pulling his/her own pants up or down. Generally, a 3 year old doesn't. So I concluded why try and push them to do this when I am still the one doing most of the work anyway? I don't mind changing diapers (and I more often than not have 2 in diapers) but I did mind struggling with my second child while potty training. Since then I have waited and we get through it within 3 days...all happy. Plus they only require assistance then with wiping after number 2. ;P

  2. "A 2 year old has difficulty pulling his/her own pants up or down"

    Our 2-year-old twins both do this just fine. The trick? I ask them to push down their undies or pull them up. And I have them do it each time. If they need help, I ask them to say "Help" and I will help them but they decide when to say "Help".

    I put ours in undies. I see it as why are they are in diapers? Why are so many parents changing 2 and 3 year olds on changing tables like they are babies - at a time in their lives when they are seeking/demanding independence? This makes NO sense to me.

    Sure it's easier to put the kids in diapers, but what's easy and convenient for the parents isn't what is best for the child. I'd rather have children that are more capable of doing things on their own than be wholly dependent upon me like a forever-baby.

    1. Dear Anonymous -
      I agree with the idea of wanting my children to be as independent as possible. I think it prepares them more for real life - and as a bonus, it frees up some time for me too. =)

      However, the opening comment is a bit harsh. I understand that your children are capable and I think that is wonderful. However, not all children are as physically advanced as others. There are some children at the age of 2 who are not coordinated enough to do things that seem as simple as pulling their pants up and/or down. All children develop at different rates and it is not at all unusual for children who are turning two to struggle with this. Also, you have to consider that sometimes they are rushing to "beat the clock" so they do not have an accident, which can add stress. Some children do not handle stress as well as others.

      So while I think it is awesome that your kids are ready, please don't belittle others' children who aren't. I don't count myself an expert by any means, but I know with my two children I have found that I have two very different children who developed at very different rates and are capable of very different things at different ages. And that's just with two children...I can't imagine the variations you get with more.

      And if you are going to insult others, please have the decency to do it with your name. It's hard to take Anonymous commenters seriously.

  3. I totally agree with Kaye! I have four children and they were each VERY different. Your children seem very easy and that is awesome but not all children are the same. Getting twins potty trained is easier in some ways because they have each other to compete against. You should never look down on other people for issues with their children! Shame on you!! This is a "difficult potty training" website. If you are not having a hard time then
    what are you doing on this site? To tell those of us asking for advice that we are inept, that is totally unexceptable! If you can't understand what we are going through, then go onto a website for the "PERFECT"
    parents and stay off of this one. Some of us care to hear other people's love,advice, and to connect with
    parents that understand our trials and tribulations! I feel bad for your FIRST time when you realize that "perfect" children do NOT exist! Please step off of your high horse
    and into reality and off of sites to help people!
    To those of you that are having a hard time, hang in there..we can all be there to support each other when our "strong willed child" is making us want to scream!;) hopefully they won't be going to college in diapers..or pooping in underwear!:)

  4. Okay...troll.

    So I almost deleted this comment for a couple of reasons. First of all, it doesn't seem to maek any sense with my post. For instance, this is MY WEBSITE, so please don't tell me what I can or cannot post on it. It is not a website for those particularly looking for potty training help. It's just a post I wrote on MY SITE. =)

    Secondly, if you'd read the post at all, it seems that your comment makes no sense. I didn't talk about how perfect my children are or put down anyone. So yeah...there's that.

    And you know, it's just argumentative. If you want to make a real arguement with me, leave a name or a way to contact you. I give little to no credit to those who come and bash me or anyone else but don't have the guts to leave a name. If you feel so strongly, be proud and leave a name.

    So yes...calling you out on this one.


    1. I thought the previous rant was referring to the anonymous comment you responded to about her two year olds who can pull their own undies up and down, not your post. She even says she agrees with your response. Did I miss something?

    2. farmerdaughter - Yes, it appears that you are right. When I read that I was under the impression that she was responded to my post, not the above commenter. Although when I reread it in that light, it makes much more sense. Forgive my mistake, please. I must have been particularly touchy that day. Thank you for pointing this out to me. =)

  5. Man, this is my daughter completely. I appreciate you sharing, wish us luck as well!

    1. Best of luck, Catie. I think I'm paying for my childhood stubbornness with this little firecracker.

      She'll get there. Like I just have to find her "currency."

  6. Thank you for this website. My first child was potty trained the month before his third birthday. My second one is VERY strong willed, 3 years and one month old. Thank you for your encouraging posts. I have have had a lot of struggle trying to get him to even try on the potty, potty chair, etc. Have tried every situation to get him to go but he won't go consistently. Ug!!!

    1. It would be great if there were a fail safe manual on parenting, wouldn't there? Unfortunately, we all have to figure this thing out as we go. I just appreciate that we have the wonder of the internet to 1.) get ideas and 2.) know that we are not alone.

      I do wish you the best of luck.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing! Realizing that I could teach consequences by getting my daughter to help clean up her mess was an angle I hadn't seen before. I think it might be just the thing I needed to motivate her!

    1. Fantastic! I wish you the best of luck!

  8. I love all.the comments but honestly.feeling.worse.than when.i.started the process. My son started potty training at two years of age and is currently.three years six.months and potties.fine at daycare and preschool.but refuses to.go pottyat home! My husband and I feel like we will never see the end of dirty wet (what or son say s when he pees or poops his pants) messes. We have tried it all the pull you're scheduled training naked weekend putting him in under wear treats!!

    1. Oh no, Alysha! I wish I had some answers for you. Maybe some other readers can help as well. I cannot imagine your frustration at knowing he is capable (as he demonstrates at school) but not cooperative at home. I am certainly not a child expert of any type, but it sounds like he is just exhibiting control in one area he can. I am not sure it is out of a security issue or more of a rebellious spirit but it sounds like it could be something like that. Do you make him clean up (or at least help clean up) his messes? Does he seem embarrassed or apologetic when it happens?

  9. I have run a small home based child care center for over 25 years, and have a degree in Child Development. In these years I have experienced everything from an 18 month old potty training herself, to a 4 year old genius, that flat refuses to sit on a toilet. Every child is unique, and yes, some can be a challenge, but, all children, unless they have a disability, will some day give up and just go with the flow that everyone poops, and yes we prefer to use the toilet because it is the most sanitary way to dispose of human waste. At a certain age, you must allow the child to learn from the consequences of their own behavior. Maybe, if you allow them to make this one choice in their life, it will allow them to become a self sufficient human being.

  10. This supports my first "don't" which is not to force the issue. But sometimes it is just about a power struggle between parent and child and that is the angle this is from. Thanks for y your professional input.