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Expert Tips for Potty-Training Reluctant Toddlers

Simple tricks to make potty-time easier for everyone

Published on: August 03, 2018

Potty Training

My 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter is not potty trained yet. Nothing I do is working! I am getting so frustrated. What advice do you have for us both?

Don’t panic — many children (especially firstborn boys) don’t train until age 3. Studies suggest halfway between ages 2 and 3 years is the golden age to try potting training. There are those kids who fall into the age spectrum (2–3 and a half) and those who are outliers.

I’ve found that sometimes it takes a “trigger event” for some kids to be ready. My family’s trigger event happened after months of working on potty training with my son. We went in for a regular doctor visit, and our pediatrician told him he was ready to go on the big-kid potty. So then he was ready. It was frustrating (for me) but great at the same time.

Think of yourself as your daughter’s pit crew: supplying the tools and helping her to the potty when she requests it. When parents come to me in need of help, here’s what I advise.

Never punish your child for wetting or having an accident.

I like using reward charts for potty training: Basic is best. You don’t need to buy a chart. Make the reward chart together, which provides the child with a sense of ownership. Celebrate success on the chart. Ignore failures. Never take stickers down for mistakes. Give stickers freely for any good deed you deem worthy of progress. Be clear with your child about progress: putting on underwear, peeing/pooping on the toilet or even entering the bathroom to pee in a diaper, if your child is resistant.

Rewards should be nonfood items whenever possible. A $1 to $5 toy may be best for the first row of stickers, for example. Save a big reward, like a trip to the toy store alone with Mom or Dad (for a $2 toy) for a completed chart. Do provide structure to the child about how the reward system works. The first toy will be very educational.

Don’t give up hope when you step backward on the potty training road. Return to reward charts again and again. Change incentives and rewards to inspire a sense of newness.

If and when your frustration leaks into the potty-training routine, take a break. Never continue pushing while frustrated or you will get resistance. The task of the toddler is to grow his or her own sense of autonomy. The job of the pit crew is to remain as calm as possible while knowing that someday your child will ditch the diapers forever.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in October 2015 and updated most recently in July 2018.

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