Almost 4 Yr Old Girl Not Potty Trained

Updated on September 21, 2011
M.G. asks from Portland, OR
17 answers

My almost 4 yr old daughter was using the potty for pooping since she was 18 months but she wouldn't pee in the potty. When she turned 3, I tried putting her in panties but she would get very upset when she had pee accidents, so we stayed in pull-ups. Recently, we moved, and she regressed to not even using the potty for pooping. She still does not seem to be able to anticipate needing to pee.
I did everything (potty story books, stickers, treats, timed potty breaks) short of cutting out the pull-ups completely. I decided to put her in panties again. But not only is she not using the potty, she doesn't even care if she is wet or soiled! So we went back to pull-ups. I tried timing potty breaks again and using rewards but she would throw a big fuss. Now that she's almost 4, is it time for me to stick to panties only even though she is refusing to use the toilet?
I am concerned because no day care or preschool would take her because she's not potty trained. Even activity classes require kids to be potty trained by 3. I'm mostly concerned about day time.

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answers from Columbus on

I agree with others...just take away the pullups...I would set a date with her too so she can know it is going to happen. Make it a matter of fact thing, no emotions. If she wets/poops...have her clean up...take care of things and then go on with life. Maybe get a small hamper/garbage can for in the bathroom for the wet/dirty clothes/undies so she has a place to put them till they go to get washed. She will get it. My girls and my son were all late training but they got it very fast when they did!



answers from Salt Lake City on

In addition to what Becky said, if she is very communicative and responsive in conversation....I would explain it to her.
Let her know she won't be able to go to preschool, stay over night with relatives anymore, do the fun things she enjoys if she doesn't make a sincere effort to use the big girl potty. Sometimes when it's rationalized out the things they are missing out on they seem more eager to put forth some effort.

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answers from Seattle on

Your daughter is wanting to make her own decision. As long as she feels it is your project, she will refuse and resist. When you praise or reward you manipulate her and she knows it.

Get her cotton all in one diapers so she feels the result of going in her diaper. Tell her that she can stay in diapers as long as she wants and drop the subject. When she is sure that you don't care, she will stay with it for a bit longer just to be absolutely certain that you really really don't care and that it is really up to her. Then she will just get out of diapers of her own free will.

When she does get out of diapers: Be careful. Don't make a fuss. Don't even show interest. Don't praise don't do anything special. The praise and rewards technique tells a child that it is your project. Many children can't stand that. They want to be in charge of their body and decide for themselves. You got an independent child. Enjoy.

N. Aldort Ph.D.
Author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves
Internationally published parenting advice columnist and speaker

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I strongly agree with Naomi's suggestion of putting her back in cloth diapers. She can feel she's wet while not leaving stains/puddles on furniture. It's not fun for her to be wet.

I see a lot of discussion regarding power struggles. In my experience, power struggles can be minimized if we let this be the child's learning experience and don't internalize it for ourselves. This means not punishing and being very matter-of-fact about cleanup. At my preschool--as well as at home with my 3 y.o. son-- I treat accidents as such: if it's pee, they are asked to change their clothes and given a plastic bag to put them in. (They sometimes need help getting the bag to stay open, so I do assist in holding it for them to put their pee clothes in.) I ask the child to change themselves independently. For soiled pants, I help, partially because I believe it is demeaning and upsetting to some children to have to handle feces and also because this usually requires more cleanup. I do, however, have the child help with other things like holding doors open, taking the plastic bag of cleanup rags to the laundry, etc. If there's a puddle on the floor, children can help to get a bucket and mop or sponges, and when the mess is cleaned up, they are asked to use a dry rag to dry the wet areas on the floor, to ensure it isn't slippery. (I usually just ask them to dry the floor so no one slips, to "keep their friend/family safe".)

I am also of the belief, after years of working with little ones, that children need to be TOLD to go use the toilet once every 2.5 hours or so, not asked. "Do you need to use the potty?" leads to a lot of reasons to say no: playing, exerting autonomy, unfamiliarity with one's own body's cues. Instead, I tell the kids that they need to use the toilet. (This is depending on their degree of needing help, of course.) Noncompliance? "I need you to sit in this chair until you are ready to sit on the potty." and follow through. And I never have them sit for more than 4-5 minutes. You can use a timer and walk away, leaving the child with a book if need be. Kids sometimes like company, and sometimes want privacy; the point of this is to help them relax,which facilitates elimination. Chances are, if they sit on the potty and nothing comes out, but then go play and pee/poop their pants, they are having some trouble relaxing on the potty or are feeling pressure to "produce", which is an indicator that some sort of power struggle is in fact going on.

We don't want to "Conquer" our children, but to give them the emotional room to work through this challenge--even if it is their own stubbornness--on their own. The ultimate consequence IS the wet/soiled pants and their own frustration with themselves. If we get involved emotionally, we often get in the way of them figuring this out for themselves and the results being more long-lasting.

I've found that for many kids, both stickers/rewards AND punishments prolong the process and increase the cause for power struggles. ("I peed. I want a sticker." mom:"No, I can't see the pee." etc.) The pull-ups are, in my opinion, one of the most parent/child enabling devices in delaying success on the toilet as well.

I do understand your concern around preschool/classes, and what I have to say is this: there are programs out there who take kids who are in the process of toilet learning. I certainly do. Some larger centers have different state guidelines around this, but smaller programs may not, so look around. A toilet-learning child will likely need the support a smaller program can offer.

Lastly, and this is important, if you can emotionally extract yourself from the process and let this be her lesson to learn, just acknowledging when she makes it to the toilet on time and not giving much attention to wet diapers (and they really do need to be diapers-- my son got a choice of cloth diapers or training underpants, both choices help the child understand the connection of wetting and being wet and uncomfortable). If you are the only one motivated-- you will be doing all the work. She's going to have to figure out on her own what her internal motivation is. Trust me on this.:)

Best wishes!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Yep, put her in panties and make HER clean up her mess. If she poops, make HER take the panties off, make HER dump the poop in the toilet and make HER rinse them out, wash up, and get new clothes. No more waffling, take the diapers away and put her in underwear. IF there are no underlying problems, there isn o reason she can't use the toilet. Its a control thing now and you need to take back control and not give her a choice. IF she has an accident, make HER clean it up, wipe pee off the floor (with your help of course) and make her clean herself up and get new clothes, and rinse out the dirty ones. When she realizes its much easier (and quicker) to use the toilet, she will. And when she realizes mom won't bribe her or get upset, there is no struggle. Just tell her to clean herself up and wash her clothes out, toss her a rag to wipe up the floor, and walk away.

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answers from Portland on

Hi M. G,

A little girl I used to nanny refused to go in the toilet even though she was trained. In fact, when her mom brought her to the house I watched her at, she told her mom to leave the panties at home because I would make her wear them and she didn't want to go in the toilet!

She is now 11 years old and is doing wonderfully. She didn't completely toilet train until she was almost 5. In hindsight, I wouldn't have put the panties on her. She turned out fine. She finally decided to go #2 on the toilet consistently when her mom told her that she couldn't go to lunch-a-bunch after preschool until she did her business on the toilet. Ta-Da! She needed something to be worth it to her.

Every child is different and they all get trained. Some very young, most around 2 or 3, and some as late as 4 and 5. I wouldn't stress about it. Especially if it makes you both miserable.

Best wishes to you and your daughter!

~P. G.
LCC, Culture Care Au pair
Owner, Portland Preschool Directory
Author, Mrs. G.'s Kindergarten

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answers from Portland on

I can relate to your situation, and without boring you with the details, I would recommend that you speak to your pediatrician about it as well if you have not already. At the age of 5 we began to have "regression" so to speak with little remorse/concern on her part and I thought is was mostly behavioral (i.e., she was too busy and didn't want to take the time to pee or she was doing the whole control thing)...turns out, to my surprise, that she had been mildy constipated; constipated enough to distend her colon. As the doctor put it, the caboose wasn't coming out. That distention puts pressure on the bladder causing sudden urges that are not always controllable. And additionally that distention also impacts sensation - she basically wasn't able to feel the urge until it was too late. So we addressed it with Miralax and reminders every 2-3 hrs. We did this for nearly 3 months and have weaned her off the Miralax now and she has been dry and clean. Every once is a while, we'll have a bit of damp undies and I will give her some Miralax again for a few days.
Talk to your Ped. You may be getting frustrated and creating battles over something that is not behavioral at all. I sure was surprised.

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answers from New York on

If there is nothing medically wrong with her then it is time to put your foot down, put up with the mess and stop going back and forth to pull-ups. Show her the pull-ups are done, make her change herself as messy as it is, she will get really tired of the inconvenience. When she soils herself, of course you will have to help her but when you do NO CONVERSATION. Just clean her up and put underwear back on her. Once she realizes this is no longer going to get her attention and you are not going to give in she will do it, she will have no choice. It may take a few days, but if you stick close to home and give it the time it needs she will do it. Again not to much conversation she knows what she needs to do she is just being defiant, if you do not show any emotion she may realize she isn't getting to you. I know it is difficult but it needs to be done.

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answers from New York on

At almost 4, she is not a toddler anymore. Unless there is a medical problem, she is simply not complying with expected behavior - being defiant. Pullups make her not feel wet. Put her in cloth diapers or multi layer cloth training pants with waterproof outer layer/plastic pants. Then take her to the toilet consistently every hour and a half or so. Do not ask if she wants or has to go, it's not a choice, it is expected behavior. Do not use a "pottie" - they are for toddlers, she is almost 4 years old. I would not give rewards, it's not an option, it is expected behavior, not something she can choose to do or not. Pull ups are not training pants, so if she needs to be diapered, there are less expensive options.

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answers from Chicago on

I am in the process of potty training my 2.5 year old, and I read a book called Diaper free by Age 3. They encourage parents to completely stop using diapers and pull ups, since kids usually dont mind being wet in those. They also say that by the time the kids are 2, 3, or older, you are going to have a power struggle with them. We had a rough start, and I kept telling myself to be as stubborn as she was! So one day when she refused to sit on the potty then wet her undies, I told her, sorry now that your undies are wet you'll have to have a bare bottom for the rest of the day. Well she was not about to pee or poop with nothing on, so sure enough she ran to the potty chair and went every time. That was about 2 weeks ago, and now she wear underwear all the time except diapers at night, and only has about 1 accident per day. I agree with the other moms who said, don't give her a lot of attention over it when she messes her underwear. And definitely get rid of the pull-ups... she will not make any progress as long as she has them. Be strong and be as stubborn as she's being! Good luck!!!

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answers from Seattle on

When I had kids, someone told me that there are three things you can not make a child do, eat, sleep, and pee or poop, sigh. I found that very true.

My son was past four and still not potty trained. Being very laid back in this department, I was not bothered by this. I went to introduce him to his new 4 year preschool teacher--pre the year starting. We were talking within ear shot of Matthew and I told her that he was still in diapers. She told me that she usually did not take children in diapers.

Well all his buddies were going into that class and there was no way that he was going to be left behind. So he was completely trained over night. It was the easiest thing that I never did. He wanted it when he wanted it. (it happens to be his learning style by the way)

Perhaps you need to find something that is as motivating for your child. Peer pressure in this instance was very effective. Good luck.

I have just read the responses, and have one remark about the power struggle. If you choose to go into a power struggle, make sure you win. Do not give up. The path that I chose was easier because my son made the decision to do it. There was no struggle.

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answers from Bellingham on

Hi, I had a similar problem with my child except she would not go at all. I tried everything. What I ended up doing is stripping her down naked for a couple of days. I tried this as a last resort and what I found out was having training pants or regular panties made her feel secure to go even if it was running down her leg. Running around naked she would not go and then began begging me to put her underwear on and I knew she had to go because she was dancing around trying to hold it . Anyway I forced her to sit down and she ended up going on the potty then of course I made a huge deal about it singing, cheering, dancing etc. She is doing wonderfully peeing now. We are still working on pooping but we are making progress. She was almost 4 too. Hope this helps.



answers from Wichita Falls on

my daughter was 3 1/2 before she potty trained..she was so against it..and wouldnt do it for nothing..what worked for us was i bought her something i really knew she wanted..and put up a sticker chart..and told her every time she pee pee in the potty she got 1 sticker and every time she poop in the potty she got 2 and when she filled up her chart she got that toy she wanted..and it worked like a charm..we had the toy right besdie the sticker chart so she could see it and hold it..she wanted to open it a couple times but i kept telling her you have to wait until you get all of your stcikers



answers from Dothan on

I previously had the same issues with my 4 yr old daughter. She would go urinate in the potty no problem, but when she had to have a stool movement she demanded a diaper! She wouldn't go for up to five days if I didn't give in to her desire for a diaper. She would cry endlessly when she did finally go to the bathroom in the daiper for being constipated for not having a normal bowel movement. I asked the pediatrician what to do and his reply was a reward type calendar. This didn't work unfortunately, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. It wasn't she couldn't go to the potty she didn't want to go to the potty. She had to have the diaper as some sort of security blanket so to speak. So the first week instead of begging or demanding her go to the potty, we compromised! I know I would say don't ever but when its got to do with my child's well being and my sanity I did what I had to, I bargained with her! She could have a diaper as long as she just sat on the potty with her diaper on. That worked so the next week I bargained some more, and we agreed she would sat on the potty with her daiper only fastened on one worked! The next week she sat on the potty with a daiper but not fastened at all! The next week I started mentioning that we were about to run out of diapers and that she needed to decide if she could be a big girl all the time or still needed more daipers. The last week I am very proud to say we said goodbye to diapers! I still have a pack in my closet as a matter of fact lol! It was overcoming her fears one lil step at a time. She had already had bowel movements in the potty prior to this and then one day she decided she wasn't going to have bowel movements in the potty anymore. I was horrified to say the least and tried everything the pediatrician and even magazines suggested and nothing worked. This was what I found to work best in my situation and I wish you all the best in yours and pray that this helps you~!



answers from Anchorage on

So far what she has learned is that she does not have to use the potty because you will always give her back her pull ups, which are her comfort zone. The first day my son was in undies (just before he turned 2)he had 13 accidents, and wanted his pull up, but I said no, and the next day he had 2 accidents, and than none. This is going to take longer now because she has learned you will give in if she holds out, so it may take a few days for her to figure out you are serious this time and that her pull ups are gone.

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