Potty training for preschool
August 1, 2017 1:50 PM   Subscribe

My 3 year old son is not potty trained. We don't want to stress him out but preschool says he has to be potty trained to graduate from the Toddler Room to the Preschooler Room at school. Looking for a reality check, resources, advice.

My son will be four in November. We introduced the potty chair a couple of years ago, casually offering it now and then and always giving very positive feedback when he used it. He can use the potty but would prefer to go in his diaper.

Over the last year or so, every couple of months we have tried to encourage use of the potty intensively for a few days at a time, and backed off when it clearly wasn't working. Most recently, we pushed hard on potty training for a few days this spring with some success, but it was exhausting and stressful, and at the end of it we were all so stressed out that we decided to take a break. I've read that when a kid is ready, it will come pretty easily, and it felt like we were not at that point yet. We have tried all the positive reinforcement techniques we can think of: watching videos on the potty, rewards with treats or toys or stickers or praise. Trying to stay away from negative reinforcement - I'd rather change diapers for a few extra months than make my kid feel stressed and miserable.

His preschool program has a toddler room, which he has been attending twice a week for two years. This fall the plan was to move him up to the preschooler group, where kids would be closer to his own age. They can do more interesting activities in the preschool group, including swimming once a week. I think it would be more stimulating and fun for him to be with kids his own age, instead of staying in the toddler room with an incoming new bunch of two year olds. But the school is saying he needs to be using the potty consistently on his own - not in a pullup diaper. I like this school, but I don't think my son will be at that point by the time school starts next month.

I don't know what to do. Do we push hard on the potty training for the next few weeks to see if this time it somehow "clicks" for him? Do we push on the school to make an exception and let him wear a pullup, as long as we're all making an effort to get him using the potty all the time? Do we let him stay in the toddler group for a few more months? Do we look for a different preschool?

Possible mitigating factor: my son is very small for his age. We are following up with a pediatrician and endocrinologist, and the consensus seems to be constitutional delay of growth. He's about 34 inches tall and 30 lbs, so closer to a two year old in size right now. In terms of gross motor skills he's probably closer to a two year old than a four year old, honestly. His dad was the same way, and he eventually caught up and grew up into a regular-sized guy. In all other respects our son is right on track for his age and an awesome, smart, happy kid.

I want to do what's best for my kid and I'm not sure what's normal or reasonable here. Looking for resources about potty training boys, reassurance that he's going to get it eventually, and advice for how to navigate the situation with school in the meantime.
posted by beandip to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can try having scheduled potty breaks, once an hour or so, when your kid is at home. Not to pressure him, but to make it into a reliable pattern (also trying before and after naps, and before heading out of the house). We'll be trying that with our second boy, as he's kind of half-heartedly interested in using the potty (usually after he has soiled his diaper or pull-up). He's younger than yours, but he has a big brother as an influence and role model, so he wants to use his little potty or the bigger toilet, but isn't great at understanding what his body is saying yet.

Meanwhile, I say let him stay in the toddler group for a bit longer, especially as he's small for his age. As you noted, his dad was a late bloomer, so there's no need to rush this process at school, especially if he's only at school two days a week (so he'd get more socialization and education at home than away). Also, consider that the toddler room and staff are likely to be more equipped for handling pull-ups than the preschool room. If you otherwise like this daycare, stick with it. (Finding a good daycare can be a lot of trouble from my experience.)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:10 PM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

So, there is a school of thought that when a kid is ready they will magically potty train themselves with no assistance from the parent. I think this is kind of crap. (har har) That said, I think you have hit the nail on the head with "when the kid is ready it will come pretty easily." That doesn't mean you won't need to push a little - but it means that you'll push gently, see progress that feels sustainable, and not be miserable and stressed in the process.

With our son, he much preferred to use a pullup than the potty, but I had noticed earlier in our diaper days that he was very distressed the few times he was undressed and peed on his feet. So when it was time to push, I took all his bottoms away (at home) and put a potty chair in the middle of the living room so he didn't have far to go. He didn't want to pee on the floor, so that was enough to persuade him to use the potty regularly. We gradually upped the duration of time without bottoms, and then one day we gave him underwear, and then we gave him his pants back, and he was good to go.

My daughter was the complete opposite - I took her bottoms away, and 10 minutes later she came and got me with "Mommy, look what I did!" So that was the end of that. But a little while later she started showing interest and success, we encouraged her, and she started staying dry. It took her much longer to figure out poop - it was really frustrating - but one day after dinner she said her stomach hurt, I plopped her on the potty, she pooped, and then the connection was made and it wasn't long after that that she figured it out. (Before that epiphany we had tried just preemptively putting her in underwear but all we got was nasty laundry.)

For both kids, we employed bribes. For my son we used a pirate Playmobil advent calendar - open one box per day of meeting potty training goal, end up with cool pirate playset. For my daughter we gave her a cheap My Little Pony for the first poop success, another cheap one after 3 more successes, and a fancy one for the 10 successes after that. (I used a poor man's sticker chart to track progress - drew 10 circles on the package and put a smiley face in each one as she checked it off). For both of them, after receiving their grand prize, they were set and required no additional bribes.

To bring it back around, though, no amount of pushing worked when the kids weren't ready yet. So we continued like you are, pushing intermittently and backing off when we didn't see results; then one day we pushed and results came quickly, so we intensified the encouragement and praise and prizes, and were successful in comparatively short order.

I definitely feel for you though - this spring I was filling out my daughter's preschool enrollment forms, and thinking - surely she's going to be potty trained by then... surely... right?..... This will probably be fine? The only encouragement I can offer is that (though all kids are different!) often when a child potty trains at an older age, they finish the process more quickly and with fewer accidents than if they potty train at a very young age.

In your shoes, it might be worth looking around your area to see if there are preschools that will accept kids who aren't potty trained. I know that's taken a lot of stress off some other parents I know. But, those programs can be hard to find - potty training is a pretty common preschool prerequisite.

Good luck. Your kid is on the late side of things, but certainly not horrifyingly so. He will figure it out eventually. Every kid is wildly different, and perhaps a suggestion somewhere in this thread will help yours.
posted by telepanda at 2:14 PM on August 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Is he motivated to go into the preschool classroom? If so, that is a huge reward. As long as you don't make the toddler room punitive.

If not, I wouldn't push it too hard and wouldn't worry about which room he is in, as long as he is having a good time.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of thing that seems super important when it's happening, but whatever ends up happening won't matter to any of you in the long run. Staying with the younger kids won't make any difference to him; pushing harder toward potty training won't lead to years of therapy.

I'd probably wait until it was easier to potty train personally because that would make my life easier, unless I was just DONE with diapers. My experience, as others have said, is that it goes pretty quickly once it clicks with a kid or can be drawn out forever if it doesn't click, and it sounds like it isn't clicking with him yet.
posted by metasarah at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Here's what we did, in roughly the same circumstances--a deadline.

We did a four day weekend of potty training...actually it might have been five. I took Thursday (I think) and Friday off. Mr. Llama took Monday off--so 24/7 blanket parental coverage. At the beginning I said to Little Llama, we're going to learn to use the toilet now, and she bravely agreed. What followed was a lot of sitting on the toilet reading books and chatting and hanging out followed by exclamations of great achievement and congratulations. So basically we hung out in the bathroom for four or five days. (I mean, within reason--we didn't chain her to the toilet. But we sure spent * a lot * of time in there.

I think she felt, in an odd way, like a team member in the process (choosing books to read, etc.)

Worked for us. Hard to remember exactly, it seems so long ago.

I do remember telling myself she would not leave for college without knowing how to use a toilet.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:38 PM on August 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Honestly unless you feel like the reason he's not progressing is that you haven't been doing a good job of helping him learn, I'd just chill, keep doing what you're doing, and leave him with the smaller kids. It just won't matter in the long run and it'll be less stressful to all of you to give him the time he needs to figure it out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:42 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Given the growth delay, he just might not be ready, and that's fine. What I've seen work over and over again is the introduced-to-but-non-potty-trained kid spending an afternoon or two with a slightly older, admired, potty-trained kid. (The older kid never shames the younger kid, but younger kid is always inspired to be just like _____ and the training clicks.)

If he does enroll in the toddler class, will the school allow switching him out later if appropriate?
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't tell you a specific process because all kids are different but it's my opinion that pull-ups encourage the idea that going in your pants is an option, rather than something that will make you very, very uncomfortable.

Also, rewards really work. Our reward of choice was big boy underwear.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:06 PM on August 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Also, rewards really work. Our reward of choice was big boy underwear.

Yeah, our son would probably still be in diapers if it weren't for the fact that he loves his Ninja Turtles and superhero underwear.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:56 PM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

What does the school say is the sticking point to "we really have to have him potty-trained to have him in this classroom"? At our school, we had essentially this exact same issue, and the director had told us "oh, no problem, we don't like to push kids to potty train", but when push came to shove, it turned out they really did want to, basically for scheduling reasons -- they needed his spot in the younger class. When I tried to push back, they noted that they do not have diaper changing facilities in the older classroom, and the ratios are different. They claimed they could not deal with diapers/pullups on any sort of regular basis for that reason. It was a little odd to me, because they can also (apparently) deal with kids having accidents, as kids do, so pullups seemed easier than that, but what can I say. In the end, our kid happened to be ready just in time (or maybe they did a lot of work with him there?) so unfortunately I don't really have a great answer for your question.

I was just popping in to sort of suggest you try pushing them on it and see if they have any sort of good reason for not allowing it so you can move forward knowing as much as possible.
posted by freezer cake at 4:04 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

A friend who had four children swore by the potty chair in the living room (or other easily accessible location) and no bottoms method that telepanda mentioned.

In our experience, bribery helped a lot (since we weren't willing to use shame/negative reinforcement). If bribery hasn't helped you so far, he may not be ready, or you may not be using the right bribes. What worked for us was a small bribe for peeing (like an M&M) and a bigger bribe for poop. It was a lot harder for my son to poop on the potty.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Does he want to move up? Does he know that to do that he needs to use the potty instead of his familiar diaper? If he has a goal I think that might motivate him. When my daughter wanted to go to a summer day camp at age 3 1/2, she was not potty trained, but they would not accept any diapered kids, and I told her this. She surprised me by basically training herself over the next two weeks. In fact, she came to me one day when I was on the phone to drag me to the bathroom, where she had successfully pooped in the toilet.

For some reason she was pee-trained many months ahead of poop-trained. It drove us nearly mad with frustration because she was in underwear and would ASK FOR A DIAPER when she needed to poop! However, going to camp was the incentive that worked. Can you find an acceptable incentive that your son really, really wants?
posted by citygirl at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree that no pants + potty chair works within a day to four. For the first few months afterwards, always have a full change of bottoms available in case there is an accident. That's it.

We have hardwood and tile floors, so cleaning up accidents during the no pants phase was easy. This does not work if you have carpet, tho, sorry. Use puppy pads on couches and the like.

Nthing pull-ups don't really work, or at least did not work for our son.

Also! Buy a large package of underwear during training and plain to wash if it's pee, and throw them away if the accident is poop. All told we threw away under 3 pairs? If that?? So basically, just commit and clean up and it will happen because wet feet or underwear is a drag, and you can remain entirely neutral until skill is achieved. Treat the process as normal, not a hardship. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 5:48 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I found the Oh Crap Potty-Training book to be immensely helpful. It's available as a download from the author's website. She covers "troublesome" issues such as what you are experiencing, and iirc the author is available for consultations. But give her book a read, it should give you some reassurance and help you form a plan.
posted by vignettist at 6:04 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're starting and pushing REALLY HARD and then exhausting and giving up. I apologize if I'm reading your question wrong.

This isn't going to happen in a few days. Let him pick his own underwear. Incentivize him with stickers or candies or toys or whatever. Try every day. You don't need to try repeatedly, but make him use it at least once every day and do not stop when it gets hard or when he dissolves into a sobbing mess on the bathroom floor one day when he didn't get enough sleep the night before. Praise him, talk about the potty, and just don't give up. Don't overly push it but don't give up either. It may take time, but it sounds like this pattern of INTENSE EFFORT and nothing isn't good for any of you. Forget about what room he's going to be in next year. Try gently but persistently and consistently and do not stop. Be positive but firm; sitting on the potty at least once a day is a requirement, not a choice. He can choose WHEN but he cannot choose whether or not it happens, even if he's a sobbing mess about it. It will come.
posted by Amy93 at 6:23 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Oh Crap! Potty Training which now comes in actual book format. The author does offer potty training support -- check her website at jamieglowacki.com. (Pretty spendy!)

People have described some of the basic techniques she advocates, but one thing she talks about that I liked is respecting your child's dignity.

Good luck!
posted by kittydelsol at 6:44 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was in your same situation when my son was free, feel free to check my posting history. Many of the previous posters have some good suggestions, but what happened with us was that my son was gluten intolerant and having a hard time distinguishing bowel cues.

Of course that might not be the case for you, but both short stature and behind gross motor skills are a flag for gluten intolerance/celiac and my son was the same.
posted by aetg at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I did the same method that telepanda descibed for both of my kids. Worked well for us. My girl was really ready and figured it out in a day. My boy took a little longer, and we started a little older with him but it only took 3 or 4 days. We just told him that we are learning how to use the toilet like a big boy and that was that. I agree that pull-ups impede toilet training progress. With my boy we DID put him in undies to train because there is very little natural consequence (no pee running down the legs) for boys when they're not wearing pants.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:30 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

My kid just was completely not interested in using the potty until he was about your kid's age, at which point I successfully potty trained him in LITERALLY ONE DAY by putting underwear on him before breakfast and telling him if he was in the same underwear at dinnertime he could have all the ice cream he wanted for dinner. He was never in a diaper again.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:40 PM on August 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

If his gross motor skills are delayed then I think it's worth asking the pediatritian if this might be affecting his ability for bladder control!

My son potty trained shortly after two but *refused* to go at daycare so we went to pull ups for awhile. He's almost three and we're trying again and it's going much better.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:50 PM on August 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Potty training for my son was very low-key and consisted of putting him on the potty at regular times (after waking up, after all food, before leaving the house, after coming home, before bed, and other times in between if it seemed like a while since our last potty break). We read books while sitting on the potty, and if after a book or two he didn't go, we said it was ok and would try again later. He wore pull-ups for a month and had fewer and fewer accidents until we switched over to underwear. He was too young to really understand bribes, but he loves books, so it wasn't a struggle to take potty/reading breaks throughout the day. Also, singing the Daniel Tiger potty song was majorly helpful when it came to transitioning activities!
posted by Maarika at 7:52 PM on August 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Oh Crap Potty Training, the no-pants week, and the potty in the living room. I took the potty to the freaking park with us that first week.

My daughter was gross motor delayed and off-the-charts tiny and was fully potty trained at not-quite-three weighing 20 pounds. If your son is capable of all the movements (removing pants, sitting, wiping*, pulling up pants) size is probably not the issue. (*they still need help wiping for YEARS, especially after pooping, even when they are otherwise totally trained. FYI. I didn't know that.)

But imposing a timeline based on someone else's convenience probably won't work well. I'd keep him in the toddler room for a few more months and wait til you think he is totally ready. It's unlikely that he will wake up one day and train himself, which is what people think it means when they hear that you should wait til they're ready - it means being capable of wanting to work towards this goal that is stressful physically and mentally to reach. This is the stuff that Oh Crap Potty Training was really helpful for.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:07 PM on August 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

When my first child was born, I was working with Inuit history, and I asked a colleague how Inuit mothers handled the babies' waste when they were in the amauti before diapers existed, and she told me that the mothers could feel when something was happening and take out the babies, she also claimed that this meant the children were potty trained when they came out of the hood. This made me think that potty training is a lot about awareness, and about teaching the toddler to be aware of their bodily functions. So we did the no-pants thing for a couple of holiday days and it was great. With no. 2 there wasn't even one day, but we had been talking about what happened for a while before taking off the diaper and the daycare was super helpful. The key is to be very observant and talk with the child about what is going on when they become twitchy or quiet, already when they are still using the diaper. With no. 2, I'd ask if she was pooping when she suddenly had this distant look on her face while playing, and if she was we'd joke about it and say this need to be in the bathroom. I'm not a fan of sitting them on the potty all the time, because what you need is for them to feel their own bodies at the right time and act appropriately.
Today I care as a respite mother for a little boy who has struggled with this since his mother died 4 years ago, and I'm trying to apply the same strategy, though it's different when you are not the every day carer. I've noticed that today's children have a lot more distractions than when my own kids were toddlers, and that I need to slow him way down to help him feel what he needs. It's not just the potty training, it's also eating at meals, respecting other people and sleeping at bedtime. He just can't do these things without help and guidance from me, and if I leave him to his own devices he'll seem like he has ADHD within 24 hours because he is over-stimulated and under-nourished.
Guiding a small child may sometimes seem negative. Sometimes when I tell my little boy to go to the bathroom because I can see he needs to go, and he'll say he doesn't need to go. Because he is busy with something else. Then I have to insist, and maybe remove his toys for a while until he goes. If I don't, he will pee in his pants and be embarrassed and sad. So being "strict" isn't overruling his own agency, it's helping him feel his own body. Yesterday when he wouldn't eat his dinner and said he wasn't hungry, I had to say he couldn't have the ice-cream we had planned for if he didn't eat up, and it turned out he was very hungry and he could eat his dinner, but he was distracted by an interesting playground (we were eating out).
I guess what I'm trying to say is that a lot of vital life skills do not come "naturally", we need to teach our children how to handle themselves and that is normal and natural. It's the same with a lot of other mammals. You are not stressing out your child when you teach them to use the potty, you are helping them figure out something they couldn't possibly figure out without help.
posted by mumimor at 1:07 AM on August 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

Welp I am going to take a different tack. OP I assume you are in the US. In the UK it is AFAIK illegal to not include a child who is not potty trained because it is considered discrimination against SEN children - even if the child doesn't have a diagnosed SEN. As a result pre-schools do have to include children still in nappies, even if they say they don't (and my son's preschool was fine looking after my son, even though it said on the website they catered for potty-trained children only).

I don't know if it is the same in the US, and obviously stopping a child from moving up a class is different from rejecting him outright, but to my mind they are still discriminating against your son and against other children, esp as he has a developmental delay. Do you know what their SEN policy is? You might want to ask them to review it because it might be that they are unintentionally being discriminatory, and might want to update their policy.

With regards to potty training BTW it looks like you are doing the right thing. Some kids take longer than others, so as long as you keep at it, it should happen eventually. With my daughter she was suddenly ready, and it was a breeze; with my son he gradually 'got' it, and was pretty much completely there by the age of 4 1/2.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:22 AM on August 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

My kid is as old as yours! We potty trained last month and it was super easy because
a) she was motivated (she wanted underpants and a swimsuit, just like her big sis!)
b) her body was ready
c) convenient potty location in living room

We'd tried it last summer because SHE wanted it so much. But she had so many accidents I broke it off beginning of September because I was losing my cool.
I saw what a big difference one year made: She was more reluctant this time (fear of failure) but her body was ready. She had a couple of accidents first two weeks and that was that.

With big sis, she was 4 by the time I forced her out of her diapers ("but they're more practical!" she argued.) There were tears and anger and I felt like the worst mom in the world for 3 days. But I was determined because NO MORE DIAPERS.
Astonishingly, what finally convinced her was letting her pee behind the designated peeing bush at the playground. Apparently, open air peeing is the coolest thing ever.

So to summarize:
- motivation (this is what your kid is lacking, I think?)
- physical readiness
- good peeing location
posted by Omnomnom at 5:33 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

even if the child doesn't have a diagnosed SEN

That's the difference here in the US. A child has to have an official diagnosis to be able to take advantage of the laws protecting them.

OP, it sounds like you're doing everything "right" and I wouldn't worry about it right now. He doesn't seem ready. Unless the swimming is a HUGE incentive for him, I'd let it go, check in with him every now and then to see if he's ready, and just play it by ear. Some kids are super easy to train, some kids aren't, and most fall in-between. I honestly wouldn't have said my son was completely accident free until he was almost five, if that helps. My daughter? Didn't have a single accident after the first day she used the potty. *shrug*

Hang in there! He'll get it eventually!
posted by cooker girl at 6:15 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a rural area and this would SO not fly where I live now, but my parents successfully potty trained my recalcitrant brother by letting him pee off the deck. Agreed with all that good peeing location is key, whether it's having a potty in the living room, or the right tree, or a deck.

Also, I realize en retrospect that my comment up top may have been unclear - we tried no-bottoms with my daughter and she peed on the floor and came to me to show off her puddle. So I immediately noped right out of that tactic with her. Kids, man. All so different.

With respect to pull-ups: They are a useful tool for developing the motor skills needed to use the toilet - getting clothes up and down, etc. However, in our house we did not ascribe a WHIFF of big-kid coolness to them. They are diapers. We called them Practice Diapers, For Kids Who Are Learning How To Use The Potty. We weren't demeaning about it, but there was NO congratulations, you have graduated to pullups. (I did have to correct a well-meaning adult here and there.) Graduation is to underwear. Pullups are for practicing while you learn. Your kid may or may not actually potty train while in pull-ups - some kids are motivated enough that they will keep a pull-up dry so they can get underwear; others like the convenience and will use them for as long as they are available. We had one of each. But it is handy for a bit while you sort out motor skills.

Finally: Some kids respond better to potty training as an all-or-nothing affair, but with our son we were much more gradual. For my sanity, we started with one hour per evening as no-diaper time (I figured I could handle whatever happened in the course of an hour), then we gradually upped it, especially on the weekends. And then a few weeks later we felt confident enough to go full time. Before we actually did it, it hadn't occured to me that it was an option - so - FYI, it's an option.

PS: The Daniel Tiger potty episode is worth watching, mostly for the song. We sing it frequently at our house - it's my go-to for "hurry up and get your little butt to the bathroom before you pee on the floor/couch/my bed", but the kids comply much more cheerfully than if I just grump at them :)
posted by telepanda at 6:55 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

We also went with the "switch to underwear and do lots of laundry" approach.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:26 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've potty trained 3 kids and there's no question, every child is different. What motivates one will have no impact on another.

I had a similar issue with my third. At age 3 and 1/2 and despite us trying everything that had worked for his two sisters for about six months, he showed zero interest. I knew he was physically capable of identifying when he had to pee and poop - I forget exactly how, but I think he'd told us a couple of times when he was about to. One day it dawned on me that he was never really going to get there on his own. In his mind, it didn't matter what all the other kids did, he wore diapers and that was just that in his world. (This is a characteristic of my son's - he's oblivious to peer pressure and doesn't really care what others are doing.) So one Friday we just quit cold turkey and told him that he was done with diapers. We prepared ourselves for lots of accidents, but he peed in his pants once, on Saturday morning, and he's never had an accident since.

If you're confident that a) there are no physical issues, and b) he can identify when he needs to pee or poop, consider cold turkey. Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 9:51 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We tried a diaper-free morning today and he used the potty 5 times plus 2 accidents. He needs a lot of coaxing to go and will not initiate using the potty on his own. Whether this is because he doesn't want to use the potty or doesn't know he needs to go, it's hard to tell. It just seems like he doesn't care. He sort of shuts down and won't talk about it, which is very unlike him.

I'm feeling better about the preschool aspect of it, after thinking it over some more. The worst case would be if he's not potty trained in time, they won't be flexible about it, and there's no space in the toddler room for him. In which case, he might be out of school for awhile until we figured out an alternative. We have family around who can provide care for him at those times; it would be okay.

Thanks for all your comments. It's very reassuring to hear all the different perspectives. I ordered the Oh Crap book. We're going to keep working on it!
posted by beandip at 12:06 PM on August 2, 2017

He needs a lot of coaxing to go and will not initiate using the potty on his own. Whether this is because he doesn't want to use the potty or doesn't know he needs to go, it's hard to tell. It just seems like he doesn't care. He sort of shuts down and won't talk about it, which is very unlike him.

This sort of avoidance sounds a lot like how my son behaves when he's anxious about something. He feigns indifference, ignores attempts to talk about it, and if I push, he will literally curl up in a ball, stare stonily at a book, and pretend that neither I or the thing I want to talk about exist.

It might be worth trying to tease out which aspect he's anxious about - is he scared of the potty in some way, is he worried that you'll be upset if he has an accident, is he worried that if he's out of diapers he won't be your baby anymore? Kids get weird ideas and 3 year olds are complicated. If you figure out something specific, you can address it, but even if you don't you can provide lots of general reassurance.

My son went through a phase where if I praised him for good behavior he'd get really upset because he was afraid that meant I wouldn't love him anymore if he couldn't manage good behavior. So, I've learned to tell my kids that - though I really would like them to behave nicely - I always love them, no matter what. I get specific - "I love you when you [do nice thing]. I also love you when you [pain in the butt thing]. I would even love you if you [comically awful thing] [cue laugh track]."

Nothing bad, and maybe some good, can come from telling your son that you love him when he uses the potty and you also love him when he doesn't use the potty. You want to help him learn, but you know it's hard work - and you always love him. He will always be your baby AND your big boy, all at the same time. (Sometimes I pair this with some mildly roughhousing-type hugs or scooping up kid in arms, some sort of physical contact.)

That sort of thing has gone a long way for both my kids in easing their various irrational and non-obvious fears.
posted by telepanda at 12:35 PM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also playing off Telepanda's idea - you can try the no pants method outdoors this time of year if you have a yard. Maybe let him choose where to put the potty chair? And if he misses using it, less cleanup for you, but he still feels the natural messy consequences.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:36 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is ridiculous.

Both my kids learned at school and took their time about doing it at home, so it was a combo of using the toilet at school but still wearing pull ups at home for awhile. That changed over time. My second was quicker to learn than my first. Basically once she had it down and stayed dry several nights in a row, we just ran out of pull ups and told her we weren't buying them any more. She was a little sad (she liked the designs) but was okay when we let her get new underwear of her own choosing. My eldest took longer to learn.

Don't get me wrong. It still wasn't easy and we certainly worked on it. Full on bribery was involved as well as some gaming the system on the part of the kids. But we basically didn't sweat it.

It's a ridiculous threat that early childhood programs just need to stop using on parents. It's inappropriate and in all the times I've heard someone being told this, I've never seen it happen that kid wasn't moved up to an age appropriate group.
posted by zizzle at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update a month later: making progress! Yesterday was the first day with no potty accidents all day.

It's been a little rough, emotionally. Sometimes he'll have a couple accidents in a row in the evenings, and when I ask why, he'll tell me that he doesn't want to use the potty, he's just a little baby and he wants to be my tiny baby forever. So we have been talking a LOT about how we love him just the same no matter how old he is and no matter how many accidents happen, and also how older kids sometimes get to do fun things that babies can't do. I'm trying hard to talk about "older kids" rather than "big kids" because he's so much smaller than the other kids his age, and I want him to identify with kids his age, rather than kids the same size as he is. Yesterday a little girl on the playground told him he couldn't play because he was a baby and it broke my heart, but he told her that actually he's almost four and not a baby at all, and they ended up playing together for awhile.

We talked to the preschool some more and worked things out. Keeping him in the toddler group wasn't an option that any of us felt would be right for him, so he's moving up to the "young 3's" group. He gets to keep the same teacher, who we like and who seems to be very positive about the whole thing. It seems like he's a lot less resistant to using the potty at school than he is at home, and I think being in a group of kids his own age who are all potty-trained will be good motivation too. The preschool administrator did say that if he was not potty-trained in time, they would want someone to come and sit with him and watch while his classmates went swimming. Avoiding that scenario has been a big motivator for the whole family. At the school open house last night we confirmed that he'll be swimming with the rest of his class starting next week.

Thanks again to everyone who posted encouragement. I'm so proud of the progress my kid has made in a month and feeling hopeful that it will continue to get easier and more consistent with time.
posted by beandip at 9:34 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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