Toilet Training Troubles

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Behaviour advice column, Potty | No Comments

Is your child having toilet training troubles?

This letter is from a mom in Spain who is having toilet training troubles with her two-year-old and asks what to do with her son, who won’t ask to use the potty on his own.

I’ve been on the road to potty training my 34-month-old, and it’s taking a while, so I have decided to use a chart and see if that helps, at least at home. We live in Spain, and here they start preschool in the year that they turn 3, so my little one started “big school” last week, having gone up from the local nursery, where he has been since 15 months. He’s almost three, so he is really one of the very youngest.

We started potty training a bit at home, nice and slow, getting the potty out regularly, talking about it, and seeing mummy and daddy do their wee and poo in the toilet (he was fascinated by “stand up wees” and “sit down wees” and is happy to do both himself). He has now also done a poo at home and while out at a cafe in the toilet (when prompted), so he has no fear of using other toilets, etc. He just won’t ask to go, and since starting big school, he won’t go when they ask him to either. They kind of expect them all to be ready by age 3, and so they also won’t change his nappy, meaning that they call me up when he has done a poo to come and change him. Luckily for me, I work from home only 5 minutes away. I think it has caused a bit of a setback for him.

When at home, he spends some time out of nappies as it’s nice and warm here, but he will often just wee anywhere but the potty, and sometimes right next to it, and he won’t go to the loo. We’ve been doing this for a couple of months now, which seems like quite a while…

And so, to cut to the chase, do you have any further advice on how to make a breakthrough?


Hi Sarah,

toilet training troublesToilet troubles:  potty training issues are often about control.

Potty training issues often de facto become control issues and that’s because potty training coincides with the period that a child is beginning a drive for independence.  Let’s remember though that we’re talking about minor and transitory independence, the kind of ‘let me show you mommy I can get my boots on” kind of independence.  Many people mistake this as a drive for real independence and think that they ought to give their two year or three year old lots of choice in determining how their lives go.  See my article on should you give toddlers choices here for more info.

To solve toilet troubles, take a look at how he is the rest of the time.

It sounds to me like your little boy has decided to see how much impact he can have, and he’s beginning to test it out (by saying no and not going when the potty is available). I don’t know your family, so I’m going to suggest a course of action here, and you can see what it is and how it applies to you. My suggestion is this: If you try and have a battle with him, you will fail because his body is in control, so it’s important to see, in light of what I’ve said above, how you’re doing on other fronts. Does he go to bed when asked? Does he eat normally or refuse to eat a number of foods? Are you offering too many choices, etc.? Examine the rest of your life and your interactions with him to determine who is in charge. If he’s running you more than you are running him, then you need to get that sorted first and leave the potty thing on the back burner because that’s what will determine his potty success, and that’s what is causing his potty reticence.

To help toilet troubles, take the pressure off.

If that’s not the case and you’re firmly captaining your own family ship and you don’t have to look at any other area, then all I can suggest is that you take off the pressure. You’d want to do that anyway. I still think he’s too young to get too excited about his recalcitrance at this point. It’s still perfectly within the bounds of reasonable, as he has to want to go.

Get him on board another way.

I would resist being in too much of a hurry, but if things don’t change over the longer term, here’s something you can do. The best way to proceed as he grows older is to make wearing pants more pleasurable and enjoyable than wearing nappies. That means letting him have some nice underwear, but if he makes a mess, make no comment, clean it up, and then stick him in a nappy when at home, especially now that it’s cooler. Tell him you’re happy to take him home from nursery if he makes a mess, but then, ooops, he misses some nursery, and that’s so much fun!

Emphasize all the things he’s missed, but in a nonchalant way, i.e., don’t make a big deal of it. Take a little longer than necessary to change him, so he misses some or all of nursery a few times. At the same time, don’t pay much attention to him when he comes home for a nappy change. Be entirely boring! You want him to understand that staying at the nursery is more enjoyable and that missing it because he needs his nappy changed is not worth his time. Only experience will teach him that.

All the best and good luck.  If you’d like to read more about potty training see this article about what to do with a child who won’t sit on the potty.


Do you have siblings that fight? Check out Annie the Nanny’s letter to one mom on how to stop fighting.

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