8 Moms Reveal The *One Thing* That Helped Their Stubborn 4-Year-Old Use The Potty

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My son just turned 4. In my opinion, that's a big achievement. In four years he’s learned the alphabet and his numbers up to 100. He knows his colors and shapes, including obscure ones like trapezoids. The kid can tell you the difference between a skid steer, a bulldozer, and a cement mixer. He can identify car brands, like Volkswagon and Porsche. But here’s one thing he hasn’t learned yet: how to use a damn toilet. Which begs the question, how do moms get older kids to use the potty?

I’ve met many a mom who swore she knew the secret to potty training while not always fully recognizing or acknowledging that every child is different. Some have suggested potty charts and even apps, and while my son enjoys using the these methods once in a while, it’s not enough incentive for him to be consistent about it. Others have recommended bribes, like M&Ms, but my kid is surprisingly not easily swayed by the promise of free chocolate (my how far the acorn falls from the tree).

So what is the secret to finally getting my kiddo out of diapers? Other moms chimed in on what worked best for them:

Jen, 31

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“For us we didn’t ‘train.’ It happened when the kiddo(s) were ready. Each kid was a bit different. My oldest, we would try and encourage and have naked days for a few in a row, then we’d quit and try again a few months later. One day, it just happened. So second child, I asked if he was interested and never even tried until he said yes, and I think it was a one day thing. He just did it. I don’t recall many if any accidents. My third woke up one day and decided she didn’t want to wear diapers. That was that. No training, guiding, encouraging, or anything.”

Beth, 39

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“Oh man. It involved newspaper on the floor…”

Kat, 35

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“I literally gave up and the kids in her school all started going so she decided she didn't want to be left behind and did it on her own. She didn't like me telling her what to do, but she really didn't like being the last one who didn't in her school.”

Liz, 32

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“Mine was 3.5 when he said, ‘I think I want to wear underpants.’ That was it, he was potty trained. If only I’d known in the several months of bribery, arguing, pleading.”

Shana, 34

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“I let her choose for a long time whether to wear undies or diapers. I think giving her the choice made it less of a power struggle, because she was in control. After a day trip where she wore a diaper all day, she woke up the next morning and we mutually decided to ditch diapers for good. We did a potty chart once she was in undies full time to keep her motivated, but she hasn't had a diaper on since that day. She was 3 years and 2 months.”

Sarah, 35

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“Honestly, there were no tricks. She had been terrified of releasing into any potty of any kind for over two years prior to that, and we had tried it all. Finally, one day she asked when she could wear the princess undies we had purchased long ago, and I said, ‘When you’re ready to do pee and poopy on the potty.’ And that was that.

She was still terrified when she actually peed the first time (her first successful pee on the potty of any amount was then, at just about 4) and she screamed the whole damn time like she thought she was going to die, but then it was over and she was fine. She was fully trained with little effort from me, including night trained, within two weeks from that first pee. The bonus of a late trainer is they have that bladder control down pat, so you’re likelier to skip the ‘accident’ phase.”

Kathryn, 36

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“We tried the whole candy when you potty thing. We limit sugar, so it worked well for my oldest. It didn't work at ALL for my Emma. Turns out, she hates chocolate and basically all candy. Once we started a sticker chart so she could earn trolls, she pottied like a pro. All she needed was the right motivation.”

Mary Beth, 30

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“My daughter is a little older than 3.5, and we first tried potty training at 22 months. We had two pretty catastrophic failures at potty training in a pretty traditional way (three days in underpants, trying every so often, stickers, candy, etc). Shortly before 3 she said she wanted to wear underpants. She's been in underpants for waking hours for going on eight months now, and I still wouldn't say she's ‘trained.’ She has frequent accidents and poops in her pants nearly daily. We still try various things, but what we've actually had a modicum of success with is what I'm calling the ‘your body your choice’ method. We don't make her try or coax or bribe. Every once in a while we ask if she has to go and remind her of her choices: ‘If you choose not to go potty, you are choosing to clean up an accident. Are you OK with that?’ But we try to make it clear that it is totally up to her and it makes no difference to us where she pees and poops.”

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.