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Potty Training a Strong-Willed Child

You must set the rules and the boundaries, not your toddler.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


What can we do with our strong-willed son, who is now three-and-a-half years old and refuses to be potty trained?

Barbara: That's a very frustrating situation and I don't envy you a bit. Let me first encourage you to remember that he will not want to still be using diapers in a few years when he goes off to kindergarten. He may be fighting you now, but that won't last long. The biggest lesson I learned about potty training with our six children is that you can make a big deal out of it and cause your child and yourself a lot of grief, or you can relax a bit and wait until the child figures it out and wants to do it.

Dennis: My bit of advice on this was a statement Dr. Henry Brandt made one time: He has never met an adult who wasn't potty trained. So eventually everyone learns. I would say, however, that if this has become an issue of the will you have to be careful how you give in at this point.

Barbara: You don't want the child to think that he has won.

Dennis: That's right. Perhaps before withdrawing from this battle, you might find out what would really motivate the child to be potty trained. Is it a baseball glove? Is it a trip, maybe a weekend campout with Dad?

Set a goal in front of him and make it measurable and achievable and see if he would like to do it. With one of our kids, it took cowboy boots to get him potty trained. I remember the star chart that Barbara made for him and how proud he was when he finally got his cowboy boots and he earned his spurs.

Once you've made the goal clear, I would back off and say, "Whenever you are ready, we'll talk about this again." Let the child know you know what the issues are here and that he is choosing to not be potty trained. Let him know you are still in charge, that you are choosing to set the parameters, and are not just relenting and letting him win. If you let the child think he's in charge, when he turns 15 the struggle may be over drugs and sex rather than potty training.

Barbara: Another twist to consider is that your child may want to wear regular underwear even when he hasn't been potty trained. But you need to stand firm and let him know who is setting the rules. You say, "Okay, we'll stop potty training for a while, but you will wear diapers all day, every day, until you decide you're ready to learn." You set the rules, you set the boundaries.

But then you face the embarrassment of taking the child to Sunday school where he's the only one still in diapers.

Dennis: Then I would tell the Sunday school teacher, "I'm sorry I have to deposit my son here with him still in diapers when all the other kids are potty trained, but we are going through a little battle of the wills right now on this issue." There isn't a teacher alive who wouldn't understand that. You don't need to compare yourself to others and feel like a failure.

Second, trust the Lord to show the child that he is the only one in the class who is in diapers. Do you think kids don't notice things like that? They know, they watch, they observe. Perhaps you can even enlist the teacher to help by mentioning that she's taking another child to the potty and then giving that other child a piece of candy when he or she is finished. Your child will observe that and may decide he wants in on that action. The key is finding ways to get your child motivated.

Copyright © 2003 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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