10 Common Reasons Why Potty Training Is Not Working

Potty training not working? Flush away the biggest potty predicaments with these expert-approved tips and guidelines.

baby sitting on toilet seat reaching for toilet paper
Photo: Getty Images

The transition from diapers to potty is often not a smooth one. In fact, more than 80% of children experience setbacks during toilet training, according to Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution.

If you approach potty training with stress or anxiety, it is possible that your child will pick up on that stress, which can turn the experience into an unpleasant one for everyone involved. Before you start potty training, make sure to adopt a relaxed and positive attitude to help set the tone. But even if you're as cool as a cucumber and as patient as a saint, potty training can still be a bumpy experience.

Keep reading to find out the most common potty training problems and what to do when potty training is not working.

Your Child Resists Going to the Potty

Resistance may mean that it's not the right time to start potty training. "If your child has no desire to use the potty, chances are they are just not ready," says Ari Brown, M.D., co-author of Toddler 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Toddler.

Common signs of potty readiness include:

  • Showing an interest in the potty
  • Showing awareness of when they need to go such as hiding during bowel movements
  • Letting you know about soiled diapers
  • Staying dry for at least two hours during the day

Your Child Has Lots of Accidents

Accidents are bound to happen with potty training—in fact, they are part of the process! When accidents happen, treat them lightly and try not to get upset. Punishment and scolding only serve to make children feel bad and may make toilet training take longer. If a few more weeks go by and your child still regularly isn't making it to the potty—or has no interest in trying—they may simply not be ready for potty training. If, on the other hand, accidents are few and far between, your little one is probably doing just fine.

Your Child Doesn't Always Recognize the Need to Pee

Does your child know when they need to have a bowel movement but can't always recognize the urge to pee? Leaking urine is normal for kids learning to use the potty. Some children don't gain complete bladder control for many months after they have learned to manage bowel movements.

If your child is just leaking a little pee but getting the majority into the potty, you can probably continue your child's potty training with this in mind. If, on the other hand, the leaks are more like full accidents and they happen more often than not, you might want to consider going back to diapers and trying the potty again in a few months.

Your Child Gets Upset When They See Their Stools Flushed Away

Some children believe that their wastes are part of their bodies, so the act of flushing them away may be frightening and hard for them to understand. Try explaining the purpose of body waste and the body's need to eliminate it. "Acknowledge the fear, no matter how outrageous it seems," advises Allison Chase, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in children and families.

After you acknowledge how they're feeling and explain what's really going on, you can take steps to help them get through it. Try letting your child be in control of flushing or doing it together.

Your Child Is Afraid of the Flush

Many children fear being sucked into the toilet if it's flushed while they're sitting on it. To give your child a feeling of control, let them flush pieces of toilet paper. This will lessen the fear of the sound of rushing water and the sight of things disappearing.

If the fear or discomfort is too overwhelming, you can also try using a stand-alone potty chair or a potty seat that goes on top of your regular toilet bowl. (And if you're using a public toilet with an automatic flush, try covering the sensor with a piece of toilet paper or s sticky note to avoid a sudden accidental flush.)

Your Child Has an Accident Right After Being Taken Off the Toilet

While frustrating, urinating or defecating right after sitting on the potty might happen a few times early in the potty training process. It may take time for your child to learn how to relax the muscles that control the bowel and bladder when they're on the potty. If this happens often or persists beyond the first several days, however, it may mean your child is not ready for training.

Your Child Won't Poop on the Potty

Learning to poop on the potty is often more challenging than learning to pee. Asking for a diaper to poop or hiding to poop are indications that your child has the bodily awareness and control to be potty trained, but perhaps isn't emotionally ready.

Instead of considering this a failure, praise your child for recognizing the signs they had to poop. If using the potty for number one is going well, you might want to try easing into pooping on the potty by taking a step back and suggesting that they have a bowel movement in the bathroom while wearing a diaper. You can then gradually work towards letting the poop out on the potty.

Your Child Urinates While Sleeping

Like most children, your toddler will probably take a little longer to complete nap time and nighttime toilet training, but wetting themselves while they sleep doesn't mean that daytime potty training isn't working. If they're making progress using the potty while they're awake but they're still urinating while asleep, consider introducing a pull-up diaper just for naps and bedtime.

Encourage your toddler to use the potty immediately before going to bed and as soon as they wake up. If using a pull-up for sleep, put your child in the pull-up just before they get in bed and take it off right when they wake. Tell them that if they wake up in the middle of the night and need to use the toilet, they can either go by themselves or call you for help.

Your Child Only Goes Potty With One Particular Person

It's typical for a child to depend heavily on one person in the early stages of potty training. If your child only goes potty with you, try introducing other caregivers while gradually withdrawing yourself from the process. The ultimate aim is independence, so you can start giving them opportunities to do parts of the process all by themselves. For example, you might offer to help your child get undressed or walk your child to the bathroom but wait outside the door while they sit.

You can even introduce a reward system in which they earn a sticker or prize every time they go potty independently, says Kristin Hannibal, M.D., clinical director of the division of general academic pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Your Child Is Regressing Back to Their Diaper Days

Anything that causes a child stress may encourage them to return to a previous level of development, particularly if the change is recent. Stressors can include an illness in the child or a relative, the addition of a new baby, a change in caregivers, the move from crib to bed, or a move to a new house.

Potty training regression might also be caused by health issues (such as constipation) or a fear of the potty. It's also possible your child wasn't really potty trained in the first place. If you believe your child is ready or they've already had a lot of success on the potty, the regression should pass with time, but talk to your child's doctor if you're worried.

How Long Should You Potty Train Before Giving Up?

If you've tried everything, including the tips and tricks presented here, and your little one is still struggling to get through potty training, then it is absolutely OK to take a break. Try giving potty training a rest for a month or so before picking it back up again. Having to try again isn't a failure. Potty training doesn't happen overnight!

Remember, there is no hard timeframe for when kids potty train. Even if your child is 3 years old, they still might not be ready to potty train. All kids develop at different paces, but if you have concerns or questions, you can always talk to a health care provider.

Key Takeaways

Potty training isn't always a smooth experience—and that is OK! Sometimes little kids need a little extra time to develop before they are ready for potty training, while other times, they just need some adjustments to their new routine.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles