Potty training resistance

For every wonder-story about the toddler who trained themself to use the toilet all on their own at 13 months old and never looked back, there are at least ten more about tots who start the potty training process and then just stall out – they seem like they should be ready, but either something just isn’t clicking or there’s something emotional getting in their way. And for every one of those toddlers, there are a few who just refuse to try to begin with. For some reason, though, it’s the quick-and-easy kids that parents usually seem to hear about.

There are a million reasons toddlers might resist learning to use the potty, from very specific problems like being afraid of the noise the toilet makes to more abstract worries like fear of growing up too fast. For many toddlers, it may seem like they’re not trying because they’re frustrated and upset by how hard making such a big change in their lives can feel.

No matter why a toddler is resisting learning to use the potty or toilet, there’s no guaranteed way to face the problem. There are limitless strategies that parents can use to try to encourage potty training, and it’s impossible to know for sure ahead of time which ones are going to work – sometimes a strategy just catches a toddler’s interest or imagination at just the right moment. This means it might take some trial and error to find the one that fits Baby’s style. They'll get there eventually, though. And in the meantime, keep in mind that potty training is hard – both for toddlers and parents – and it’s normal to struggle for a bit before you find your footing as a family.

Strategies for overcoming potty training resistance

  • Back to basics: Eventually, Baby is going to have to be able to go from fully clothed to sitting on the potty with their pants and underwear pulled down, but there’s no rule that says they have to start that way. Many families find that having toddlers run around the house naked – or even in just their underwear – as they practice potty training can help lead to fewer accidents. This can be because it feels less secure, or less familiar, to have an accident away from the potty or toilet without any clothes on to catch the waste, or because it’s easier to get the hang of using the potty without having to deal with undressing at the same time.
  • Get down to business: If you can, set aside some time – a full day, or even a full weekend, if you can manage it – to spend at your home having Baby really spend some time practicing using the potty. You can even make this into kind of a party, with lots of fun things to drink and timed intervals when Baby has to run to the potty and sit on it when the alarm goes off.
  • Make the potty the best seat in the house: It’s easy for toddlers to create bad associations with potty chairs, because potty chairs are a big change for them, and changes can be scary. It’s even easier for them to have bad associations with toilets, which are a big change – and are also too tall, uncomfortable, loud, and rarely themed with pictures of toddler-favorite characters. You can help to turn those associations around by making the potty the coolest place in the house – read them their favorite book there in the bathroom, sing songs there, let Baby pick out or decorate a new potty, or even let them have a tasty snack on the potty – it’s not a great habit to get into, but once you get the potty established as somewhere it can be fun to be, coaxing them over the finish line can get a lot easier.
  • Give them a role model: Baby has reached the age where they are really starting to be interested in other kids, and especially in slightly older kids. If they see their friends – or idols – using a potty or toilet when they're on a playdate, they might decide to start to get serious about potty training all on their own.
  • Know when to let it go: The average toddler starts or finishes potty training sometime around Baby’s age, but you only get an average by looking at lots of dates that happen sooner and lots of dates that happen later. There’s no rule that says when Baby should be ready to potty train, and some toddlers just need a little more time – or a little less pressure – before they’re ready to get serious about toilet training. Now that they have been introduced to the process of using the potty, it can be helpful to try letting them go back to diapers and see whether they won’t let you know when they're ready to try potty training again.

The more of a power struggle potty training starts to turn into, the harder of a time you may have getting Baby to change their mind about it – toddlers tend to be very stubborn people, after all. But even if Baby thinks potty training is the worst thing to ever happen to them right now, they're growing more and more mature every day, and before too long, you’ll figure out a solution that works for both of you.

  • Karen Stephens. “Potty Struggles: Tips for Resistant Toddlers.” Eastern Florida State College. Exchange, www.childcareexchange.com, 2007. Retrieved September 8 2017. http://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/potty-struggles.pdf.
  • “Best time to toilet train children pinpointed through research.” Science Daily. ScienceDaily, January 11 2010. Retrieved September 8 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100109230611.htm.
  • “Potty Training Failure.” PBS Parents. PBS, January 13 2009. Retrieved September 8 2017. http://www.pbs.org/parents/supersisters/archives/2009/01/potty-training-failure.html. 

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