Practical Tips for Potty Training Stubborn Kids

Myrrh Hector
Potty Training the Stubborn Child

Few things are more difficult than potty training stubborn kids. Parents love to brag about how early and easily their children were trained. They imply all sorts of things about how their little Timmy or Suzy values personal cleanliness so much that he or she just practically threw the diapers off and jumped on the potty. "He/She just couldn't stand those icky diapers anymore!" When mama's little darling is a bit more reluctant to leave diapers behind, it calls for a more flexible and creative approach to potty training.

The Early Bird Does Not Get the Worm

Rather than pushing potty training as soon as a child can walk, parents should wait until the child shows signs of physical and mental readiness. Some physical signs that a child is ready for potty training include:

  • Ability to walk well
  • Urinating large amounts at one time
  • Dry periods lasting several hours
  • Has bowel movements at somewhat regular times

With more stubborn kids, the physical signs of readiness are sometimes the easy part. The mental and behavioral cues that usually tip parents that it's time to introduce the potty may simply not be present in kids who have a stubborn temperament. Some of the usual mental and behavioral cues to watch for include the following:

  • An ability to follow simple instructions
  • The ability to sit in one position for a few minutes at a time
  • A desire to put things where they belong
  • The ability to speak and understand words for stool, urine, and potty
  • An openness to learning new things

If potty training starts and the child is absolutely resistant to the training process, waiting for a week or even a month may help. Training should be started when the child is in a slightly better or more compliant mood than usual and should not be started during a stressful time in the child's life like a move, the birth of a new sibling, or a parent's divorce.

Work On Following Directions

The first step in potty training stubborn kids has nothing to do with the potty at all. Before potty training can be successful, a child has to be willing and able to follow their parent or caregiver's instructions. Parents should start with short sessions where they give their child simple directions such as, "go get the red ball." Parents should go to the child, kneel down to their level, and make sure they have their child's attention before giving the direction. If the child does not follow the direction, parents should gently grasp the child's shoulders and steer (again, gently) the child toward the ball. If he or she begins to follow the direction on his or her own, the parent should begin praising the child for following the direction. When the child follows directions, the parent should praise the child and reward him or her with a small treat.

Some parents feel that rewarding their child for obedience with a small treat might damage them, but it is okay to award a child who is learning a new skill. In this case, the child is learning that following a parent's simple directions is a positive thing, which will help immensely with the potty training process. As the child learns to follow directions consistently, the treats should be given less frequently and eventually phased out completely. Appropriate and specific praise is always okay and should be a tool in every parent's repertoire.

Talking It Up

It's important to talk about potty training before it actually starts. This has to be done delicately with stubborn kids, as they may become resistant to the idea if the parent shows too much enthusiasm for the subject. Conversations should be casual and brief, and may be as simple as, "I had to use the bathroom, and I always use the potty when I need to go. Have you ever used a potty?" Stubborn kids will not respond positively to remarks like, "only babies go potty in their diapers. Are you a baby?" Don't nag or act as if kids should already know how to use the toilet. Potty training is a skill, and it is a challenge to learn any new skill. Kids need to be taught, not shamed for not already knowing the thing they are trying to learn.

Points to Remember for Potty Training Stubborn Kids

The most important thing to remember when trying to potty train a child with a stubborn temperament is to be persistent. Keep trying, and keep reinforcing a child's efforts with praise and small treats. Don't punish the child for accidents, but have the child help you clean up the accident and make the connection between accidents and the lack of praise or rewards. If the first potty training efforts don't work, be patient and try again another day. Potty training stubborn kids doesn't always happen overnight, and each child's ability to learn is different. Don't give up!

Practical Tips for Potty Training Stubborn Kids