Parent FAQs – When children get distressed during potty training

a young mother talking to her kid

Q: My daughter is 2 and a half, she is a twin she will sit on the potty and knows when she needs to go. But she is holding it in she gets hysterical and starts to cry, she asked for her nappy and went in that. Any advice? My firstborn was so easy to potty train she is 3 now so they see her using the toilet. 

A: Hi, thanks for your question. This problem is not uncommon in young children who struggle with the concept of using a potty/toilet when they have been used to using a nappy for 2 years! What we do in this situation is to just leave the nappy open on the potty so when your little girl wants to wee you can sit her on the nappy on the potty and hopefully this will give her the confidence to let go and do a wee! Once she is happy to do this parents replace the nappy with toilet paper if necessary otherwise they just ‘forget’ to put the nappy on and sit the child straight onto the potty. 

If she is not ready to sit on the potty with a nappy on just yet then leave her in knickers and when she looks like she wants to wee take her to the bathroom and put a nappy on (the cheapest one you can find) let her do a wee then take off the nappy and leave her again just in knickers – hopefully she will start to relax and go to the bathroom happily each time she needs a wee – once she is in a good routine re this you can then give her a choice – ‘do you want to sit on the potty/toilet with your nappy on or without your nappy?’ She needs to understand that sitting on the potty/toilet she will have to do eventually – but take it at her pace. 

The good news is that she is very aware of needing to wee and she has very good control – so she is virtually there! 

Q: My daugher will be 3 in one month. We have tried to potty train her unsuccessfully twice (when she turned 2 and 2.5) and both times she seemed traumatised by it. We tried to make it fun and praised her when she did a wee in the potty and gave a sticker but she was literally clinging to me all day and I had to physically hold her on the potty while she was crying. She seems terrified of weeing without a nappy. 

We have a potty and toilet seat for her and she used to enjoy sitting on both, but only with her clothes on. Now she won’t sit on either of them at all! She has never liked being naked and says she wants to be in nappies, although she now hates having her nappy changed but doesn’t want knickers. 
She is ready in every way apart from seeming scared of potty training. I don’t know what to do anymore. No incentives seem to help either. Any advice? I feel like I am failing and am getting worried she will never train! 

A: That sounds very stressful, and not fun for you or your daughter. I’m sure she will train but it may take some time and you may need the patience of a saint! The most important thing for now is to take a step back and start again.

Start by working through the routine,  read our blog on this here, and explaining to her what’s happening. Let her watch other family members in the bathroom and also let her role play through the routine with dolls or teddies. Sometimes swapping roles and getting her to tell you what to do might help her to learn and become more used to the change. Keep positive, and it might be an idea to start by leaving a nappy on the potty for her to sit on. Let her choose her own pants as that might help motivate her to want to wear them. Practise, consistency and positivity are the keys to cracking this!  

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4 comments on “Parent FAQs – When children get distressed during potty training

  1. Emma on

    Hi my daughter 2 and a half has been potty training for nearly a month now. She sits on the potty fine. But won’t let me know when she needs a wee. I have to keep putting her on there so she has no accidents. When will the time come when she asks for a wee. If you leave her she just wets herself.

    Reply
    • Di on

      Hi, this is frustrating for you but she will learn when she needs to go, but it can take time as she needs to start recognising the body’s queues that she needs a wee. When she has an accident ask her if there were any feelings in her body that gave her a clue that a wee was on its way. Unfortunately the only way to learn this is through trial and error. Dry Like Me pads in pants can help manage the stress and mess of accidents and also help teach the child when they have had an accident as they initially feel wet and bulk up. Good luck. Di x

      Reply
  2. Lorraine on

    Hi, I’m at my whits end. I have a very strong willed child. He hates the potty. We get full on tantrums taking the nappy off although he does wees and poos on our 3 pottys (I thought he didn’t like them so I bought more differen, talking ones and animal shaped ones). He refuses to tell me he will just go by himself. I’ve lost all confidence in training. I do everything to encourage him to tell me. Nursery said his nature is strong willed and not to push but hes 3 but looks almost 5 years. I’m running out of ideas as hes in the biggest size nappy and its tight. I just dunno what to do.

    Reply
    • Di on

      Hi Lorraine, on the plus side it sounds like he is capable of being fully potty trained and the main issue is motivating him to do this. You could either try positive rewards, such as reward charts or special treats or day trips out. in some cases this works well, but at other times it has no impact on motivating the child. As a last resort you could try telling him that because of his age there are certain things that he can’t do unless he’s in big boy pants. It’s not easy and strong willed children are the hardest to potty train, especially if they involve tantrums.

      Reply

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