Potty Traning Advise for My Very Stubborn 4 Year Old:-)

Updated on July 13, 2008
S.B. asks from East Barre, VT
14 answers

I am having a such a battle with my 4 year old daughter. She does not want to go on the potty! She has done it a couple times and knows how to do it, but just won't! I have tried everything...stickers, treats, toys, bribing her and even just putting her in underpants...she doesn't care, she just goes and changes them. Nothing is working and when I ask her why she says she wants to wait until she is bigger. So I am looking for any advise to help with this battle.

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answers from Providence on

It may be her way of getting extra attention. That is not to say she does not get a lot of attention already...but children will do things for a reaction, good or bad, just to be the focus of others around them. You say things are crazy...this may be one way of her getting things to slow down. It is also a way for her to stay the baby. Good Luck.

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answers from Hartford on

Hi, I work at a daycare! I have 10 3year olds in my class and have been called the potty training queen!! You have 3 choices 1. you can stop everything for now and wait for her to want to go ( your in a power struggle ) shes winning. 2 you can put her in underwear with a diaper over it this way she will be wet and uncomfortable. I would remove all underwear except for 1 or 2 pairs, tell her they are all dirty. She needs to be in charge of changing herself and cleaning herself this was her choice, ignore it do not put any focus on it. When she tells you shes wet simply say o.k go take care of it, and go about your business, you will have to put on new diaper.( this will also help with amount of wet clothes ) This is what pediatrians have recomended to alot of parents I no which is your 3 choice talk to him or her and see what they recomend. I send kids to the potty every hour even just to try This is what they have to do before they can play , or do other things!! good luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Have you asked her pediatrician for advice? I haven't really started the toilet-training in earnest with my little guy so I can't speak from personal experience but in reading up on it for him I was frightened by the potential ramifications of pushing too hard so you may want to ask a pro. My sister has four and she had this struggle with her last one (a girl) so I'll tell you how she handled it, which seemed kind of harsh but worked: She started with a 'bye-bye diapers' party, celebrating the fact that she was a big enough girl to stop using her clothes as a toilet. This worked for a few days and then the underwear started being soiled. She would then leave just two pairs for her, one to start the day in and one for accidents. If there was a second 'accident', that was it, she had to do without for the rest of the day. My sis said putting her in outfits she really liked helped, since her daughter didn't want to ruin those. She wasn't allowed to leave the house with no underwear, so by the afternoon when her sibs were going off to the pool or the playground she wasn't allowed to go since she wasn't appropriately dressed. This method worked in about 8 to 10 days. Good luck!



answers from Boston on

My daughter wasn't ready at three, but we were. We kept telling her that when she was 3 she was going to wear underwear every day. Then we switched her into it and only let her wear a pull-up for nighttime and nap. She was pretty good about peeing on the potty, but not pooping. Finally we told her that we weren't going to talk about it many more. She would get her reward for going (jellybeans) but I wasn't going to ask her if she had to go (pee or poop), I wouldn't get mad if she had an accident, I was just totally neutral about the whole process. Within three of four days she was almost entirely potty trained (with the occasional accident, of course). She just needed to be in charge. The hardest part was retraining myself not to say anything when I was sure she had to go. Good luck.



answers from Boston on

I would plan a fun event bowling, teddy bear work shop etc. that is close to home with all the girls. Sit down and explain (your oldest ones will find this funny) that the rules of the fun event are that you must be potty trained and explain that potty trained means all the time. Don't get mad if the first event she chooses not to go on the potty and you have to leave her home and bring the other girls. Just calmly explain that she did not follow the rules and hopefully next time she will be able to go. If you give in she will know she doesn't have to do as asked. It will break your heart to leave her at home but if you are firm and consistent she will get it and see you are serious and she'll want to go next time and not want to miss out on the fun....I have found the best way to get either of my children to act or do something in a way I want it is to praise the other one for that action that I like, it always turns into Mommy I can do that too :0) and it leaves out the stress of getting mad which with two stubborn children (mine) never gets me far!!!



answers from Boston on

You probably won't like my advice but it sounds like she is just not ready. I would lay off the topic completely for now. When she does show more signs of being interested, I suggest taking a weekend and leaving her without anything on, and putting the potty seat somewhere she's comfortable. Just tell her to listen to her body and go when she needs to. Do not ask her if she needs to go, give her control. Don't use a lot of pressure, bribing etc. Lots of praise for success - clean up accidents without saying anything. Whatever you do, try not to show your frustrations! Good luck.



answers from Providence on

My son was 3 and not potty trained and it made me crazy that he would pee in the toilet but that was it. He would hide to poop.He knew exactly what he was doing. I tried all the rewarding but that did not work for me. I knew how much he loved t.v. time because it was already pretty limited so I actually told him he wouldn't get any tv until he pooped in the toilet.It worked immediately.Every day he would get his tv time when he went.There were a few accidents and some crying but I stuck to it.Some kids I know this still wouldn't work but usually there is something they love enough that they'll make the effort for. Good Luck T.



answers from Boston on

Hi S.,
I was, and am still, having similar issues with my little one. Ours is a little more involved with behavioral acting outbut I thought I would send you the responses I received from Mamasource as well as my postings. Hope they help. Good luck.

My posting:
Uncooperative 4-year old having fits at bedtime & waketime
From: C. M Date: Wed. Apr. 09, 2008
I have a four-year old spit fire of a little girl. She is funny and extremely spirited. We have been having behavioral problems, I want to say since we moved to our new home last August. It started out with peeing her pants and bed after she was potty trained for a few months. We had her tested and she does not appear to have any physical issues. We have gone back to pull ups at night and deal with the accidents during the day. She doesn't have accidents every day and rarely, if ever, at day care. It's almost always with my husband and myself and is blatant refusal to go. My doctor said she senses anxiety in her and wants to get her evaluated. We are happy to get the eval. done. We want to make sure she will be up for kindergarten and won't be too overwhelmed, she will just be five when school starts and is maybe too young yet. She also got a late start with hearing due to constant earaches and subsequent tubes. She has a difficult time sitting still, attention span is lacking.
The latest issue is her bedtime and waketime routine. She doesn't fall asleep until about 11 p.m. and when we try to wake her it takes two of us about an hour. She kicks and whines and fights the whole way. We don't have the time for that in the morning and it is taking its toll on both of us. Every morning I leave the house upset, sometimes with her in tears. My husband and I are usually both late for work and frazzled by the time we get there, we both have decent commutes, his one hour, mine thrity minutes. Then before you know it it's night time and it's the bedtime battle all over again. I have taken advice from mamasource contributors and kept her up later and that seems to help, but then in the morning she's even more tired. We are at our witts end and really want to make life easier for all of us. Look forward to hearing what you have to say. Thank you.

A little about me:

Married mother of one four-year old. Work full time, go to school part time at night, have a mother with colorectal cancer.

What Happened?:
Thank you to everyone who lent a kind and helpful word, I am very grateful for Mamasource.

We decided to take our daughter to a Pediatric Behavioral Clinic where a team of four doctors evaluated the three of us in four sessions. Today we went to get the results. They concluded that our daughter is behind in her fine-motor skills. That she acts more like a 3-4 year old, if that, than a 4-5 year old. They said she is definitely not ready for kindergarten, nor organized team sports. She doesn't have good pencil holding skills, she is still difficult to understand and her attention span is incredibly short. They said that her anxiety level is due to her inability to concentrate and to actually do the task at hand, therefore she gets into mischief in order to distract us away from the task at hand. They have suggested we have her evaluated at our public school and try to get her involved in speech pathology and other therapy through a pre-school program.

We were also told that potty accidents are very common in kids with short attention spans and that it is not her fault.

It was a relief to hear this, my husband and I feel that we can finally lay off with the understanding that we are not doing her a disservice. She is not at the level we thought she was and putting any pressure on her is only going to make things worse. We need to treat her at her level and give her the attention she needs, as well as encourage and celebrate all the things she is good at to help build her self esteem.

We are hopeful that with dedication, empathy, love and help from the school system our little girl will one day be ready to take on tasks with confidence and little anxiety...and stay dry at night :)

Thanks again for all your input.

Responses (10)

Heather F Date: Fri. Apr. 11, 2008
I have 4 young children, and one of them has had 'fits' like that too - waking up screaming every morning for months on end, & going to bed was a nightmare. Especially when she was 3 and 4, it is much better now (she's 5). It really added a lot of tension to our lives. But your daughter sounds like maybe she just wants more time from you? Eleven at night is too late. I had to solve the problem by laying down with her (at 7:30 or 8) til she fell asleep, or holding her hand in the dark while she fell asleep - she just seemed to need more than the average child - more contact. Also, I allowed her to sleep in my bed ONLY IF she fell asleep in her own bed, and if she woke up at night, she was always, and still is always, welcome to sleep in our bed. Honestly, it was really really REALLY tough at times to be that connected to her, during the only time I had to myself, and my husband and I had to ourselves - but she really seemed to need it, and she has THANKFULLY grown out of it. And grown out of it with grace. I really wish you good luck. It was so hard to live through, and I feel so relieved to be on the other side of that.

From: Amy F Date: Thu. Apr. 10, 2008

Is she still napping at all during the day? i find that with my 4 year old girl, if she even falls asleep for 5-10 minutes during the day that it takes her FOREVER to fall asleep at night. The first place I would start would be her bedtime. 11pm is way too late for a toddler to go to sleep. i would think that 8:30 is the latest they should be asleep by. The next thing I would suggest, if you don't already have it, is put a routine in place for bedtime and awake time. The majority of kids THRIVE on routine. If you have a regular bedtime routine she may start falling asleep sooner. We do bathtime at about 6:55 and she is in bed by 7:15-7:20 and then i read her 1 book. i leave a nightlight on and the light in her fishtank on so she has enough light to look at books while she is in her bed.

Also, pay attention to what she is eating before bedtime, maybe she is getting too much sugar that is keeping her up till 11pm. Also, you may want to talk to you doctor about her melatonin levels. Some kids don't produce enough and thus they aren't sleepy at night so they stay up. There are some safe herbs out there that can help, Chammomile, catnip (I know, sounds weird but it is supposed to help). but if she is checked by your doc and has a low level of melatonin then she can take actuial melatonin that will help her sleep.

Hope some of these suggestions help. Good luck!


Diane B Date: Thu. Apr. 10, 2008
Wow - this is tough. It may be a phase that will go away on its own, but in the meantime, you're all frazzled. I think the fact that she is exhausted tells you the main problem. There is no way a kid that age can sleep just 8 hours (11 to 7?) and be able to function. Can you identify what is keeping her from sleeping? Some kids are sensitive to stimuli - maybe something that provides "white noise" like a small fan or one of those air filters would block out any random house noises that keep her up. When are you and your husband going to bed? I know that working parents use the evenings for dishes and laundry and other chores, but would it help if everyone went to bed earlier with a calming pre-bed routine, and then you two just got up earlier if necessary, without waking her, to do some chores? Obviously you can't go to bed at 7 PM but maybe if the house got quieter and darker earlier than 11 PM, it would settle her down.

I would definitely not focus on kindergarten right now - that adds to your anxiety. If she's ready, fine. If not, wait a year. Do NOT let anyone pressure you into it by discussing her academic ability - kindergarten readiness is never about intellect, and it's all about social and emotional issues.

Is there any reason you can't keep her in a pull up during the day? At 4, the other kids won't really notice, will they? The day care provider can help you decide this.

I think the main thing is to try to eliminate the battles - it could be a power struggle, an emotional phase, a developmental milestone, anything. An evaluation is a good idea which may give you some insight. Otherwise you

Does she still have earaches or something similar going on? That can make lying down a problem. If she has focus issues, try Reliv's nutritional product for kids. It has DHA as well as wonderful nutrition - DHA is the "brain food" that helps with attention span as well as brain development. By supporting the immune system, it can help with ear issues, any sinus stuff that may go on and make night-time breathing a problem, and it just keeps the kid healthier in general - reduce or eliminate colds, etc. It's a fantastic company with a great humanitarian mission as well as patented food products - There are only about 13 patents in the US for food, and Reliv has 6 of them - so there is NOTHING out there like them! I can connect you with tons of parents whose kids have improved once they got on Reliv - just hear their stories and you'll have some hope!

The adult products are great for general health and disease prevention but also might be a great benefit for your mother who has colorectal cancer. One Reliv product also helps cut off blood supply to abnormal cells.

Whatever you do, the battles have to stop so she can calm down and get to sleep and face the day. And you two need a break. I understand that the battles are designed to get everyone out of the house on time, and you can't just sit around and let her sleep until she is good and ready to wake up. But obviously she is very tired and not functioning well. Good luck and feel free to write back!

Anissa G Date: Thu. Apr. 10, 2008
keep her sugar intake to a bare minimum after dinner. keep a good bedtime routine and Melatonin is a godsend.. also keep the house a quiet as you can after 7pm. Shut off ALL TV at dinnertime sometimes they have a hardtime to unwind and noise or flashing light( even tv) will stimulate then enough to keep thier little brains just going. It has all Helped Emensly with mr 4yr old daughter. and has she had a behavior evaluation? get a refferal from your peditrician... maybe she has anxiety? I'm waiting for an evaluation here can't wait.

Maureen B Date: Thu. Apr. 10, 2008
I am unsure of why you are keeping her up late, you mention that you took that advice from another mamasourcer? Do you have trouble with her bedtime routine? Maybe trying out a new routine would work? Children at age four need between 10-12 hours of sleep at night. I think she will not get up because she is so overtired. Have you tried starting her bedtime routine early, like at 6:00 or 6:30, that way she is asleep by 8:00, than you might have a better chance of waking her because she will be close to getting her full amount of sleep. I work as a preschool teacher of 3 and 4 year olds, have my own 3 year old, and have seen the effects of sleep deprevation first hand. If it works for your schedule, I would try putting her down early, so she can get in her 10+ hours of sleep each night. Godd luck and I hope everything works out.

Erin C Date: Thu. Apr. 10, 2008
I know it sounds contrary to what you would think, but my son and daughter both always sleep better when they go to bed earlier. They are both always in bed by 7 p.m. I discovered when my son was just a few months old that this works because I put him to bed a little early one night and he slept through the night for the first time! Worked ever since. Any nights that he has to go to bed later for any reason, he usually wakes up earlier in the morning and is cranky all day. It is tough when you are working, but it is worth the peace to get them to sleep earlier! There are some days it feels like I barely got home and we are already starting bedtime.

Try to keep your bedtime routine consistent and don't argue. I know it is hard -- I am dealing with a resistant four year old right now too. I won't let myself get into it with him though. When he starts to act up, whine, etc. I say one (nothing else, just one), if it continues I say two, etc. He knows now that if I get to three there is a consequence which is normally a time out but sometimes (like at bedtime) when I get to two I will state what the consequence will be when I get to three and that usually stops it. For example, after I say two: "If I have to say three, you go to bed right this minute without stories." Our favorite part of the day is bedtime stories and his acting up time is usually in the bathroom just before bed (potty, teeth brushing, etc.) so that consequence usually works like a charm. If you do say three though you have to stick with the consequence whether you want to or not or it will never work again.

Another line that works really well on my son to stop the whining: "You must be really tired. You only sound like that when you are tired. Do you need to go to bed now?" Stops the whining in a pinch. And now when he gets hurt or is whining for any reason, he comes to me and says "I need to go to bed!"

Good luck and I share your pain!


What can I do next?
C. F Date: Wed. Apr. 09, 2008
Hi C.,
The best resource I have ever read on sleep issues is "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I'm a mom of 6, soon to 7, and I've used this book over and over for various sleep issues. It saved my sanity a few times. In fact, they should start paying me royalties since I recommend it so much! One key thing is that keeping her up later in an effort to make her fall asleep better, though it's what common sense tells us, actually often has the opposite effect. He says to actually make their bedtime earlier, and you'll have better success. The more tired they get, the harder time they have falling asleep. Give this book a read -- he walks you step by step through the whole process of training and retraining. Good luck. I know how hard it is to be sleep-deprived and to deal with children who are as well. Hang in there!

Pam R Date: Wed. Apr. 09, 2008
My four yr old son also has trouble at bedtime. The one thing I've found is that the nights when he's in bed by 7, he does great...no fighting, no tears, just straight to sleep. The later we are, the worse he is. Maybe you could try to have dinner by six and in bed by 7? The nightime routine is so hard when your rushing in the door from work and trying to figure out dinner.

Now the morning I have no advice for you on, I wish I had that problem!

Good luck

Charlene P Date: Wed. Apr. 09, 2008

Is she napping at daycare? If so, you should find out if she can just have quiet time at a table: coloring, reading,drawing, etc... instead of sleeping. That may make her more tired for night time. When she is up until 11 pm at night, what are her activities until she does fall asleep? Is she laying quietly on her bed, listening to some nighttime lullabies or quietly looking at books vs. out of her bed w/ bright lights on and actively moving around? I have never tried it with my children or myself, but I hear warm milk before bed might help (just make sure you brush her teeth after the milk). And on weekends, you should try to continue with similar bedtime routines and similar bed time or else her body will adjust to staying up late during the week if she is allowed to stay up late on the weekends. Good luck. I feel your pain and frustration as I also work full-time and try to get a 3-yo and a 5-yo out the door by 7 am.



answers from Hartford on

Hi S.. My 4 yr old has a sticker chart. He has pooping issues so every time he poops, he gets to put a sticker up for that day. If he gets a sticker every day and no X's (accidents in underwear)we go to the dollar store on Saturday and he gets to pick a prize. We've been doing this for a while and he has thrived on this method. Good luck. She'll "get it" soon.



answers from Boston on

I think your daughter probably needs the issue to be de-intensified and less focus put on it. Maybe you can discuss with your pediatrician, but potty training seems to be one of the things in life that eventually does happen and the less stress on the child the better. Good Luck!



answers from Boston on

Who is taking care of her during the time you are away? Seems to me that this is a big chunk of "missing" time that you have to allot for and see what's going on in the potty department..... If I were you, I would take the pressure off for now (but I am a SAHM). She may be fearful that you are going to treat her differently or (God forbid) send her to preschool immediately when she uses the toilet (don't laugh - my youngest had this fear). Peer pressure is good in this department. Plan a playdate with a potty trained kid and let her see how the "big kids" go into the bathroom alone, etc... Good luck!



answers from Hartford on

Hi S.,

My daughter was 3yr9mos and had very little interest in potty training. Finally one day during the summer, I dressed her in a long tee shirt to cover her, but nothing else. I put the potty seat outside (so I didn't have to deal with accidents inside) and brought a big jug of water out which I continually had her drink. After about an hour she had to go pee, but would not sit on the potty. She screamed for a pullup but I stood strong. I continued with the water and after about 2 1/2 hours she couldn't take it any longer. With her screaming and crying, I finally just plopped her down on the seat and she went. We all clapped and cheered and made a big deal. She then realized it was no big deal and was so proud of herself. We kept her outside most of the day just in case, but she never had an accident and basically was trained from that day on. It definitely helped that my daughter was super girly and didn't like to be dirty, therefore would never pee on herself! I think I was lucky in that regard. I wouldn't stress too much though. My husband kept pushing me to get her trained, but she wasn't ready before that. Her preschool teacher was fine with it, and told me not to push her. When she's ready, she's ready. Some kids are just late. Try not to stress too much! Good luck!



answers from Boston on

Hi S. - I think it's pretty obvious that your young one wants to remain just that.... The young one! She's the baby and is trying to make sure she stays that way.

SO - I say ignore the potty training completely. Forget it. Instead, make sure she's told what a big girl she is whenever it's appropriate.

Make sure everyone in the family is on the "big girl" bandwagon too - no treating her like a "baby", no baby talk, no whining, etc...

Once she realizes that being a big girl is ok, she'll want to be one! And then that will include peeing on the potty, etc...

Don't worry, she won't graduate high school in diapers!



answers from Hartford on

i say drop the issue for a month. she may do it on her own. both my boys wanted to do it themselves, once we stopped pushing they did it.
is she going to school & needs to be? if so you can let her know that she can't go if she isn't potty trained. as long as it's the truth. but i would still give her some time without mentioning it and see what happens, you may be surprised.
good luck! wishing you many willing potty visits!

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