He'll use potty at preschool, not at home

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 22, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I read your column quite often. I usually can either relate to the LW's problem or obtain good advice for my own situation with my kids. However, this time, I have my own question and feel the need to seek tips from you and your readers.

I have a 3 1\2-year-old who is very strong-willed. He is the type of kid who will resist doing many things like school activities etc., unless it follows his own agenda. For example, potty training. We have been trying to get him to go potty consistently for over a month. In the beginning, it was going pretty well.  Now he will use it on occasion only. This week he probably only went on the big boy potty 3 or 4 times. He refuses to go on the potty or even tell us that he has to go, so we end up just changing his pull-up (of course there is, at times, a little power struggle there.)

But he almost always goes at daycare and he will usually ask the teacher to go. Which is my main question here. Why does he go potty happily at daycare but when he comes home, he doesn't want to and will sometimes pull a fit?

Most of the time, he doesn't even care if he sits in a soggy pull-up.  It almost seems like if we continuously ask him to go potty or even bring him to the toilet, that it is seen as some sort of punishment in his eyes. We try the reward chart and he seems to lose interest in that. I would even take him to the store when he used to complete his chart and buy him a little toy car or something. I think that if we were to put him in regular underwear without the security of the pull-up, he may feel icky enough to want to sit on the toilet. I could use some tips/advice as to what could help a very strong-willed child to continue to go potty at home like he does at his daycare. I would appreciate any tips you and your readers may have.

From: Julie
 
(Editor's Note: This letter was condensed.)
Hi Julie,

He goes easily at daycare because (a) he probably sees other kids going and, believe it or not, peer pressure happens even at this age; and (b) the teachers are matter-of-fact about it, no fuss, no muss. He doesn't go at home because he's getting (negative) attention and reinforcement to not go. Every time you ask him, "Do you want to use the potty;" every time you offer a reward or a sticker; every time you have to clean him up -- these all are forms of attention.

My advice is to stop. Tell him, "It's your body and it's  your decision when you want to use the potty. Every morning, I'll ask you if you want pull-ups or underwear. You are the decider." Then don't ask him AT ALL. Stop talking about it, stop showing aggravation or frustration or any feelings at all. If he has an accident, enlist him in some way in the clean-up, even if it's just that he gets the clean pull-ups or clean underwear out of the drawer. Don't talk to him during the clean-up (but don't be unpleasant, either), because that's a form of attention, too.

The more you make it a non-issue, the more likely he will be to stop struggling. Also, if you haven't done so already, ask the daycare teacher what, exactly, transpires there. Not that you want to duplicate that, but it will help to know what he is capable of doing on his own. Boys are often late-to-train. Don't despair! He will not be in diapers in high school!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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7 comments so far...
  1. Barbara is right on with her advice. When my son was 3 I thought he would never be potty trained and we tried everything to get him to use the potty. Once we backed off it was almost like overnight he was using the potty on his own. And.. if you can believe it he was able to use the potty for both! Overnight took a little longer, but I expected that. I also found that my son preferred to use the regular potty rather than the training one. Probably because he saw mommy and daddy as well as his friends at daycare using it. Good luck and don't worry, it will happen!

    Posted by Heather April 22, 10 09:35 AM
  1. I also agree with Barbara. Just stop mentioning it. You know that he is capable, so you don't have to worry about that. I bet it won't take long before he is just doing it on his own at home. My son was similar at the same age, and like most things that we worry about, it changed overnight.

    Posted by mom2boys April 22, 10 12:10 PM
  1. Get rid of the pull-up!!! When training my son it took 4 days of pure torture and not leaving the house but it was so worth it. Someone told me this: if they can pee in it, if they can poop in it...it's a diaper!! I would dress my son every morning in just undies and we'd set an alarm for every 10 minutes and every time the bell would go off, he'd have to sit on the potty. If he went, he'd get a reward (M&M, sticker, etc.). If he went in his undies, I wouldn't change him immediately. I'd wait like 5 minutes or until he got completely disgusted with the feeling/smell. I know a lot of people would not use this tactic but it worked for us because our son is like yours, a strong-willed boy!

    Posted by Erica April 22, 10 12:35 PM
  1. I hope all this works. My son is nine, he goes fine at school with an exception or two now and then, otherwise it is awful. I love my boy but my poor wife is at her wits end.

    Posted by Kevin April 22, 10 11:16 PM
  1. Hi! This is the LW! Thanks all of you who posted and to Barbara! This is encouraging and very helpful to me!!!!! Erica, I was thinking that I may have to use that tactic myself...Glad to see that there are others that have used it too! I feel less guilty about it if it comes to that!!!

    Posted by Julie April 23, 10 06:55 AM
  1. LW - my daughter is EXTREMELY strong willed and was VERY opposed to potty training. i tried the whole ' she'll tell me when she's ready" thing. it didnt work for us. i finally told her that you are a big girl now and pee and poop go inthe potty not your pants. i told her that i will not buy anymore diapers/pullups and this is it. it went GREAT! she only had 2 accidents and that was it. i showed her on the calendar the day this was going to take place. i also got her a doll that goes potty and gave it to her that day. she really liked that. we stayed int eh house all weekend and i had my hubby take our other child out for the day. it went so well i was floored. i was expecting a horror show. the second day when she got up she cried for a diaper but only for a few minutes. good luck!

    Posted by babypink April 23, 10 10:56 AM
  1. As a preschool teacher, my first advice is get rid of the pull-ups. In every case I have only seen pull-ups prolonging the learning experience because they reduce motivation for both the parent and the child while at the same time giving both the parent and child the false sense that the child is becoming a "big boy" by wearing them. The diaper companies want you to keep spending money on diapers as long as possible. Believe me, pull-ups are not designed to get your child out of diapers! Keep your child in regular diapers (preferably the least absorbent, least comfortable diapers you can find) until he is truly ready for "big boy underpants". The transition will go much faster, I assure you.

    Posted by allforkids April 25, 10 08:08 AM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. Barbara is right on with her advice. When my son was 3 I thought he would never be potty trained and we tried everything to get him to use the potty. Once we backed off it was almost like overnight he was using the potty on his own. And.. if you can believe it he was able to use the potty for both! Overnight took a little longer, but I expected that. I also found that my son preferred to use the regular potty rather than the training one. Probably because he saw mommy and daddy as well as his friends at daycare using it. Good luck and don't worry, it will happen!

    Posted by Heather April 22, 10 09:35 AM
  1. I also agree with Barbara. Just stop mentioning it. You know that he is capable, so you don't have to worry about that. I bet it won't take long before he is just doing it on his own at home. My son was similar at the same age, and like most things that we worry about, it changed overnight.

    Posted by mom2boys April 22, 10 12:10 PM
  1. Get rid of the pull-up!!! When training my son it took 4 days of pure torture and not leaving the house but it was so worth it. Someone told me this: if they can pee in it, if they can poop in it...it's a diaper!! I would dress my son every morning in just undies and we'd set an alarm for every 10 minutes and every time the bell would go off, he'd have to sit on the potty. If he went, he'd get a reward (M&M, sticker, etc.). If he went in his undies, I wouldn't change him immediately. I'd wait like 5 minutes or until he got completely disgusted with the feeling/smell. I know a lot of people would not use this tactic but it worked for us because our son is like yours, a strong-willed boy!

    Posted by Erica April 22, 10 12:35 PM
  1. I hope all this works. My son is nine, he goes fine at school with an exception or two now and then, otherwise it is awful. I love my boy but my poor wife is at her wits end.

    Posted by Kevin April 22, 10 11:16 PM
  1. Hi! This is the LW! Thanks all of you who posted and to Barbara! This is encouraging and very helpful to me!!!!! Erica, I was thinking that I may have to use that tactic myself...Glad to see that there are others that have used it too! I feel less guilty about it if it comes to that!!!

    Posted by Julie April 23, 10 06:55 AM
  1. LW - my daughter is EXTREMELY strong willed and was VERY opposed to potty training. i tried the whole ' she'll tell me when she's ready" thing. it didnt work for us. i finally told her that you are a big girl now and pee and poop go inthe potty not your pants. i told her that i will not buy anymore diapers/pullups and this is it. it went GREAT! she only had 2 accidents and that was it. i showed her on the calendar the day this was going to take place. i also got her a doll that goes potty and gave it to her that day. she really liked that. we stayed int eh house all weekend and i had my hubby take our other child out for the day. it went so well i was floored. i was expecting a horror show. the second day when she got up she cried for a diaper but only for a few minutes. good luck!

    Posted by babypink April 23, 10 10:56 AM
  1. As a preschool teacher, my first advice is get rid of the pull-ups. In every case I have only seen pull-ups prolonging the learning experience because they reduce motivation for both the parent and the child while at the same time giving both the parent and child the false sense that the child is becoming a "big boy" by wearing them. The diaper companies want you to keep spending money on diapers as long as possible. Believe me, pull-ups are not designed to get your child out of diapers! Keep your child in regular diapers (preferably the least absorbent, least comfortable diapers you can find) until he is truly ready for "big boy underpants". The transition will go much faster, I assure you.

    Posted by allforkids April 25, 10 08:08 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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