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What to Do When Your Child Won't Potty Train

What to Do When Your Child Won't Potty Train

What to Do When Your Child Won't Potty Train

Circle of Moms member Kendal D. writes, “I am at my wits' end with this potty training thing! I have tried EVERYTHING I know to try. Reward charts, stickers, prizes, treats, bribes, positive reinforcement, EVERYTHING! I have even taken away treats and privileges. NOTHING works.”

This is a difficult situation, and not unusual, especially for boys.

A child can be well into the potty training process, then for one reason or another, either stops, or begins having problems, which puts the process on hold. Most of the time the reason lies in the way the child has interpreted something through his immature reasoning. When that happens, I suggest parents begin by looking at the situation through the eyes of a child.

When you read Kendal’s entire question you’ll see that the big clue as to why the potty training changed was that baby #2 came along. The truth is the potty training didn’t fail, the child’s focus shifted.

The child in question was ready and able to potty train and also enjoyed the praise and love his parent sent him when he was successful. This praise is a subconscious emotional pay-off that works to support his success with potty training, unless it gets misinterpreted.

It’s normal for a child to regress a bit when a major life event happens. It’s common when a new baby arrives for an older child to begin having accidents or to wish to return to baby status by being in diapers again.

What is "Parent Pie"?

In Kendal's son's case, his potty accidents became more prevalent than his potty successes, and he (most likely) unconsciously changed where he got his emotional pay-off. The emotional pay-off used to come from the praise, now it’s coming from the comments made about his lack of success. There is a good reason why this happens; I called it Parent Pie.

To a child, the amount of positive attention and emotional energy a parent gives feels like a fabulous snack that he loves and craves, it’s like getting a slice of a delicious "Parent Pie." The problem is, due to his immature reasoning, he also perceives getting negative attention as a slice of Parent Pie too; it’s just a smaller slice.


Think about how you handle things when you’re disappointed that your child has had an accident? You stop what you’re doing, look him in the eyes, and lower your voice to show him you mean business. In other words, you completely focus on him, and he eats it up. That’s a lot of Parent Pie!

In this case the child knows, because he experiences it everyday, that his lack of success on the potty keeps mom occupied with him. His immature reasoning incorrectly has him concluding that mom is choosing him over the baby.

For a child, misbehaving (in this case, regressing his potty training) to get some Parent Pie is not a conscious act; it’s a subconscious act. It’s also not something that only occurs with sibling rivalry or potty training. Parent Pie can happen with any issue since it’s all about your child's effort to get more of your focused attention.

The Potty Training Solution

Potty training becomes a success when a child makes the connection between a full bladder, the need to stop playing so he can go potty, and the fact that this is his responsibility, not his parent’s. 

In order for that to happen, a parent needs to stop being in charge of the toileting like they did when he was in diapers. As soon as you know that your child has the basic knowledge and experience to go potty, let go. Become uninterested. Adopt the attitude that he’ll go potty when he goes potty. Stop any negative comments so the child isn’t gaining Parent Pie through negative attention. Don't mention accidents, don't give lectures, make no comments, nothing. Just silently help him change or clean up, or if he’s old enough, let him do it himself.

Boundaries When Wet

Of course you can still set boundaries about being wet. You can say, “You can’t sit on my sofa when you’re wet, pull up a chair.” Or, “I can’t give you a hug because you’re wet, but I can give you an air hug.” You’re not punishing him for being wet; you’re just giving him boundaries because he’s wet.

A Sneaky Tip

Consider loading him up with water, juice and popsicles to fill his bladder so he gets the opportunity to be successful as often as possible. And since rewards haven’t worked up to this point, don’t give him rewards when he succeeds, or you’ll be setting him up to believe the things you’re supposed to do in life all come with rewards, and they don’t! 

I’m not saying you should ignore him when he has an accident; I’m simply suggesting that you become aware of your words in order to watch the amount of negative attention your child is digesting with his Parent Pie.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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