Q: My son will be four in March and refuses to potty.... Shouldn't he be interested by now?
A: Most children should be interested in using the potty by age 3. If you have made it to 3 ½ or 4 and he is refusing (which is different from a lack of interest) there is a problem. The first step is to try to figure out if there is any sort of negative association with the bathroom or toilet (ie is he afraid of the flushing sound) and to reassure him that he is safe when he uses the bathroom facilities. Some children understand that when they can use the bathroom independently they will go to preschool and may fear the separation from mom or dad and therefore don’t want to use the toilet. The next step is to explain to him that it is time for him to use the bathroom. Find a few days when you can remain mostly at home, purchase multiple pairs of underwear, and be prepared for accidents. Start by sitting on the toilet the first thing in the morning after taking off the overnight diaper, make it fun – sing songs, read a book, drink some juice, and see what happens. If you have success celebrate with lots of praise and something to keep him motivated (a sticker, an M and M, bubbles). If you don’t have success, praise him for sitting and trying, put on the underwear and talk about using the bathroom when he needs to go. Plan bathroom trips for every 90-120 minutes during the day. If accidents happen don’t get upset, change to clean underwear, and talk about heading to the bathroom sooner the next time. If you can remain calm and consistent and don’t give up and put the diaper back on most kids will figure it out within a few days. Stooling in the toilet can sometimes take longer to figure out so just focus on urine at first. Being in a group setting at a parent’s day out or preschool can also be helpful for the child who refuses to go at home as most centers have scheduled bathroom times and peer pressure can work wonders.