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New Parents and Potty Training Challenges


Potty training, or, as I like to call it, ‘potty guiding’, is a toddler rite of passage no family can ignore, side-step or skip. In the thick of it, you wonder if you will ever get through it sanely and ask often if your child will ever  ”get there”…finally become potty trained. Once there, though, you smile knowing it’s over and you all can move on!

As the amount of questions that come into websites, forums and Facebook pages that deal with potty training issues prove, this is one of the most thought about and angsted over issues in all of parenting!

Over the years, I’ve received endless amounts of letters from families about potty training issues that I’ve turned into columns, articles and blog posts. Here are two that well represent what the majority of parents think but often don’t want to ask:

Q1. For the past few months, my 3-year-old son has been having a problem getting to the toilet in time. If he wets his pants he is very apologetic. We don’t want to discipline him with timeouts, and we have explained that he must give himself more time. But it isn’t really working. Any suggestions?
A1. First, have your pediatrician examine your son. If your son is not circumcised, the foreskin can become constricting and the urine may not flow correctly. Strictures, or narrowings, of the canal in the penis through which the urine passes are also possible. Having his urine checked for infection is also a good idea.

There really is no way to “train” a child to use the potty because the process is biologically driven. Rather, all we can do is look for the cues that he is ready and “guide” him towards success. Some children master using the potty by two years of age, but others when they are closer to four. Without being biologically ready, even the most motivated child with the most supportive parents won’t succeed without frustration.

Let him drive this process, while you rally behind him. Try using Pull-Ups or a similar product until he is using the potty so well that the Pull-Ups are functioning like underwear. If he does wet his Pull-Ups, first tell him it’s “no big deal”, then calmly change him and hug him. When he does use the potty correctly, give him an even bigger hug and perhaps a little treat. By taking a more child-focused approach, your son will master the use of the potty when he is ready.

Q2. My almost 5-year-old daughter will use some toilets but not others. She will use her own potty chair and her grandmother’s bathroom. She won’t use the toilet in the bathrooms at home, school or public places. I have told her that the potty is going away after the holidays. She is very shy, but also very stubborn. She will be going to kindergarten in the fall and I’m worried about her not using a public restroom. She tends to keep to herself a lot so I have a hard time getting her to play with other children.

A2. This is less of a problem of stubbornness than a result of shyness and the anxiety it creates in a small child. When children feel anxious, they exert control in the few areas they have control such as using the toilet. She’s using her potty and Grandma’s because there is zero pressure and she feels completely at ease. It can be tricky to sort out what has driving a young child to the point your daughter is currently at so I’d suggest seeking the input from a professional therapist who can help you help your daughter over come her shyness as well as come up with a plan to help your daughter transition to toilets other than at your Grandmother’s home.

Alternatively, since your Grandmother has had some luck reaching your daughter, see if you can enlist her help in talking with your daughter and helping her use toilets other than her small toilet and the one at her house.  While it is tempting to “lay down the parental law” that is not always the best strategy in these sensitive matters.

With one of our daughters we had a similar issue and found that the help of one grandparents and teachers at our daughter’s preschool held the key to helping our daughter use potty’s other than the few she would use.


I have partnered with Pull-Ups® to serve as a Pull-Ups® Potty Training Partner. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program, which includes writing articles for, offering tips and advice on the Pull-Ups® Facebook page and holding “Potty Training Talk Office Hours” on the Pull-Ups® Facebook page during February and March 2010. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments or endorse the product.

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  1. Help…My Preschooler Won’t Poop in The Potty!
  2. How To Know When Your Infant Is Sick


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