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10 Tips for Potty Training Your Strong Willed Child

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10 Tips for Potty Training a Strong Willed Child by

For me, potty training was a roller coaster.  It was a bunch of highs and a whole lot of lows.  Potty training was not for the faint of heart.  My little guy is smart.  Independent.  Strong willed.  Such admirable qualities on a job resume, but these words strike fear into the hearts of any potty training mommy!

Looking back there were things we got right, things I would have done differently, and things we finally found that worked after trying a lot of things that didn’t.  Hopefully, these will help you have the best and easiest experience potty training your child, especially the strong willed ones!

1.  Have a Plan.  Whether you want to go with the 3 day method, a potty training boot camp, or pull ups, know what your plan is and make sure your husband, baby sitter, nanny, mom, or anyone else who will be involved in the process is on the same page!  Strong willed children especially, need and crave consistency. So know what the plan is, down to the details, and stick to it!

2.  Use Positive Reinforcement. The easiest part of potty training for us was doing number 2 in the potty.  So many of my friends have asked how we got him to do it and the truth is, i think we just hit the right time and he went.  The powerful thing that happened though, is that we got so ridiculously excited for him he was beaming ear to ear like I have never seen.  And I do mean crazy excited! That was so indicative of how much children thrive on their parent’s affirmation.  From that day we have had almost zero issues with going poo poo in the potty.  Giving them this kind of positive reinforcement empowers them to know what the right decision is, and how to make you proud.

3.  Make it Fun.  Let’s face it.  As much as you build up potty training, at some point during the first day of running back and forth to the potty, there will be a point where it turns from excitement into a chore.  Be creative and use tools to really make potty training fun.  You can do things like get a potty training doll or a potty training book.  You could have a special stash of goodies that are only allowed to be played with when they are on the potty. Get a fun training potty just for them!  Try find other creative tactics for getting pee pee in the potty.  Use cheerios for aim.  Try to make bubbles in the potty.  Even a year later these little things still work!

Our favorite creative idea we did was to make a big sheet with pictures different people that are special to your kiddo on it. Every time he successfully went potty, he got to pick someone and call them all by himself to tell them he went potty!  Of course the people on the chart were briefed ahead of time about getting a call so they could also offer really powerful positive reinforcement.

4. Make the Most of Treats.  Most people, including us use treats as a reward for successfully going potty.  It worked well for us, but I think there are some absolute rules.

  • Only use things that really are special.  If they can choose to get candy as a treat after dinner, don’t use it for potty training! Pick some thing that will be a specific reward only for using the potty.
  • Pick something they LOVE!  We started with M&M’s but after a dinner at a friends house we learned our kid loved gummy worms like no other.  We switched to gummy worms and it worked even better as motivation!
  • Most importantly, absolutely, positively, ONLY give out a treat if they actually go potty.  I don’t care if they sit on the potty for an hour.  If they don’t go they don’t get it, period.  Treats will lose all their appeal if they break you and get it outside the rules, even once.

5.  DON”T LOSE YOUR TEMPER.  This is truly the most important of all of the rules.  It seems almost silly, but I never saw this written down in all the research I did when we were potty training.  Maybe I just should have known.  This is something that was easy at first.  When they are learning, you can smile, encourage and forgive!  But as soon as they know what they are doing and seemingly have accidents on purpose, then it became really easy for me to get mad.

Let me tell you, I believe that this was the biggest mistake I made in the whole potty training process.  It was the most frustrating thing I had dealt with in my entire life. Seeing my child who was totally capable of using the potty, choose not to.   But what I did by getting angry about the situation was give him the power to know how to get under my skin.  Show him how to shift control from me to him.  And he did.

We struggled with this majorly over about a month.  I would only get more frustrated every time it happened.  One day I decided something had to change, so after a long talk with a good friend, I decided to change my attitude.  Anytime Micah would have an “accident” I would just say “Oh, pee pee is yucky.  We go pee pee in the potty.” And calmly take him to the bathroom, clean him up, and move on.  It took only a couple of days of this before the “accidents” completely stopped!  I can’t tell you how humbling it was to see what a negative impact my bad attitude had on him.

6. Make the Timer The Boss.  This is a great to have in your bag of tricks for that point we talked about earlier when potty training goes from a new and exciting privilege to the worst chore!  Sometimes, Mommy is just going to become the enemy and no matter what you say they are going to fight you.  To help avoid this, a fun trick we used was to use a potty timer.  This was just your basic kitchen timer that we would set any time we needed Micah to go potty.  Then the timer would be saying “it’s time to go potty!” instead of mommy always having to nag.  Shifting blame to an inanimate object worked brilliantly for us.

7.  Consistancy is Key.  With a strong willed child you have to be consistent.  There is really no way around it to make your life easier.  Do what you say and say what you mean.  When you are consistent with they way you approach potty training you can turn things from a battle into routine.

We used to have the biggest battle over going potty before leaving the house.  I maintained consistency doing it every time we left the house using tactics like the timer and giving choices to help. Even when it was miserable I smiled and said “We always go potty before we leave!” and stuck to my guns.  Now he will remind me!  If we are in a hurry to leave, he says “Mommy!  I didn’t go potty!”

8.  Empower them with Choices.  Children are seeking independence more than ever at the potty training age.  Sometimes all you need to do to avoid arguments and struggles over going potty is to change the perspective a bit.  Instead of ordering them to go potty because you are leaving, change the wording to give them the power to make their own choice to get to your desired outcome.  So you might say, “Would you like to go potty before or after you put your shoes on?” or “We are leaving!  Would you like to use the potty upstairs or downstairs?”  I also often use ” Would you like to go potty and then read a story before bed, or go straight to bed with no book?  If there is no time to potty, there is no time for a book!”

9.  Avoid Power Struggles.  Since strong willed kids crave independence, so when you put your foot down with absolutes it will often end with a huge power struggles and major melt downs.  Then I tend to lose my temper and get mad.  See number 5.  Vicious cycle ensues.

What I am not saying is to just give in and give your kid whatever they want.  What I am recommending is to work smarter not harder!  Know what triggers are for your kids and try to do things differently to avoid them.  For us we would consistently end up in power struggles when I was rushing things and trying to get Micah to potty so we could run out the door.  What I learned was if I work to get him to go potty before it becomes a mad dash not to be late, it usually is no big deal!

Another struggle we had was asking him to go when he didn’t feel that he had to go.  Offering choices has helped a lot with this.  Another thing I found to help was taking a time out to explaining the situation.  “Micah we are going to the park.  I know you feel like you don’t need to go potty right now but there are only really yucky, stinky potties at the park.  So would you rather try to go now or have to use a yucky stinky potty later?”  Given the ability to make a good decision, he usually will!

REMEMBER! DON’T GET MAD!  It’s just not worth it!

10.  Dealing with Regression.  Many of the above topics have touched on this a bit.  Unfortunately many kids do go through a regression period.  Most of the time it is not because they forget, but just start choosing not to use the potty anymore.  This can be endlessly frustrating as a parent because you know they are totally capable and it is not a genuine accident.

My best advice is to minimize it.  Don’t react.  Just say very neutrally that “Pee pee is yucky and belongs in the potty.” and move on.  If it doesn’t get attention, chances are the behavior won’t last long!

If it truly is a problem with accidents, you might use the timer to remind them to go more often or spend a day or two going  back to the initial plan you used to train.

Those are my tips on potty training! What are yours?

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  1. Ashley says

    I have heard and agree bc it worked for us that having a portable potty always in the room that the child is in helps. They can go as soon as they feel the urge and full bladder. I also believe that having your kid fully naked for about a week works wonders! They don’t feel the safety of a diaper, pull up or underwear next to their skin. Patience is also key, as you said.

  2. says

    Patience is key! I am starting soon with our youngest because she likes to tell me “Mommy, pee pee on potty” and we have actually made it a couple of times! Should be fun….can’t wait! Lol.

    • says

      I totally agree! No matter what potty training method you use, potty training is a marathon, not a sprint! Good luck with your little princess!

  3. says critical and yesterday so difficult . Especially during regression. Think of it like a diet. How often do we go back on ours..and we are the intelligent ones.

  4. says

    I remember having a strong willed child a potty training! We made it and she is 13 now!
    If I had to do it over, I probably would have waited a bit longer to train her. However my second one trained herself. One day she said Potty mommy, and climbed on the toilet.
    It takes patience!

    • says

      I can only hope my second will do that Wanda! I wish you were closer so your 13 year old could come babysit, haha. I guess she will have to conquer making her lunch first!

      • says

        Ha that’s right! I told her tonight after fixing her tacos, that I was done, no more, she was old enough to make her own. She says” but mom, yours are always better than mine”!
        She loves little kids, she would be a great babysitter. In fact she gets certified this summer through the Red Cross.

  5. says

    We have two boys and luckily we did not have any issues with them while potty training. My oldest, now 5, got 100% potty trained in the matter or days. What worked for us? In part it was the positive reinforcement. Every time he went potty we had a full-on party in the bathroom, from cheers to hoorah’s and whatnot. Of course, the M&M’s helped too. Our little one, now 3, was a tough one to crack but it only took us 10 days to potty train. All he needed was for daddy to sit with him in the bathroom and the rest was history!

  6. says

    With our first, we were content to simply wait until she was ready. At 18 mo, we set the potty out in a main area so she could familiarize herself with it. She put her blanket and stuffed animals into it. We began to read potty books around age two.

    At 28 months she announced, “I am going to pee and poop on the potty.” I didn’t believe a word of it, but said, “Oh, that will feel nice. Go right ahead.” She did. Neither bribes nor rewards turned out to be any greater to her than the satisfaction of her own accomplishments in her own time.

    Following the same model our second daughter, at 29 months, is showing no signs of interest in the potty. Nonetheless, we’re not too interested in external rewards to hasten her toward it. We do say things when we change her like “Let’s put on a fresh diaper because it feels so good to have a dry bottom” but nothing more strongly worded. We’ve been very influenced by Alfie Kohn’s books Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting.


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