Potty training is not for the faint of heart- especially when you have a strong-willed child involved. Here are strategies we used that actually helped.
Potty training is something I think just about every parent dreads.
With Jack, I think he could have potty trained earlier…but I was just lazy.
However, when we decided it was time, he picked up on it right away, and he’s never looked back.
So I assumed it would be the same with Oliver. I took a very laid back approach, and when he was around three, we decided to try it out.
That was a disaster, and we quickly decided it wasn’t worth doing.
He was actually potty trained at night from the time he was about 2.5 years old – nothing that we did. He just had really good bladder control!
But actually potty training during the day…that turned out to be a task in and of itself.
You see, Oliver is a very strong-willed child. I truly believe this can be one of his greatest qualities – but it has made for some difficult parenting moments.
And potty training was one of them. I scoured the Internet for potty training advice, and none of it was helpful.
None of it worked. And honestly, he just didn’t seem to care if he wore diapers.
But don’t worry – there’s a happy ending to this story. He did get potty trained around 3.5. It took time, a lot of effort, and a lot of patience….but he got there.
So if you are reading this and wondering if you will ever be able to get your strong-willed child to be potty trained…rest assured, it IS possible.
And I hope these tips will help. As I was writing this article, I found that people are often searching “how to potty train a strong-willed boy”. I’m sure girl moms will find this helpful, too, but this is definitely my experience with a boy!
Potty Training Tips
Let it be their idea
This is the one thing I’ve learned thus far in my parenting of a strong-willed child…it needs to be their idea.
That doesn’t mean you can’t plant little ideas in their head throughout the day. But the more that it feels like it’s their idea to go potty in the big kid potty, the better.
This can sometimes require not being SUPER EXCITED ABOUT GOING POTTY. Sometimes it can our inclination to be over-the-top with our encouragement, but with Oliver, I found that the less enthusiastic I was, the better.
We actually did A LOT of reverse psychology. I certainly don’t have a degree in psychology, but for us, this worked. The more we said things like, “I don’t care if you go potty. Actually, I don’t even want you to go potty!” the more he wanted to do it. Maybe it’s encouraging a little bit of defiance on their end, but hey, it worked for us!
I also have found with Oliver, that if he’s frustrated, and we keep pushing, he’s less likely to do it. But when I just let him be, I often find him trying to do it on his own.
I’ll never forget when he came running to me and said, “I went potty!” I hadn’t told him to. He just did it. And that has happened with so many other things in his life, that I find the gentle encouragement…but letting him “come to terms” with things on his own is the best thing we can do.
(As I type this, he’s downstairs dribbling a basketball. That is another key example of this – he struggled a lot at first. He didn’t want help. But I knew he wanted to get better. So he just started practicing on his own, and now he’s totally mastered it. It was the same thing with potty training!)
Get Rid of the Diapers
If they think that there’s an option for diapers, they will take it. It wasn’t until we told Oliver no more diapers, no more pull-ups that I feel like we really started see progress.
This can be harder at night if your child is not nighttime potty trained. One great solution that we’ve discovered are Peejamas. They sent us some samples, and as I was writing this post, I thought it would be a great place to mention them.
These are basically like cloth diapers for big kids – not only are they more environmentally-friendly than Pull-ups or diapers, but they feel more like underwear.
Instead of feeling like a diaper is an excuse to pee (which is very common when you keep going with diapers), your child can tell they’ve gone to the bathroom, and it helps them to recognize that it’s not a fun feeling.
However, it keeps their bed from getting soaked because of their absorbency. Peejamas keep their absorbancy for about 300 washes, and they end up being 1/3 the cost of pull-ups.
These are such a great option for when you decide to call it quits on diapers. Because with strong-willed children, you really have to go all in. And Peejamas helps with that.
As I mentioned, Oliver was night-trained for quite some time. However, over the past few months, he has had a few accidents at night randomly.
He actually didn’t even tell us – he would just change out of his clothes. But then I noticed he was wet one morning before he had the chance, and he told me he’d had a few accidents.
It doesn’t happen a lot, but we didn’t want him to feel like he had to go back to wearing pull-ups, so we got some Peejamas. They help keep his bed from getting wet, and it still feels like he’s wearing underwear. Thankfully, it hasn’t been a big problem – but I think it’s a nice option for children who regress or have trouble with bed-wetting.
Consistency is key with any potty training, really. Make sure you don’t start trying right before a major change (such as a move or new sibling being born).
Oliver thrives on routine and consistency – and he always has. I found that when we only half-heartedly did potty training, he wasn’t that into it.
Once we buckled down and made potty a part of our regular routine, we saw improvement. It was something he would come to expect.
I find that a lot of strong-willed children really rely on routine, so just make sure you are consistent. If you aren’t ready to commit to having a potty chair in your car so you can have your kid go potty at any given moment, maybe wait a little bit.
Accept that Traditional Methods Don’t Work – At least, not at first
There are SO many potty training tips out there, and we tried pretty much all of them.
The three-day method.
Giving lots of water before we thought he needed to go.
Aiming for cheerios in the potty.
They didn’t work – at least, not at first. Oliver got so mad anytime we would set a “potty timer”.
He pretty much was like, “Psh, whatever” when we tried to bribe him with treats.
Loading him up with liquids only ensured that we’d have a big accident right after he got off the potty.
And trying to cram it all into three days was a nightmare for everyone.
Eventually, a reward chart worked for Oliver – but it really had to be a good reward to motivate him. But it took a while!
They might sit for a very long time
This was so frustrating to me because he would sit there FOREVER. And then when I finally gave up, he would pee in his underwear as soon as I put them on.
I had heard this was normal, but it didn’t make me feel any better. But I came to realize that this was part of the process.
He had to figure out what would happen if he sat there. He had to understand how to let his body go to the bathroom.
All that time sitting eventually paid off, and when he got it, he got it!
Praise, Praise, Praise
Okay, I know I said earlier not to go overboard with how exciting potty training is – and I stand by that.
Don’t make a big deal about it before they are interested or trying. But when they actually do go potty? Well, call in the party crew!
Oliver loves praise and making us happy. He may not always act he wants to please us during the process of something – but once it’s complete, his face LIGHTS up when you recognize how exciting something was that he did.
So when they have success – no matter how small it is – cover that little child in priase.
Certain Rewards Help
Oliver was not motivated by candy, small toys, random trinkets at the Dollar Tree, or a reward chart.
He seemed to think that not being potty trained was a lot better than an M&M or putting a sticker on a chart.
So we had to up the ante a little bit and figure out something he REALLY wanted.
Something that truly motivated him. And when we discovered that, a reward chart started working.
He really wanted to go to preschool, and he couldn’t until he was potty trained. So that was big motivation #1 for him.
And then we said we’d go to the Great Wolf Lodge. I know, kind of extravagant…but we were willing to do just about everything. And that, combined with preschool, seemed to be the kickers to getting him potty trained.
Thankfully we were able to score a killer deal, and he was patient enough to wait for that to happen 🙂
I’m not saying you have to spend a ton of money, but if you want to use a reward, it has to be something that they really are interested in, and brings more satisfaction than an M&M.
They might be very particular about their potty environment
Some kids can just go potty anywhere once they learned.
Not always with strong-willed children. They may struggle to go anywhere but their special Paw Patrol potty.
It might be hard to go at their grandparent’s house.
And if they have an accident somewhere, they may not want to come out of the bathroom until you can go home and change into THEIR underwear and THEIR clothes (we learned the hard way that Grammy’s extra clothes were a no go).
Obviously, this is something they have to learn. But don’t be surprised if they don’t want to go potty in the big potty at Target…keeping our potty training chair in the back of the car was crucial.
Have them clean up messes
This is a tip my friend, Hilary, gave me, and I think it helps (side note – Hilary always gives me some of my best parenting tips. Check out her Family Routines course – seriously SO helpful. Get 10% off with code CLARKS).
If they have an accident – have them clean it up. They may not want to, but it can be a huge motivator to them.
Of course, you can totally follow behind and clean up the mess once their done (because chances are, there will be stuff leftover), but having them wipe up a mess, put wet undies and clothes in the washer, or help wash out poopy underwear is helpful.
They might tell you no or walk away. And I wouldn’t push it. But if you can get them cleaning it up, eventually they’ll get sick of it. Oliver was fine with it for awhile, and he would do it without any fighting. But eventually, I think he realized it wasn’t the most fun task 🙂
It’s Hard for Them
As hard as it was for me to not understand why he didn’t want to get potty trained…I remember looking at his little face one day and realizing it was hard for him, too.
I truly believe that part of his resistance was because he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He didn’t quite understand his body or how to control these types of functions.
He wanted to do it. But it was hard. As he’s gotten older, I’ve found that he tends to be the most strong-willed about things that he’s the most nervous about.
And trying to force him NEVER helps. It was the same with baseball, and soccer, and basketball. Once he got the confidence to do those things, he was awesome. But it took time.
So baby steps help. Encouragement. Letting them know how proud you are (without going overboard) goes a long way.
Chances are, your child actually DOES want to get potty trained, but they are just scared of not being able to do it. And that is hard.
Try and Keep your Emotions in Check
This was the hardest for me. Potty training can be a VERY emotional thing for everyone involved, especially when you feel like it’s never going to happen.
There were a few times I burst into tears. I’ll admit there were a few times I yelled. And I’m not proud of that.
Especially when I saw his little heartbroken face. So I found that whenever I was starting to get frustrated, it was time to take a step back.
I wasn’t going to force him to change, and it didn’t make either of us feel good when I got upset.
So recognizing when your blood pressure is starting to rise is crucial. Knowing that it’s okay to walk away, cool down, and try again later is so important.
If you sense they are frustrated….it’s okay to stop, too.
It’s okay to take a break
We started to try and potty train Oliver at three, because it seemed like a good time (especially since that’s when Jack was suddenly potty trained overnight!).
Well, we quickly learned that he had ZERO interest in potty training, and there was no changing his mind.
So we stopped. And I think sometimes it’s important to recognize when a child just isn’t ready.
It’s okay to take a break. One thing I’ve found with my strong-willed child is that when you let them take the lead (with gentle nudges from you), things play out a lot easier in the long run.
With that said – there is no perfect time. At 3.5, Oliver still happily wore diapers, but I could tell he was a little bit more open to the idea. I joke sometimes that if we hadn’t pushed at all, he’d probably still
When it comes down to potty training a strong-willed child…you just have to have patience.
I’ve discovered this to be the case for pretty much everything when it comes to potty training Oliver. When something can be on his time table, I let it be.
Because it’s so much easier when we let him come to terms with something.
I’m sure that sounds like we just let him run the house – which is not true. We have plenty of rules. But we also pick our battles.
I found with Oliver, we had to let him figure it out on his own. He had to realize that he didn’t like having poopy underwear or pull ups. He had to realize it was much better to go in the potty.
They will figure it out. It may not always be on your time table, but it will work out!
Katie is a Colorado-native, BYU graduated, and most importantly, wife to one and mother to three beautiful boys. She is passionate about sharing her experiences with others – especially about pregnancy, breastfeeding, cooking, and crafts. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She loves spending time with her family and helping others find joy in family life.