What can I do about my daughter's stubbornness towards potty training?

Q: My 34-month old daughter has been pooping off and on on the potty when she feels like it since about 20-months old. She has never peed on the potty and now refuses to try at all and will tell me she has to go but goes in her diaper instead. I have tried all rewards but nothing works. Does anyone know how to get passed this stubbornness?

A: A child of 34 months is likely to be very sensitive to feeling pushed around, so cajoling, arguing, and focusing on a particular behavior has a low yield of success. You are right, I am sure, that the problem is not that she does not understand the idea of the grown-up toilet but that she is "stubborn." Trying to be stubborn in the opposite direction isn't likely to help you--a toddler will win a power struggle every time. You can count on it!


Your best strategy is to step away from the power struggle. You did not struggle to get your daughter to walk or to use words to speak or to eat with a spoon. These things came naturally, because her capacity to understand was growing and her observations of how the grown-ups do things led--naturally--to her wanting to do things the same way. Small children can see that babies use a diaper and that grown-ups use the toilet. Most small children will want to use the toilet and to use it successfully, especially if the parent helps them a bit with friendly suggestions about how it can be accomplished.


When this process becomes a power struggle, the child's natural need to resist feeling pushed around becomes much more powerful than the child's need to imitate what the grown-ups do. Then the child is dead set on resisting the grown-up, even if it means continuing the babyish behavior. This struggle then can become a pattern which is hard to change.


The best way to get beyond the battle of wills is to set the battle aside for a while. Show your daughter that you are happy with her just the way she is, and let the potty training issue ride for several weeks. Then, after the battle has subsided and she has forgotten about it, you can begin to offer her some friendly suggestions about using the toilet. I would approach her respectfully and helpfully, as you would ask an older person whether you could help them with some heavy packages or offer your seat in the subway.


Small children want to do things the same way as they are done by the adults that they love and admire. This is the most powerful motive in their growth. The reward is feeling proud to be like the grown-ups. Going with this motivation is the parent's best friend!