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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.

Image Source: Salwa's 5 alive via Flickr/Creative Commons

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.

Henry15240029 Henry15240029 3 years
Hi! I want to share with you my experience with potty training. When my daughter was 15 months, we started the potty program. It was full of reward, because in a week she was doing no 2 only using the potty. But, after about 3 months, she had some nasty problems with diarrhea and she refused to use the potty. She would start crying only if I showed it to her. And this continued until I decided to stop and take a break. I read all that is available online about potty training, but I was desperate, I didn't know what to do, until a came accross a guide that saved me. I followed the steps and in 5 days my daughter was fully potty trained, no1 and no2....This was 6 months ago and since then she had again diarrhea, but she never stopped using the potty. I truly recommend this guide.
CoMMember13631175310433 CoMMember13631175310433 5 years
My son is now just 3 years old. He knows how to pee and poop in the toilet but go when he has clothes on. So most of the time i have a naked kid running around my house. I tried everything so he wears pull ups when we go out or he goes to bed even though they are barely ever wet.
DonnaPelli DonnaPelli 6 years
The comment about Cheerios is true! It helped my son!
RachelEmpey RachelEmpey 6 years
I find it funny that people assume that the issue a parent has with potty training a boy is all about aiming the pee. The issue I had with my son was that he peed just fine in the toilet; but didn't like to poop in the toilet. He actually preferred to crap in his pants, and sit in it. Until you smelled it and called him on it. I asked him many times, "Doesn't it feel yucky or uncomfy to have that poop on your bum and to sit in it?" To which he would simply look at me like I was crazy, and say, "No! I don't mind." Ever tried to MAKE a kid crap on the toilet when he PREFERS to do it in his pants??? I spent nearly 3 years trying to convince him to do it in the toilet, and I tried everything too. Rewards, charts, potty dances, positive re-inforcement; and when none of that worked then it turned into taking things away. He didn't care what I did, he wanted to poop in his pants, plain and simple. He clearly had no problem with the toilet itself, and he had all the knowledge of the fact that poop went in the same place that pee does, he just simply didn't WANT to poop in the toilet, and I couldn't make him. He finally stopped after getting sent home from kindergarten 2 days in a row for pooping his pants in class; he didn't like the fact that the other kids didn't want to play with him because he pooped his pants, it was embarrassing to him. Which, frankly, I tried to explain to him that that would happen if he pooped his pants at school for about a year before he started, but you know kids, they don't listen to their parents! I mean, what do we know, right?
NannaM NannaM 6 years
One of the simplest solutions for boys seems to be to throw a few cheerios in the terlet and let them AIM at them...
PatriciaFriant PatriciaFriant 6 years
I tried everything with my own son to get him potty trained. Finally I bought some big boy undies. Told him what they were. He went to bed that night and when he woke there were no more training pants/diapers anywhere. He checked. I told him he had to wear his big boy pants. Yes we had a few accidents but it worked.
LatishaWilliams72082 LatishaWilliams72082 6 years
You have to be persistent with it it took me two weeks I didn't use no pullups at he wake up take he drink somthing take him ten mins after he have to get that feel that he has to go an now it going to take an min when u first try he was not ready boys take longer than gurl but hey if he talk like he an big boy than it time realtalk
KellyPetersen KellyPetersen 6 years
Potty training is just one of those things kids control. When they're ready, they'll do it, and not a moment before! With our older son, we thought he was ready a few times, and tried to help, but for one reason or another, nothing was clicking. Then one day, out of the blue, he said he wanted big boy underpants, and was going in the potty all the time in a couple days. Had a few accidents here and there for a couple weeks after, but he never looked back! It happens on it's own when they're determined.
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