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The 5 Most Common Potty Training Problems — And How to Solve Them

Hey, you got a problem? A potty training problem that is.


Well we’ve got the solution!

Spend a lot of time on social media, and you’ll come away thinking the world is full of impossibly perfect unicorn babies who sprang from the womb fully potty-trained.

potty training problems

But beneath appearances, you know what’s up.

Potty training is a wild ride. And if you don’t have a few bumps along the way… well, I want your life.

Maybe your little angel starts having lots of accidents.

Maybe he flat-out refuses to poop.

Maybe you just can’t get anything going at all.

The good news is, all that is totally normal. There are literally thousands of parents going through the same drama that you’re experiencing right now.

And the feeling of satisfaction when your kid finally nails it? You can’t put it into words.

When issues inevitably come up, knowing the right approach can help you get things flowing again. Let’s take a look at some of the most common potty training problems — and how to handle them.


PROBLEM: You’re ready to go — but your kid has no interest

You’re at the park with your three-year-old. Your neighbor rolls in with her eighteen-month-old in a stroller. You get to chatting.

“Aidan’s been potty training for the last week!” she tells you. “He’s doing so great. We’ve only had one accident!”

And the whole time, you’re glancing over at your kid… and can’t help but notice how obvious it is that he’s still in pull-ups.

SOLUTION: One of the most common potty training problems is lack of interest. As a parent, you want to get your kid potty trained, stat. It’s easy to think it’s time to get started. But your kid may simply not be ready yet.

Potty training works best when it’s driven by your child. It might feel like your kid is slow to catch on compared with her peers. And if you’ve got a big event coming up — like the start of a new year of preschool — you might feel like you need to get it done on a deadline.

Don’t get caught up in external social pressures. The reality is that toddlers potty train on their own timetable.

But that doesn’t mean that you need to wait around until magically, one day, your child suddenly takes an interest in the potty. With a few simple steps, you can help your child build an interest and move things along.

One of my favorite ways to do this is reading books about the potty with your child. By doing this, you’ll be able to spend one-on-one time bonding with your child and encourage curiosity about how adults use the bathroom.

Two of my favorite books are Potty by Leslie Patricelli and Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel. I’ve put together a full list of my favorite potty training books here.

Every time you need to go to the bathroom, invite your child to come with you. Use the time to just hang out with your child, read a book together, or talk about how you use the bathroom. Make the bathroom a fun, inviting space by keeping a few favorite toys and books around the toilet. It’s a golden opportunity to help your child get interested in the potty.

Most of all, be honest. Your little one may simply not be ready. If that’s the case, don’t ever force or pressure her. Just be patient. Keep gently providing opportunities to learn about the potty. She’ll show an interest when the time is right.


PROBLEM: Everything’s going great — until suddenly it isn’t

Your kid has pretty much mastered the game. You did the three-day potty training thing weeks ago, and she handled it like a champ. She knows how to tell you when she needs to go, she’s excited about using the potty, and she hardly ever has accidents. You’ve been bragging about how great she’s doing to everyone.

Then one weekend you go on a trip to Grandma’s house — and all hell breaks loose. Five accidents in one day. You make an emergency trip to the grocery store for diapers and red wine.

SOLUTION: Remember, learning to use the potty is a really big deal to your toddler. It’s her biggest step yet toward doing things like a grown-up. And disruptions to her routine — like starting a new year of preschool — could easily throw her off her game. Whenever you change things up, preserve your child’s normal routine as much as you can.

Going on a trip? Talk about it with your child beforehand. Tell her how proud you are that she’s done such a good job learning to use the potty, and emphasize how you’ll keep doing the same routine on the road. For example, if you schedule potty breaks every two hours, keep doing that while you’re away.

Starting preschool can be tricky, because your little one may need to learn a new routine. When you visit the school, take time to talk with the teacher and your child about what their new routine will look like. Be sure your child knows how to tell your teacher when she needs to go.

Plan ahead. Communicate with your child. And be understanding when accidents happen. When you show your child that it’s no big deal, you teach her that she can handle new situations with confidence.



PROBLEM: Your kid has an attention deficit

Your toddler is potty trained. Mostly.

Knows how to make it to the potty on time? Check. Knows how to tell you when he needs to go? Check. Excited about using the potty like a grown-up? Check.

There’s just one thing. Sometimes, he gets so completely wrapped up in whatever he’s doing, he doesn’t pay attention to anything else… even the signals from his body. And he ends up peeing his pants.

SOLUTION: The skills your child is learning during potty training are new and complex. How to consistently monitor his bladder so he knows when he needs to go. How to know how much longer he can wait.

Nobody is born knowing how to do it perfectly. Accidents are just part of the process. Each mistake helps your child learn to do it better next time.

So how you help your child listen to his body? It helps if you pay close attention, too. Be on the lookout for visible signs that he may need to go. If he’s squirming, dancing around, or pulling at his pants, it’s time to get him to the potty, fast.

Regular reminders can help your child get the hang of it, too. To help you get him to the potty before his bladder is ready to burst, set alarms every two hours on your phone. Soon he’ll start to realize that it’s better to go sooner rather than later… before his bladder hits peak capacity.

No matter what happens, remember that accidents are totally normal when your child is potty training. Stay positive, stay relaxed, and focus on helping your child learn to pay attention to his body.



PROBLEM: Your kid is anxious around the potty

Your kid is nearly three years old and has hit all of the right developmental milestones. You’ve talked about using the potty and read books together, and he seems interested in using the potty like a grown-up.

But then you introduce the potty. And it’s obvious. He really, really doesn’t like using the potty.

SOLUTION: To your toddler, using the potty is a brand-new, totally unfamiliar experience. After all, up until now, your toddler has been puttering around in diapers, letting it go whenever he wants to. And now he’s trading that in for a cold, hard plastic seat. Who would want that?

If you’ve got an anxious toddler on your hands, the key to success is getting comfortable with the potty.

When you introduce the potty to your little one, plan a fun, memorable experience you’ll both be excited about. One way to do this is to take your toddler shopping so he can pick out a potty that he loves. If you already have a potty, giving it to your child as a gift is a great way to build excitement. Talk with your little one about how pumped you are about the exciting, very grown-up step he’s about to take.

For anxious toddlers, it’s essential to make the bathroom a positive, welcoming place. As I mentioned earlier, whenever you need to go, invite your child to hang out with you. Read a book together, talk about how grown-ups use the potty, or just hang out with no agenda. Keep a few favorite toys and books in the bathroom to make it a place your child wants to be.

Get your incentive system on lock. You’ve probably already seen how the right incentive can turn an unwilling toddler into an eager beaver faster than you can say “one more episode of Octonauts.” Rewards like M&Ms or a sticker chart can be a big deal to your little one, so take time to come up with an incentive that matters to your kid.

Most importantly, take time to talk to your child about how he’s feeling about the potty. Listen to the specific feelings, fears and anxieties he talks about. Pinpointing your child’s fears will enable you to make a plan to address them.



PROBLEM: Your kid flat-out refuses to poop

Potty training went great. Your kid learned to sit on the potty and flush it like a champ — and she’s been totally excited about using the potty like a grown-up. But over the last few days, she’s suddenly been refusing to poop. What’s up?

SOLUTION: If your child is refusing to poop, you may not know why. But look at it through your child’s eyes. There’s something about the experience that’s negative for her… enough that she’ll stop pooping completely.

Far and away the most common cause of stool withholding is physical pain. The first time your child has an uncomfortable bowel movement, she starts holding in her poop. A large, hard mass begins to build, making the next bowel movement even more difficult and uncomfortable.

In this situation, you want to eliminate the tension your child feels when pooping on the toilet. An effective strategy is to go back to diapers. Your child’s mood relaxes. Her stool softens. And she can poop again.

Of course, that’s only half the battle. Your toddler is pooping again. But now she’s back in diapers!

To get her back on the toilet, take it slow. Start by having your little one just hang out with you in the bathroom for a few days, to get comfortable around the toilet.

From there, encourage her to sit down when she poops, whenever she wants to… just get her relaxed and comfortable sitting down and pooping. Next, have her sit on the potty while she poops in her diaper, and the two of you can dump it out and flush it out together. And finally — have her poop in the potty!

Be aware: sometimes the cause of stool withholding is psychological, not physical. Your child might be intimidated by the strange noises the toilet makes, for example, or she might think that a part of her is getting flushed down the toilet every time she poops.

The best way to find out? Talk to your child. Listen to what she says. If she gives psychological reasons like these, you’ll also want to focus on helping your child get comfortable around the potty. Spend time in the bathroom with your toddler to make it a positive, inviting place. Set up incentives that will motivate your kid. And stay away from any jokes or comments that play into your toddler’s anxieties.


You’ve got what it takes

Potty training is a crazy ride. And every family has a few bumps in the road along the way.

But don’t look at those bumps as annoyances. They’re actually prime learning opportunities.

You’re teaching your child that he has what it takes to do hard things and overcome challenges.

And when you hear the flush sound coming from the bathroom — and you know your kid just did it all on his own, without reminders or stickers or M&Ms — you’ll know you do, too.

Looking for extra support along the way? I’ve got you covered. I developed The Potty Training Plan specifically for busy parents who are ready to ditch the diapers for good. Take a look at the plan to learn more!

potty training problems

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