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Potty Training Stinks

I hate potty training. Things are not going well but I refuse to go back and put my 4-year-old back in diapers. He will not tell us when he needs to go (unless of course we’re at Target, a restaurant, or the playground) and if we don’t take him every hour or so he has an accident.

Take the other day for instance. I picked him up from school and saw that he had different pants on. Sure enough, the teacher said he had an accident. We went across town to pick up his brother and I made him use the bathroom before leaving. Then we went to the libray. I knew I was risking it. We’ve started the routine of sitting on the potty to go #2 every day after school and just for today I thought we could sneak in a trip to the library. I’m sure you can tell where this story is going. While there, the boys were in one aisle and I was in the other. I thought I smelled a familiar odor.  I went in search of Max and sure enough saw him standing bowlegged with a small puddle on the floor under him.  “Poops!”, he said with a grin. Great. I hurried him along, as well as a now-screaming Ben because he wasn’t ready to leave. I left Ben in the aisle and went to quickly check out the books. I was imagining everyone wrinkling their noses and thinking “doesn’t that woman know her child just took a dump in his pants?” Then, he says “Hands!” and I look over and see that he now has poops on his hands. OMG! Thankfully I’m done checking out so I whisk all of us into the bathroom pleading with Max not to touch anything.   In some sort of luck, there happened to be an empty plastic shopping bag on the floor (because of course all of my “supplies” like wipes and bags were in the car) so I put toilet paper over the grab bar so he could hold onto something (why I didn’t wash his hands first, I have no idea) emptied his underwear into the toilet, cleaned him up the best I could and tossed the underwear in the plastic bag.

When we got home, I put him in the shower and cleaned him up, had him use the bathroom again and was ready for a fresh start to our evening. Then, about an hour later, he was at the play kitchen when I glanced over and saw another huge puddle on the floor.  It’s really, really hard to not get upset and frustrated. It’s really hard to pretend that it’s ok and not a big deal that these accidents keep happening.

He showed all the signs of being ready. We have a consistent routine. We bought what feels like 1,000 pairs of underwear featuring Yo Gabba Gabba, Super Why, Toy Story and Thomas the Tank Engine. But, he is still having accidents and I’m growing weary of carrying extra clothes in my bag, the car, and supplying mulitple pairs for both school and the child care center.  Any ideas?


  1. NewsMom September 16, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I feel your pain. But I have to say this, while you hear lots of stories of kids who put on underwear one day and never have an accident after that, for others, your kids and mine, potty training is a journey — often a long one. It’s now been almost two years since my daughter first seemed to be done potty training, and she still has accidents, sometimes daily. There have been periods over the course of these years that we have thought she was done, but now I think I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that she may just be one of those kids for whom her emotional response to situations, even into her schoolage years, will be to have an “accident.” The poop accidents do end sooner than pee. I promise. And if he seems really unable to control the poop, it is worth seeing if there’s something in his diet that’s causing it to be loose, which will make it harder for him to know it’s coming. We had to cut juice entirely out of my daughter’s diet, and it made an enormous difference. (And for what it’s worth, at least Target actually has really good clean public bathrooms.)

  2. Ruth September 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I feel your pain too. Wish there was a magic potion for this one but no such luck. You did an amazing job holding yourself together at the library.

  3. Philly Mom September 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I don’t know if the experts would agree, but I can tell you what eventually worked for us. I got a desirable toy with lots of individual pieces and put it next to the potty and told her every time she told us when she had to go potty we would let her pick a piece of the toy. In our case we got train tracks, cars and street signs. Every time it worked, she got to pick a small piece. After awhile she forgot about the toys and it was just second nature to tell us when she needed to go.

    We are largely accident free. These days the accidents often happen in the bathroom because she didn’t leave enough time to get her pants down. Progress is progress.

    Good luck!

  4. 2Daughters September 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Hello there! I’ve read something and tried it on my 1 yr and 7month old baby. Whenever I sit her on the pot (we were on vacation for 3months so we used regular pot, not a potty trainer) then after a Number 2, I bid goodbye to it as it was being flushed, she followed and said bye bye, it seems ridiculous, but you know how kids are when see an airpalne, they’re ever so eager to say goodbye to them. I guess that’s the psychology behind it. So after that she would really bring me to the bathroom for her chance to say byebye to her poop. =)

    Some moms give a treat whenever their kids use the pot, whatever technique you use I think it will be twice as effective if they see your enthusiasm, I feel that my kids are proud of themselves when they make me happy. If they do someting good, I jump for joy or any exaggerated smile and tell them how happy I am for their achievement.

  5. mom of thosands September 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

    HI Green Mom,
    As a mom and also a BH director I have literally seen thousands of children and parents go through this process. There are three things you can’t MAKE a child do. EAT, SLEEEP and GO POTTY We can encourage, suggest and play a lot of tricks, but in the end the child is the one with the control.

    And that’s the whole problem. CONTROL. He has control and you don’t. That’s what’s causing your frustration. As a mother who had a child train at 19 months and another who didn’t until almost 4 I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. Luckily they are now 22 and 15 and both are not having any accidents, I am happy to report! Well, except for the 22 year old….but that’s with a car and a story for another time!

    Something I told a set of parents at my center recently who were extremely frustrated with their son by his lack of interest, enthusiasm and focus on becoming fully free of diapers was overwhelming all of them. The problem was the parents wanted him to be trained, he of coure could have cared less about it. While he knew WHAT to do, HOW to do it and even WHEN and WHERE to do it, He just didn’t WANT to do it. The more the parents wanted it, the less he did. Together we came up with a plan to “let it go”. While hard for the parents, they just stopped asking, suggesting, etc about using the bathroom. While you are hesitant in going back to using diapers, it sounds to me like the effort, planning and thought you are putting into your day around his potty training is causing you significant stress. Why? He will eventually give up diapers and use the potty full time, I promise. He will not go to High School in diapers!

    Children are always learning and growing and they do so at very different rates. As infants it’s easy to see that a children who is learning to walk doesn’t do a lot of talking because the brain is working on the walking so the language takes a back seat for short time. The same goes for 4 year olds. Right now your 4 year old maybe working on some other portion of his development. While not as obvious to us, children are VERY busy growing in so many ways. They are developing their personalities, learning language, growing muscles, etc. It’s not really a parent’s job to decide when a child’s body is ready for potty training (really don’t like that word, by the way). The only person doing the training is the child….he’s trainng YOU to remind him to go, change you daily plans around him, etc. Sound like he’s doing a good job at it too.

    While you didn’t mention it in your blog post, I am sure there are friends and family members who have children who have potty trained successfully, which add more pressure and stress to your situation.

    I could go on forever….but here’s my suggestion. Do some internet searches for “Potty Training Resistance” you will find a lot of great articles, which will tell you what I am trying to tell you here. Relax, put your son back in diapers and let HIM dicide when he’s ready. As soon as it becomes a NON-ISSUE like magic he will make the decision himself (along with his body and brain) and wa-la……potty trained!

    Good Luck!

  6. Lorraine September 18, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I know this may be a mute question, but have you spoken to his pediatrician about his potty accidents? It could be something physical especially if he knows when he is going but just can’t seem to control it. Also, from the way you have said he talks he sounds younger than 4. Perhaps emotionally, maturity wise, he is just not ready. I recommend the thick training pants, not pull-ups, as these hold the urine without making a puddle and work as a diaper for the poop still allowing him to feel the wetness on his body, which is what I feel the key to potty training. He needs to feel successful as well in order to motivate more use of the potty. Positive re-enforcement for using the potty should be used as well. Do you have a sticker chart for him? Hang in somewhere at his level and every time he uses the toilet reward him with a sticker. When he uses the toilet, start with just pee, give him a sticker. Start slow, use the toilet once a day and get a sticker and maybe a small prize. (I found something as simple as a matchbox car worked). I was lucky to have boys who trained simply and early but I still used all of these techniques. Have faith! He won’t be going to 1st grade in diapers. He probably just needs a little more time. Good luck and let us know how it goes.


  7. Nicole September 18, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I’m wondering if anyone has any suggestions for potty training at night. My son just turned 4 and he can’t get through the night and cares less if he’s wet when he wakes up. I have tried to make him go in the middle of the night but he’s still wet. I try to cut down liquids but he cries that he’s sooo thirsty at night. I personally don’t want to wake up to take him to the bathroom a few times at night — am I pushing it, should I wait awhile, maybe he’s not ready or do I just suck it up and take him a few times throughout the night???

  8. Debbie September 18, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I suggest to parents that when the children still have trouble staying dry out of the home or center setting is to put a diaper on before leaving home or the center (after having the child use the bathroom before leaving). This takes away the concern that the child might have about using a public bathroom. Immediately upon arriving at the center or home, take the child to the bathroom and allow him to use it and take off the diaper. No more diapers until the next travel time. This takes away the stress of commuting where quick and easy access to the bathroom is not possible. Lots of times children will not inform a parent or teacher when he has to go. That is why it is necessary to “remind” the children to go frequently. Toilet learning is a continuum from total reliance on diapers (infants) to complete independent toileting. Four year olds are not necessarily ready to be completely independent. But they should take more responsibility. When possible (library experience not included in this, of course), you should require your child to take an active part in cleaning up any accidents that he may have. If you and the teacher rush in to help him take off his wet pants, clean him up, put on his dry clothes and clean up the mess on the floor, he does not have to take any responsibility for staying dry. He gets lots of attention for wetting (one-on-one time with you or the teacher). However, if you calmly and matter-of-factly take him to the bathroom, tell him to take off his wet clothes, instruct him to wipe or clean himself, and put on his clean clothes, he will find this less attractive. You and the teacher should stay near and assist as needed, but not do the work for him. Part of the incentive of staying dry is to avoid the inconvenience and bother of dealing with being wet. If someone else handles all the clean up, there is no need for him to stay dry. This is not to mean that he should have to clean up poop by himself. But wet pants are not that bad as long as he washes his hands very well. Be prepared for some resistance from him if you try this. He may refuse or whine that he can’t do it, but he can and he should. This is not really punishment, just logical consequences. “When you make a mess, you clean it up.” I would still take him to the bathroom regularly. If one hour is too long between tries, then cut back to 45 minutes. I would also give him some type of reinforcement for staying dry. For instance, you or the teacher could check in with him every hour. If he is dry, he gets a sticker. If he goes in the potty, he gets a sticker. Over time as he is more successful, the time between checks can become longer, every hour or 90 minutes. Stickers will soon give way to the more natural pride in his accomplishment when he can do it on his own. I would recommend talking to him about how his body feels just before he has a poop. Usually, bowel movements are easier for children to recognize and manage in the potty due to the typical regularity of when they occur and the relative strength of the sensation preceding the movement. If he has a problem with loose bowels or real uncontrolled urgency, you may want to discuss it with his pediatrician. My son had difficulty with fatty food (so we stopped french fries and pizza for awhile). He is 29 years old now and still has to watch what he eats but he was able to manage it since he was about 9 years old when we figured it out. Good luck! Remember, almost every child accomplishes this task by the time they go to kindergarten.

  9. Green Mom September 21, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Wow! Thank you for all of the encouragement and feedback. Debbie, you’re right. I do need to have him do more in the way of cleaning up when he has accidents. I think that may help since he hates washing his hands after using the toilet, I can only imagine how annoyed he’d be if he had to change his own clothes/clean up.

    Lorraine, you are right too. He is developmentally a bit younger than 4 because of some delays. Perhaps I did feel pressure because of his chronological age (and the fact that he was putting his hands in poop soiled diapers) and put him in underwear too quickly.

    Knowing how he has achieved other skills thus far, I know that putting him back in diapers isn’t the right idea. I’m going to do my very best to remain calm, have him clean himself up more and stock up on underwear!

  10. Abby September 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I have no advice, but I hate potty training, too!

  11. Re-dedicated Dad February 6, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Finally! I’m sorry to hear about your troubles, but I’m happy to have found a place where people are discussing ideas about how to help older toddlers learn to use the toilet on their own. I’m so tired of seeing articles/sites with titles saying they have tips for kids that are resistant or difficult only to find a list of things I’ve been doing since we started almost 18 months ago (e.g. get a small toilet, give rewards, act excited, etc).

    Anyway, I feel your pain and frustration. I know a big part of it in my situation is knowing I’m not doing the things he needs. I say that because I had to put my son in day care for a while due to some health issues my wife was having. He went an entire week without an accident. But as soon as things got back to normal, he regressed big time. I feel stuck because my wife stays at home with him but often isn’t able to help him get to the toilet or remind him to go – at least not with the consistency he needs. I’m looking to get him into a permanent daycare that will help older toddlers with toileting, but those are hard to find – at least that don’t charge a small fortune. I’ll deal with the emotional distress of not being able to give him the support he needs at home at some point, I’m sure.

    But I’ve decided I need to recommit myself. To be clear, my little guy has no problem using the toilet. What he doesn’t like is to stop whatever he’s doing in order to go do his business. Since my wife isn’t always able to remind him to go at regular intervals, the goal is to get him to more consistently recognize when he has to go so he doesn’t have to be reminded to do it so often. So, here’s what my wife and I decided to do (includes some of the great techniques posted by others)…

    – Help him feel the consequences.
    Pull-ups are great these days. They’re designed to keep him feeling dry, and that’s what they do – even when he’s wet. So we only put him in those at night, at nap time, or if he’s going somewhere in the car. for being at home, we got him a bunch of training pants (high waisted underwear with absorbent material sewn in and lined on the outside to prevent leaks). Unfortunately, they don’t really prevent them as they can’t absorb all the liquid a 4 year old bladder can hold. So, when he’s at home he wears tight pajama bottoms to absorb the urine when it overflows the training pants. We’ve found these difficult to take off when wet though, so we’re considering getting some of those vinyl underwear covers that he can wear over the training pants so he can wear regular pants. If they work well at home, we might try keeping him in them away from home too.

    – Small step, small reward; Big step, big reward.
    Up to now, I’ve used one tactic after another. Well, I’m going into full court press mode now and doing them all at the same time. Going potty when reminded gets an enthusiastic “Good Job!”. Staying clean/dry gets a tasty treat. I got some poster board and put a grid on it like a calendar where each square represents a day. But each row has eight squares. If he stays clean/dry for a full day (not including nap time) gets a small toy (the idea from a previous post of using pieces of a larger toy is sheer genius), a sticker to put on one of the poster board squares, and a lot of fanfare. When the first seven squares in a row have stickers in them, he gets a *very* coveted toy (or activity). I made the last square of each row much bigger than the others so I could tape a picture of the prize in it. I’m hopeful he catches on that the more consistent he is, the faster he gets rewarded with the bigger prizes. I’m no psychologist, but I also think this is a good exercise in goal setting – break a larger goal into smaller, more achievable ones, and reward yourself for accomplishing those along the way.

    – Don’t stress about it.
    A lot of the stress I feel around toilet training comes from the pressure of being consistent without becoming overbearing or obsessed. I have a pretty busy schedule and recognize that not wanting to take the time to clean up accidents often leads me to ask him if he has to go more frequently than I should (another reason I’d like him to learn when he needs to go). I just need to remind myself that this is one of the most important things I’ll help him with and that it’s worth every bit of time it takes.

    Like I said, I’m no psychologist and don’t have all the answers. But I’m giving this stuff a shot and will let you know how it goes. I’m hoping this helps you think of other good ideas as your posts have done for me. Please let me know how any of these have or haven’t worked for you – or if you think I’m going to completely ruin the whole thing 🙂

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