Potty Training a Strong-Willed Child

It’s been almost 1 year since we started potty training with Jude and things are finally starting to click.
Maybe we started before he was ready.
Maybe we started before I was ready.
Maybe our technique wasn’t right.
Maybe, maybe, maybe….
 
Everyone said, “Don’t worry, he’ll get it when he gets it.”
 
I doubted them. I was certain I’d be the mom with a 18 yr old still wearing a pull-up. But alas they were right and my 3.5 yr old doesn’t wear diapers anymore. (He does wear the occasional pull-up at night and when we are gone from the house for a long time.)
 
So how did we get here? Why did it take so long? What did we do that finally clicked?
 
Here’s what we tried:
3-day potty training boot camp
candy rewards
potty charts
pull-ups
underwear
no underwear
peer pressure
examples
songs
books
little potty chairs
potty seats for the big toilet
prizes
videos
etc….
 
What did NOT Work:
3-day potty training boot camp
candy rewards
potty charts
pull-ups
underwear
no underwear
peer pressure
examples
songs
books
little potty chairs
potty seats for the big toilet
prizes
videos
etc….
What DID Work:
persistence
patience
 
I know that’s not much of a consolation but it’s true.
 
However, here are few tricks that can help if you have a strong-willed and spirited child that you are trying to potty train.
 
1. Practice Makes Perfect – Jude had to be comfortable doing every step of using the potty by himself without assistance. So the first few months of potty training was him learning about the potty, learning about underwear, learning about feeling wet… He had to be able to take off his pants, use the potty, wipe, flush, put on his pants, and wash his hands ALL by himself before he was ready. Bonus for me because I don’t have to help him now.
 
2. Positive Reinforcement – Potty training is a whole new experience and Jude needs to be constantly encouraged that he is doing the right thing. Joe and I gossip to each other, within earshot of Jude, about how great of a job Jude is doing using the potty. I tell Jude how great he’s doing when he uses the potty. When he seems apprehensive about going to the bathroom I encourage him and let him know that he CAN do it. Words are a mighty powerful tool.
 
3. Don’t Ask, Tell – No is a popular word among toddlers and preschoolers. Jude just went through a phase where everything was NO until it was his idea. 
 
“Jude, do you want a snack?”
“No, I don’t want a snack. I want a snack mama.”
*sigh
 
“Jude, do you have to use the potty?”
“No, I don’t have to use the potty.”
(pees on the floor)
*sigh
 
So instead of asking if he has to use the potty, I tell him to go use the potty. It’s not a a question, it’s a directive.
 
4. Seize the Opportunity – Regular reward systems didn’t work for Jude. Giving him an M&M each time he used the potty was hit or miss. He would rather keep playing than stop to use the potty for 1 M&M. Sticker charts also didn’t work for the same reason. He’s a child with ever changing needs so what was influential yesterday may be old news today. So I learned to use his “wants” as opportunity to use the potty. 
 
“Mama can I have a snack?”
“Sure, go use the potty first.”
 
“Mama can I play outside?
“Sure, go use the potty first.”
 
“Mama can I watch TV?”
“Sure, go use the potty first.”
 
You get the point. Every time he asked to do something he had to earn the right by using the potty (or at least trying).
 
5. Giving Space While Being There – Toddler/Preschool age kids are in a hard spot. They long for independence (I can do it by myself!) yet also long for our help and approval. I let Jude know I’m there to help and encourage him but try to give him the space he needs to feel independent. This usually means I tell him, “Let’s go use the potty.” grab his hand and encourage him as we walk to the bathroom. When we get into the bathroom I sit on the side of the tub while he does all the work and wait for him to ask for help if needed. He knows I’m there to help but I’m not forcing myself into the situation. On the occasion he goes to the potty by himself I usually take a pass by the bathroom just to ensure everything is going smoothly.
 
I’m no expert on potty training and each child is different but these are the things that have helped us and I thought they might be helpful to others. Potty training can be very challenging not only for the child but the parents as well.
We are still on this journey but I can’t tell you how elated I am over the recent progress.
 
What techniques worked for your child when you were potty training?
 

Jessica is a family lifestyle blogger living in Raleigh, NC with her husband and four sons (7, 4, 3 and 1). Jessica started thebkeepsushonest.com in November of 2009, but has been blogging since 2003. Jessica writes about family life, recipes, travel and products for families. She is also a Work-from-home-mom who manages marketing and social media for a local accounting company.

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3 thoughts on “Potty Training a Strong-Willed Child

  1. Kris

    I stumbled upon this post in a moment of desperate need. This post sounds so much like what I’m going through right now with my 3 1/4 yr old. It’s comforting to know other moms who have tried every type of reward when it looks like we’ll just be one of those who takes longer to get it. Everyone keeps telling me the same thing too so I’m holding onto your persistence and patience advice!

    Reply
  2. Chanin

    Hey there, thank you for this post! I googled “Potty training a spirited child” and your post was the most interesting sounding one. Of course, it’s right on with my daughter and our situation. I was slowly coming to the same conclusions you came to but feel extra supported having read your thoughts. Thank you! What a ride these kiddos are!

    Reply
    1. jessicalieb Post author

      Thanks. I will say that all of my children have been very different when it comes to potty training. My oldest (the strong willed child) took forever for him to completely potty train with 0 accidents. But my second child practically potty trained himself in 2 days. Now number 3 is asserting his strong will as we once again tackle potty training.
      The best advice I have when it comes to potty training is to do what is best for your child.
      Good luck!

      Reply

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