Potty-training can be tough business, but with some patience and these suggestions from Dr. Schmitt, you and your child will come through with flying colors!
Any child who is over 3 years old, healthy, and not toilet trained after several months of trying can be assumed to be resistant to the process. More practice runs won’t help. Instead, your child now needs full responsibility and some incentives to rekindle her motivation.
Transfer all responsibility to your child. She will decide to use the toilet after she realizes she has nothing left to resist. Have one last talk with her about the subject. Tell her from now on she doesn't need any help. Then stop all talk about this subject ("potty talk"). Pretend you're not worried about this subject. When your child stops receiving conversation for not going, she will eventually decide to perform for attention.
Stop all reminders about using the toilet. Let your child decide when she needs to go to the bathroom. Reminders and asking if she needs to go are a form of pressure, and pressure continues the power struggle. She needs to gain the feeling of success that comes from doing it her way.
Give incentives for using the toilet. Special incentives, such as favorite sweets or video time, can be invaluable.
Make the potty chair convenient. Be sure to keep the potty chair in the room your child usually plays in. This gives her a visual reminder about her options whenever she feels the need to go. Don’t remind her even is she's squirming and dancing to hold back the urine.
Diapers, pull-ups, or underwear. Whenever possible, replace pull-ups or diapers with underwear. Help your child pick out some underwear with favorite characters on them. Then remind her "they don't like poop or pee on them." This usually precipitates the correct decision on the part of the child.
Remind your child to change her clothes if she wets or soils herself. As soon as you notice that your child has wet or messy pants, tell her to clean herself up. If she is soiled, you will need to help with the cleanup. Your main role in this program is to enforce the rule: “People can’t walk around with messy pants.”
Don’t punish or criticize your child for accidents. Respond gently to accidents, and don’t allow siblings to tease the child. Pressure will only delay successful training, and it could cause secondary emotional problems. Your child needs you to be her ally.
Ask the preschool or day care staff to use the same strategy. Ask your child's teacher or day care provider for unlimited bathroom privileges so she can go any time she wants to. Keep an extra pair of clean underwear at the school or with the day care provider.
Call your pediatrician’s office during regular hours if:
- Your child holds back her bowel movements or becomes constipated
- Pain or burning occurs when she urinates
- Your child is afraid to sit on the toilet or potty chair
- Resistance is not improved after 1 month on this program
- Resistance has not stopped completely after 3 months
Barton Schmitt, MD, FAAP, professor of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Colorado