10 Tips for Potty Training a Reluctant Toddler

When potty training doesn't happen in a "magical" 3 day weekend and progress seems slow and hard, don't give up! Just adjust your expectations, give it time, and try to be patient. It will happen. Here's 10 tips that worked for my reluctant toddler.

For some of us, potty training doesn’t happen with just a 3 day potty training weekend. I’m not sure that’s truly reality for anyone, but when your toddler isn’t moving along as fast as his friends or your other children did, it can be frustrating. You might wonder if he/she will EVER be potty trained! Now that I’ve finally made it to the other side with my youngest child, I can confidently say that IT WILL HAPPEN.

Here’s how we finally made the jump from “sorta-trained” to fully trained!

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1. Take potty training in baby steps. Not all kids are ready for, nor do they want to go from diapers to underwear in a weekend. They might have a personality that needs to learn and do things more gradually. They may be slow to warm up to new things or be stubborn and want to do it their way. There is no need to push them through potty training on your time schedule. Let them do it at their pace.

2. It can be helpful to jump start the potty training with a potty training weekend or potty party. When my toddler was almost 3, I thought it would be the perfect time to potty train him. I expected the potty party to quickly move into fully trained, and even though it didn’t work like that for us, it was still helpful in getting him to start using the toilet.

How to have a potty party:

  • Put the potty chair in the kitchen or another room that will be convenient for you to hang out in all day. If it’s summer, you could use your back patio and spend the day outside.
  • Get a variety of drinks and snacks that your toddler likes.
  • Get a fun pack of stickers with characters your toddler likes.
  • Gather fun and entertaining toys, books, games, coloring books, etc to keep your toddler occupied.
  • Let them be naked from the waist down. It is easier for both of you! Your toddler can more easily tell when they need to pee and if you are nearby you can immediately act on it and quickly put them on the potty chair so that they might finish up on the potty.
  • Set a timer to go off every 20 minutes for the first couple hours, then every 30 minutes after that.
  • When the timer goes off, tell your toddler it’s time to try to go potty and encourage them to sit on the potty chair. Try singing a song, telling a funny story, or something else to distract them. If they are really reluctant to even sit on the potty (as my toddler was), offer a sticker just for sitting on there.
  • When they are successful in going potty in their potty chair, make a big deal out of it with a big cheer and excitement. Give them a sticker or other small prize.

Within a couple hours of trying this method, my toddler went from refusing to even sit on the potty to sitting on it and peeing in the potty chair a couple times. As the day went on, he was more comfortable with using the potty chair and had a few more successes and a few accidents. We continued with this a second day and he continued to get more comfortable. He did not immediately take off and start wearing underwear with limited accidents, however. He did not seem to care about whether or not he got himself wet and he refused to even try to poop in the toilet. Given that I have 3 older kids that are pre-teens and teens, I did not have the time to be home all day for weeks potty-training so we decided to not push him and instead put him in pull-ups.

3. It’s ok to switch back and forth between thick training underwear and pull-ups. The “experts” would likely not agree, but this is what worked for our family. We would often use thick potty training underwear at home but on busy days he wore pull-ups at home too. For awhile there, I was feeling stressed about all the accidents and trying to keep up with my family’s busy schedule, so for all of our sanity, my toddler wore pull-ups daily for awhile. However, we did not substitute the pull-ups for diapers, they were used as we would use underwear, we just didn’t have to worry about accidents. This meant that I tried to remember to remind him to go potty about every 1 to 1 1/2 hours throughout the day and the goal was for him to stay dry in the pull-ups longer than he would stay dry in diapers.

Which disposable diapers/pull-ups are best? We have tried several kinds. My favorites are Pull-Ups brand, Pampers Easy Ups, Up & Up (Target), and Kirkland (Costco). The cheapie ones from Smith’s/Kroger worked fine too. They seemed to run a little small and they looked more like diapers because they were all white instead of having a band of color at the top like the more expensive brands. But they cost less than the others and worked fine.

4. Give the option to use the potty chair or the regular toilet. We put the potty chair on the floor in the bathroom and let him chose which he would rather use. He wanted to be a big kid so he usually chose the toilet. We put an insert on our toilet seat to make the hole smaller and less intimidating for him to sit on.

5. Get a step stool for them to use to get on and off the toilet and to wash hands. It also helps them to rest their feet on the stool. We just use a basic step stool but they are other types that look great as well.

6. Make it a routine to use the bathroom throughout the day. Have your toddler go to the bathroom right after they wake up, before or after meals, before getting in the car, before they take a bath, and before bedtime. When it’s time for them to use the bathroom, don’t ask if they need to go. Just matter-of-factly state that it’s time to go potty. You can make it more fun by racing them to the bathroom, asking them if they want to go first or if you should be first, asking them which bathroom they want to use, making it a game by pretending you are a choo choo train or an animal as you walk, etc.

7. Visit bathrooms/toilets everywhere you go. I wanted to get him comfortable using regular toilets everywhere we went. He easily used the toilet at grandma’s house, church, stores, etc. Make it seem cool that there’s a toilet anywhere they need one so they never have to worry. It should be a positive experience. They will probably need your help getting onto the toilet and want you to hold them on there so they don’t feel like they are going to fall off.

8. Praise their potty training successes and don’t make a big deal out of their accidents. Getting upset when they have an accident will likely backfire and will discourage them in their potty training. Kids thrive on positive attention and typically want to do things to earn our praise.

9. If they have trouble going poop on the toilet, try a reward jar. Find something small and inexpensive that your child loves and wrap up a bunch of them and put them in a bowl. I used cheap 94 cent matchbox cars from Walmart. Sometimes you can buy bigger packs of them and they end up being even cheaper. I showed my toddler the bowl of wrapped cars and told him these were poopie prizes and he could pick one whenever he went poop on the toilet. Then occasionally I would ask him if he wanted to try going poop on the toilet to earn a prize. He tried a few times and earned a couple but then wouldn’t want to do it for weeks and even months at a time. He just was not interested in going poop on the toilet for whatever reason–possibly fear or not wanting to stop what he was doing. Eventually, when he went full-time in underwear (see below) this clicked as well and he remembered those prizes and would try to go three times a day to get another car. If he went even a tiny bit, I gave him one. After about a week or two of consistently doing this and not having any accidents, I put stickers and small candies in the bowl and that became the prize. After another week or so, he didn’t care about the rewards and went consistently on his own.

10. When the timing seems right for both of you, try going full-time in underwear. For me, that meant a break in the school activities and busy sports schedule that my other children were in involved in. And consistency with my toddler going to the bathroom without much complaints. I looked ahead on my calendar, saw a week that didn’t look as crazy as the others, and set aside time for us to be around home for a couple days in a row. Let your child know that you are going to be switching to underwear soon and won’t be wearing pull-ups anymore except at night. Give them a couple days of reminders to get used to the idea. At this point, my little guy was about a month away from turning four and more than ready to make the switch to full time underwear. I gave him some cool big boy underwear with “Cars” characters he loved and that motivated him even more to keep them dry. He took off with his progress and didn’t have any major accidents. He also surprised me in his willingness and ability to go to the bathroom on his own when he needed to. I hardly had to remind him anymore. Of course I still had him use the bathroom before we went places and if we were out of the house for more than an hour, we used the bathroom while on errands or visiting others. He was already comfortable going to the bathroom at stores and other places, so this was not a problem.

Remember, don’t stress if potty training doesn’t happen as quickly for your child as it did for your friend down the street, your mother, or even your other kids.

My girls took off with potty training much more quickly than my son, and that’s ok. Just take it a day at a time, take potty training breaks with pull-ups, do what you need to do to not be stressed out because that’s just going to frustrate both of you!

Do you have any potty training tips for reluctant toddlers? What has worked for you?

One thought on “10 Tips for Potty Training a Reluctant Toddler

  1. It took a reaaaaalllly long time to potty train our boys. They refused to poop in the potty and would only poop in their underwear. Toys (like cars, legos) didn’t work, sticker charts didn’t work. Then finally I said ok I’m gonna make you boys stay naked from the waist down. Then they knew the poop wouldn’t have anywhere to go put straight down. I also bought those little sponge capsules that when you put them in warm water they grow into little sponge shape animals. THEY LOVED THOSE SPONGES! They loved them so much in face that they started pooping in the potty consistently once they realized they would get one for each time they pooped in the potty and not in their underwear. Hallelujah! You never saw a happier mom and dad! BTW…I probably have about 300 of those little sponge animals laying around my house at this very minute! LOL!

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