Practical Tips for Potty Training Stubborn Kids

Myrrh Hector
Contributor: Michele Meleen
Potty Training the Stubborn Child

Few things are more difficult than potty training a stubborn child. Strong-willed girls and boys present a challenge, but with the right tools and tips, parents can help even the most stubborn 3-year-old, 4-year-old, or older child ditch their diapers.

How to Potty Train a Stubborn Child

While every child is unique and has their own reasons for resisting potty training, there are a few simple tricks and methods that tend to work well with many stubborn kids. Take your child's developmental level, personality, trigger points, and motivations into account and you'll find the most success with toilet training.

Gauge Your Child's Toilet Training Readiness

Parents should wait until the child shows signs of physical and mental readiness. Pushing a child before they're ready can result in an even bigger delay for potty training, especially with strong-willed kids. Some 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
  • Bowel movements at somewhat regular times
  • Ability to follow simple instructions
  • Ability to sit in one position for a few minutes at a time
  • Desire to put things where they belong
  • Ability to speak and understand words for stool, urine, and potty
  • Openness to learning new things

Be Positive About Potty Training

Most stubborn kids won't react well to overt enthusiasm or teasing remarks about potty training. When you talk about potty training, even before the process actually begins, keep it positive and factual. You can occasionally say things like "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?" 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.

Work On Following Directions

Before potty training can be successful, a child has to be willing and able to follow their parent or caregiver's instructions. Stubborn kids won't respond well to commands and demands, so get creative with your directives so they sound like choices. A simple phrase like "It's time to try going potty, will you use the upstairs bathroom or the downstairs bathroom?" feels like a choice for the child, but it's actually a directive from you to use the potty. Other ways to promote following directions include:

  • Training sessions where you use toys and play to help your child practice following simple directions
  • Offering praise when your child follows a directive in any daily activity, including using the potty
  • Offering small rewards for completing different potty training steps and milestones in the beginning phase

Discuss Potty Training With Your Child

Strong-willed children often like to feel like they understand what is happening and why. Use facts and concrete reasoning to have regular conversations with your child about why potty training is important. Make sure you're not doing all the talking, these should be engaging conversations where you listen to your child's point of view and ideas. Points of discussion include:

  • If and when diapers will stop being an option
  • How you can make the toilet or potty seat feel more comfortable/fun
  • How long the process can take
  • Benefits of being potty trained
  • Consequences of not being potty trained, such as not being allowed to attend school at a certain age

Let Your Child Take the Lead

Parenting a strong-willed child often means letting them take the lead where possible. It's your job to give them all the information and tools they need to be able to start using the toilet. You can talk about it and show them how to do it, but ultimately a stubborn child will have more success when they have some say in the process. Present your potty training information regularly and consistently then ask your child every so often if they are ready for it. Once they choose to start the process, make sure you take a step back and simply offer praise or tips so they don't feel like you are taking over.

Baby boy learning how to use the toilet

Let Someone Else Train Them

When you're the primary caregiver, it's easy to get inadvertently locked in power struggles with your toddler. If all other methods and means are failing, let another family member take the lead on potty training. It could be a teen sibling or a grandparent who lives with you or regularly cares for your child. Someone you and your child know and trust could be the tool you need to get through potty training refusal. Have private conversations with this person about their approach and how you can support it.

When Your Resistant Child Is Ready but Not Willing

If potty training starts and your child is absolutely resistant to the training process, there are a few other simple things you can try.

  • Start when your child is in a great mood.
  • Show your child how with fun potty training videos that make the process silly and exciting.
  • Call it off and wait a couple of weeks or months then try again.
  • Leave underwear where your child can reach them and the potty seat set up, but don't talk about potty training.
  • Make it a competition or a game such as saying "First one to go potty gets to pick what movie we watch." then race your child to the bathroom.
  • Use a potty training chart and offer an extravagant prize.

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 your 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