Positive Discipline Potty Training

by Heligirl on May 23, 2011

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles,Positive Discipline

When it comes to positive discipline, advice on potty training, or toilet training, is painfully simple. Wait for your child to exhibit the signs, don’t push, don’t reward, and don’t praise.

In fact, when it comes to potty training, we parents and caregivers can be our own biggest obstacle, trying to push, reward, praise and beg our way out of paying for (or cleaning) diapers.

However, in the end, the child is ultimately in total and complete control. Accepting this fact, remaining calm and relaxed, and following his or her lead will offer the least amount of power struggles.


Physical readiness: Long periods between diaper changes, dry diaper after nap or overnight, stops what he’s doing and gets a serious look when relieving himself in the diaper all indicate a level of awareness. Connections between physical sensations and the need to use the toilet are being made

Emotional readiness: Fear of the toilet, fear of flushing, fear of falling in, desire to decide on her own time, being freaked out by the act of using the potty, unwillingness to let go of babyhood or the convenience of diapers all play a part in a child being emotionally unready to move to the potty. If you witness some of this behavior, it’s not time to try potty training.

What not to do

Push it: The minute we step in and start pushing the issue, we’re running the risk of entering a power struggle. Ultimately, the child is in control of bodily functions. Guess who will win? Instead, remain calm and relaxed. Like a wild animal, kids can detect our stress and they’ll push back. The more you want them to do it, the more the chances are you’ll have resistance.

Reward: Avoid rewards like stickers on a chart or candy. Don’t be tempted by the fact that they work. They do. But the issue will become more about getting the reward than learning socially appropriate behavior.

Punish: Remember, accidents will happen, but if you initiate any kind of punishment, you can set things back considerably. Kids sometimes regress. Consider this, if you experience accidents, consider kindly but firmly taking them to the bathroom and asking them if they would like to change alone or with you there. Help only if they physically need it. Have them assist in cleaning up. They’ll decide on their own that using the potty is much easier than all this hassle.

Use questions that can be answered “no”: If you ask if she wants to use the potty, she’s more likely to say “˜no’ regardless. Instead use phrases like, “It’s time to use the potty,” when you see signs she needs to go, or “We’re leaving in five minutes. Let’s use the potty,” every time you’re leaving the house to get your child in the habit of going before outings.

What to do

Use lots and lots of patience: It isn’t going to happen overnight, at least not the first time you try. We all know or have heard of kids close to the age of our own that were fully potty trained early. It isn’t a reflection of the mother or even a negative reflection of you. Most often it is a reflection of the child’s willingness. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, drop it and pick it up again in a few months. My daughter finally decided, after countless attempts for a year that she was ready at 3 years and 8 months, a full year after all of her friends.

Give it a try: If you’ve seen the physical and emotional signs, give it a shot. Try a little potty or a special potty seat for the toilet if your child can’t comfortably sit on it. Just have him sit on it for a bit. Read books, sing songs, run a little water. If it works, you’re on your way. If after a few days he’s fighting you, drop it.

Summer streeker: If you have warm months coming up as you’re attempting potty training, try the old run around without pants and diaper routine. Outside is best because of the lack of cleanup. I tried this last August. My daughter went several times outside on the little potty (because I put it out there) then full out refused to have anything to do with it for nine more months. She wasn’t physically ready. But I have seen it work well for others.

Parting thoughts

More than anything just pay attention to your child’s signs, feelings and emotions. There is no right time. Experts suggest seeing a doctor if you’re not seeing signs or having even periodic success in developing an interest in potty training by 3 to rule out physical issues. Beyond that, just be patient.

Sweetness’s story

About two months before her brother was born, I bought a little potty for Sweetness (she was 18 months) because her two friends we shared a nanny with were already using the potty. She went the first time she sat on it. I thought, “We’ve got this in the bag!”

Then nothing. She wouldn’t even sit on the potty.

As it got closer to the big day her brother would arrive, I let it go because the big change of a baby brother would not help any training.

Any suggestion that it was time to sit on the potty was met with screaming and tantrums the next handful of times I suggested it for a year.

When she was just about 3, we tried again for a 3-day, no diapers except at night, run around outside in nothing but a sundress trial. It was a complete failure. While she did go a few times in the potty outside, that was it. She tried it. She hated it, she didn’t want anything to do with it. (If you like to see others suffer, you can read the play by play staring here.)

Then, about three months ago, when she entered size six diapers from Costco (the largest of the cheap diapers) I started talking about how when these diapers ran out, we were done. It was a simple statement. No threats. No discussion. Just something for her to think about.

Last week she announced she was a big girl. I agreed and told her she was done with diapers. I pulled out the undies we picked out last summer and asked which one she wanted to wear.

There was some protest, a lame attempt at tears, but the struggle wasn’t there as it had been before. She chose her undies, chose whether she wanted to use the little potty or the toilet, and herself announced that when she’s fully potty trained she wants to go to the Space Needle.

She had four accidents that first day. But in the 10 days after that, she had a total of four accidents (I don’t count the time her dad was too engrossed in the game to notice her feeling uncomfortable and suggest it was time to go to the potty). I kept an eye on her, suggesting it was time to use the potty (which helped her) and as the days went by she decided herself and announced she had to go. In fact, she went from using the little potty to using the toilet with her small toilet seat, to using any and all toilet seats in 10 days.

At last, she’d finally decided she was ready, and she’d worn me down where I didn’t have my hopes too high. It was officially two years and two months from the time she first sat on a potty.

So at the end of the 10 days, this is what I did for her:

I can’t really look at it as a reward, because we all give ourselves a little something when we achieve a goal. She set this one herself. She earned it and, while it did cost more than another box of diapers, I didn’t blink at paying for this.



Lost In Mommyland May 23, 2011 at 4:24 am

Great post. I have been sorta trying to train my daughter. She just doesn’t seem that interested. I ask her about sitting on the toilet sometimes she says ok others no. I don’t push it. My hubby seems really anxious for her to. I know she will when she is ready. She is 2 1/2. I didn’t really have to do it with my son, he was in daycare and they took care of it. So with the lady I am on my own. There just seems to be alot of pressure out there to get this done for some reason.
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Twitter: Heligirl
May 23, 2011 at 7:08 am

There really is a lot of pressure. There was a little boy in my daughter’s Mommy and Me class when she was just one who was using the little potty in the bathroom. His mom had been pushing him from day one. I fell victim to the pressure and that could very well have caused this to drag out so long. It sounds like you’re doing the right thing. I love your attitude. 🙂 Keep it up!

Krista May 23, 2011 at 7:37 am

Aww.. that’s a great picture.
A month or so ago, I had to try to get a urine sample from Chessa. At 18 months old the bag things that they gave me just weren’t working, so I put her on the potty. And we read stories, we sang songs, we watched Elmo. She happily sat on the potty, but then she’d stand up or wander off for half a second and pee on the floor. Right beside the potty.
We did eventually catch her at the right moment, but it was pure luck. My mother in law keeps trying to hint around about potty training, but my thinking is if she pees on the floor right beside the potty, she’s clearly not ready.

Twitter: Heligirl
May 23, 2011 at 8:47 am

What a crazy story Krista. I can’t imagine getting a urine sample from the forever stubborn Sweetness. You’re a tough mommy waiting that out. You are absolutely right that if she pees next to the potty, she isn’t ready. We dealt with that for months and months. Corn starch (best thing EVER to get human waste smell out of carpet, furniture, what have you) became our best friend. Hang in there. Being calm and not pushy is the way to go. 🙂

Susan May 23, 2011 at 8:22 am

Great post and a big congratulations to you all. The only thing I would add, is that if your child tends to become constipated, it’s especially important at this time to make sure they are not. My poor little man got backed up and then developed a painful rash (that he associated with pooping). We softened him up, layed off the softener, and then he got backed up again and rashed again. That was the end of his voluntarily pooping for a year.

Potty training got set back a year. (And Miralax became our best friend). But, at 4 1/3 yrs. old, we met a new friend (who had been in underpants for quite some time). Peer pressure did the trick. And by that point, he only had about 2 accidents at the beginning, because he forgot he wasn’t wearing a diaper. It was only another month or so before we ditched the good nites, too. (Although night wetting can go on for years).
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May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

Wow, great point Susan. That really is something to keep in mind. So far, we haven’t had much of a problem with that, but I know it can be. Thanks for the additional pointer!

carol May 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

Great post, Jen, and so true. We get so caught up in what our kids SHOULD be doing that sometimes we forget to follow their lead. My first daughter potty trained around 2 1/2 and it was a struggle. We used rewards, stickers, etc, and it was time consuming. My 2nd just turned 2 in March and she has completely potty trained herself. One day she said, “i go pee pee” she removed her diaper and peed on her little potty. We didn’t use rewards, we didn’t even ask her to go potty, she just did it. We still give her an option, diaper or panties, and sometimes she picks the diaper, and although she takes it off to pee, we let her wear it. We are following her lead, and like you said, that’s how it should be. Now I see that it shouldn’t be such a struggle, regardless of what age they are, when they are ready, they are ready.

Twitter: Heligirl
May 23, 2011 at 11:41 am

This is a great story Carol! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, they really do decide when they want to do it. There really is so much pressure out there to get your kids potty trained (the least of which certainly isn’t the cost of diapers!). I love what you’re doing. Bravo. Incidentally, my little dude has been going whenever we put him on the potty since he was 7 months old. It’s just a routine to put him there before bath as he brushes his teeth in hopes he pees there as we run bath water versus in the tub. Most often he goes, but we don’t ask him or put him on it at any other time. However, he’s been watching big sister and has started pulling his pants down and heading to the bathroom with her. I have a feeling that one will be easier. 🙂

Twitter: The_BMG
June 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Do you agree with leaving the potty out for them all the time in case they decide to want to use it or should it be put away until they decide to be ready?

My 2 years and 9 months old daughter shows EVERY sign of being ready to potty train except she has a complete unwillingness to do it. We don’t push her at all about it, but just occasionally ask if she would like to try the potty. She never does. If she sits on the potty at all, she bounces up after 5 seconds and says, “All done!” It’s really hard not to want to push it! I’m going to try to incorporate this post into my thinking. We’ve completely backed off for now and we’ll see what happens.
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how to potty train a 2 year old August 27, 2014 at 7:38 am

All I knew about training dogs was what I had learned in Science class about animals
being made to behave in certain ways through rewards and punishments, so I naively (stupidly, actually) assumed that I could get Vicky to act in the ways that I had wanted by
rewarding her for her good actions and punishing her for her
bad ones. Clap for them and also point out their accomplishment to
other family members. Providing plenty of fluids can help prevent constipation and discomfort in bowel
how to potty train a 2 year old recently posted: how to potty train a 2 year old

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