Dooty Diaries: Can You Miss the Boat on Potty Training?

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, wonders if you can miss the boat on potty training. If you have suggestions, please share!


My mom always told me I talked early and was fully potty trained at a very young age. Like, by a year-and-a-half or something ridiculous. Apparently the potty part happened in all of one day and didn’t involve training of any kind. The day I realized that unleashing my bowels equaled immediate discomfort I dumped my diaper and never looked back.

Like me, my daughter also talked at a very young age. Naturally, I assumed that potty training would follow early too.

At 15-months-old she said “poop” or “poopy” every time I changed her dirty diaper. After bragging incessantly to the other moms at the playground, I ran out and bought her the cutest little froggy potty you’ve ever seen. She was enamored with it for sure, but graced it only with hugs and kisses, never her bottom. Elmo, on the other hand, spent quite a lot of time on it.

Over the months we tried various methods and enticements. We set her up with a pile of her favorite books. That held promise for, like, a day. We rewarded her with M&Ms. But, being the suckers that we are (and by we, I mean my husband), she polished off a few bags before we realized the only success we were going to have was weight gain.

We then got the brilliant idea to let her watch her favorite video—Mickey Mouse Clubhouse—while sitting on the potty. We thought if she sat there long enough, eventually she’d go. Fat chance. She once sat watching happily for two hours with nary a tinkle.

At some point we traded in the froggy for an Elmo seat on the big potty. Didn’t help. The bottom line is she has zero interest in using the potty.

Not long ago a friend suggested I forgo diapers and try putting her in cotton training pants. The theory, of course, is that soggy underpants are so uncomfortable they’re bound to produce instant potty training success.

Given that this is how I was trained it sounded perfectly plausible to me. I ran out and bought a mega-pack of training pants and wasted no time getting started.

My daughter peed within 10 minutes of wearing her new underpants. She didn’t tell us she had peed—the puddle on the kitchen floor tipped us off—and it sure didn’t seem to bother her. We stripped off pair Number 1, cleaned her up and put on pair Number 2.

Just about the time we finished cleaning up the kitchen floor she peed again. And pooped. But again, she didn’t bother to tell us. She just sat there doodling at the kitchen table until we sniffed her out.

I’m sorry but…what? How long are you supposed to let your kid wallow in dripping wet, poop-filled underpants to get the full benefit of this method?  Clearly I hadn’t thought this through. My kid had poop-stained pee running down her leg. Am I supposed to let her walk around the house like that? Because we don’t live in a barn. I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning up the kitchen floor but our rugs? Furniture? There’s no way.

This method is not for me. And unfortunately, the time I’m willing to let her stew in filth does not create sufficient discomfort for my kid to feel the need to run to the potty.

So here we are. She’s two-and-a-half years old (32 months actually) and I feel like I’ve missed the boat on potty training. What’s worse is that I have no clue what to do.

She used to tell us when she had to poop. Now she denies that she’s done it. Me: “Honey did you go poopy?” Her: “No, I didn’t!”

Sometimes she preemptively denies it. She’ll look up at me out of the blue and shout “I’m not going poopy!” when, clearly, she is mid-poop.

Now when I change her diaper she cries “Don’t change my diaper! I want that poopy diaper! I WANT TO WEAR THAT STINKY DIAPER!”

Help me.

My daughter cannot be motivated, pressured or persuaded by anything or anyone. The more I want something the more she resists. She’s incredibly strong willed.

We are getting nowhere so I’m laying off for a while. I’m hoping one day she’ll just decide she’s ready and it will be over and done with. I just can’t help wanting to speed up the process.

Did I miss the boat? What do I do? I’ll take any suggestions you have. Please, I’m begging!

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  1. by Anita T.

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:06 am

    My daughter is 19 months (almost 20). I started her potty training around 18 or 17, whenever she started showing interest in the potty. As of right now she will tell us sometimes when she wants potty, we have started trying not to ask her, “do you want potty?” because in turn she says “no”. And then most of the time when we put her on, it was a lie, she would say done after sitting there for a few seconds.

    She has, however successfully peed and pooped, more poop than pee because we can’t tell when she pees but it is very easy to see when she is about to poop. She still has accidents, which one of particular is in the tub during bath time, but we plan to start putting her on the potty before bath to see if she will go before the bath.

    I had purchased a pourty potty at first thinking she would like her own seat. Not true, it is not collecting dust in the closet. I then found that Bumbo makes a potty trainer (my daughter is tiny, last night she weighed 18 lbs, but the highest she weighed was 21 lbs). That has worked wonders since it goes right on the toilet and I guess she feels comfortable. It is a little bulky, but it is basically a Bumbo seat with no bottom, so it is a little difficult to wipe them after they go.

    The best advice would be that you may have to go through a few different seats to see which she would like. Which is costly, but might be worth it. Maybe she needs one that makes noise when she pees?

  2. by Linda

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I think as with everything else with kids, it’s a developmental thing. It will happen when she’s ready.
    My mom pushed my daughter into potty training at barely 2, and I just don’t think she was ready. She was too busy to be bothered with stopping to use the bathroom. We had accidents galore, even up until 3rd grade – she just didn’t want to stop playing long enough to run inside.
    Also, she always said she couldn’t feel the urge coming on until it was at the desperate stage. So when we’d ask her, she always said she didn’t need to go, but we dashed through many a store hoping to get to the (nasty filthy) bathroom on time.
    To me, diapers were a lot easier than bringing along extra underwear, pants, shoes and socks (and carrying around soiled ones after the accidents)!

  3. [...] Dooty diaries: Can you miss the boat on potty training? (Parents.com) [...]

  4. by tangerine

    On March 20, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I am in the same boat as you. Only my son is almost three and a half now. And he still refuses to have anything to do with the potty. And we have tried everything.
    He just doesn’t seem to care if he is dirty or wet. And he holds it when we sit him on the potty.
    I am out of ideas.

  5. by Courtney

    On March 20, 2013 at 11:59 am

    We didn’t train my son until after his third birthday, and by far the biggest motivating factor was being around kids who were using the potty at school. I’d tried here and there months earlier, but he just wasn’t ready. So I stopped pushing and I let him come around to the idea, while gently pointing out when his friends or older cousins would use the potty. Once he started bringing up how other kids would use the potty, and would insist on being changed after he went poop in the diaper, I decided it was time.

    Once he was ready, it took a grand total of three days to be completely trained! The only “trick” I used was a big bag of individually gift wrapped toys from the dollar store. I spent $40 on small toys and trinkets, wrapped them in cheap tissue paper, and let him pick one to open each time he’d poop in the potty. I told him he’d get all the toys in the bag, and after that he would be trained and not get toys anymore. It’s not exactly eco-friendly or minimalist, but it worked. It occasionally backfired in that he’d poop a tiny bit, ask for a present, then poop the rest and ask for another, but I just stayed consistent and gave him a toy for each poop, no matter how small. I didn’t want to get in any battles with him. And I absolutely don’t think these incentives would’ve worked if he wasn’t ready.

    If she’s hiding it from you, I’d back off for a bit and try again in a month or two. Read books about potty training, point out that other kids are using the toilet, but let her tell you when she’s ready to start. Good luck!

  6. by Nicole

    On March 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    your daughter and my daughter could be twins. She is almost 3 and has zero interest after many false starts. I’m just going to wait until she brings up the potty again and go from there…I’m tired of that battle.

  7. by Katie

    On March 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    At also 32 months, I’m still waiting for the magical moment whe my daughter is ready. She will be excited to sit on the potty on average once a week. It’s hard to be patient but I think pushing her before she is ready will just prolong the agony for all of us. Hopefully we won’t still be in this position a year or even six months from now.

  8. by Megan

    On March 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    The holding onto the poopy diapers happened to my son and several of his little friends. Taking a break is good- she may be almost readily but not quite there.
    You’re not too late- my son goes to school with a 4 y I with No interest in potty training.

  9. by Amelia

    On March 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    You’re not too late! I didn’t even try to train my daughter until she was 2yrs 5months and it look 2 days. This is the best advice I was given. It worked for me so ill pass it along…

    clear your schedule for a few days. Don’t leave the house. Don’t put ANY pants, diaper, underwear or training underwear on your daughter. Leave her totally naked from the waist down. Ask her repeatedly (like every 10-15 mins) if she had to use the potty. Watch her like a hawk. the second she starts to pee, run her onto the potty. Praise her. Just keep repeating and she’ll get it.

    Don’t go back to diapers once you commit (except at night of course)

    Pull-ups are too close to diapers. Toddlers seem to think that training underwear works just like a diaper too so don’t use them.

    You’re doing great. :)

  10. by Lauren

    On March 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    I don’t think you missed the boat, but I think you have made things harder for yourself. Take the diapers off, put her in big girl underpants and pull the potty out. When she has accidents it is HER job to take her underpants off and clean up the mess. Mom and dad should be there to help, but it shouldn’t be your responsibility to clean her up. When she goes on the potty (actually pees or poops, not just sits on the potty) give her a reward. There shouldn’t be a choice at this point. You’re the parent and two and half is old enough to be potty trained… Good luck!

  11. by Gen

    On March 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Our 3 year old son? Same thing. It sounds like I read his story.

    (And as far as making your own child clean up their mess at not even three years old? That’s a ridiculous piece of advice.)

  12. by Anita

    On March 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    My daughter is very chatty. From when she was very young, I would explain to her when I went to the restroom. Then we bought a potty time with Elmo video. Then we discussed how no one else in the house wore diapers. My little one is fiercely independent and stubborn so I pointed out that if she was going to be a big girl and have big girl privileges like helping with dinner, she needed to quit the diapers. We went full gusto at 30 months. It took about 3 solid days but we are diaper free. I think they just have to make up their minds that they don’t want to wear diapers.

  13. by BROOKE

    On March 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Your best bet is to get rid of anything diaper or pull up related. Make it a HUGE deal. Take her to the store and let her pick out her special “Big Girl” underwear. Explain to her that these are her special “Big Girl” underwear and that its important for her to use the potty now. My child did not want to sit on the potty let alone go potty in it at first. We sat there in the bathroom for what seemed like HOURS and he finally peed. We made a HUGE deal, did a little dance made up a potty song and gave him a special treat for using the potty. I also learned that they are going to tell you know when you ask them if they need to go potty. Be firm and say “well, lets go try anyways just to be sure”. It will take a few times and you will have a few accidents but she will get it!

  14. by Trisha

    On March 20, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    my daughter is almost 4 and she doesn’t want anything to do with pottying either. She will use the toilet at her babysitters once in a while but not for us at home. we have tried everything that the other mothers have been doing and my daughter is just like the other kids. I am gonna keep trying and hoping one day she will be ready!

  15. by Rebecca

    On March 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    I knew I wasn’t alone on a late bloomer with potty training. Both my kids have been that way. My daughter was nearly three and only after watching the kids at preschool did it start clicking. A few days home with just the two of us and she was trained. My son who is 3 yrs 3 months is another story. He refuses and tells me he isn’t going to learn to go on the potty. He is to busy with everything else to bother going. Just today we made it through the whole day with underwear and only one minor accident. Usually he cries for his pull-ups to be put on and has gone as far as finding them and putting them on.

    I am of the mind set that they need to be potty trained and not have the parent trained to take them constantly. My son can hold his bladder over night because most mornings we have a dry diaper so I know an hour is nothing to hold it.

    I wouldn’t stress about it to much because it will click for the kid. If we stress about than they are going to start stressing which will set you back in the training. Take a step back from pushing it but continue talking about it and one day it should click to start going.

  16. by Molly

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Our daughter was over 3 before she finally potty trained. Like you we tried M&Ms and training pants. She didn’t care. 2 things finally worked: a Potty Sticker Poster that her cousin made for her that we kept in the bathroom. She got to pick out which stickers she liked, and if she peed, she got 1 sticker; if she pooped, 2. She loved that. But the absolute BEST thing that finally got it into her head that going on the potty was a fun thing to do, was the DUMBEST movie in the world. I went to our library and rented It’s Potty Time. A movie from the late 80s/early 90s with a bunch of completely annoying songs that some how got her on the potty in 2 or 3 days after she started watching it. I’m mean we’re talking Barney annoying, you know, it’s so bad, but you and your husband just can’t stop singing the songs yourself. Any way that worked. And just in time too. About 3 months later her little sister was born…and now we start all over. Good luck! Every kid is different and she WILL do it some day.

  17. by Molly

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    My son turned 3 in January and he is the same way. He’s adamant he is not going potty, not wearing underwear, etc. I’ve tried all sorts of stuff. We own Elmo Potty Time, we have 3 or 4 Potty books. I tried the “as soon as the drawer of diapers is gone you are wearing undies from now on.” All failed. He has two potty seats (1upstairs and 1 down). I tried getting his favorite character underwear to have a reward when he was trained. We even had an underwear fashion show in an effort to get him out of diapers and into potty training. All we no-gos. So I have both potty seats out, I moved his underwear down to a drawer he can reach, and I’m trying VERY hard to wait him out.

  18. by Jade

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    i say start as soon as you can for potty training, buy the potty before even taking the kids diaper off get them use to sitting on it, then everytime you change there diaper sit them on the potty and tell them that is were the poo and pee goes. then buy the pull ups and make them sit on the potty every 20 mins for 5 mins at a time, repeat to them over and over again that they need to go poop and pee on the potty. by 16 months my son was using the potty very well but wasnt fully trained till 2 and a half, this includes night training as well.

  19. by megann

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    when she does poop, take her and it, to the potty & haver her flush it, clapping and all those other dumb things us moms have to do. if she pees on the floor, give her a wipe and have her clean it up with you. let her pick out new undies, maybe get a special basket for them in her room. maybe get her a special new dress or bathing suit for the summer, tell her its a big girl outfit & the tag says only big girls in big girl undies/who go on the potty can wear it.
    lastly take a deep breath, have a glass of wine & remind yourself-she wont be 15 in diapers-your on the right track give it time.

  20. by Jo

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    My daughter was definitely a late bloomer when it came to going on the toilet! I feel your pain, but I really think it boils down to a kid will begin going on the potty when they are ready. We started with trying to encourage her when she was just 2 and she didn’t really catch on or have much interest until she was over 3! I tried praise, rewarding her with things, bought potty books, talked about her older friends who didn’t use diapers, bought her a musical sort of toilet, told her she couldn’t go to school til she didn’t have pull ups anymore, took her panty shopping to pick out the ones she liked…I finally just had to tell her that after the last pack of pull ups, there would be no more (which I had threatened but never really followed through with before). I meant it and she finally just got it. She was smart enough to get it before, but if she was playing and having a good time, then she’d just go in her pants until there were no more pull ups. She has only had about 2 accidents since stopping and now she prides herself on being a “big girl” and going on the regular toilet. I would say, plant the seed, encourage as much as you can, and eventually one day she’ll get it! All kids are different so I don’t think there is any one way.

  21. by Emily

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Honestly, when I wanted my son to go in the potty, he wouldn’t and was also very strong willed about it. One day he woke up and asked to wear his big boy undies and never looked back. I guess he was finally ready. I think it helped that his friend was already potty trained and he wanted to be like her. I think he was around 26 months when he decided to potty train but I am pretty sure I tried to get him to train at around 20 months. It took about a week before I trusted him to nap without diapers and then another two months before he went through the night in underwear. It is a good idea to just step back. Try reading her a story book about potty training. My son really enjoyed seeing the boy in the book with wet pants lol. Good luck! She can’t be in diapers forever!

  22. by Casey

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Oh my goodness!! I laughed hysterically at this post!! My daughter is 2, she will be 3 in June and does not like going potty what so ever! She peed in the potty in the potty one time and that was it. Like an idiot, but a really good mom… I think, I did the “silly dance” and she laughed at me, never to pee in the potty again. After months of trying, she still will not go in the potty. Every time I even ask her to sit on it she says “NO!!! I not have to go potty!!!”. She still gets pee-pee and poopy mixed up too. I started trying to potty train her because of my mother. The oh so wonderful woman that she is… or isn’t. She oh so suddenly told me how she is holding back from putting my daughter on the potty to potty train her…So with that being said, I have tried everything and still nothing. Until I spoke to my husband who doesn’t approve of anything my mother tells me, he says “It’s a developmental thing”. He is totally right!! She is not ready, and that is okay. Some children are not ready until almost 4! Don’t stress out, it will happen, just not right now. Don’t keep pushing it, because if you force her, she will hate going potty and fight you even more!! Good luck!!

  23. by Leah

    On March 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    My daughter (will be 3yrs old in 2 weeks) wanted nothing to do with the potty. I started her in pull up diapers 6 or 7 months ago and made no headway, I tried the naked potty training (she just peed on the floor). Finally about a month ago I bought her the potty princess book and read it to her several times, then I went on eBay and bought her a crown and told her that when she was completely out of diapers she would get the crown and be the potty princess. The next time we were at costco I let her pick out two packages of underwear and when we got home I pulled out one pair and a diaper and we had a talk about the differences between the two (how underwear is softer, cuter, less bulky) but mostly diapers catch poo and pee and big girl underwear does not, it is just to keep our bottoms from getting irritated by our jeans. The next day we switched into big girl underwear and I get her to the potty every 2 or so hours. Fingers crossed, but we have only had 3 accidents (I made her throw away the poopy underwear and told her she would not have another pair like those again) and have been in big girl underwear for over a week and a half now and she is doing great! Good luck, I hope this helps!

  24. by Michelle

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    I have a 6 year old and 4 year old. Both girls. And both of them were HORRIBLE with potty training. Not exaggerating. I could write a book at what they put me through, but I will just say that I know you are thinking “Oh man, this kid will be wearing freaking diapers in High School!” because I know I was absolutely thinking that because the way both my kiddos were about it I thought for sure it was never going to happen. Never. But trust me when I say this, the day will come. Let me repeat that…the day WILL come! Hang in there…the thing is every single child is different and they just don’t want to do any of it until THEY are ready, not when we are, it’s just that simple. I completely feel your pain. You will get through this, I promise. ;-)

  25. by Crystal

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    The best advice I ever followed was to just wait until they are ready. I tried with my daughter when she was two but she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t able to sense when she had to go until it was too late and she also was not uncomfortable in her dirty diaper. I spent almost a day fully dedicated to it when I realized it wasn’t worth stressing either of us out. I spent the following months talking about how great it is to use the big girl potty and how when she is a big girl she will use her potty like mommy and daddy and get lots and lots if stickers. Months later, she started responding excitedly to that and most importantly started telling us when she had to go or had gone in her diaper. I got her sticker chart ready, and yes I used candy (something I never thought I’d do)for the biggest rewards. Then we put a few days aside and tried again. She was potty trained in one day. She has not had a pee accident since the first day or a poop accident since the 3rd. She was 2yrs and 9 months. Don’t let your own sense of pride or competition let you push her before she’s ready. It’s unnecessary stress on both of you and could ultimately set you back. You can’t use your ‘authority’ as the parent to force her into being ready. They can’t just decide to obey you and suddenly get it. It’s up to you to watch and listen for the signs.

  26. by Shanell Langham

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    My daughter just turned two a month ago and is fully potty trained. We first tried when she was 19 months because I found the three day potty method and just knew it would work…EPIC FAIL. Best advice I received was wait until she’s ready. We set a goal target date and said when she turned 22 months we would switch to panties ONLY. No diapers whatsoever. We also made a HUGE deal for every little tinkle of pee that would land in the potty (even if a little got on the floor). And I would use the potty and let her watch me. That was a HUGE motivator for her to see that she was being just like mommy. Just be patient mommy. There will be a day when these days will seem like long ago.

  27. by Maggie Michelitch

    On March 20, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I am an old preschool teacher…

    AT 2 3/4 Yrs. Every hour OR 2 HRS. you need to put child on toilet..Potty is fine…. for 15 minutes daytime.And everytime you go. Modeling is a must…. It will not happen overnight but someone must do it Nanny you in laws or Daddy set a timer.. in between. You may feel very discouraged before encouraged as it will take a long time for success. IT HAPPENS WHEN THEY ARE READY EMOTIONALLY PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY…DO NOT HAVE A POWER STRUGGLE…
    I know many of you need to have this for day care or preschool… This is too bad,,, I am sorry I know why schools can’t have enough staff….Too expensive….
    Then have a reward sticker candy one jelly bean for pea two poop………..
    With nighttime pull ups I would not try night time until 5-6 yrs They will do that when ready only. Don’t sweat it please.

  28. by Nicole

    On March 20, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    For my daughters, I have 3 of them 2 are potty trained one still a baby, I used prize bags and it was super easy. A pee bag and a poop bag, I found poop to be harder to train so the prizes were better in that bag. Just simple things from the dollar store worked in the pee bag. Every time she went she could pick a prize. She was fully trained within 5 days and no pullups at night even (thats my middle daugther), my oldest was trained within 2 weeks but didnt have an accident!! The prize bags work wonders!! Also, I found my middle daughter needed privacy. She wouldnt go if we sat with her, we had to leave her alone for her to go, poop especially! I hope this helps.

  29. by Nicole

    On March 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    This sounds like my daughter I am going thru the same thing. I felt like I was reading my own story except she is going on 4 . I’m clueless at this point. Someone just told me to let them run bare because they won’t like the feel of having the pee run down their legs. Hopefully warmer weather will move in and we can try this Fingers crossed and good luck to you.

  30. by tanya

    On March 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I was in the same boat with my daughter who was almost 3 yrs. I talked to my doctor about and she suggested to take off the diaper and pull ups and put her in a regular underwear even at night. Give her lots of fluids during the day so that even if she tried to hold it she couldn’t and sit her down every 30min. at night she went to the bathroom before bed and I would wake her up in the middle of the night but even then she had accidents 3 nights in a row but after that she got up by herself and went potty. I wish I could tell you it works every time but unfortunately it hasn’t with my son. Good luck!

  31. by brittany

    On March 21, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Take a break from potty training….right now to your daughter, potty training has a bad rap. take the potty seats away for a couple months then slowly introduce it as positively as you can. Don’t rush this. She will eventually be trained. But it needs to be on her terms. I am going through the same thing right now with my second child. The potty seat is in the closet and We will try again when she shows more interest.
    Good luck!

  32. by Marina

    On March 21, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I have been reading all the comments and trying very hard not to be judgmental, but oh boy! Some moms have 4 year olds that wear diapers! I mean, come on! I understand there is no point in attempting to make a 7 month old to understand how to use the potty, but at 2 children are perfectly capable of understanding how to pee and poop in the potty! My son is 18 months old and has been successfully going potty for the past month. My husband and I give him stickers and chocolate every time he pees or poops. I think the biggest problem is that some parents are not being firm enough with their children. Perhaps you should try to exercise some parental authority…

  33. by Bizellis

    On March 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Hi! Our daughter…a genius…wasn’t potty trained till about 2 and a half closer to 3. We did books on the potty…read a lot of books on pottying before bed, watched Elmo’s Potty Time till I thought I would kill myself. We had a chart that came with a sweet book “Big Girls Use The Potty.” we didn’t do anything weird with training pants or no pants…we praised when she went to the potty and the diaper was dry. We didn’t even attack nap or night time no diaper till she was 3.5. I don’t know who said kids have o be potty trained by 2.5. Relax…she won’t be in a diaper when she goes to college.