Potty training challenge: she wears underwear, but won't go in the potty
November 4, 2010 8:28 PM   Subscribe

My 2 1/2 year old wears underwear during the day, but will not actually pee or poop in the potty. She's completely dry except for nap time or bed time, when we put her in a diaper and she goes. How can we encourage her to use the potty?

She used the potty successfully a few times last spring, but then we stopped because we thought she wasn't ready. She started Montessori preschool in September, and her teachers thought she was ready to try, so they encouraged us to put her in underwear directly, using diapers for naps and bed time. She had three or four accidents the first few days (all right before bed time, while the bathtub was running). Now, she sits on the potty and most times sits all by herself, but nothing actually comes out! She's very verbal, and has told us that she loves her underwear and talks about going to the potty, but we're worried that she'll harm herself this way, although she seems fine so far.
Have any of you experienced this? What to do?
posted by mrstrotsky to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is she constipated?
posted by k8t at 8:30 PM on November 4, 2010

I mean, holding it in until naptime!
posted by k8t at 8:31 PM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: No, she doesn't seem to be constipated, things seem to be fine when she actually does go. She just seems to have the power to hold it for long stretches. Before she started, her diaper was dry after nap time and she never had a poopy diaper in the morning, and now the opposite is true for both! I'm just concerned that she will become constipated if this goes on much longer.
posted by mrstrotsky at 8:44 PM on November 4, 2010

Start giving her a LOT of liquids.....you know where this is going.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you tried setting up a reward system for using the potty? Some people use candy (M&Ms, etc) as a reward. We used Elmo stickers and it worked pretty well.

You could also try NOT putting her in a diaper at naptime. I'm sure it'll result in more laundry initially but she might get the message that way.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:52 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would second not putting her in a diaper at naptime. When mine did this, we tossed the diapers altogether, and put her in underwear 24/7, and gave her a gummy bear every time time she made it; which finally did it (I would not use this tactic unless she has reached the point where she can control it.) It made for a messy week, but no problems after that.

We used gummy bears because her vitamins were gummy-vites, and we could combine treats with something useful.
posted by rai at 9:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

We set up a reward system with three tiers: so, we made a chart for my son's first poop in the potty. When he did it (just the once), we put a big sticker on the chart and he got a toy. Then we had a chart with spaces for 5 poops in the potty...and then we made a chart for 20 poops in the potty. Once he'd finished with those 20 he had it all figured out.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:08 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding the advice to go cold turkey and dump the diapers altogether, and also the sticker chart. Like BlahLaLa we had a small chart, then a medium chart, then a bigger chart, with a toy or special day out at completion of each chart.

Like your daughter, my son could (and still can) hold it for an unbelievable amount of time. The only backsliding we did with diapers, is that I occasionally put a pull-up on my son when things escalated into a power struggle. So for example he would go to bed, wake up, refuse to use the toilet, eat breakfast, refuse to use the toilet, and then I would start stressing out because it had been 12 hours since he had gone, and we had to get in the car for a 30 minute commute to daycare. This would cause me to get anxious and irritable, and he would pick up on that and dig his heels in further. So in those cases I would put a pull-up on him for the car ride, and then daycare would change him into underwear when he arrived.

The holding it for long periods doesn't seem to have done him any harm. Do you think your daughter is holding it as part of a power struggle with you, or just because she doesn't really get that she is supposed to pee in the potty?
posted by Joh at 9:29 PM on November 4, 2010

Don't use food as a reward. Use positive praise. "Big girls go in the potty. Are you a big girl tonight/ this/ morning / this afternoon? "When she is ready, the answer will be yes. Every time you show disapproval (shame) you will delay success. Keep it positive. Praise those first times massively.
posted by Muirwylde at 12:35 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pot the potty in the living room or her play room. Pump her full of liquids and set a timer for half an hour. Every time the timer goes off have her sit on the potty, but let her continue doing what she's doing. Give her lots of praise (do a little dance, sing a little song, or give her a treat) when she goes, but completely ignore it if she does nothing. If she sits there for 10 minutes and nothing happens just get her dressed again and reset the timer. If it's been a couple hours since she's gone you can move the timer up to every 20 minutes, then 15, and so on. If she does go you can move the timer back to an hour.

I did this with my kids and sometimes it seemed like they just went so that they could get back to doing what they were doing and I'd leave them alone. YMMV.

Also, when she does start going you can slowly move the potty out of the play room and down the hall to the bathroom. Just try moving it a foot or so every couple of days so that she has time to get used to it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:43 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few ideas:

1. Don't use diapers at all. By using diapers or Pull-Ups, you are removing the unpleasant feeling of having poop or pee in her pants during a nap or overnight. It will take a few days, but she will make the connection that it is not pleasant to poop or pee in her pants with panties on.

Get some chucks (rubber-backed flannel pads) and put those under the sheet, but on top of the mattress pad. This will make clean up easier. You will also need a standby set of sheets.

2. Get into a routine if you don't have one already. Wake up, go to the potty. Before meals, go to the potty. After meals, go to the potty. (Post-meals is a typical time for pooping BTW.) Have her sit on the potty, even if nothing happens. It is sort of like housetraining a puppy.

3. You can put a potty in her bedroom to see if you think that will make any difference. Like what TooFewShoes said.

4. I am not opposed to using food as a reward--IF your child will be motivated by it. Skittles (or jelly beans, gum drops, anything one-at-a-time) worked well for getting my daughter to try. But the best motivation was that she was put into a new class at daycare where she was able to observe lots and lots of kids using the toilet. Honestly, that's what got her going faster than anything. It was amazingly painless. For some kids, a better motivation is stickers, or the promise of going somewhere or watching a movie or whatever. Find out what makes your baby tick and use that as a reward.

Some people recommend doing this over a three-day weekend, where you basically stay home and just concentrate on potty training. It might work for you to do it this way. It sounds like she is halfway there, if she is staying dry. You just need to get her into a routine, I think, and eliminate the diapers. Best of luck to you.

PS If you are concerned about your child's toilet habits, it is perfectly OK to bring this up with your pediatrician. But chances are, nothing's wrong, and getting rid of the diapers will be a very good thing.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:30 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please ignore Muirwylde. Food as a reward is not that big a deal, and it's more effective than mere positive praise. If you're up against a strong-willed child, or you're fairly free with praise the rest of the time. And absolutely don't shame or show disapproval if your child has accidents -- this can turn the potty-training situation toxic and set your progress back weeks and months. Stick with sympathy: "Aw, that's too bad, but we all have accidents when we're learning how to use the potty. I'm sure you'll get it next time."

Also, in the case of our kid, "Big girls do X..." is a pretty certain way to get her to not do it. That's not positive, it's applying social pressure to grow up faster. My littler one doesn't want to be a big girl, she wants to be a baby.

I totally agree with simply ditching the diapers entirely. Have you purchased super-fancy underwear she won't want to get dirty and are you talking up how exciting using the potty is because you *get to flush*, and reading potty-related stories? These things can also help to make it feel like a more positive experience for her.

Good luck!
posted by Andrhia at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I helped out with potty training a little girl last year and what we did was have a timer system (every hour regularly and every 20 minutes after liquids) wherein when the timer went off, it was time to "try." Most of the time, she didn't actually go, but she had to sit on the potty and we counted to 20 together. She could bring a toy or a book if it helped her. We didn't use specific rewards, other than she would be praised for doing a good job simply for sitting on the potty. That was really enough encouragement for her. A sticker chart might be a good simple reward to use, she can put a sticker for each time she "tries" for the full 20 seconds and an extra one if she actually "goes."

(The timer specifically helped as an external cue that it was time to try - it worked well as something impersonal, it wasn't me telling her to go it was just "Look at that! That's what time it is!")

After a couple of months, she was better at telling me when she needed to go and we were able to phase out the timers and just have a system wherein I'd remind her to go at certain intervals - before nap, after nap, before we left the house, etc.

I would encourage that you try this with your daughter. Just get her used to sitting on the potty even if she doesn't go. Praise her simply for "trying" and she'll get more and more used to it and eventually, she'll transition to going on the potty.

Also, ditch the diapers during nap. (Though not necessarily at night quite yet - I know kids who aren't ready to "hold it" all night even at age 4.) Cold turkey means you'll have to be prepared to do more laundry - and yeah, look into some kind of mattress protector - but it will also speed up the learning process a lot more than giving her the "out" of a diaper in the middle of the day.
posted by sonika at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all of your great ideas! We are already trying doing a timer to help her sit on the potty, having special books with us, always praising her for trying, and offering a fruit gummy for sitting for 1-2 minutes. Candy doesn't particularly motivate her, nor does praise because we offer so much, but I think a sticker chart would be a wonderful motivator. We do take her at intervals, but I think using a timer to control the intervals would be helpful.
She is both strong-willed and very clever at explaining herself. For instance, she is now almost always taking herself to the potty- it's self directed- but when she gets there, she sits and then says she doesn't have to go anymore. I think it might be a fear of letting go there, and/or not exactly knowing how. I hope transitioning to underwear during naps will encourage her to let go when she is on the potty.
Thanks again for the great advice, askme folks!
posted by mrstrotsky at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2010

There's some great advice above! Through my job I've been part of many teams that have potty trained kiddos at various ages. Sometimes it just feels too weird to a kid to sit on a potty and pee, given that they've been going in a diaper all their lives. I used to work with a little girl who would hold it until she was screaming with pain because she just couldn't get the hang of peeing without the diaper. We cut some holes in Pull Ups so that she could sit and have it go in the toilet without it feeling so strange. Once she made the connection, it was easy to fade out the Pull Ups. Another little lady was just confused about what she was supposed to do on the toilet while she was sitting, so her mom would get a cup of warm water and pour it over her daughter's vulva while she (the daughter) was on the toilet. It seemed to simulate the feeling of urination and gave her the cue that this was what you do on the the potty. We then praised the heck out of any successes, complete with songs and little prizes and stickers.

(Sorry if the water trick seems weird...it was her mom's idea and a very successful solution to a difficult potty training situation.)
posted by corey flood at 7:43 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Avoid allowing it to become a power struggle. Offer a reward for sitting on the potty, and a better reward for production. This worked very well for my son, and cost a bag of M&Ms and a bunch of Matchbox cars. Frequency of sitting on the potty worked better than length of time.
posted by theora55 at 8:39 AM on November 5, 2010

Frequency of sitting on the potty worked better than length of time.

Agreed. I had the little girl in my care count to 20 with me. It was long enough that if she *did* have to go, she'd be able to figure it out and sit longer (we never "missed" and had an accident immediately after she tried, the soonest was probably five minutes later, which would have been too long to sit) and if she didn't, she could get up and move on. If she didn't go and I know that she should based on liquid intake, I'd just try again ten minutes later. Much easier on everyone than trying to keep her there longer than she wanted.

(Also: counting to 20 gave her something to do and also gave her practice counting, which she thought was kinda fun.)
posted by sonika at 10:34 AM on November 5, 2010

Another vote for putting her on the potty in the diaper. Either cut a hole as corey flood suggested, or just try the less-involved plan of just putting the diaper on, and then sitting her on the potty in it. Let her go, and then change it. After a few times, remove the diaper and see how it goes.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:39 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use positive praise. "Big girls go in the potty. Are you a big girl tonight/ this/ morning / this afternoon?"

LOL!! This is useless with very bright/articulate children who enjoy contrariness and debate. I tried this with my son, who immediately answered "I NOT a big boy!! I a BABY!! I like DIAPERS!!" He also did not object in the slightest to wet or soiled cloth diapers or underpants., so the suggestion of cloth did not work either.

Stickers worked. Both babies AND big boys/kids like Superman/Spiderman/whatever stickers.

AFTER he was potty trained, he announced to everyone that he was a big boy.
posted by RRgal at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents had a very hard time potty training me...I don't know why. I do remember that I'd make my mom put a diaper on me when I needed to go #2. My mom was always kindof a pushover and I think I did that because I knew she would. I think that if she had let me poop myself a few times, I would have started using the potty pretty quickly!

I believe that in the end that some kind of sticker reward system worked...when I had so many stickers, I got to pick a new toy from a basket. Specifically remember getting jelly shoes. Love the 80s!
posted by radioamy at 6:44 AM on November 7, 2010

« Older How do I find English as a Second Language Funding...   |   You Youngsters And Your Technology! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.