Toilet Training - Part 1

Dear Family Volley,
...any tips on potty training a 3 1/2 year old who simply has decided she doesn't want to do it? 

Dear Family Volley,

What is the best age to begin toilet training?  My friend has a son and he is going on 4 years old and is still not toilet trained...I babysit him sometimes and I think he is too big to still be in diapers.
 Natasha M.

Dear Family Volley,

I have a boy who will be 5 in June.  He is my 3rd son and was my most interested in potty training and was trained the earliest.  Well...that was 2 years ago.  As I write this he sits in a diaper totally unphased and could care less about the potty.  I am absolutely at a loss as to what to do.  He is supposed to start kindergarten in the fall.  He is capable of doing it, but refuses.  His main problem is pooping in the toilet.  If he wears underwear it usually ends up in there.  I admit to having been frustrated and even punishing him in the past.  Now I have tried to give the control over to him, but I REALLY need him to go to kindergarten this fall.  He is a very strong willed boy and only does things on his time table.  Any suggestions??
Pooped in Vegas

Dear Pooped in Vegas, Beth, and Natasha,

This is a very common question. Toilet training can be a nightmare, it can also go very smoothly and be a good experience. I offer understanding and solutions for this major problem of child rearing. In a TWO PART SERIES.

As far as age goes, yes Natasha, 4 is too old to still be in diapers. In fact research shows us that mothers report that as a child grows older, the lack of tiolet training causes progressively greater strains and tensions on family life, and on the mother/child relationship.
Also, when you have older children who are not yet toilet trained, this usually means that there have been past attempts that have failed. Past failures can lead to children deliberately "going" in their pants as a means of getting attention (we will talk about this tomorrow), and when a mother sees that her child is wet again she usually doesn't shout for joy, but instead communicates disappointment to the child, who then starts to feel that they are no longer a source of happiness to their parents, but instead frustration. There can be a great deal of baggage in the mother/child relationship if past attempts have failed. If you have experienced a number of unsuccessful attempts at toilet training a child, it is a good idea to consider having another person teach your child (this could be their father, close friend etc.)
Handling toilet training in the wrong way can lead to parents having to "mend" hidden damage.

The goal is not just to get children to go in the toilet and not in their pants, but to teach children to go to the bathroom themselves, with the same independence as an adult demonstrates, and without the need for reminders and continual assistance. 

So today, let's cover some things that parents can do before they toilet train to help kids get ready, as well as ways to know if your child is ready to be trained.

First, When your child is very young (12 months +), there are a few things you can start to do. 
  • Have your child learn to assist in dressing and undressing him/herself. Especially in pulling their pants up and down. Even though they probably won't be able to do it alone, encourage them to be a part of the process. For example, begin to teach them how to pull their pants up, once you have helped them get their legs in the holes and put them on.
  • Teach your children the meaning of the words that you plan on using to train them, and be consistent. Words like wet, dry, sit down, and stand up. Also decide and then start using the words you prefer for the actual poop and pee. Will you say potty, pee-pee, some other name. Decide and then use those words. Be sure you and your husband use the same words so there is not confusion.
  • Let your child watch you and other family members use the toilet. While they are watching point out what you are doing. "See I am pulling down my pants, to go to the bathroom." Let them lower the seat when you are done and flush. Show excitement for their help.
  • Teach them to follow your instructions. Children very young are able to follow directions. Give your child instructions to do something and do not let the instructions go unfulfilled. Praise them when they follow your directions and don't let tantrums discourage you.  
There are also some simple tests that can help you gauge if your child is ready to be trained. Most children 20 +months, are capable of being toilet trained. Keep in mind though that every child will be different. Three simple tests can help you assess readiness.
  1. Bladder Control
  • Does your child urinate (go quite a bit) at one time, or is it more dribbling throughout the day? 
  • Does your child ever appear to know he is about to go to the bathroom, facial expressions, gestures, etc?
  • Does your child stay dry for a few hours at a time?
If your child does all three, then they have passed the bladder control test. Even if he/she doesn't do the second one, they might still be ready, not all children will give visible signs that they are about to go

     2. Physical Development
  • Can your child walk from one room to another with ease and without help or assistance?
  • Does your child have enough hand coordination to easily pick up objects?
If you answered yes to the above then your child is has enough physical development to be trained. 

    3. Instructional Readiness
To determine if your child can follow directions and understands, ask them to do the following. 
  • Ask them to sit in a chair
  • Ask them to touch their nose, eyes, mouth, hair
  • Ask them to stand up
  • Ask them to follow you to another room.
  • Ask them to imitate you (anything will work)
  • Ask them to bring you a familiar object
  • Ask them to put that object with another object (will you put your block on the chair).
If they can fulfill most, 5 or 6 of the 7 then they understand direction well enough to be trained. 

If you child doesn't pass the "instuction test", you will want to work with them before training them. They might just be to young and not have sufficent vocabulary yet. You can teach that to them very quickly. 
If they are older, and/or they have sufficent vocabulary, then it could be that they are just being stubborn. If you know that they understand what you have said, but still refuse to carry out your instructions, you will want to address this before you begin to train them. If stubbornness is the problem, you can't really depend on age to solve the problem.

How then do you teach a stubborn child to follow instructions? Some tips...
  1. Give instructions only when you are next to the child.
  2. Make sure you have the child's attention before you give instruction.
  3. Provide gentle manual guidance within one or two seconds after an instruction is given if the child does not start to follow the instructions on their own.
  4. Give enthusiastic approval as soon as an instruction is followed.
  5. Do not give a second instruction until the first one has been completed.
  6. Don't let a temper tantrum deter you from seeing to it that the instruction is followed.
Use these rules as you go about your everyday tasks, simple things, like asking them to pick up a toy, putting their shoes in a certain place, etc...
When you feel they are following instructions give them the readiness test again. If they pass, then consider them ready to toilet train.

Tomorrow...Toilet Training Part 2
  • What do control and toilet training have in common? EVERYTHING. How to get kids to give up the control.
  • Parental Commitment. Don't turn back.
  • How a child's independance will generalize to other areas.
  • My favorite method for toilet training children, I will share it with you.
Family Volley


  1. Can't wait to keep reading tomorrow. My almost 3 yr old son is just so stubborn but he hates the rashes he keeps getting because of peeing in his diaper, even if I change him 1000 times a day.

  2. Wow, thanks for this advice! I'm looking forward to tomorrow's advice as well. I will pass this along to my friend.

  3. thank you, thank you for this post - and tomorrow's part 2! baby #3 is due soon and my son (almost 3 yrs.) needs to be trained by then. he's SO much different than my daughter, so i need some new ideas to toilet train him.

  4. Thanks for your comments. They are wonderful. So glad that this is helpful. Toilet traning can really turn into a nightmare. Usually when the children are older it is more about the control than the training itself. We will get to that.

  5. Sounds like the advice in Toilet Training in Less Than a Day. Following the advice in that book made toilet training my 2 youngest such a good experience.

  6. Hi Becki, you are exactly right. I am so glad that you had success. If you follow the steps it works every time.

  7. I have a kid who will be 5 in June. He is my third child and was my generally inspired by potty preparing and was prepared the most punctual. Well...that was 2 years prior. As I compose this he sits in a diaper absolutely unphased and could think often less about the potty. I'm totally confused with regards to what to do. He should begin kindergarten in the fall. He can do it, however rejects. His principle issue is crapping in the latrine.


Hi Hi! It always makes my day to hear what you have to say. Let's keep this conversation going. Thank you for your comments. Don't want to leave a comment here, email me at blog.familyvolley@gmail.com.

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