Help me potty train my four-year-old
November 12, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

My four-year-old daughter is still not potty-trained. We've tried everything. What are we not thinking of?

AJ turned four in July. She still has daily accidents. We're out of ideas.

We've done sticker charts and rewards. We've done naked days. We've put her in panties. She's watched Mommy go. We've read the potty books and watched the Elmo potty DVD. In fact, the Dora potty book was her favorite book for months and months. She goes to preschool twice a week and sees other kids going to the bathroom and staying dry and clean. We've tried sending her to the bathroom every half hour. And we're getting nowhere.

The kid is well-adjusted, super bright, and either right on target or way ahead in every respect except this. She understands the concepts, and she knows that she's supposed to use the potty. Occasionally she will ask to go pee, or even just go by herself, but she still has urine accidents and I don't think she has ever in her life managed to poop in the toilet.

Could there be some medical reason for this delay? She's completely healthy and has a good height and weight for her age. The only hint I have of a possible problem is that her stool is always soft. Not diarrhea, but it's never hard at all. Kind of like peanut butter. Once you get that image out of your head, if you can think of anything we're overlooking, either a magically effective potty training technique or some medical or other reason that she's not getting the hang of this, I will appreciate it greatly. If you come up with the winning solution, I will love you forever.

Oh, one other thing. She's never minded being messy. At all. She will happily sit in her poop, even in panties, for a long, long time. I do think that makes her less motivated than other kids, but even so, this is crazy.
posted by Pater Aletheias to Health & Fitness (43 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried doing nothing at all? No potty training techniques, no books, only a reminder every once in a while if she'd like to go potty?

That's how I "potty trained" each of my three children. My daughter was 3, my two sons were 4. Each one went from being completely in diapers to 100% potty trained all by themselves and all at once. There were occasional accidents at night - so I used pull-ups or diapers at night until I was sure they were ok without.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:10 PM on November 12, 2010

Have you talked to your family doc/pediatrician? Probably worth having a conversation if you haven't.
posted by leslies at 12:14 PM on November 12, 2010 [9 favorites]

The thing to keep in mind is that eventually, she will be pottytrained - it will happen. Of course, I can see how it feels otherwise...

It sounds like you've hit all the usual methods above. Is there perhaps something you can dangle in front of her that she can't do unless she's out of diapers/stops having accidents? For example, you could plan a fantastic trip somewhere - doesn't have to be Disney, but something spanning a few days that she'd really, really like to do - but say that because of the nature of the trip, it will have to wait till she's pottytrained?

The ideal is to make it intrinsically motivated - and that's about all I can think of if a) social pressure of seeing other kids go on the potty and b) the discomfort of sitting in pee or poop don't have an effect. Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 12:15 PM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: Sassyfras, that's pretty much the way it is right now, and has been for a couple of months. When nothing else worked, we got tired of trying. But doing nothing hasn't made any difference either.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2010

It's not crazy.
A friend of my older child, upon turning six, still wore a diaper to sleep.
The younger of my two still, at recently having turned five, has accidents, fewer, but still has them.
The older was done and done by four. Almost never any accidents.
My sister's older took until five and a half, the younger at four.
There's no up or down to it, you do your best, be patient (be patient!) and help them get there - they will get there.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2010

*by dangle something in front of her, I mean something that she will 'understand' can't be done while in diapers. Not just a random prize, but something that you can present as requiring no diapers/accidents in order to happen.
posted by widdershins at 12:17 PM on November 12, 2010

What worked for us (and which may not work for ANYONE ELSE... kids seem to potty-train when they want to, and not a second before): gradually ratcheting up the rewards. If you poop in the potty ONCE, you get a cookie. If you poop on the potty ALL DAY, you get, I dunno, a Dora-centric bauble. If you poop on the potty ALL WEEK LONG, you get your own Pinzgauer tank, complete with princess stickers.

Also: you can pop them on the potty and make them TRY to poop a few times a day, even when they're not acting like they have to. Get 'em used to the ritual and all.

Also, WeeThumbscrew liked having something to read on the potty from the get-go. That's my boy!
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, we talked to the pediatrician a couple of months ago, and her only suggestion was to go pick out a nice comfortable potty seat. (We used to have one, and then it got misplaced in a cross-county move, and we hadn't bothered to get another one.) So we went to the store, and AJ picked out a wonderfully comfortable Dora potty seat that she adores and doesn't use. The doctor did say to follow up after a few months if we still weren't making progress, so I guess I should make that appointment soon, but she was pretty clearly at a loss as to what else to suggest at the time.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:21 PM on November 12, 2010

I came in here to say what Sassyfras said; just don't do anything. I didn't do jack and at 2 3/4s...yeah, instant and painless.

It seems like, with stickers and Dora and Elmo and naked and every half hour and so on, this has become a really big deal and has been a really big deal for a while. Let go of all the props...

Prioritise dignity; help her be clean and comfortable. Personally, I would offer diapers if she wants them. "Oh! A step backwards..." But no; it would be moving forward, to self-directed 'training.' Let her run the whole show -- do not, say, put her in a diaper at night while pushing underpants during the day; put her back in diapers full-time if that's what she asks for. If she doesn't want diapers, fine; just help her get new clothes if they get wet or dirty, without making any sort of fuss.

What does she have to say about the whole situation...?

[on preview] "Pretty much" the way it is and has been for months -- how much is "pretty much"? I do mean totally dropping the issue, absolutely no "Wouldn't it be nice to have dry pants like the other children" dropping of hints, zero reward for staying clean and dry, nothing.
posted by kmennie at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, talk to your doctor. Is there something about having accidents and your response to them that reinforces the behavior? Is there any possibility that she's doing just because it gets your attention? If everything checks out and you don't think there's an emotional/behavioral issue, I'd motivate her with something monumental: A trip to someplace exciting/the video game she's been whining about/a new pony is she can go a week without accidents. But I'd strongly suggest having her doctor involved first.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does she take bubble baths? If so, you need to stop them right away, as they contribute to urinary tract issues. When my daughter was little we stopped the bubble baths and her potty issues cleared up within three days. We hated to do it, because she LOVED the bubble baths. Try it....
posted by raisingsand at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2010

My son will be 4 soon. He still has accidents most days, and is still wearing a diaper at night. And I'm thrilled, because this is a huge improvement on two weeks ago, when he would scream at the idea of sitting on the pot. He's gone a couple steps forward, several back, before, so I'm only cautiously optimistic right now.

Four things seem to have come together for him: 1) His pre-school teacher expects (but does not demand) that he is potty-trained and all his classmates are out of diapers/pullups. 2) Lightning McQueen underwear that he knew was around, but that he would only get to wear it when he was ready to go on the pot. 3) We backed off completely on the issue. I would occasionally remind him that we had the big boy underpants, but would not push him to choose them. 4) He himself is getting really assertive about "not a baby. I'm a BIG boy!" and I quite shamelessly use that to encourage him to use the pot himself.

I hope that helps a bit. Hang in there. Possibly consider just backing off completely if it is becoming a battle of wills. She will get there.
posted by bardophile at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: It seems like, with stickers and Dora and Elmo and naked and every half hour and so on, this has become a really big deal and has been a really big deal for a while. Let go of all the props...

It might seem that way when you read it all at once, but we're talking about over two years of working on this. It hasn't ever been a huge deal, but it's been an ongoing deal. We've been propless since we moved in May.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:34 PM on November 12, 2010

You mentioned a cross country move -when was that? Maybe she is still feeling out of sorts from the move?

I am not a parent, and was apparently a cinch to potty train. But I know that cats get bad with litterbox habits as a side effect of moving.
posted by kellyblah at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is something that child psychologists and child psychiatrists are very familiar with advising about; one of my goddaughters was helped by a couple of trips to "the potty doctor." If your daughter's pediatrician doesn't see any relevant physiological issue (and the pasty stool suggests a couple of possibilities for that), maybe ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2010

We tried everything, too, but the only way our eldest son started to go poo on his own was starting kindergarden, just after his fifth birthday. Diapers are not allowed.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2010

I teach preschoolers with autism and spend a lot of time potty-training. It sounds like your child is typically developing but the techniques will be similar. First of all, NO MORE DIAPERS. Take them away. It's easier to pee/poop in a diaper, so if you give a child the chance to, they're going to. All her caretakers (school, grandparents, whoever) need to be on board the no-more-diapers train. This includes in the car, at night, NO MORE DIAPERS. You will have a messy couple of weeks, but then it will be over. Next - take her to the potty every 15 minutes at first. Sit her on the toilet, sing a little song (e.g., "Tinkle tinkle little pee, won't you please come out of me" to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle), and say "Go peepee." If she doesn't within 1 minute, have her get up, pull up her pants and go back to whatever she was doing for another 15 minutes. Eventually, you *will* catch her peeing in the toilet. When this happens, THROW A PARTY! Not literally, but jump up and down, yell about how awesome she is, and immediately give her The Best Treat Ever and say "You went peepee on the potty so you get xyz! Yay!!" This Best Treat Ever works best if it's edible (because then you don't have to take it away) and also because food is a primary reinforcer. She cannot have this amazing treat at any other time except when she goes on the potty. When she has a pee accident, have her feel the wetness and say in a neutral tone, "Look! You're wet! We don't peepee in our pants, we peepee on the potty!" Then have her help you clean it up. Then change her without talking to her and go on with your day. Same if she poops in her pants except don't have her touch it when it's in her pants because ew. This method works. It is messy and you will have a urine-soaked few weeks. But it's based on empirical research and basic behavior principles (reward desired behavior, "punish" or ignore undesired behavior [although the cleaning isn't really punishment in the lay sense of the word, it's probably not something your kid wants to do].) Good luck! Memail me if you have any questions, for better or for worse I am a wealth of toileting information.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2010 [12 favorites]

This won't fix things, but it will help: strive to keep the potty environment attractive and relaxing... maybe even with privacy as she might be associating accidents and potty usage with a lot of unwanted attention and commotion (perhaps that in itself has gotten pervasive enough to where she wants to do those things in private). A few familiar objects (picture books, etc) near the potty might be good, too. All this would increase the odds of it being a place she wants to go to.

Also if this is on a real toilet, you also might want to rule out any issues with fear of the flush and being sucked down the drain.
posted by crapmatic at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: Possibly consider just backing off completely if it is becoming a battle of wills.

It's not anything like that. No screaming, no refusals to try. She's happy to go sit on the potty if we ask her to. Often, she'll pee while she's there. Or maybe she'll sit there a while, and then pee in her pants 20 minutes later. She's not really anti-potty as much as completely indifferent. In the potty, in her pants, it's all the same to her.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:41 PM on November 12, 2010

My brother was reading and still in diapers. My stepmom ordered everyone out of the house for a day and when we came back, he was trained. Weirdest thing ever.

Our problem was apparently that it became a power thing between him and my dad. The frustration and worry was what defined the toilet experience for him. Does her behavior change when she stays over with Grandma?
posted by SMPA at 12:45 PM on November 12, 2010

over two years

Somewhat shamefully I am a bit of a "Yahoo! Answers" addict, and spend too much time in the "Parenting" sections. From my endless readings there I have learned certain things: many babies kick a fuss about bedtime around 8-10mo, parents who fret about their kids getting 'enough' food end up with picky eaters, etcetera, etcetera. I could have, thanks to all this Y!A perusal, easily guessed that the whole thing had been started too early, and sold too heavily. Sometimes that is not such a big deal, and with a few lollipops the issue is sorted. But it doesn't sound like you have the few-lollipops issue of child.

My view, based on reading the experiences of hundreds of other parents, is that this is well within the range of normal, not something a pediatrician can or should help with, and your only ticket out (barring some sort of huge fight and fistfuls of bribery) is to really, really drop the issue. And I do mean not breathing a word about it, including not congratulating successes, not making suggestions. This is a power struggle and your kid is currently "winning."

Stop thinking of it in terms of pees and poos; start thinking of it in terms of power and control, and return, for now, all of the power and control to her. You can even lay it out -- "We're not going to worry about this anymore; it is all up to you."
posted by kmennie at 12:45 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, I know you're hoping for a solution and maybe someone's got a great one, but it sounds like you've done everything you can and maybe if you can just call it a day and realize you've got a kid who potty trained late. Most kids do one thing or another late. If she's advanced in other ways, maybe she's just got other priorities. There's a lot of work little kids have to do, figuring out letters and numbers and how to keep from falling over when you run fast. They can't do everything at once. I've noticed our kid seems to engage in projects that become her focus for a while.

Anyway, she's not going to be pooping herself in high school.

And peer pressure's a great tool, as she's exposed to more kids, it'll get easier.

I guess you already know to buy wipes in bulk.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:50 PM on November 12, 2010

"The kid is well-adjusted, super bright, and either right on target or way ahead in every respect except this."

Is it just that there are so many more fascinating things to do, remembering to pee and poop just gets forgotten/put off until too late? I'm in the 'try not to worry about it, it'll suddenly stop' camp too.

Will she start (pre)kindergarten at five? Not wanting to be wet/messy/wearing a diaper at schoool might be an incentive by then too.
posted by ceri richard at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

My experience agrees with kmennie. Our now-4-year-old was slow to consistently use the toilet, and I blame the combination of pull-ups and our selling too hard. Sometime in her third year, after what might have been a year of working on it, I told her "You are in charge of knowing when to go. Listen to your body. If your body tells you it's time to poop or pee, I will take you to the potty and help with clothes if you want. I won't say anything more about it." She pooped in the potty for the first time that day and word underpants from then on, virtually accident free.
posted by libraryhead at 1:02 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hesitate to say this, but maybe it needs to be made a big deal to her when she doesn't.

Perhaps make her responsible for cleaning up her messes. Right now there seems-in her mind-no real downside for not remembering to go to the potty. That needs to change.

(We had that issue with one of ours, who was the same age as your child. One day my husband lost patience and simply spanked the child. I was horrified. But that was the last day we had a problem! No, I am NOT recommending a spanking, but I am saying that in an appropriate way, your child needs to, shall we say, own the problem.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:09 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

My daughter was the same way. I was freaking out that she wouldn't be able to go to Kindergarten!

Here's what finally worked for us. I used to wear a silver claddaugh ring on my right hand. I found one in her size (size one!) at the silver kiosk at the mall. We made a big deal out of the ring and how she gets to be a grown up girl just like Mommy when she wears the ring.

In the morning she got to put the ring on after she changed from a pull up to panties. If she had an accident (not like running to the bathroom kind of accident, the kind where she just didn't want to go) she lost the privilege of wearing the ring. We told her that only big girls get to wear jewelry and big girls don't go potty in their pants.

It was less than a week and she was completely going by herself. It was a freakin' miracle.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As far as the accidents go, have her do any cleanup, changing, etc. by herself. You can supervise and give verbal directions, but have her put dry clothes on herself, wipe up any puddles, and put the wet clothes in the wash without your assistance. If it's a poop accident and she can't do this by herself, you want to make the cleanup process something of a drag for her--don't wash her off in warm water while you're singing and chatting and having a fine old time. Make the water a little cooler than she prefers and just be neutral; you're not trying to be a jerk about the accident, but make sure that you're not inadvertently reinforcing the accidents by making the cleanup fun.

Like tatiana wishbone, I work with preschoolers who have autism and have done lots of potty training. Many of the kiddos I know get tired of having to clean up and put their pants on by themselves, and figure out that it's easier to just go in the potty.
posted by corey flood at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2010

Another perspective: We have gone through this very experience with our daughter, now 6 (as of August). She's also very bright, talks a blue streak, taught herself how to read, fiercely independent, stubborn, and, y'know, completely wonderful except for the potty issues, which have been excruciating to live with. She went from being potty trained at age 4 to an almost complete regression at age 5 to where we are now, which is potty trained, albeit with the occasional accident.

We tried pretty much everything to get to this point: rewards, punishments, strong disapproval, etc. Eventually, we got a recommendation from our pediatrician to see a specialist. The specialist first verified that there wasn't anything physically wrong with her -- her bladder was not abnormally small, she wasn't constipated (constipation takes up space that the bladder might otherwise use for expansion), etc. So we were pretty confident this wasn't the result of a physical abnormality. As a result, we focused on cognitive behavioral therapy to change her patterns for using the potty.

What eventually worked for our child: regular, supervised visits to the potty during the school day, with a sign off sheet completed by her teacher or after-school care. She hated it, but it worked. We started at having her go at least once every two hours, and eventually tightened this schedule to once an hour, until she finally, finally, finally, FINALLY began to take the initiative and go on her own. From meeting with the specialist to seeing consistent results took approximately 9 months.

Feel free to MeMail me if I can provide any more info for you.
posted by mosk at 1:31 PM on November 12, 2010

Heh, my son, totally the same. There were two nursery schools in the area - neither took kids in nappies. One sent un-toilet trained kids to the bathroom every fifteen minutes on the dot, one couldn't care less and just gave them clean pants to change into. The first school was really uptight about it, the second laughed and said once he was around other kids for a few weeks he'd pee on his own and poop after school. I sent him to the second and didn't regret it.

I could get quite het up over it and had to relax with my 'very few eight yr olds are in nappies' mantra. Before that, there is no problem. OTOH my son is an only child and this very much played into it - if your daughter is an only child, maybe try sending her more frequently to pre-school? afternoons only was no good for my son but when he went full time he just eventually got sick of changing his pants all the time.
posted by shinybaum at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2010

The young daughter of a friend took a long time to get toilet trained, and also suffered from frequent UTIs. It turned out (after years of no diagnosis) that she has a "tethered" nerve that prevented her from ever fully evacuating her bladder—I think her brain was getting the signal that it was empty when it wasn't. It took surgery to correct.

So I hope this is not it, but it is a possible medical explanation.
posted by adamrice at 1:33 PM on November 12, 2010

Oh, and they did one thing differently to me - he had to clean up and change his own pants. This is very time consuming and annoying for a four yr old.
posted by shinybaum at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2010

On the squishy poo---my daughter also has had trouble with squishy poo. The latest recommendation from the pediatrician is lots of fiber, which seems to help a little with firming things up.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2010

We had this same issue.... it didn't seem like a power struggle, but it was. I was going nuts though, because I was 9 months pregnant and had another toddler in diapers. Yes, I ended up with 3 in diapers. But we planned a babymoon (when I was 9 mos pregnant and my husband on crutches!) and before we left I said "you know, Auntie Hope would just LOVE if you went poopy in the potty when you are at her house." Left it at that. And suddenly within a few days she just did it!

other methods friends and family tried with recalcitrant kids who were 4 and old enough to know better, but just didn't even try to make it to the potty:

- making them clean up their own mess: slosh dirty panties in the toilet, etc.
- cleaning up their mess in a way that isn't comfy: they had their messy bottoms washed in the bathtub with chilly water, not warm.
- sending the child to his room for the rest of the day if he pooped in his pants.
These only had to be done once or twice, according to friends.

I would not recommend spanking in this case.
posted by mdiskin at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2010

This may be too indulgent for you but for our daughter we got a mini toilet similar to this one, and gave her M&Ms when she did her thing on it properly.
posted by acheekymonkey at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010

When I was looking for help for a friends 7 year old I came across this book Dry All Night and the reviews were so effusive I got it. I read it before I passed it on to my friend and it seemed like it couldn't hurt. Her daughter liked the book and it did coincide with the end of the problem but that could also have been a timing thing. It seems worth a try. I liked how the book tried to diffuse the sense of shame that older kids suffer.
posted by InkaLomax at 2:03 PM on November 12, 2010

We had to reward the actual act. We did this with food (as a former big fat guy, I hate giving food rewards, but that is what worked).

First kid got M&Ms when she went potty. She went potty, she got a few, 2 or 3 candies.
Second kid got the same, but needed more encouragement for pooping, as she preferred her pants, so we used Kit Kat for that. 9 years later, in our house Kit Kat is still known as a "poo-poo snack".

The candy stayed in the bathroom cabinet with the TP (we didn't keep it with the medicine, as we thought that set bad precedent). When they went, they immediately got a reward. However, one of them (the second I think) caught on, and there were times she would go to the bathroom, squeeze out a bit, then go again 5 minutes later and do the same. Smart kids learn fast.

But the point is, they have to WANT to use the bathroom, so you have to give them an incentive, a reward that is immediate so they make the psychological connection.
posted by I am the Walrus at 2:09 PM on November 12, 2010

I recommend a small reward for every time she sits on the potty, for at least a week. A sticker or some other token that she values. A bigger reward for a productive potty visit. Very little commentary, other than an explanation that using the potty is what people do as they grow up. My son was trained with M&Ms and Matchbox cars.
posted by theora55 at 2:21 PM on November 12, 2010

With my daughter, she would pee on the potty, but NEVER poop. She'd wear underpants all day, and then when she had to poop, she'd go get undressed, put on a pull-up, poop, then come to me with all the supplies to clean her up. So I *knew* she got it, and had control (enough to have time to change). Bribes didn't work, praise, nothing. There were pull-ups in the house, and she knew it.

So yeah, all pull-ups had to leave the house. We had to deal with wet night-time sheets for a while. And, the real thing that got her? She LOVED her big-girl panties. Sparkly, Dora, princesses - she had 'em all. So she got told that if she treated her big-girl panties like a diaper by pooping in them, we'd treat them like a diaper by putting the poopy underpants in the trash. Man, that got her attention. After that ultimatum, she NEVER pooped in her pants. There may have been one legitimate accident (for which there were of course no consequences), but she got the picture. There had to be an actual *cost* to her. But again, she really did have control, so this worked.

With my son, it was all about the rewards - first for any potty use, then eventually just for poop. In his case, it was jelly beans. Five if he peed, 10 if he pooped. And he got the reward RIGHT AWAY. He just turned 4, and he'll still have an occasional pee accident because, like some mentioned, he just gets too busy with whatever interesting thing he's doing - just last night, he had an accident on the way TO the bathroom - but we're done with the rewards. If he pees his pants, he has to make sure they get into the laundry room ready to be washed.

Anyway, for both of mine, it took a mix of rewards and consequences. Some kids are ready sooner than others - my daughter was done shortly after she turned three, and like I said, my son is just four. My daughter has 2nd grade friends who still wear pull ups at night. If there's not something physically wrong, you may just have to wait her out, with kid-appropriate nudging.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 2:28 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good old fashioned bribery and threats. And singing.

The bribery that worked for me with both of mine coincided with a shift from infant daycare to a more traditional nursery school. I just told them, "You want to go to the big kid school, right? You don't want to be in the baby class with the babies forever. Oh, too bad - if you wear diapers you have to stay with the babies for the rest of your life. Yeah, it'll be rough when you're 20 but hey, that's how it goes. Have to wear big kid underwear to the big kid school; it's the law." Blam, they toilet trained themselves in about three days.

Come up with something that people in diapers absolutely cannot ever do - ride horses, go to Disneyland, ride a train, drive a car, fly a plane - anything, really, and talk it up. It's even better if you can talk about how amazingly wonderful that experience is with another adult so that your child just happens to overhear. Make sure to mention something like "Well of course people who wear DIAPERS can't do THAT."

We went directly from actual cloth diapers with pins and rubber pants, the whole 9 yards, to big kid underwear. I think pullups are a problem for a lot of kids. They remove the stigma from the diaper thing - the parent doesn't have to change them with accompanying snarky comments of gloom about how child is really getting a little old for this. I mean, my feeling was that if your kid is old enough to take off their own pullup or diaper and bring it to you, they're old enough to use the damn toilet already. I said that, often, in those words, and it seemed to help.

We also had potty songs - You Gotta Fight For Your Right to Potty was a big hit, as was It's A Potty, It's a Potty Potty, all sung around the potty, which repulsively but unavoidably sat in the center of the living room for a month or two until everyone was sure that it was possible to get upstairs to the real bathroom in time. For the first couple days of big kid pants, we didn't leave the house but we had lots of underwear ready to go. The minute, the absolute minute, they had even a slight issue it was time for the song and the potty and the immediate change by the child into dry pants. And in like 3 days, they were done.
posted by mygothlaundry at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I totally sympathize; it took a long time for our little girl to potty train. When potty training continued to not take, and not take, and not take, I read a couple of beyond-the-basics books. One was "Stress-Free Potty Training." While acknowledging that kids can be a mix and giving you universal strategies, it separates kids into five general temperaments: goal-directed, sensory-oriented, internalizer, impulsive, and strong-willed. It then gives you tips that tend to help with each, and tells you what's probably going to backfire with each. This ended up being key with our little girl, Little Miss Strong-Willed And A Bit Impulsive. Autonomy is her watchword, and routine is indispensable.

The other book was "The Pocket Idiot's Guide To Potty Training Problems." I don't remember this book being as helpful, as I'd already scoured the internet and knew most of what was in it, but you might want to skim it for any specific problems you're having, including the "Urine Trained, Not Bowel Trained" chapter. (It is normal for bowel training to happen later, but you'll want to be on the lookout for constipation and retention, which aren't as obvious as you might think. You can be getting very soft poop leaking out around a large, stuck log.)

We were lucky. With our little girl, once she finally "got it" and felt in control of it, she was pretty much trained, and didn't have accidents. That's pretty far from where your girl is, so I don't think any specific advice I can offer will be helpful, but what got us there was lots of time, patience, and the right information.

(As an aside, I'd be really hesitant to make her clean up her own mess as a form of punishment. Avoiding punishments while potty training is pretty heavily stressed everywhere I've done my reading, and the potential for issues when you introduce negativity into the experience isn't worth it. You really don't want your efforts to be counter-productive. That said, we very cheerfully worked together to clean up all of our little girl's messes - including the tidy mess that is a used potty seat - so that she felt like it was an exciting way to help, and got a sense of personal responsibility for the whole thing.)

Finally, I wouldn't worry about night accidents for a while, yet. Some kids just aren't developed enough to sleep the night until they're much older.

Best of luck.
posted by moira at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2010

Nephew was potty trained at about 5.5 years! Niece potty trained at 18 months, go figure. The only thing that worked for my nephew was seeing his sister use the toilet (not even a potty) while he was still in diapers.
posted by fifilaru at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2010

My daughter is 7 and is nearly potty trained. She's different. She has some cognitive delays associated with her Down syndrome but also had a stroke when she was born, which affected her gross and fine motor control on one side and consequently her ability to push her pants down and pull them up.

When we felt that she could do that, we put her through a hybrid of Toilet Training in Less than a Day and Potty Bootcamp.

The first book was written based on techniques used with ADULTS with severe developmental and cognitive delays who were not yet toilet trained.

The outline works like this - you start in the bathroom in underwear with a doll that can pee by being squeezed. Then you have the child teach the doll, all the while giving the child things to drink. You periodically have the child check if she is dry. If she wants to try the potty, let her. If not, let her have an accident. This is when the fun begins.
  1. Label the act as 'dirty' being extremely harsh. That's the end of overtly harsh.
  2. 10 times you do "hurry and practice":
    1. Check dry
    2. go to the toilet ("hurry and practice! Big girls hurry and practice!")
    3. underwear down
    4. up on the toilet
    5. high praise
    6. off the toilet
    7. wet underwear back up
  3. Now she cleans up the mess with apper towel, puts the soiled underwear in the laundry (however you manage it), puts on clean underwear, and washes her hands. While she's cleaning, you ask her what her heroes would think of the mess
  4. Start ranging further from the toilet, practice with the doll
I've probably left things out (buy one of the books and read it)- but what happens is several-fold: she gets 10x praise for getting up on the potty, 10x reinforcement of understanding wet and dry, 10x practice of underwear up and down, 2x negative reinforcement. She learns by teaching. She learns by doing. She learns how to clean up after herself.

It worked for us. My daughter still fights. Use praise that works for her. Stickers are meaningless to a child if she doesn't care about the material (my daughter thrives on touch - hugs are part of praise). She *hates* doing hurry and practice, but it's non-negotiable. The accidents are way, way down. This morning, she had a poop accident while taking herself to the potty and then was doing her darndest to clean herself up. That's the independence - she would have NEVER done that before.

From 2-3 accidents a day, we're down to maybe 1 a week. We've gone from out and out lying and stubbornness to being able to get her to choose to go ("You just ate a big meal and drank a lot, what should you do?" "First use the potty then play!" "What a terrific idea!") and we've only used 1 spare set of clothes at school since the beginning of the school year (50 school days ago).
posted by plinth at 5:30 PM on November 12, 2010

My two boys took til the summer just before kindergarten before they got it. What finally helped was a long term reward they had to work for.

So for Older Boy we got the calendar out, and marked every day there was no accident. Each day he earned a dollar. Each accident day he gave back a quarter. At the end, he was able to go on the water rides at the amusement park. Actually that was his dad's thing. His deal with me was that he'd get the Spiderman Underoos. I think it was for two weeks accident free. What got him was the "start over" when he missed a day on my deal.

I think it was Batman Underoos for Younger Boy.

I don't know if that's something a four year old can understand, but I think she may get that people who don't put the poo/pee where it belongs can't do X.

Distractability and not being able to "feel" what an impending BM was supposed to feel like contributed a great deal. I remember Younger Boy's teachers going through a drill with him of pressure in the bottom, pressure in the tummy, oh, I feel it coming!

Can you have some quiet days with her? I noticed on weekends when there was nothing going on that we could quietly go through the drill at different points during the day. I'd turned off the TV and stayed off the computer and me and the boys would just hang. Maybe do fun science or blocks or something. Then at certain points it was potty time. The point being is today we're together, not today we get trained.

"Try not to worry" - GAWD how I hated that phrase. As irrational as the feelings might seem, they're your feelings, and it's ok. Parenting is hard stuff.
posted by lysdexic at 7:36 PM on November 16, 2010

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