This post may contain affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) when you buy products by clicking through links on my site. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Do you have a child that seems impossible to potty train? A child that either has no interest or desire to use the potty consistently — especially when it comes to #2?
If so, you’re NOT alone!
It can be hard to know when your child is ready to train, and even when you know they are, it’s definitely a commitment on the part of the parent to help your child ditch the diapers once and for all.
While I don’t think there’s a “simple” solution for the entire potty learning process from start to finish, I do think a little creativity and understanding what motivates your child can really be beneficial.
Potty Training a Stubborn Toddler: The One Thing that Finally Worked
Potty training (or potty learning, whichever you prefer) was simply an uphill battle with my son, who is now 4-1/2.
I’ve thought a lot about why this experience was so different than it was with his two older sisters, and there are a few things I can pinpoint – as well as some lessons I learned along the way.
If you’re at a loss as to how to potty train a stubborn toddler boy (or girl) once and for all – just know, there’s hope! Read on to see the approach we finally took that made a difference with our most stubborn potty training case study! (That would be child #3 by the way.)
My early potty training experience – with girls
With each of our two girls, I started training tactics at age two and we did the cold turkey potty training method. I used cloth training pants (no covers even), took them to the potty consistently and they caught on very quickly.
Granted, I had been doing all the things I had been told by mom and grandma just prior to this: taking them to the potty first thing in the morning, right before bath time and any time they showed an interest.
I let them watch me (not that we really have a choice, right, moms?), since modeling is important. I did what seemed natural and made potty learning a part of their daily routine.
So after the warm-up routine, we went cold turkey straight into big-girl pants and after about two weeks, our girls were pretty much fully trained. (Not at the same time- just for clarification. They are three years apart.)
Night time did take a little longer, but both were wearing underwear with only occasional accidents by age 2.5.
There were a few setbacks. When our second daughter was born, our oldest had some regression which I understand is normal when there’s a big change in a toddler’s world.
It took us about a month or so, but shortly after we settled into a routine again, she accepted her role as the “big girl” in the house and accidents were few and far between.
Related Post: Why I Upped My Discipline Game after Baby #4
Potty training boys
Enter baby #3, our one and only boy. Several friends warned me that boys were harder to potty train and the process took longer than it did with their girls. I didn’t think much of this, honestly. I knew it was messy business, but we’d done it fairly easily twice before, so how hard could it be?
As it turns out, it was practically a nightmare!
We started at age 2 again. From the very beginning it was a different experience.
My son had fears about sitting on the potty. We first tried the potty seat that sits on top of the regular potty; I guess the height was too much for him. (I can understand that.) He flat-out refused to sit on it.
I simply hate the little child-sized potty chairs because of the cleanup involved and the space they take up in the bathroom. I never used one with our girls. But we bought one this time around.
We started slowly as I had with the girls, just getting him used to the idea. And he did warm up to peeing on the potty, eventually. It took much longer than a week or two, and it was still hit-or-miss (literally!) even after the first few months.
We even transitioned to the potty seat on the big toilet after several weeks of using the potty chair at bath and bedtime and whenever he expressed interest in going.
It makes sense to me that kids need to be able to verbalize their need to use the potty before they can be successful in training.
Otherwise, if you’re just setting timers and watching for signs, you’re not doing much more than training the parent. Fortunately, all of our kids were early talkers so that wasn’t a problem with our stubborn trainee.
Even so, every time I asked our son if he needed to poop, he would always say no and refused to sit on the potty to even try.
This went on for months. He would tell me when he needed to pee – or just go by himself – but would never attempt to poop on the potty and wouldn’t be coaxed into trying either.
Since my girls were trained so much earlier, I NEVER thought I would be in the position of figuring out how to poop train a 4 year old. Yet, here we were.
Other potty training hacks we tried
At first, I would watch for cues (back to that parent-training thing), and tried to get him used to just “sitting and seeing what happens”. We tried adding in books and toys as a distraction while waiting.
Alas, he had no interest in playing on the potty when he could be playing in his room instead. Crying, screaming fits would ensue so I gave up on that for periods of time and would try again every week or so.
Then I introduced rewards. Of course we had already been praising every attempt at pooping on the potty, or even sitting on it for any reason.
What we found, though, was that his interest waned after a few days or we ran out of incentives and as soon as the M&M’s were gone, so was his motivation. Strike two.
After about 8 months from the start of our potty training adventure, I was discouraged with cleaning cloth training pants every.single.day and we went back to a mix of diapers and disposable pullups.
Here’s another interesting fact: My son was the only child that I used cloth diapers with. From all the information I had read about cloth diapering, it was supposed to be a sure-fire way to help your child with early toilet learning.
The theory is that, unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers allow them to feel the wetness more, which is supposedly an important factor in desiring to use the potty.
This theory might be true for learning to pee on the potty earlier (?), but it did nothing for us in regards to poop-training. Nada.
Related Post: Cloth Diapers vs Disposables: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide
Then came #4
Enter baby #4 into the mix. I said before that baby #2 was a “setback” for our oldest daughter, right? Well, if that was a setback, this new development in my son’s life was a grinding halt in the potty learning saga.
So what do you do when you have a brand new baby, no sleep in your near future, and your 4 year old won’t potty train?
I fully gave up on all of it for a few months.
We spent a fortune in disposable pull-ups as I struggled to keep up with work, tending to baby and adjusting to four kids. It was pretty much survival mode for a period of time in those postpartum months, and potty training was the least of my worries.
Did I make things worse by this approach? Maybe. But I’m really unsure if it taking a break made a difference.
Being de-throned as the “baby” in the family is an immensely rude awakening for a three-year-old which can’t be underestimated!
I quickly began to realize why there are so many articles out there about “how to potty train a stubborn 4 year old boy”. (Because if you haven’t figured out how to potty train a stubborn 3 year old, this is the next logical step. Ha!)
I’ll be honest, I think there’s a current climate that says that it doesn’t matter what age your child potty trains, just let them take the lead and it’ll happen eventually.
I completely understood that this process was going to take time. I wasn’t upset about that nearly as much as the fact that I knew he was ready to be fully potty trained.
- He was deliberate and consistent with peeing on the potty.
- He generally only pooped at home or at grandma’s (where he was comfortable) and would hold it in everywhere else.
- He would hide in his room when he knew he needed to poop.
- He would flat-out tell me he pooped in his pants and then “direct” me to clean him up.
Enough evidence? I think so. I knew my son. I knew his abilities. I also knew his awesomely stubborn personality. And I knew that there was a way to unlock this mystery of the poop-avoidance, and I was determined to figure it out.
My hunch was, at this point 2 years into “learning” — it came down to control.
It was a matter of having control over one big thing in his life at a time when he felt he needed it (ahem, baby #4).
It also became a matter of laziness, to be quite frank. When questioned, he would tell me that he was playing and didn’t want to stop. This was enough to motivate me to help him finish this process – and learn independence in this area of his life.
It wasn’t just about the fact that we were spending a fortune in pullups (which we were!), it was that in a way, I knew I was holding him back from that independence which he needed to achieve – and the feeling of confidence that goes along with it.
I also needed to help him connect the dots between using the potty and the freedom of going places (like preschool this fall), and not having to worry about constipation and accidents.
You’re probably hoping I’ll get to the point about now, right? 😉
What we did that finally worked was pretty close to the “naked potty training” method, except we let him wear clothes. But we simply let him go commando underneath them.
He really resisted this at first and I had to hide his underwear.
For whatever reason, my son could care less about pooping in underwear or pullups (he treated them the same). But if there was NOTHING between him and his pants, he knew he had to use the potty.
As stubborn as he was/is, he did not want poop on his pants (and everywhere else) and this was the cue that finally helped to “remind” him that it was time to stop whatever he was doing – and use the potty.
And when he did- he got to wear underwear the rest of that day. When he “forgot”, it was back to commando mode.
Will this work for every child? Probably not. Would it have worked if I had done it sooner? I have no idea.
What I do know is – moms have instincts for a reason, so use them! Don’t worry about all the theories out there. You know your child. Try different things and don’t be afraid to ditch conventional wisdom now and then.
If you’re in the trenches of teaching your child a critical skill, remember to give yourself (and your child) some grace.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. They will get it eventually, with your encouragement – and sometimes a bit of creativity. 🙂