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Potty Training

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Welcome to our Questions & Answers page on Potty Training. Currently we welcome requests for behavior charts or suggestions for content but do not directly answer specific parenting questions. Click on a question below to see the full question and answer.

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Potty Training Regression
Four Year Old Wetting Pants
Child With Inappropriate Soiling Issues
Potty Training Difficulties With A Two-Year-Old
Five-Year-Old Holding Poop And Not Using Toilet

Potty Training Regression

My stepdaughter has been potty training well, but all of the sudden she has started to have "on purposes" lately. It's not an accident because she is aware of what she is doing. Also, she has started wetting the bed at night again and refuses to sleep in her own bed. I would appreciate any advice and help offered - Laura, FL

Don't forget that potty training is not a linear process. In other words, you are going to have bumps along the way. Some kids start the potty training process and complete it without looking back. But for some kids, potty training can be more like one step forward and two steps back!

There are many reasons why kids regress with potty training. Some children are too young socially and physically to complete the potty training process and need more time. Tied in with emotional immaturity, a child may become scared at the idea of becoming a "big girl". Kids may feel more secure with old, familiar behaviors such as using diapers or pullups, sleeping in a crib or with parents, or whining and crying more frequently.

Also, a child may regress in potty training due to anxiety over a change in her life such as divorce, birth of a new sibling, a move, a relative or friend's death, or start of preschool. A child of potty training age may not have the skills or emotional maturity to express herself verbally. As a result, she will act out her emotions. The result may look like potty accidents or difficulty sleeping in her own bed. Could your daughter be disturbed by some type of change in her life? You may want to take a look at how things are going for her. If a change has occurred, make an effort to give her lots of love, support, and reassurance that all is well.

Potty/behavior charts can be a very helpful incentive. Whenever your daughter uses the potty, let her put a sticker on her chart or let her color in a space. Pick out special stickers or markers with your daughter. Use our printable stickers or make it a fun activity to go to the store and pick out your chart supplies. In addition, we have some printable potty training coupons that you can hand out every time she uses the potty successfully. Young kids need immediate rewards. Check out our article on Using Our Potty Training Chartsfor more hints.

In addition, you can use a behavior chart to help motivate your daughter to sleep in her own bed. We have added a behavior chart on our site called "I Slept In My Own Bed". You can check it out here. Let your daughter put a sticker on the chart the morning after she sleeps in her own bed. You also may want to set up a little treat bag she can pick from the day after she spends a night in her bed. Fill the bag with stickers, crayons, and dollar store items. That way, she will receive an immediate reward for her behavior! You can also try to get her a special "sleeping buddy". Let her pick out a stuffed animal or soft doll to bring to bed for a bit of added security. But, let her know that she can only sleep with her buddy in her own bed. The buddy cannot be taken into your bed.

As always, don't forget to praise her when she does a great job. And, don't get into power struggles regarding the potty training. Kids will often backslide with potty training when parents are fighting with them over the potty. It becomes a control issue and a negative experience for the child. Just remain calm, use your chart consistently, and give positive feedback when your daughter does a good job.

Best of luck with the potty training process!

Four Year Old Wetting Pants

I am a step parent, but have no children of my own. The 4 year old boy is wetting his pants more and more frequently. At first I thought it was because he was "too busy" playing to be bothered. Now I am beginning to wonder if it's because his mom keeps trying to tell him that he is a baby and his dad and I are trying to tell him he is a big boy. Or is there something going on emotionally possibly with the new "families"? I have no idea whether or not to make a deal out of this or ignore it, or what to do to try and get it to stop. Or is it normal for 4 year old boys to wet their pants? -Canada

First, thank you for being such a caring step parent. This little boy is very fortunate to have you as a new addition to the family! There are many factors to consider in this situation. What age was the child when he became completely potty trained? Many boys don't completely potty train until they are 3-4 years old. In that case, it would be perfectly normal for the child to slip and wet his pants occasionally. Next, what time of day does the wetting occur? Nighttime wetting is more likely caused by the lack of maturation of the child's nerves that supply the bladder...a purely physical cause. Thus, the child fails to wake up when the bladder needs to be emptied.

Most likely, though, your step son is having some moments of relapse due to stress. He could definitely be reacting to the emotional stress of having a new step parent and receiving different messages from different parents. At this age, kids often struggle with the idea of being a "big kid". There is some safety and security when they are "the baby" and moving out of toddlerhood means leaving that security. In this case, kids may revert back to "baby" behaviors such as sucking thumbs, wetting pants, using baby talk, etc. In addition, if your step son is feeling insecure with his new family situation, he may be seeking the security of some of those old behaviors.

The mixed messages are probably very confusing to him. It is in his best interest if all parents are on the same page and give him the same message and lots of reassurance and support. Becoming angry will only make matters worse and cause additional stress. At times, kids will continue certain behaviors just to keep a sense of control in their lives. So, make sure that none of the parents involved in power struggles by getting angry at him for wetting.

If the parents involved are having difficulty getting along and cannot resolve issues, you may want to seek the help of a family counselor. Your step son may also benefit from checking in with a counselor. You can try a behavior chart with him and reward him when he stays dry. Set the chart up for small periods of dry time and gradually increase your expectations. For example, you might start the chart on a weekend and concentrate on staying dry from the time he gets up in the morning until lunch time. Then, keep track of the period between lunch and bed and then through the night. Gradually work up to the expectation that he stay dry all day. Keep in mind, though, if he is wetting due to stress, the best therapy for him is to receive lots of love and support along with cohesive, unified parents. As he becomes more adjusted to the changes in his life, his wetting will decrease.

Finally, in rare cases, wetting can be a sign of a medical problem. In a small percentage of kids, urinary tract infections and even diabetes can cause wetting. So, if your step son's wetting persists you should check in with your family physician. You may want to check in anyway just to rule out these physical problems.

Best of luck with your new step son!

Child With Inappropriate Soiling Issues

I have a 7 (8 in August) year old stepson. Between the both of us we have 7 kids; ranging from 20 down to the youngest which are both 7 . My stepson is a PS fanatic. When their allowed time to play is over, or if he is outside or just doing any activity; he has a bowel movement in his pants. We have taken toys and privileges away. We get him every other weekend and once a week and then have a regular summer visitation of 45 days. It seems like he has more of "these accidents" if we have not been able to get them for a week or 2 due to schedules of either parent. We have asked why he does it and he says because he does not want to stop playing. Several times, he has been within feet of the bathroom! What else can we do? Please help? -Stacey, USA

We have a great article on nonretentive encopresis or when a child refuses to have a bowel movement in the toilet. You can find the article on this page. First, you need to take your stepson to a family physician so any physical problems can be ruled out. Also, a good physician will have some further treatment recommendations, and if the problem is behavioral, may have some counseling recommendations.

If the problem is ruled to be purely behavioral, you may want to seek the help and support of a qualified specialist such as a family therapist who can guide you through the behavioral intervention with your son. You also need to have open communication with his mother to compare notes and see if this behavior is happening at his other home, too. All of you will need to be on the same page when using a behavior plan.

At home, you can take some steps to help your son become comfortable using the toilet all the time. First, make sure that his stool is soft and well formed. You want to rule out any issues with constipation. Painful bowel movements due to constipation can discourage a child from using the toilet in a traditional way. And if he needs a bit of help with stool softening, you can change his diet to include increased fiber and water to ensure soft stools. Next, schedule daily toilet sits. Try to find a time when he may be most likely to have a bowel movement. It helps if you keep a daily toilet diary. Jot down the time of day that he usually has a bowel movement even if it's outside of the toilet. Have him sit on the toilet every day at this time. Make the experience positive. You may want to have some relaxing music playing in the bathroom and have some fun reading material available for him while he sits on the toilet.

You can also set up a behavior chart for the daily sits. He can earn a sticker for participating in the toilet sitting and another if he actually poops on the toilet. Have an incentive that he can earn if he gets a certain number of stickers. You can also set up a behavior chart for pooping on the toilet at times other than his daily sit time. Again, he can earn a sticker if he poops in the toilet and that sticker can also go toward his incentive. Check out our behavior charts designed for nonretentive encoprsis here.

Also, avoid getting into power struggles with your son over the toilet. Having bowel movements outside the toilet may be his way of gaining some attention or control in your family. Just treat the inappropriate pooping in a calm way, have him clean up, and say something like, "It's too bad that you didn't earn a sticker on your chart for using the toilet," and leave it at that. If you lecture him and get upset, then he'll know he's pushing your buttons and that may be his goal.

Again, a visit to a qualified family counselor may be appropriate for your family. Kids act out in many different ways when they are trying to adjust to new living situations. Living between two homes is difficult on top of having to share your parent with other children. A family therapist can be helpful in sorting out some of the intense emotions kids and family members feel in this situation.

Best of luck with your situation.

Potty Training Difficulties With A Two-Year-Old

I'm struggling to get my 2 year old to potty train. At school he'll go with the undies but as soon as he gets home he messes in his pants. What should I try as I'm pulling hair out already?? -Diana, South Africa

First, it sounds like your son is on the right potty training path. Potty training is not a linear process for all kids. Instead, kids may progress and regress throughout the process. It's easy to point that out on our end but very frustrating if you are a parent struggling with your toddler! Most important is to stay calm. It sounds like you are becoming frustrated. Don't forget that kids can easily sense anger, stress, and worry in parents. This can cause stress for the child and in turn cause a regression in the behavior that parents are trying to achieve. Your son may feel less pressure at school and as a result be more willing to use the potty. So first and foremost, try to relax and have fun with the potty training process. In addition, if a child knows that he is pushing a parent's buttons by refusing to potty train, he may continue. Remember that 2-year-olds are exploring their independence and learning how their behavior affects others. He may feel some control and independence in the home by refusing to use the potty. As frustrating as this is for parents, it's a very normal stage for a child of his age.

We have several good articles on our website regarding potty training. You should check out Potty training Boys, Nine Fun Ways To Potty Train Your Child, and Creative Potty Training Tips. For consistency, try using a potty training chart. Use the same chart at school and at home. Have your son's teacher complete the chart every time he uses the toilet at school and then pick the chart up every day and continue using it at home. Give your son an immediate reward when he uses the potty...both at school and home. Though he's already using the potty at school, the reward/chart consistency is important. As your son is only 2, the reward needs to be immediate. He won't understand the concept of earning a long term reward. And, you can do something simple such as a sticker, piece of candy, or one of our potty training reward coupons. We would be happy to make up a coupon with your son's favorite character if you'd like!

As mentioned, don't get into power struggles with him over the potty. Simply say something like, "Oh, you didn't use the potty that time. I guess you don't get a sticker. Maybe next time." And drop it there. And when he uses the potty, remember to praise, praise, praise. The praise will encourage him to try again!

Best of luck with potty training. Remember to let us know if we can make up any special potty training charts or coupons. With time, love, and patience you son will potty train just fine!

Five-Year-Old Holding Poop And Not Using Toilet

My 5 year old son is holding his poo in and wont sit on toilet. Help -Jillian, Scotland

Your first intervention should be to see a medical professional. Your doctor needs to rule out any physical issues that may be contributing to your son's resistance to have a bowel movement in the toilet. In addition, you doctor can recommend medication and/or interventions that you can use if your son is constipated. Sometimes when a child has a painful bowel movement, usually from constipation, he is reluctant to poop again. The doctor can help problem solve this for you.

Next, if the problem is purely behavioral, you might try some of these suggestions:

Examine your son's life about the time his stool holding occurred. Have there been any significant changes that may be causing him stress? Are there any difficulties at school or home such as divorce, a new sibling, change of school, death in the family? Young children often act out stress because they are cannot verbalize their feelings. If you can pinpoint the stress and help your child verbalize his feelings by talking about the situation with him, he may relax and have normal bowel movements. You might want to check in with his teacher, also. Kids sometimes try to gain control in their lives through this type of behavior. Stressful situations can make kids feel a lack of control over their environments and stool holding is one way in which they have some control. If you do feel that he has some stressors, you may want to consider seeing a family counselor who specializes in work with young children.

Next, don't get into any power struggles with your child. Getting angry and insistent will only make matters worse. Your child may want to continue holding his stool to "win" the battle. And power struggles are a way of giving him attention, though negative. When you stop giving him negative attention, he may just want to gain your attention in a positive way.

Try using a behavior chart. Every time he uses the toilet, let him put a sticker on his behavior chart. Our Step-by-Step charts can work well for this. Or, if he likes a certain character that you don't see, drop us a line and we can make up a chart for you. You can also reward him with a small incentive such as a picking a treat from a treat bag every time he poops in the toilet. Our Printable Reward Coupons work well as incentives.

You might also try using a potty chair in his room or in a room that he often spends time in. The chair is a reminder that a toilet is available in case he needs to poop, and it's a bit more convenient for him.

Have some books available in the bathroom. They can be special "bathroom books" that you can read to him when he is pooping. Chapter books work well as they can be continued throughout a longer period of time. Pick up the book and read a new section while he is pooping in the toilet.

Best of luck with your son. As mentioned, check in with his family doctor to start. You don't want to overlook an medical issues that may be contributing to this behavior. With some time and patience, your son will be pooping in the toilet again.