How to Potty Train a Stubborn Toddler
I’ll be honest – potty training almost broke me.
Our 3-year old son is amazing – he’s smart, funny, loves to dance and sing, and can memorize songs and books much faster than anyone else I know.
He is also incredibly strong-willed and stubborn.
Everything with him has been just a bit more of a struggle, because this little boy knows what he wants, and is not afraid to say it (now that he no longer struggles with a speech delay).
Related Reading: Toddler Speech Delays: What You Can Do to Help
We knew potty training wasn’t going to be easy with him, but he started showing a real interest in the potty at just short of 32 months.
I had already purchased the infamous “Oh Crap” potty training book months before, but we weren’t in any rush since his preschool didn’t require him to be potty trained, and he wasn’t really interested at that time.
But finally, at just past 2.5 years old, he seemed ready, and we had a four day weekend that we could spend at home.
The result? Well, let’s just say it did not go well.
After two days, I was in tears, and so was he, so we decided to call it quits before any serious damage was done and the potty became traumatizing.
Now, at two months short of 3.5 years old, he’s potty trained pretty darn well.
We still keep him in diapers for naps and nighttime, purely because we are in no rush, and see no reason to push (also, the stress of a global pandemic is enough to deal with). However, I’m fairly certain he could – and normally does – stay dry for both, so we do have a plan in mind for when we’re ready to try.
So how did we finally potty train our strong willed toddler? Here are all the nitty gritty details on what we did, why we broke all of the potty training rules, and my honest potty training tips for boys.
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Potty Training Tip #1: Research
The first thing I did was search my mom groups on Facebook for advice. I am a huge fan of Babywise (see my post on how we used Babywise methods to get our daughter to sleep through the night at 8 weeks), and the Babywise Facebook groups are some of the most helpful mom groups I belong to on Facebook.
So, I sought out advice on the “Toddlerwise” group, and the overwhelming potty training method used was the method from the “Oh Crap” book.
Here’s where I’m going to go off the edge a little: I didn’t love the book.
I do think her method can and does work, but the author seemed to look down on parents who waited until their child “was ready,” and convinced me that if I waited to potty train after three years old, it was going to be a disaster.
On the contrary, trying it before he was three and “ready” was an absolute disaster.
Related Reading: 20 Favorite Indoor Activities for Toddlers
A Quick Rundown of the “Oh Crap” Method
So what is the Oh Crap method? It’s breaks down into essentially three steps, or blocks, as she refers to them. Each block can last a day, or several days.
Stay at home with your child and be prepared to watch them and play with them all day long.
Your child will be naked, and you won’t leave the house. You will, however, take them to the potty as soon as they start to pee or poop (yes, this involves pee and poop on the floor as you run to the bathroom), and watch to try to learn their cues.
The eventual goal here is for you and your toddler to learn their specific signs for when they need to use the potty, and catch them (and take them), before they start going on the floor.
After they seem to have a general handle on peeing and pooping on the potty, we move to peeing and pooping with clothes on, but no underwear.
Watch for their cues and guide them to the potty, but the goal is that they’ll start to tell you when they need to go to the potty.
Fully clothed, with underwear, peeing and pooping on the potty with minimal accidents. Hopefully by this point they are telling you they need to use the potty.
That is a very general breakdown of the method.
Though I found the book frustrating at times, and we didn’t follow it to the letter, I would still suggest getting the “Oh Crap” book, because it does have a lot of good, detailed information on potty training in general. I had no idea where to start, so it was helpful in that respect.
We used a lot of its concepts loosely, and occasionally referred to the book for advice and ideas on how to handle specific topics (like poop) and problems (like poop).
“Oh Crap” seems to be advertised by many parents as a 3-day method, but as I mentioned, by day 2, we had made very minimal progress, which can actually be pretty normal.
My son went on the potty a handful of times during day one, but by the second day, he was screaming anytime I tried to take him to the potty, and would happily choose the floor instead. We could have continued, but it would have not been healthy for either of us.
In the end, I continued researching other methods, and we eventually went with a hybrid of tactics, and continued based on instinct and what we thought would work well with our son’s personality. Basically, we broke all of the rules.
So the end point on this? Research, and don’t be afraid to try a few different things.
Potty Training Tip #2: Wait (and/or Start Over), and Let Him Lead
After our disastrous first attempt at potty training, we decided we would simply wait.
I was prepared to wait until he started asking to go potty, or started refusing to wear a diaper. It turned out we didn’t have to get to this point, because we did one thing in particular during this period that really helped.
We put a little toddler sized potty in the bathroom, and casually asked him everyday before bathtime if he needed to use the potty.
He was already naked and ready to get into the bath (and was also used to peeing in the bathtub), so it was a natural time for him to go. The first few times, he firmly said no. Eventually though, he started to say yes, and would sit on the potty for 10 seconds or so, not pee, and say “all done.”
This was totally ok with us!
My goal was for him to get comfortable with using the potty (or pretending to), and to not see it as some scary object. My other, maybe more important goal, was for him to want to use the potty, and to feel like he had some control in the decision.
My son slowly started to pee on the potty before bathtime with zero issues. We cheered him on loudly, because that works with his personality (gauge it to see how that goes – you know your child!).
After a few weeks of this, we slowly started to ask him if wanted to use the potty more often. The answer started to consistently become “yes.” Victory!
Potty Training Tip #3: Keep Some Diapers in Reserve
I told you we broke all of the rules.
Once we decided to start potty training again, I told my son we were only going to use diapers during naps. (We did not bother with pull-ups, because diapers work just as well and cost less.)
We did not do a ceremonial fake disposal of diapers, because it would not have made a difference to him. If he wanted to use the potty, he would.
We did however, make sure to change him out of his diaper as soon as he woke up in the morning, and as soon as he woke up from his nap. I made a point to tell him there were no exceptions to this.
When he woke up, he would get his usual “good morning!” and cheerful greetings, and then we would ask, “What’s the first thing you do when you get up? Go potty!”
We got a lot of protests to this, but we insisted, so that he knew it was not negotiable. If he said he didn’t want to go potty, we would leave him in the crib until he was ready to go. (Note that he didn’t have to actually pee on the potty – just sit on it and try.)
We also opted to use underwear during the day, something else that is not encouraged by “Oh Crap’s” author, because of it potentially feeling too similar to a diaper. In our case though, my son had zero issue with pee or poop feeling uncomfortable to him with or without underwear, so we opted for underwear as an extra barrier.
Potty Training Tip #4: Offer a Reward
A reward is not really encouraged, but also not flat out discouraged in the “Oh Crap” book, but again, knowing my son’s personality, we decided to ignore that advice and go ahead with a reward.
We offered one m&m for pee, and two m&m’s for poop. He was really excited about this, and it was a huge motivator.
Now, two months in, he doesn’t ask for candy. Poops are still a big deal, so we had to up the ante on those, offering him an episode of his favorite show, Paw Patrol. He was not allowed to watch it otherwise, so it became a huge motivation. Poop was also a huge struggle for him, so this seemed necessary, and the big reward was a game changer.
When he does go number two on the potty, he is incredibly proud of himself, and says, “time for Paw Patrol!”
Rewards worked really well for us.
Related Reading: What Not To Do When Your Clingy Child Starts Preschool
Potty Training Tip #5: Get a Potty Watch **a.k.a. the Game Changer**
I was a little skeptical at first, but the potty watch turned out to be the most important piece in all of this.
My son LOVES his potty watch. It plays music when it’s time to go potty, and you can set it to play every 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, or on demand.
He was so excited to wear this watch, and it got to the point where he was running to us to let us know it had gone off.
This was the first thing that actually made him want to go to the potty, and I think the key was – he finally felt like he had some control. He got to tell us when it was time to go, and not the other way around.
I also highly recommend giving this a try if you’re struggling with getting your child to stop what they’re doing in order to go to the potty.
The music was hard to ignore, and it was a good reminder for us to remind him to go after a long period of time. After a few days, it also really helped us figure out how often he actually needed to use the potty.
Note that the potty watch is water resistant, but not waterproof, so don’t let them wear this by the pool (we learned this the hard way).
Potty Training Tip #6: Be Repetitive, But Don’t Bother Them Too Much
We repeated over and over to my son that he should let us know when he needs to go potty. It didn’t work – for literally a month. He would pee in his pants, simply because he didn’t feel like stopping what he was doing. (Poop was a different story – he would go outside to go, simply because he was too scared to go on the potty.)
We had to watch him constantly, and run him to the bathroom whenever he looked like he was about to pee or poop. We got better at catching him before he would go in his pants, and we continued to gently remind him to tell us next time.
One morning, I told him, here’s what you do if you need to go: “Yell, mommy! papa! I need to go potty!”
We repeated this every day, several times a day. If he went in his pants, we didn’t make a big deal, we just encouraged him to tell us next time, and repeated the words he should say: “Mommy! Papa! I need to go potty!” No lectures, or anything else.
You guys, it worked. He now yells at us that he needs to go, and starts running for the bathroom. It’s not full proof, but he’s definitely not peeing silently or trying to hide in a corner.
The goal here, is to not harass them to the point where they want to be defiant. Remind them over and over about what they need to do. Remind them there’s a reward (if you are choosing to give one), and then leave it alone.
Potty Training Tip #7: Use Videos, Music, and Books
Our toddler loves music and books, so we tried to find as many of those resources as possible to encourage him.
I’ve listed our favorite potty training books below. We would read these every night, and he loved them.
He also loved this video on YouTube. He loves singing the “I can do it by myself” part, and this song in particular really stuck with him (he still sings it to himself).
One note – I don’t recommend having your child watch videos every time they’re physically on the potty. This definitely did not work for us, because even though it kept him from trying to get off of the potty, he was so focused on the videos that he didn’t/couldn’t concentrate on actually trying to go potty.
Potty Training Tip #8: Dig Deep In Your Patience Reserve and Stay Calm
Potty training can be so frustrating, but one thing you have to do is keep your cool. I know – it’s especially hard when you’re trying to potty train a stubborn child who is fighting you every. step. of. the. way.
Don’t give up, and stay calm. Don’t shame him for accidents, just repeat that you pee and poop in the potty, not in your pants. Shaming them or getting angry will only make it worse.
In the end, they are still tiny humans who have trouble not getting food all over themselves, so perspective is key.
Also, go in expecting and accepting that there will be messes, but remember that they can always be cleaned (but you should probably buy a great fabric cleaner too)!
Best Potty Training Products For Boys
It was not easy, but those are the the main steps we followed to potty train our stubborn toddler. Here’s a quick recap of the tips for where to start with potty training a strong willed child:
- Research and find a method – or methods – that work for you. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all.
- Wait, and let them lead. You don’t have to start now just because someone thinks your child is too old to be in diapers.
- Keep some diapers in reserve. It’s ok for them not to be potty trained for naps and nighttime right away. You can do this in phases.
- Offer a reward as extra motivation. If it becomes necessary, and you know they’re willfully not going to the potty, you can also take things away.
- Get a potty watch to help remind you and your child when they should go.
- Be repetitive with your expectations, but don’t harass them.
- Use videos, music, and books to make the potty seem fun and accessible.
- Stay calm, and use that patience that you didn’t even know you had.
Ok, so in addition to these potty training strategies, we had a bit of potty training gear to help us along the way.
Besides the potty watch, there are a few items that have been amazing tools, particularly for potty training a boy.
Related Reading: Toddler Gift Guide
1. Baby Bjorn Potty Chair
The key to this seat is that the splash guard is super high, which makes it perfect for boys. We have a second seat that has a much lower splash guard, and it really makes a difference.
2. Baby Bjorn Potty Seat
Similar to the potty chair, the splashguard on this Baby Bjorn potty seat is high and works really well.
This seat is a little pricier than others, but having tried another cheaper brand for a second bathroom in our house, this one is definitely worth the price.
Besides the high splashguard, it fits the toilet better, because it has a tightener that allows you to adjust it to the toilet seat.
3. Ubbi Potty Hook
The potty hook allows you to hang the potty seat on the edge of the toilet. Incredibly simple, and one item that’s easy to overlook, but is incredibly useful to have.
4. Underwear. Lots of Underwear.
My favorites (though I’m not sure my son has an opinion) are these from Nordstrom. They are super soft and great quality. We grabbed them during last year’s Anniversary Sale, knowing potty training would be coming eventually, and they were a great deal.
Grab enough pairs so that you don’t have to worry about doing the laundry on an accident heavy day! I think we purchased 18 pairs or so.
5. Step Stool
We love these step stools. These come in a pack of two, which is helpful if you have more than one bathroom in your home. Great quality, don’t slip, and are a good height, especially for taller sinks.
6. Piddle Pad
As we’ve started to venture out more, we take a potty chair with us, and also have a piddle pad in his carseat. These pads provide a little bit of extra coverage for accidents, and are machine washable.
7. Faucet Extender
When you’re washing your hands after every trip to the potty, having anything to help simplify this process is great.
These faucet extenders are so simple and useful. We have one for every bathroom, and they allow even my youngest to reach the water on her own while standing on a step stool.
8. Flushable Wipes
I hesitated to buy flushable wipes at first, but once your toddler is actually pooping on the potty, you’ll want them. It makes it much easier and much less messy to manage and clean up after they go.
9. Books to Read
Sesame Street: P is for Potty – If you have a Sesame Street watcher/Elmo lover, this is a great book to read and encourage them. It has flaps to make it interactive, and a great message.
Potty – We love basically every Leslie Patricelli book, and the “Potty” book is no exception. Super simple, funny, and a favorite of our son’s.
In the end, the most important things we learned about potty training a stubborn toddler boiled down to two simple ideas: we needed to listen to our toddler, and we needed to trust our instincts.
Not rushing or pushing him was so important, and giving him a sense of control over the process made all the difference!
Also, don’t give up. They will eventually get it, and you won’t look back.
What are your best potty training tips for boys, and stubborn toddlers?
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