Potty Training a Stubborn Preschooler

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Potty training a stubborn child. It might seem like your child will go to Kindergarten in diapers but it will happen, mama. Really.

I am pretty sure that my son has cornered the market on stubbornness. He has a double whammy from both sides of his gene pool so when The Husband and I seem surprised by it, but who are we kidding? Not only that, he is high needs. All of these traits together have led to a battle of wills and The Husband and I have all but conceded long ago.

Related: My life with a high needs toddler

Parenting books don’t tell you about potty training stubborn children that just don’t want to use the toilet. That’s because the fact of the matter is, if your child doesn’t want to use the toilet then he won’t. I know that it sounds simplistic but we have tried everything from high praise to bribery and everything in between. No go.

Finally, after over a week of being pretty much accident-free in underwear I am ready to finally say that Dub is day trained at four years and two months old. Hallelujiah! I know, I also thought he was going to graduate high school in diapers. But what I want you to know if you also have an older child who just won’t use the toilet, it will happen. It can be done.

We have been working with him on this for over a year now. He didn’t have a physical reason that he couldn’t use the toilet. He was actually quite good at using the toilet . . . as long as he was naked from the waist down. Any time we put training pants or underwear on him he used them as a diaper. Keeping him naked at home is fine but I’m pretty sure the normals at Tarjay would throw me some serious shade if I walked in with my half naked son playing with his doodle. If you have a son then you know what I’m talking about.

Related: Potty training readiness cues

I wish I had some great pearl of wisdom for you if this is also your life. My only advice is this: have a martini, be patient, encourage him or her without getting frustrated (easier said than done, girlfriend. I know.), have both a potty chair and a toilet ring on hand since your child will probably prefer one over the other (both of mine preferred the ring), and just know that they will not go to Kindergarten in diapers. It will happen, mama. It will.

Have another martini. You deserve it.

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  1. Thank you for this. Not every child is readily and easily trainable at 12 mo’s, 18 mo’s, etc., as a lot of people like to make it seem. My 2nd child was great until he peed in his underwear one day, and for some reason that freaked him out. I can’t get him to want to go back on the toilet, be naked or in underwear anymore. So, I’m backing off until he’s ready. He’s 2-1/2 yrs old now.

  2. My eldest is 100% exactly the same, when his pants are off he uses the toilet beautifully. However he is now 4yrs 8mo. I have no idea what more to do. We have reward systems in place. We praise him when he does well and we scold him when he poops in his pants. I have explained to him how I can’t let him visit friends/go on outings etc, until he starts pooping on the toilet without my help. He completely surprised me the other day, he came to work with me, during the morning he told me ‘he needed to go to the bathroom’ we went, he sat on an unfamiliar toilet with no potty ring or anything. I really thought we finally had success. But no, he still continues to poop in his pants. I shall go pour myself a martini!

    1. I’m sorry. It’s so frustrating when it feels like they will graduate high school in diapers. I know it’s little consolation now, but he will eventually get it. In the meantime, enjoy your martini.

  3. Yes thank you my son is 3 years n 5 months pees in potty no issue he refuses to poop. We have tried everything imaginable no luck getting so discouraged my daughter was fully potty train by 2

  4. I have a 3.25 year old. She refuses,just absolutely refuses, to use the potty. She’ll occasionally sit on it (little potty and ring) but has never actually peed or pooped. Bought the big girl underwear and hates to wear them. Doesn’t repond to any rewards or bribes of candy, stickers, toys, etc. Been trying for several months. At one point she was holding it and didn’t poop for 3 days and complained of her stomach hurting. We backed off and now just waiting until she comes to us with wanting to use it. It’s nice to hear that we’re not the only one to be going through this when you hear everyone else is potty training their 2 year old in 3 days.

  5. Can I just say you made me laugh so hard ?? , thank YOU! I needed it ! Cade is as stubborn as they come and has been “pee” potty trained for 6 months now. He REFUSES to even attempt to poop on the toilet and he’s almost 4. He has knock down , drag out tantrums. I’ve tried everything and anything but none of it works?? help!!!

  6. Potty training my then 3 1/2 year old was awful! I had been trying since he was 2, and it seemed like nothing worked – stickers, candy, my tears…. Then one day, I bought him some Superhero underwear (I think there were 7 in a pack), and showed it to him. Of course, he wanted them, and thought they were awesome. I set the unopened pack right up on our fireplace mantle, and told him that everytime he used the toilet, he’d get a new pair of underwear. (In this case, it was just for pooping, because he had already been going pee with the potty, just refused to poop on it). The next day, he did it, and earned all of his new underwear in a week. He’s doing a great job now, and always uses the toilet, except he does still require a pullup at bedtime.

    1. That sounds like how it went with my oldest. He was far easier to potty train (and just about everything else, lol) than my youngest. When he was three he almost trained himself to pee on the potty within three days. It took about a month longer for #2 and I had to bribe him in a similar way to you. It worked like a charm! Not for my second son, though.

  7. A thousand times this. I feel like her teachers judge me bc they tell me: “she’s ready, she tells us after she goes. Maybe you just need to… [insert what ‘always works’]”
    It is so frustrating and depressing, but she is stubborn and high needs and this has made me feel loads better to read. I know there’s no physical reason why she isn’t potty trained. It’s not that she can’t, it’s that she won’t.
    We just turned 3 by the way.

    1. My oldest trained easily right around his 3rd birthday. In my experience three is very average even though many seem to think kids should be trained at two. I don’t know of many two-year-olds who are and the ones I do were almost three. 🙂

      It will happen though. My son didn’t become fully trained, including at night, until he was four. It’s frustrating because he missed out on going to preschool until this year when he started Pre-K.

  8. So glad you are finally there! My friends have kids in this stage, and I’m sure they’d be encouraged to hear that (eventually) they’ll be there too 🙂 Also, the picture peeking out of the potty seat is so cute 🙂

  9. Congratulations Mama!!! I bet you’re a little sad to be putting those Ragbabes away. 🙁 I know how it is, my almost 3 year old is the same way, perfect potty user when naked but put anything on the bottom and it must be a diaper. *sigh*

    1. Thank you! It’s been a long journey but at least I can use them at night for a little while longer anyway. I really do need to start going through them to destash some and put some away though. That will be a project.

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