Potty Training- Is Punishment Appropriate?

Updated on July 31, 2013
F.B. asks from Kew Gardens, NY
26 answers

Mamas & Papas-

DS is nearly 3. He is capable of using the potty, goes when taken, and sometimes asks to go. Unfortunately, within the past week or so, he's taken to deliberately pulling off his pull ups and peeing on the floor. These are not accidents, but his idea of either being funny, or being naughty. Making him clean up isn't having a corrective effect as he quite likes cleaning up. We've talked about how pee is dirty and we mustn't pee on the floor or anywhere but the toilet as we might get sick. It's sort of sinking in.

Our next thought is to put him in immediate time out for deliberately peeing the floor. He is purposely breaking a house rule. My only concern is, there is a lot of guidance not to use punishment in connection with potty training, so as not to cause withholding, etc.

What do you think?
Thanks in advance,
F. B.

PS- I mistakenly wrote diaper at first in the question. In fact, he is in pull ups.

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So What Happened?

stickers and reward charts have lost their appeal. bare bottom commando just encourages this naughtiness. m&m's and other sweets don't have much currency. DS had a bad case of rash after being in underpants with plastic liners. daycare won't take him in underpants until he is further along. showering is not viewed as an inconvenience, neither is cleaning up the mess. will try to think up other currency for him, as he is a tough nut to crack.

F. B.

Featured Answers



answers from Baton Rouge on

Punishing him for peeing on the floor is not the same as punishing him for an accident.
Whenhe pees on the floor, he KNOWS that it's unacceptable.
Time out for peeing on the floor is a perfectly reasonable response.

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answers from Portland on

This doesn't sound like it's a potty training issue. I suggest he's doing this to get attention. So I would be very mtter of fact about it. Give him no attention when this happens. Just clean it up, put the pull up back on. Be distant in the way you interact with him so he knows that this isn't fun but don't punish or reward by spending time on it.

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answers from Houston on

I agree on the diaper thing. I would just say, ' mommy is putting you in diapers till you are really ready' then I would do it and move on. Good luck!

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answers from New York on

No more diapers. Put him in big boy underwear and take him to the potty every hour or so. Give him a treat for using the potty (a couple m&ms worked wonders at my house) and let him know that he's a big boy and big boys always use the potty. People don't pee or poop on the floor. Period.

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answers from Los Angeles on

While I completely understand how you must feel, punishment shouldn't
be connected w/potty training as it will have the opposite effect.
I agree w/the other poster............
I would not put diapers on him anymore but put him in underwear instead.
This gives a different feel.
He's still young. Boys tend to "get it more" at age 3 1/2 due to development.
Hang in there.
Put him in underwear.
Take him to the potty often.
Have him pee or try to pee in toilet at home before you go to a store.
When in the store, take him into the ladies bathroom & have him try to
pee before you go.
When he does pee on the floor, just tell him "no" then take him to change.
Try not to say too much negative or otherwise. This takes the attention
out of it.
Hang in there & give it another 6 months & you'll be on your way. :)

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answers from Dallas on

Well, my 2 cents. put the diaper back on him. Take pull ups away and give it time.
While he is capable, goes, etc. it is not the same as being ready. He isn't.

If we doesn't want diapers, explain to him why he can't use unders or pull ups.

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answers from Dallas on

I have a son and I guess some do this and some don't. He's figured out how his boy part works and it's innovative and amusing (like a garden hose). He can't do it with a diaper on, so he takes it off. What about big boy underwear?...show him how the opening works before he puts them on and that he needs to use that in the bathroom and aim in the toilet (Cheerios for practice). Let him know he can do pee all he wants as long as its in the toilet. Remind him he is a big boy now, he can walk, wash his hands, turn the lights on, even clean his pee, etc., he can wear the big boy undies and be a big boy. He will be excited and redirect his amusement to the toilet. If he continues to mess with the floors, don't make it a big deal - tell him - 'you know how to clean it up, tell me when you are done' and walk away. Don't hover and watch him do it or help. Once he completes the task, ask him to wash his hands and remind him that he has to pee in the toilet next time. Once you are calm (many minutes later), while he is playing, just remind him - 'remember you have big boy underwear, you are a big boy and can use the toilet' 'how can I help you remember so you don't have to spend time cleaning?.' It takes a lot of patience, and redirection. He is learning his own body and discovering it, so take deep breaths and help him think about his actions, use his ideas, tell him you feel proud when he uses the toilet, helps with keeping his room tidy, all those good things about him and finish again with using the toilet - he feels proud when he uses the toilet. I think some boys don't really care for gross/we can get sick thing...at least for mine - even now - redirecting, asking him what he did - he needs to realize what he did was wrong - and then pointing out all the positive things about him, his actions, helps more.

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answers from Dallas on

Pull ups or underwear may help if he's actually wearing diapers. If he's just not moving fast enough, that I wouldn't punish. My son had a period of time where he peed on the floor cause he wasn't quick enough - he pulled his pants down and it just shot out.

Now, if he's just dropping pants and peeing on the floor on purpose - that's not a potty training thing to me, that's just being bad. Make THAT about the damage and mess, not about pottying. Make it about him not respecting his home, so he gets toys taken away. If he can't be nice he doesn't get to have/do nice things. That way it's not about the pottying, it's about the damaging.

Make sure he's just not being too slow, though. That needs a bit of training instead of punishment.

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answers from St. Louis on

Why is he still in diapers? Seems to me a possibility is he knows he has to pee, knows he needs to take off his diaper, takes it off not realizing that the minute it hits the cold air, he will pee? Diapers produce a harsh temperature change that underwear do not.

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answers from New York on

Ask him why he enjoys doing that. Did he see it on TV/in a movie? So many movies show men going against a wall, etc. Explain the differences between that and the floor of your home.

If you can find out specifics about why he thinks the floor is fun, maybe you can make the potty more fun for him. (Does he usually sit on potty but stand to use floor - maybe it's the novelty of standing to go.)

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answers from Raleigh on

To me it's a question of whether the child knows better or not. If he/she knows better, then punishment is appropriate. I do sit my daughter in time out for her "accidents". I put that in quotes because she recently started peeing in her beanbag while watching TV. If she got up immediately and ran to the bathroom, or came and got me after her accident, that's one thing. But she likes to hide the beanbag after the fact, or sometimes just sits in it (yuck!). In the latter case, she sits in time out.

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answers from Chicago on

My first thought was " WHAT?"

Punishment rarely work to begin with, and you should never start a power struggle around toilet training. Positive attention is essential here.

No more pull ups. He knows how to do it, so just say " pee and poop go in the potty." When he has an accident, give him a shower. He'll quickly figure out he'd rather pause play and use the toilet.

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answers from Chicago on

I've literally tried everything there is with potty training. My DS is 5. Sometimes he'll do exactly what you've described...even today. (We started "training" him at 3).

Bottom line...don't waste your efforts or frustration.
I've fought this battle, and nothing can make him do what you want.

So make him clean it up...even if he doesn't care. And then say nothing more.
That's been my approach. I disocvered that only 1 of us was stressing about this...and it wasn't him.

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answers from Washington DC on

Oh, F. B.....I am feeling your pain! It's very tough to have a kid his age who doesn't seem to have a "currency" that can be used to persuade him to act appropriately. I have been there!

Usually I'd say never associate punishment with pottying but that would apply to a kid who is still learning or who is having genuine, can't-help-it, played-too-long accidents. It seems clear that you know for sure he's doing this entirely because he knows he CAN do it. So it's all about two things for him, I wager -- one is control; he can do it so he does it and no one can stop his pee from flowing but himself. The second thing is attention; I think you probably know that he does it because it gets such a rise out of mommy. Even if you are staying pretty calm and having him clean up, or giving him time outs, it's still attention.

Do you think it might work with him if you give him, as the British say, a "short, sharp shock" -- in this case, utterly going cold on him and withdrawing attention to the point you walk away? What I mean here is: He pees. You either see it or he gleefully points it out. You say nothing at all but turn your back to him and walk into another room and shut the door, saying then: "I can't talk to you when you behave that way. I will come back when I am ready to talk to you about this." It sounds really cold but for some kids, who have no currency in terms of either positive (sticker chart, reward, M&M) or negative (taking away things, time outs) results, seeing mom just shut down and leave can really throw figurative cold water on them.

It is likely he might be shocked at first but then either cry and scream for you, or pound on the door, etc. I would let it go for a very short time.He is old enough to know you are still there in the house; I would never do this with a younger kid who still isn't sure an adult is actually there when the adult leaves the room.

Yes, he should still clean up later, but since it's pee and not poop, I'd let it go a few minutes while I did an instant, almost wordless, cold retreat. Every single time consistently. He might respond to that after a time. Yes, you do have to go back to him and make him help clean up pretty quickly or he might shrug and move on to the next thing, still wet....Or...he might start to pee more or poop on the floor to get you back...Only you can know if it might work to withdraw entirely for a short time as soon as he does it.

I found, when my daughter was little, that saying calmly, "I can't talk to you when you do that/say that, I will be back to talk when you have calmed down/I am ready to talk about this" would often be much, much more effective than either getting cross with her or trying to explain too much. Especially once the child is truly old enough and smart enough to know that what he or she is doing is wrong, and the child is doing it entirely on purpose for attention (negative attention is still attention)...When that's the case, it might help to use the cold shoulder as the initial reaction. That would sometimes shock my daughter, who was used to getting heaps of positive attention, into realizing she needed to stop the behavior immediately.

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answers from New York on

My pediatrician was very clear with me that each child learns at his own rate and punishment should not be part of it. It is a control and attention thing to be sure, so I was told you simply tell your child I know you can do this so when you are ready, do. She said you really have no concerns about it until after 4, so you're well within safety. Daycare makes this very difficult for us to be sure. But too early training can cause all sort of bladder infections and so on (though holding it in does not seem to be your problem!) Personally I would not punish. MY DD was a week shy of her 4th birthday before she decided to go diaper free and use the potty full time (nights included; hurray!), and we have had less than 10 accidents in all, so I am definitely in favor of waiting for him to be ready. Go back to diapers if necessary. Good luck! It's such a tough stage, especially when you add (Parental) peer pressure and daycare demands.

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answers from Sacramento on

Get rid of the pull-ups. I suspect your kiddo is doing it because of the reaction he gets from you or another caregiver. On this you need to give him matter of fact reactions only. Have him clean up but don't give any attention for it. He probably likes cleaning up because you are helping. I would not use punishment for this because natural consequences work better. He's already doing a negative behavior for attention, so more negative attention will not help.

I would also focus on giving him positive attention in general. There's a great book out there called How to Behave So Your Kids Will Too. It gives lots of good tips about extinguishing (negative) attention seeking behavior.

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answers from Chicago on

Deliberate action on his part: Removoal of X, due to bad behavior.

For example. If my son has a bad day he is not allowed to watch TV.. so removal of TV for a day is his "punishment" .

What would you do for any undesired behavior, how would you set up the punishment? What would you take away?

His action is not so much in the training part, but more behavior. Hence a small punishment is perhaps needed.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

You're not punishing him for a potty training accident, you are in fact punishing him for peeing on the floor or pooping on the floor.

I'd probably swat his hiney and tell him that's not nice and I don't like it. Once he sees you are really mad he will stop.

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answers from Jacksonville on

When my son was potty training he would go in his room, take off his shorts and underwear, pee on the floor in front of his dresser and then put on clean shorts and underwear. It took about 3 times before I decided to heck with the no punishment while potty training rule and started giving him time outs. I think he only went into time out 1 or 2 times before he got it.

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answers from Lakeland on

It's time to take away things he likes when you know he deliberately went pee on the floor. As parents we can usually know the difference between an accident (they are usually in front of the toilet when this happens) and when they just wont go into the bathroom.

He needs some kind of consequence when he just pee's on the floor. Maybe take away a favorite toy or no TV.

Sounds like he does know when to go and is just testing his boundaries. If he were not going at all on the toilet then I would say to not punish him. I would also keep giving a reward when he does use the toilet.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I guess if you saw my post about potty training he might just be doing it for a reaction. I think that is my issue and need to just ignore the negative and celebrate the positive. I think the idea of trying to establish if there is another reason behind it makes sense too. Love it when they test you!

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answers from Miami on

Nope. Not a good idea. Instead, go BACK to diapers and duct tape them so that he can't pull them off. YOU direct the pottying because he isn't using the potty.

Boys are notorius in regards to not really pottying as early as girls. Not quite 3 is still on the young side for a boy. He is showing you that he wants to control himself. Smart little boy you've got, mama, but you get to be the boss of where he pees. SO... take away the ability to pull the pants off. This will work a ton better than punishing him. Time out will NOT work for you on this.

Remember that kids literally have no control over anything in their little lives other than eating and pottying. And they can have accidents galore when they want to feel like they are controlling themselves, including withholding. All three things, toileting where they aren't supposed to, withholding and having accidents are just forms of trying to assert control.

After a month of diapers and duct tape, I suspect he'll be so ready to go back to having more freedom in regards to his pants, that he'll do better for you. Go back to the diapers and escorting him to the toilet every hour.

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answers from Washington DC on

Yes, my kids would have been punished for that, at his age, he knows better. Both of my boys were potty trained at 3, and they absolutely knew what was right and wrong.

What worked with both of my boys was something they wanted and being able to give it to them and take it away. We took the to Target and let them buy whatever toy they wanted - of course we directed them in the under $20 range, but something big enough it had an impact. My youngest picked a big Buzz Lightyear. He sat on our black table under the TV until my son used the restroom. If he had an accident, he had to put his toy back until he went in the potty again. It was incentive.

Candy and stickers didn't work for my kids at all.

Interestingly enough, when my same son was giving his babysitter last summer a bad time, we had two bowls. One started with 5 candies (his pick) and if they were all in there when we got home, he got to eat them, but also get an extra surprise. A Wii game, extra outside time, sometimes a trip to get ice cream. If he didn't have all 5, he only got to eat what he had, and he had no extra reward. If he had none left, he was in trouble and punished.

You have to find what works for him, and it may not work tomorrow just because it works today.

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answers from Phoenix on

When I was potty training, we used M&M's. I put a big jar of them in the bathroom, on a shelf up high above the toilet. The kids could see the candy in there and every time they went, they got 4 M&M's. My kids didn't get candy any other time, so this was a big deal and they were fully potty trained quickly. Good luck.

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answers from Seattle on

Have you tried the ol' naked butt routine? Wear nothing and keep a potty chair nearby.

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answers from Williamsport on

I heard the "never be negative whatsoever during potty training" thing too...and I tired it with my first. For many many long months while ages 2 and 2 1/2 slipped by into almost 3-ville while my very intelligent daughter just couldn't make that hurdle.... She ran me ragged deliberately making messes and not using the potty. I was complaining to my husband at the time (traveling) on the phone how sick I was of being in the bathroom and cleaning up pee for months and she knew what to do and she just wasn't...the rewards...the attention...I also had a newborn...I was worn out...he felt maybe she just didn't get it...

Finally he came home and saw the first time she blatantly refused to go when I asked her, refused to sit on the potty, and then peed on the couch five minutes later.

Before I could blink my husband lost his nut and angrily yelled, "YOU DO NOT EVER DO THAT YOU ARE A BIG GIRL, YOU USE THE POTTY!!!!!!" She felt horrible and busted out crying of course.

And she never had trouble using the potty again. Not a single other mess was made. She was a beam of sunshine the very next time she had to go and used the potty and we all partied and celebrated with her.

I had way less patience for second two once they understood the drill and it went much quicker. My grandma who recently passed away at 92, god bless her, was quoted (when she was appalled my 2 1/2 year old wasn't trained) for saying "Parents today are such sissies, all kids used to be trained before age 2 before these ridiculous disposable diapers".

I think some kids pass a point where they are "ready" and start to get more and more stubborn. My daughter seemed ready at about 18 months, but I waited feeling she was too young. It got harder and harder the older she got.

Personally, if he's three and on the verge of daycare independence and is already capable of using the potty, but he's deliberately doing that to be funny or naughty, I would absolutely discipline him along with a very stern reprimand. That's bad behavior, potty-related or not. You could warn him in advance and maybe it won't come to trauma during a potty episode. He'll feel much better about himself if he gets past this than if you stick him back in diapers.

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