48 answers

I'm at My Wit's End Potty Training My Son! Any Advice??

So my little one, who is generally very interested in following the rules, well-behaved etc., and seems to catch on to most things rather quickly is having tremendous issues potty training. We've been working on it for 6 months now, and he's 3 and a half years to the day.

I've tried keeping him in underwear all weekend, and not ONCE has he informed me he has to pee/poop without it happening in his underpants first--we've tried this about 3-4 weekends, and all it seems to do is stress him out, but nothing improves. We are back to pull-ups again, which he treats like diapers.

He will go pee in the toilet when prompted (i.e. when he wakes up in the morning, etc.), but he will never tell me he has to go until after it's already happened. Not once. It literally has never happened. He has never made #2 in the toilet.

I have him in pull-ups, and he just treats them like diapers. But I've also tried just keeping him in underwear for days, and all I end up with is piles of wet/poopy underwear and worse, soiled carpet, couches etc.

I'm really trying not to get upset (or use punitive tactics), but I'm really at wit's end. Bribery (which we don't do much of in our house) doesn't work at all. If you offer him cookies, for instance, if he goes, then he sort of acts like if he gets them, cool, but if not, no big deal (in other words, he doesn't work to get the reward whatsoever). If I offer him a special toy to play with, he just plays with the toy and makes no effort to go, and then the minute I decide we are done, he goes in his pull-ups--literally it's on cue, the minute he is off the toilet, he has a BM in his pull up. If I let him watch TV or read to him or play a game with him on his personal potty, he just gets fully involved in the game until 45 minutes later, and I'm out of the room for something, he goes everywhere BUT the potty.

I'm starting to think it's on purpose, but I also know that I'm at wit's end and not thinking clearly about it probably. Shouldn't we be done by now?? 3.5 years old to the day, and 6 months of trying...this is getting exasperating...

edit: Just to clarify, no, I'm not only trying on the weekends. I am trying all day every day, as is he, but during the week, I can't let him jaunt around in his undies (which he LOVES to wear by the way) because he and I are in and out all day, preschool, shopping, playdates, etc....so he's mostly in pull-ups during the week. On the weekends, when my wife is home to help and are we are generally at home more often, we've been trying different things, such as underwear, letting him play naked near his potty, hanging out in the bathroom, etc., and of course we are prompting him constantly.

edit: also, when I say "punitive", I don't mean like some bad punishment--heck, I don't even do time-outs and almost always a good eye-to-eye talk will do the trick--really, he is a very well behaved child, remarkably so. But obviosly my tactics are not working in this case, possibly because he is simply unable to comply. So today, for instance, after we hung out on the potty for about 30 minutes, and he immediately went upon getting his pull-up back on, I told him I wasn't going to read him a story before naptime. And trust me, that's enough. He was very upset. And to be honest, that's kind of why I wrote this post, because I wasn't sure if that was fair or not, or if it seemed like it would be good idea to motivate him in that way. My gut is telling me no.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

So I want to first thank you to all the helpful moms, the 95% of you who gave me quite a lot of useful advice. One thing I noticed is that it's a pretty even split between "He'll go when he's ready" to "Get him out of diapers/pull-ups right now and train him". THAT is the whole reason for my post, because I'm not sure which direction I'm leaning toward, and I want to make sure my approach is, at the very least, consistent. I'm going to lean toward "He'll go when he's ready," because one thing in particular stood out to me, the person(s) who said the only three things a toddler can control are eating, sleeping, and potty. I'm not used to power struggles with my boy, and this is perhaps what it looks like, or perhaps he just ins't ready yet, or perhaps its some combination in between. I do put him on the potty diligently every half-hour (when we are home), and then he goes immediately after he gets off. I'm not expecting him to run up to me and politely ask where the toilet paper is, but I'm not sure what his refusal to potty until the moment after he gets off the toilet means.

That said, to the few respondents who were, in some cases, extremely sanctimonious and judgmental (and part of me absolutely wonders if you would have been a bit more, uhm, friendly, if I were posting on my wife's acct.), I suggest you digest the previous and realize that this is NOT a cut and dry issue.

Some quotes for those who didn't read all the responses: "Geez, your poor child...have a nice cup of chill-the-hell-out" "your post is exhausting" "your child is probably exasperated with you"

Are these types of judgement calls at all productive or necessary? Do you really think you can judge my parenting based on one desperate plea for help? Quite troubling, and quite surprising, but it is the internet after all. I didn't really know what all these blog posts meant by "mommy wars", but I think I have a clearer idea now, so thank you, at least, for illuminating that strange term I keep hearing about. Ironically, it was my wife's idea for me to ask this forum.

Yes, this is my first go 'round with this. No, I don't have all (any of) the answers. And yes, I am human, and like anyone else, I can get frustrated and exasperated. That doesn't mean that I'm not trying constantly to learn, improve, and do what's best for my son, even if I stumble along the way. So to the ones that got me a step closer to that goal by sharing your experience and wisdom, I thank you.

Featured Answers

Children are not machines. This is not a matter of being a good boy or following the rules. It is a matter of muscle control. It sounds as though he doesn't have the muscle control yet.

I would get some diapers and try again in a week or two. The bigger deal you make it the harder it will become.

4 moms found this helpful

You sound frustrated and I'm sorry for that ~ potty training sucks.

My youngest was a lot like this. I finally put it in his hands. I told him that I wasn't going to beg, bribe or ask him to go on the potty anymore and that when he was ready to use the big boy potty to let me know. He said "Ok, Mom" and looked at me for a few moments and then said "I'll do it on Tuesday". Well...Tuesday came around and when I woke him up I told him it was Tuesday and he said "ok, let's go potty". From there it took us 1 week. It was amazing. No battles, no frustration, very few accidents and one proud little boy. That's all it took for him ~ he needed it to be his decision. He was 3.5

3 moms found this helpful

If it makes you feel any better my son is 3 1/2 also and we been fighting with the "potty issue" also. Right before his 3rd birthday in June he was doing so good. He would run around in his underwear without peeing and pooping in them. He would tell us etc when he had to go. Right in august as soon as his sisters started back to school everything change. He started using the bathroom in his underwear and he stop telling us when he needed to go. I think he went/going threw a phrase where he doing this out for some reason. He understand's everything about going/using the potty but is being hard-headed right now. We just gave up right now. We'll try in a few more months. My daughters wasn't fully potty trained to almost in pre-k(at age 4). Some kids want to be "big kids" and some don't. It takes time.

2 moms found this helpful

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There are two things that children can control in their little lives. One is toileting and one is eating. If you demand and push and stress him, he will fight you by not giving in to toileting.

The more exasperated you are, the harder it's going to be. Stop being exasperated.

Talk to your son's ped. Don't talk about it in front of him.

You know, he's not going to go to college in a pullup. Stop being upset about it. He WILL eventually potty train. The question is, how long are you going to be stressed about it so that your son feels stressed too?

Get to the ped to get advice. Your ped knows your son and can give you good ideas.


5 moms found this helpful

I have a question, are you getting stressed out because you are getting stressed about it, or are you getting so stressed out because of other people commenting on it and their expectations?

My family was driving me crazy about my daughter not being potty trained by 2 years old. Then, again by the time she wasn't fully potty trained by 2.5. Now she's 3 and mostly trained, but we still have our battles.

When other people were stressing me out, I caught myself passing that stress onto my daughter which only made things worse. I talked to her ped who told me not to worry about it, and to just let her do it when she was ready. I put her back in pull ups and as soon as I calmed down about it, she was ready. I also made a potty chart with her to make it fun, and she got a sticker every time she went to the potty. I kept track even when we weren't home and that worked like a charm. Every time she starts going on herself again, we start the potty chart stickers back up and that gets her back on track pretty quickly.

I also notice that my daughter does it for attention. When I start getting busy with other things and not paying as much attention to her, she starts doing it because negative attention is better than no attention. The other day in time out, she said, "mommy, can you come talk to me about why I'm in time-out now" and it broke my heart. Maybe try spending more time with him just having fun and talking. Then the potty training may come easier.

Intelligent children are more work because they know how to work us lol. It's a great thing though, it just needs to be nurtured.

4 moms found this helpful

3 things kids can control... sleeping eating, toileting. Your "little one, who is generally very interested in following the rules" is using his control of using the potty to make you nutty. My best advice is let it go. Tell him that he is the only one that can make pee and poop on the potty and you know that when he's ready he will do that.
The I would put him in underwear and plastic pants. When he has an "accident" be matter of fact and unemotional about it and tell him... "Oh, it looks like you had an peed/pooped in your pants. Better go change." Take him to the bathroom 1 time and show him how to take off his clothes and what to do with them, and let him do it. If you feel like he needs assistance getting cleaned up completely, help him, but make no comments about it. No shaming, no disappointment, just taking care of the mess without emotion attached to it.

He'll get it. He gets so much attention for not going in the potty now. Let him have control and I bet he does it in no time.

ETA: Get rid of the pull-ups. Either stop completely and put him in diapers or go with underwear and plastic pants except for naps or bedtime. (Sleep training is completely different than day training. Don't expect that to happen just because he becomes day trained.)

4 moms found this helpful

Children are not machines. This is not a matter of being a good boy or following the rules. It is a matter of muscle control. It sounds as though he doesn't have the muscle control yet.

I would get some diapers and try again in a week or two. The bigger deal you make it the harder it will become.

4 moms found this helpful

I used bribery - but the usual rewards did not work. Stickers. M&Ms. Small toys. Special toys he could only play with after he used the potty. My son could have cared less.

He was 3 and 1/4. I had to get him potty trained for the little nursery program he was starting. The director of the program was shocked, SHOCKED, that he wasn't potty trained yet. Looking back now, I realize how ridiculous that was.

I decided to get him potty trained in a week. By the end of the week, he was peeing in the potty just fine. Poop, on the other hand, turned into a 4-month struggle. Same stuff you're describing. After sitting on the potty for a while, the minute he was in a pull-up or undies he would poop. Drove me bonkers.

One day I decided I'd had it. I drove him to KMart, took him down the toy aisle and told him he could have ANY toy he wanted as long as he pooped on the potty. After much deliberation, he chose a pricey Transformers set with Bumblebee and Satellite. I bought it, we drove home, and I promptly put the box on the top shelf of my closet. I told my son he could have ONE of the Transformers when he pooped on the potty. He asked after it several times and I repeated my mantra - when you poop on the potty, you may have one of the Transformers.

The next morning he asked me again and I gave the same answer. About half an hour later, I heard him go into the bathroom and sit on the potty. 5 minutes later, magic presto! "Mommy, I pooped in the potty!" He did it perfectly, like he had known how to do it all along (I'm sure he did). I praised him and gave him Bumblebee.

A bit later he asked after the second Transformer. Same routine - when you poop on the potty, yada, yada, yada. Next morning, once again, he did it perfectly and got his second Transformer.

After that, I told him if he pooped on the potty for the rest of the week, I would take him to McDonalds. We did that for a couple weeks and then I was able to drop the bribes altogether. He never had a single accident after that.

We still have Bumblebee and Satellite - my favorite toys ever!

Not sure if this method will work for you, but it really was like a miracle for me. Best of luck!

4 moms found this helpful


This is exhausting, your post was absolutely exhausting.

Give it up for 3 months at MINIMUM

Don't let him wear any underwear
Don't give him a pull up, ONLY diapers

When he notices his friends going potty, he will want to do it too. And who cares if he is 4 or 4 1/2 or 5.......I promise you he will NOT want to go to kindergarten wearing diapers. He knows what to do but this is a big power struggle that HE WON.......why don't parents ever get that they will NEVER win this battle

My daughter responded with the car seat. She wanted to be in a booster seat sooooo bad. That was how I got her out of diapers. She new what she was doing and I knew she had total control. So I asked her what it would take for her to go potty like a big girl; she wanted a booster sear. As soon as I let her pick out her booster seat, she was potty trained, never one accident, and she did it 2 weeks before her 3rd birthday. Now she is 7 and still a devious little girl.

4 moms found this helpful

Eh, neither one of my boys were consistently potty trained til their 4th birthday. Still neither one walked across the stage at their hs graduation in diapers. So turns out, there was no real need for the rush.

Maybe just put the whole thing down entirely for a couple weeks?


4 moms found this helpful

after reading your post and your swh: i see NOTHING wrong with your question. you seem to be intelligent and have a good deal of common sense and empathy for your child.

from what you have described you are doing it about like i did. my son was well past age 3 when he "got it" too. we tried several false starts - and i would give up after a few weeks when it was obvious it wasn't happening. i didn't have anywhere near 6 months worth of fortitude in me lol. but then both my husband and myself were working full time too, and there is just so much time in a day.

the only thing i had left to offer was the every-30-minutes thing, and i saw you did mention that at the end. SO my verdict is, back off of it for a bit. take the pressure off. try again in a few months. yes, not the easiest. but it does seem as though you have tried everything. and it's not from not sticking with it! possibly after 6 months, he's just really stressed out and resistant to it now. my advice then, is to take a break. let him off the hook for awhile, don't talk about it, mention it, or ask him about it. if he asks why he's only wearing pullups, just tell him that there's no more potty training right now. he will either scamper off happy with that, or his little gears will get to spinning and he'll decide he IS ready, since the pressure will be off. but take a vacation, and give him one as well :) then try again. good luck - and don't forget, he WILL get it. be patient!

and um...ignore the holier-than-thou types. seriously. they will happen on most posts. there was a time they didn't know everything too, believe it or not.

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