I Can’t Potty Train My Son

Posted by on Jul 20, 2015 in Behaviour advice column, Potty | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Dear Annie,

We have a wonderful 3-year-old boy that we are at odds with over potty training. The issue is that I can’t potty train my son, or at least both of us are having difficulty. Both my husband and I have been watching for the typical signs of readiness and thought we were ready. My son can explain why he needs to use the potty, and quite often he can tell you that he is ready to use it. He has asked on occasion and will often go to the bathroom to watch when either one of us goes. He is aware of being wet and will sometimes ask to be changed.

We set out with some rewards, such as a sticker book or the odd treat, to offer when we had success. For the first couple of days, we set a timer, and when it went off, we would head off to the potty. We have tried to encourage him to stay on the potty for a bit by using his favourite song as a reason to sit for a few minutes. This was working fine. We praised him for trying and made a big deal out of his successes. We downplayed the accidents that did happen and tried to talk about them. Then came the next day, and since then it has been nothing but tears, with him refusing to even try and then peeing all over the floor after sitting on the potty for 5 minutes.
My husband is currently staying at home with him, and after trying several different avenues, he is really at a loss for what to do next. Perhaps he isn’t ready yet. We don’t obviously want to discourage the training, but I don’t see how the tears and frustration are helping. Do you have any suggestions for us? Thanks Sherry.

I can't potty train my sonDear Sherry,

Thanks for your letter. One of the first things that comes to mind when reading it is that you’ve obviously tried hard to make potty training a positive experience for your little boy, so well done.I think the most likely explanation for your problems is that you may have inadvertently, in your enthusiasm, gone a little too far the other way. What exactly do I mean? Well, I think your son is feeling pressured, and whether it’s negative pressure or positive pressure, as it is in your case, it’s still pressure. Sometimes that causes significant behaviour issues, something I work with through my behaviour intervention service.

Too much pressure

He obviously desperately wants to please you, and he knows that when he’s successful on the potty, he does please you. He also liked those treats. Now he wants to be able to repeat his success, but if he fails, he loses something—your approval and possibly a treat as well. That would explain the tears. After all, how many of us are scared off doing something by the very thought of failure?

So what do you do now? Take the pressure off. Put the ball back in his court. Tell him that you want him to use the potty when he feels ready. Put a pile of pull-ups next to a pile of underwear (new and cool ones, if you can) and praise him when he goes, but don’t overdo it. If he chooses the pull-ups for the time being, that’s fine. He will come around once he feels the pressure is relieved. Either way, if he tries and fails, give him some praise for trying but keep it all fairly muted as he is obviously sensitive. Your goal is to make it comfortable for him to continue trying, and believe me, success will eventually follow. I wouldn’t provide any tangible “treats,” otherwise that again builds pressure. For more help with your parenting, please visit my

parenting services page.

I hope this helps. Best of luck.



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