Help with a Headstrong 4-Year-old!

Updated on August 06, 2008
M.F. asks from Oklahoma City, OK
16 answers

I have an almost 4-year-old daughter who refuses to progress in potty training. I've tried every style of reward/repurcussion I could think of--good, bad, or indifferent.
She will potty on the toilet if I keep her going on a regular basis. She has pooped on the toilet but does not want to continue to do so. I know that our children's actions are not necessarily a reflection on our parenting, but I cannot help but think that I'm doing something wrong, that she's not getting something she needs from me and that's why she won't progress.
Further complicating the situation--my military husband is on a year-long tour to Korea (he was just home for his midtour and has since returned) and my daughter will start full-day 4K school in a two weeks. The teachers are aware of her situation and told me that they would work with her.
My daughter is extremely smart, and extremely headstrong. I have tried reward (sticker charts, suckers), promises of big rewards (toys, dance lessons, etc), punishment (spanks or time out, loss of toys, loss of privileges), and even just rolling with it and not letting it bother me outwardly. This has been an ongoing struggle for nearly a year. She began to potty train almost 2 years ago, her first time on the toilet was on her 2nd birthday and she has showed signs of readiness but not consistently - it's almost like she does not want to let go of that part of her that is a baby, but I've told her that she will always be my baby even if she's a big girl. No dice!
Help! Has anyone had experience with this?

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone for awesome advice - and especially moral support! I had a chat w/my daughter and she relayed to me that she wants to be a grown up, so I know the control aspect is really one of her underlying issues. Today we started panties & plastic pants (they still make those things - amazing!) and no more pull ups during the day. I told her she is too big to wear pullups.

A major problem I have with her is that NOTHING motivates her to conform to standards. I've tried reason, choices, time outs, punishments, taking toys, giving toys, etc; all to no avail. It's especially difficult becuase my son (6) was so very easy. I told him "this is how we do it" and he said "okay."

I trust with love, compassion, and moral support, we will persevere! I hope to tell you all that we have cleared this hurdle very soon. :) M.

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J.D.

answers from Huntsville on

I also have a headstrong son. I have another son who just isn't strong willed, never has been.

From the day he came out, he has just been strong willed. Until I had my second son, I thought it might be my parenting skills as well. I have done nothing differently with either one, they're just very different boys.

If she's anything like my son, she won't do it until she feels like it's her idea. The best way for me to deal with him, is not head on. He absolutely bucks against a power struggle, it's better to get him to do things the long way around, as long as I win.

Sometimes preschool had a better way of dealing with him than I do. She might very well listen to them easily. My son does best when the group does something than when it's demanded.

I don't think you should have negative consequences for accidents, although in frustration I tried that too.

Keep truckin. I know what it's like to raise a child with a strong sense of self, believe me, I know.

He's starting Kindergarten tomorrow, and I hope his will doesn't interfere with his learning.

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A.C.

answers from Lawton on

I am a military mom as well and I potty trained my to oldest while hubby was deployed too! Have you tried just taking away her pull ups or whatever methood you are using and making her clean herself up. She is definitly old enough to do so. (It may be hard at first to let her walk around with stink but once she realizes you are not doing it anymore she will probably cave in you got 2 weeks to do it so get busy,lol. Keep a change of clothes in a reachable space and the laundry basket nearby. Most of the time kids especially her age DO NOT like to be wet or yucky. I had to do this with our son worked like a charm =)Also works sometimes with bedwetting. Also I think being in an environment where all the other kids her age have to go to the bathroom by themselves basically she will probably straighten her act up. Sounds like you have tried all the usual steps don;t be too ahrd on yourself some kids are more stubborn than others =)

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V.V.

answers from Auburn on

Our little boy was approx the same age when he finally potty trained... but his issue was totally about constipation (do you guys battle that?) We finally gave him "Miralax" and stayed close to the potty until this put us on a schedule. This may not be your case, but it was mine and until we remedied that prob, we could never have completed potty training!
Have a blessed day!

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S.J.

answers from Tulsa on

I also have a very headstrong daughter and this is what worked with her....Giving her choices. Many times children feel like they have no contorl over their lives, mom or dad tell them what to wear, when to eat, what to eat, etc. By giving the child choices, they feel like they are in control (when actually, you still are!). The key is to give 2 choices with each question (and ask as many as possible to give them more choices), either choice you are happy with.

Example:
When your daughter tells you she is thirsty, you say:
Would you like the red cup or the orange one?
Would you like juice or milk?
Would you like a lid or a straw?
Would you like to dring it in the kitchen or at the dining room table?

This works with discipline too...
When your daughter shows inappropriate behaviour, you say:
That behaviour is not acceptable in our home (or at church, or at the supermarket, etc.), would you like to spend 5 minutes time out in on your bed or in the dining room chair? If the child refuses to choose, you just up the time and repeat the same question. Again, if they refuse to choose, you just up the time and repeat the same question. Eventually they will see that the time is getting longer and longer and will choose.

The tough part is sticking with it in the beginning. When they refuse to choose (when it's not discipline) or try to give another option, you choose for them and STICK TO IT. This teaches them that if they won't choose from your options that you will take control back and choose for them. It won't take very long until they will choose because they will learn that if they don't you will choose for them and take the control away. If they refuse to choose (when it is discipline) you just keep upping the time and at some point you just stick with it so they will remember the next time that the punishment is worse if they don't choose.

My daughter is now 17 and a wonderful young lady, however, at 2 she was driving me crazy because she was so stubborn and strong willed. This method worked wonders on her, even in her potty training. These children won't do what you want them to do just because you want them to do it, they won't do it until they decide to do it and that can be quite frustrating!

Good luck!!!

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R.B.

answers from New Orleans on

I know how you feel. My daughter was in a similar boat. After moving twice in two years and me being pregnant with my second child, my daughter (who now attends a school for gifted children) did not want to do anything on the toilet. It was like changing a giraffe, as she was so tall! (She was 4 years old as well) I think it was her way of having some sort of "control" over something in her life. I have a nephew that was 5 when he decided to potty train. What I learned was that you can't force them. When it becomes a stressful situation for them, they tend to "cling" to the just say no to potty mantra.All those changes in her life made her regress. She finally became fully potty trained right before the summer of her starting "big girl school". I had to learn to relax about it and stop all the gimmics, and that is what seemed to work best for our family. Best of luck to you, hang in there!

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S.L.

answers from Lake Charles on

M.
Sounds like there are many things going on in her life. Dad is gone, again, school is coming up, I am sure you have already talked about school together. This is a lot for a little four year old to deal with. If it takes you helping her develop the consistency, do so. Remind her to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes or so. Maybe she needs that extra push and that is okay. Try spending some more,mother and daughter days and outings. Make her feel really special. She does not want to go to school in diapers or wet her clothes at school. That would be so traumatic for her. All children are different. Because one is potty trained at two, does not mean all children are. Just her daddy leaving is an emotional change and set back. Just continue to work with her and let her know that everything is going to be okay. She will probably do better at the potty training when she sees all the other children go to the bathroom on their own.

Let us know how it goes
S. Miller

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L.W.

answers from Auburn on

I'm no expert, but when I was sure my daughter was just hanging on to her old ways and could use the toilet just fine, I took her diapers away. She sat in front of the cupboard where they'd been kept for a few minutes wailing, "I want my diapers," and then gave up. She is now a well-adjusted 14-year-old young lady.

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D.H.

answers from Fayetteville on

Hi M.,

This is what we are doing. My 2 1/2 year old is pulling the same stuff. She was doing well, even pooping in the big girl potty..then nothing! She will not tell me she has to go. SO we are doiing a combination of giving her choices and ditching the pull ups for everything but naps and bedtime. Each time we put on the panties, I explain her choices, tell me when you have to go...or get messy (an I make sure I am not immediately available to help her get squaeky clean). She doesn't like her wet or icky panties (and neither do I) but after a week of consistent action on my part, I'd say we were running 70/30 in my favor. We discuss using the potty each time there is an accident (which I handle as calmly & without blame as I can muster)as we are cleaning up and the tears abate.

Oh..and I use the new Duo spot cleaner by Spray and Wash....it takes out anything! Just don't let it sit on colors for more than a few minutes or it strips it a little, but right before wash is fine. Good luck!

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A.M.

answers from Oklahoma City on

Hi M.,

I think the fact that she is starting school now you should take that opportunity to tune her mind by set up practice sessions and give on-the-spot guidance;e.g now you are a big girl, you are going to school in two weeks. School kids don't wear pull-ups, however if you have to wear pull-ups while at school this is what is going to happen: If you do it in the pull-ups you are making everyone know that you did it because you are going to make the whole classroom stincky;there are consequences for that. First you make others uncomfortable, they may make you uncomfortable too; you are going to embarass yourself, perhaps friends will shy away from you.
(make sure she is not scared though). Let us practice not to wear pull-ups now before school day starts so that by the time school comes you will be ready and out of pull-ups!!! If she is smart and excited about going to school, chances are she may listen to you now better and or be willingly to try to go without pull-ups. Try to have a sessions of conversations about the issue now and then until the school day, so that she thinks about it constantly-relate her problems with school readiness; tell her how good it is going to be and feel when she is out of pull-ups- the teachers will love it , you will love it and she will enjoy not wearing pull-ups too. If you are buying her some new cloth or any other items for school including the back-pack, let her see how she has grown that now she has to put her new school stuff in her back-pack, let her know that no one carries pull-ups in their back-pack to school. I am sure when she starts school, she will be willingly to get out of pull-ups because she will soon learn that its not only mommy who is bothered by my pull-ups issue but the teachers too!!! So keep trying harder to deliver those last minute messages/sessions of getting ready for school. By the way, I am looking for an editor, I work from home too and I have a project I am working on which I may need an editor. Let me know and update us on your daughter's progress too.

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J.C.

answers from Jackson on

I am having the exact same problem! My husband is full-time military, fortunately he is home right now, but has to travel frequently. Jillian, who was 3 in February, refuses to potty train - she peepees no matter what we do - whether we leave her naked, keep her in pull-ups, or put her in "big girl" panties. Her 3-year-old kindergarten starts in 3 weeks, and they won't take her if she's not potty trained! HELP! I can't wait to read the advice people send you, maybe I can get some pointers as well. M., you have all my empathy. Feel free to cry on my shoulder anytime!
Good luck and God bless,
Barbara

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A.K.

answers from Tulsa on

I had trouble potty training Jeff because we would strated and he would get sick, I wonder if the absence of her father after the short visit had anything to do with your problems. She may not know how to voice her feels about her father and is taking control of what she can. I get Jeff train when my sister took him for a week there was seven people at her house who was always asking hem if he need that bathroom. Do you have a sister or someone who might be able to give this a try. I hope this helps some.

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B.W.

answers from Oklahoma City on

It sounds as if you have tried many recommended suggestions. As a Child Development Specialist, this is what I'd recommend. I would tell her that this is VERY serious, when she has an accident, it means that she is NOT getting enough rest. I'd make her go lay down on her bed for one hour and go to bed right after dinner. If she gets up, which a strong willed child will do, calmly walk her back to bed and say "It's time to rest' or "It's bedtime." The most strong willed 4-year-old I ever worked with had to be walked back to bed for several hours before she understood that mom was the leader of the family and she would have to comply. I've had great results with this method. Just don't start it until you are prepared to win the power struggle. She needs your love and your leadership! You can do it!!!

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T.P.

answers from Little Rock on

I had a very similar problem with my son. I had given up hope that I would every potty train him when someone told me that I should let him go naked while he is at home. I know this sounds strange, but I had tried everything, just like you have, so I figured it couldn't hurt. We did this for a week and he used the potty everytime and he had no accidents. After that week, he started wearing his big boy underwear all the time and we haven't had any problems since.

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J.J.

answers from Tulsa on

M.,
Hello. Children can regress for a number of reasons, especially if Daddy is away.

I know my daughter was doing good with potty training too about 22 months old and then her Daddy started traveling and we had a major regression, at that point I did just go back to diapers from pull-ups too. What worked for us was moving to regular underwear and a few other tips I have. I let her pick her underwear out at the store and our motto is to keep them "clean and dry", we say this every time we put our underwear on, I tell her she did a good job keeping them "clean and dry" when we go to use the potty (if they are), and remind her again when we pull them up after she uses the potty. Find about 3 days when you can just stay at home or in your neighborhood. I would take her to the potty - to just try every hour and then explain that she won't have to go so often if he starts to tell you when she has to go pee or poop. I would still be aware of the time; children do get busy playing and don't want to stop. So, if it's been over 2 hours, I'd just say it's time to try to pee or poop.

Accidents will happen, and I never made a big deal out of it; however, it was my daughter that had to clean it up - meaning, she had to take her own shorts and underwear off, wipe herself clean and if it got on anything else like the floor, I gave her a wet cloth to clean it up (of course sometimes I would still need to go over it more), and then she had to carry her wet clothes to the washing machine, come back wash her hands and get re-dressed. I would ask, "Where do we put our pee and poop?" She would say, "In Potty" and I said "That's right, let's do that next time." I have always been kind and understanding (even when I just asked if she needed to go potty), and just talked her through each step of clean up. It's just natural consequences. After about two days of having to fully clean up after herself, I think she'll start using the potty again.

Then again, seeing other kids using the potty does motivate too. So, it's really just up to you (but, if that doesn't work for some reason, you won't have the same time as you do this summer to work on it). I would move to underwear and have her clean herself when accidents do occur, but that's just me. Sorry this is so long, hope it's helpful. Best of luck to you.
~ J.

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M.L.

answers from Fayetteville on

It doesn't make any sense to me, but stress does make it harder for them to accomplish potty training. We have had issues with my daughter as well. We started before she was two and were not day trained until after she turned 3. She is 5 now and has shown no signs of becoming night-trained anytime soon. I know that we had and still have in some ways a lot of stress in our life. I was pregnant with my second during much of her potty training and then when that daughter was born she had health issues and I was gone a lot with her at the hospital. I know that I stressed over it too much and if I had it to do over again I would have just waited longer to work on it. That being said, now that your daughter is 4, it does seem like she does need to work on this. My daughter progressed greatly with her training by my mom and mil when I was sitting in the hospital with her little sister who was very sick. So, perhaps the fact that the K teachers are willing to help work on it is the best thing possible. It might just be that she needs a neutral person to help her figure this out. One who doesn't have all the emotions tied up into it. I hope it works for you. It sounds like you have plenty of stress right now too with your husband gone. I admire you, I don't think I could do that well at all.
M.

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A.G.

answers from Tulsa on

You are not going to believe this but I have identical twin girls turning 4 in oct both of them refuse to poop in the potty both are very headstrong and i can tell you you are doing nothing wrong.. Some children that are bright and headstrong will spin your wheels mine are very bright and I have done everything I know to do mine are starting preschool because their birthday is too late so lucky me i have another year to solve this problem If you want to email me directly it is [email protected]____.com

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