There was a time when I was absolutely, 100 percent convinced that I would be that legendary mother whose child actually went to college in diapers. Both of my children were late to train, but one of them was particularly resistant to potty training, to the point where I was close to tears with every pack of pull-ups I bought. Sound familiar? Then rest assured: You're not alone, you're not a bad mom, and there are (believe it or not) ways to get even the most stubborn toddler to use the toilet.
Just realizing that there's a wide range of "normal" when it comes to the timing of toilet training can be a relief. According to the Mayo Clinic, by ages 18 to 24 months, many children show initial signs of toilet readiness, like curiosity about the bathroom or recognizing when their diaper is dirty. However, it's not at all unusual for kids to start later. "Some kids just don't want to use the potty," parenting expert Tanya Altmann, M.D., tells Romper. Dr. Altmann, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), adds that trying to pressure your older child to train — say, because your chosen preschool has an underwear-only policy, there's a baby on the way, or you're just done with the whole diaper thing — will only make your toddler resist even more.
Hoping to end the training struggle? Here are some tips from Dr. Altmann and other experts that can help your resistant child join the potty party.
1. Stop the power struggle.
When I was going through the potty struggle with my daughter, I took her to the pediatrician to rule out any health problems. There were none. "It's a control thing," shrugged the doctor. "She'll be trained when she's ready. If she misses a couple of months of preschool, so what?"
As Kandoo Kids explained, potty-training resistance is a battle of wills between child and parents. We coax, urge, nag, and — yes — sometimes even yell or shame out of frustration. This just makes a toddler dig in their heels even harder. To end the standoff, it's often best for parents to back off a bit, or try a gentler approach.
2. Don't let constipation get in the way.
"Make sure your child's stools are soft," Dr. Altmann advises in her book, Baby and Toddler Basics: Expert Answers to Parents' Top 150 Questions. "If he is constipated and his stools are hard, he won't want to go in the potty because pooping hurts." This can lead not only to more training delays, but also to health issues if the stool becomes impacted. Offer plenty of fiber-filled foods such as broccoli, beans, apples with skin, oranges, and oatmeal to keep your child regular, and ask your pediatrician about giving a child-safe laxative if your toddler is becoming constipated.
3. Try a gradual approach.
Some children are fine with a steady diapers-to-pull-ups-to-underwear training progression; others need extra help with the transition. Care.com noted that toddlers may like the supportive feeling of diapers, so it may help to have your child sit on the potty with their diaper on when they need to go. (Indeed, many children prefer to poop in diapers even after they've mastered peeing in the toilet.) After they're done, take the diaper off and show how the poop goes into the toilet. After a few days of this, encourage your child to try sitting without the diaper.
4. Make toileting convenient.
Dr. Altmann notes that toddlers are often too preoccupied with their playing to bother getting up and going to the bathroom. If you suspect that's the case, then try putting the potty chair in the room where your child usually plays, suggested the AAP. Better still, put couple of them around the house (and even in the yard during warm weather) to make it easy for your child to go when they feel the urge.
5. Try going commando.
"Often, if a child is older, you know they know what to do and they just aren't ready, spending a week at home naked and encouraging them when they have success is the best thing you can do," says Dr. Altmann. Pick a time when you don't have much to do, and then just let them go around the house without pants. If your toddler starts getting that look, or starts to get squirmy, lead them to the bathroom and tell them it's time to try. After about a week, Dr. Altmann says they should be motivated to visit the potty without being prompted.
6. Put the responsibility on them.
One good way to train a reluctant potty user, according to the AAP, is to stop all the reminding and nagging altogether. Tell your child, "I know you know when you need to poop and pee. That poop and pee wants to go in the potty, so from now on, it's your job to get it there. You don't need help." Then leave it at that. When you stop paying so much attention to their toilet habits, your child doesn't have a reason to fight back. Offer plenty of praise when your child does decide to use the potty on their own.
7. Let your child help choose an incentive.
Rather than just offering an M&M for every potty visit, involve your child in the process. That's the approach advised by pediatrician Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., in an article published in Contemporary Pediatrics. Ask your child, "What would help you remember to go poop in the potty?" and take it from there. Dr. Schmitt also recommended offering "time-limited incentives," such as 15 minutes of playing a tablet game or painting, instead of a toy or candy. This way, your child associates potty time with a privilege that they don't usually get.
8. Relax. Repeat: RELAX.
Agonizing over your child's training doesn't do anything to help; it just makes you a stressed-out, unhappy parent. From my own experience, I can say that things got so much better after I adopted our pediatrician's no-big-deal attitude. I encouraged, cleaned up the messes, and trusted that everything would work out. Sure enough, one day, my resistant child told me she had to go, marched herself into the bathroom, and did her thing. Boom. Just like that. From there, it was a matter of days before she was completely trained.
Look at all the people you know. Can you tell just by looking at them who was using the toilet at age 2, and who wasn't out of diapers until 4 or 5? Of course not. Keep your perspective and your sense of humor, and you and your child will both come through this milestone smiling.