Q: My 3 ½ year old is still not potty trained. He was adopted from US foster care and has been with us since he was 10 months and seems to be adjusted in all ways, except this one. Any suggestions are welcome because I’m sick of diapers.
A: My rules for control battles of any sort are make them infrequent, choose very carefully, and make darn sure you win the ones you pick. Your child has control of what goes in and out of his body, so if you make potty training a power struggle, he will win and ultimately you will both lose. But, there are things you can do to help him decide that using the toilet is a good idea.
- Don’t use pull-ups during the day. I know, I know, it’s a hassle, but a child wearing pull-ups is seldom uncomfortable when wet or dirty so has less incentive to use the potty. It helps to pick a time when you can stay at home during the first week or so that you try this. You shouldn’t necessarily wait for warm weather, but boy, it sure is easier to have them outside in just their underpants when you are going through this stage.
- Buy some special big-boy underpants and let him pick them out. They usually will pick ones with action figures or cartoon characters on them. I encouraged my kids to try to keep that character dry and clean.
- This point is key: Don’t fuss or make a big deal when he has an accident, but matter of factly have him be the one to take off the wet underwear and wash them out. If there is a puddle on the floor get him a rag to wipe it up. He may need a little help with the poopy pants, just so he doesn’t get the mess all over the floor, and so you can make sure he has cleaned himself well.
- Have him train a doll or stuffed animal to use the pretend toilet. Give him the words to help encourage his toy: “you’re a big boy now, so I know you want to use the potty like a big boy”, “I know you will do it when you are ready”, etc.
- Make sure to use a child size potty chair. Some kids are afraid of the flushing sound, so don’t worry about having him flush anything if he seems afraid.
- Use incentives (bribes?) for when he is successful.Use whatever works for your kid: stickers, candy, etc.
- If he seems particularly stubborn, pick a place that your child likes to go and tell him that he will need to be potty trained before he goes there. This is easier once he is out of pull-ups because he already knows he can go anywhere in pull ups. For example, tell your child that he can’t go to the pool until he is using the potty because the pool doesn’t want pee and poop in the water or around the pool. Do not say this in a punitive manner, just state it in a matter of fact sort of way, and let him know that you are sure he will soon be able to go to the pool.
- With my sons, I dropped Cheerios in the potty and had them aim to sink them. They loved this. Too bad this won’t work for little girls.
- The main idea is to stop all fussing or reminding about potty training. Turn the responsibility over to your son. In other words, remove yourself from the battle and the only one he has left to fight is himself. But also turn as much of the clean up over to him as well. If he puddles, let him wipe it up, change his clothes, and put the wet clothes in the in the laundry room. Remember, this is not as a punishment, but it is simply what needs to be done. Don’t worry if he doesn’t do it perfectly.
- Relax, very few children enter kindergarten wearing diaper during the day. Nighttime wetting is a totally different matter and you’ll just have to wait until his bladder matures.
- Here are some other free resources:
- Poop Culture: Potty Training Your Child – This is great and well worth the read
- Creating a Family interview with Dr. Gregory Keck, author of Parenting the Hurt Child – Parenting the Hurt Child/ Attachment 101
- This is a hilarious Japanese toilet training video. I don’t know how effective it would be for training your son, but it will certainly lighten your mood. My family (including my older kids) laughed until we cried!