Toilet Training Trying for Tot

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Dear Miriam,

My son was once interested in potty training and now has no interest, even with incentives. How do we get him back on track?

Signed,

Down the Drain

Dear Drain,

There is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to potty training, so my first and most important piece of advice is to relax. Your son, regardless of his specific age, will feel your tension and pressure and, assuming he’s a pretty typical toddler, the more you want him to potty train, the less interested he’ll be.

In the chillest, least invasive way possible, I suggest leaving child-size potties all over the house, with potty books featuring his favorite characters nearby. If it’s possible, let your son be bottomless most of the time he’s at home.

There will be accidents, so you need to be prepared (plastic covers on the couch, for example, your favorite drink or snack as a reward for you to get through it), but the more time he spends without a diaper on, the more familiar he’ll get with what happens, and when. Don’t talk too much about it, but make these resources readily available.

You say he’s not responding to incentives, but you may need to rethink what the incentives look like. If the classic M&M for a successful potty trip isn’t enticing him, rethink your structure.

Maybe there’s a place he wants to visit, but it’s only for potty trained kids (Ikea ball pit, for one). Maybe the idea of underpants is interesting to him, or extra stories at bedtime or facetime with a beloved relative while he sits on the potty.

I would resist the urge, though, to go too over the top with incentives so that, say, he doesn’t come to expect a trip to the ice cream shop every time he goes potty. The older and more verbal he is, the more you can work with him on the incentive structure.

If he’s at preschool during the day, talk to his teachers about what’s going on in the classroom — whether other kids are potty training, how they talk to the kids about it, how they’re willing to support and communicate to bring some consistency to your son’s experience. If you are concerned that there may be something medical going on, bring it up at your son’s next pediatrician appointment, but be prepared to be told that whatever is happening is totally normal.

Finally, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of potty training books and programs on the market. I recommend browsing some books and websites to see what the experts recommend.

I’m not suggesting you follow any of these methods, necessarily, but it can be helpful and reassuring to see the variety of suggestions out there. You can pick and choose elements that seem like they could work for your son, but more importantly, you’ll gain confidence in the fact that no single system works for every child, but every child, eventually, moves past this stage.

Be well,

Miriam

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