12 Common Potty Training Problems—And How to Solve Them

Potty training rarely happens without a hitch. Flush away the biggest potty predicaments with these expert-approved tips and guidelines.

baby sitting on toilet seat reaching for toilet paper
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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. Find out about some of the most common problems and what you can do about them.

1. 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., coauthor of Toddler 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Toddler. Common signs of readiness include showing an interest in potty training, hiding during bowel movements, letting you know about soiled diapers, and staying dry for at least two hours during the day.

2. Your Child Has Accidents.

Accidents are bound to happen with potty training. When they do, treat them lightly and try not to get upset. Punishment and scolding will often make children feel bad and may make toilet training take longer. If a few more weeks go by and your child still isn't making it to the potty—or has no interest in trying—they may not be ready for potty training.

3. Your Child Doesn't Recognize the Need to Urinate.

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 those learning to potty train. Some children don't gain complete bladder control for many months after they have learned to manage bowel movements. Continue your child's potty training with this in mind.

4. Your Child Tries to Play With Their Feces.

A desire to play with feces simply stems from a kid's natural curiosity. You can prevent this without making them upset by simply saying, "This is not something to be played with."

5. They Insist on Sitting Down to Urinate.

This one actually is not a problem, because the majority of people with a penis do want to sit while learning to go in the potty. Let your child urinate sitting down and, after they have mastered bladder control, if you choose, you can explain that they can also go potty standing up. Your child may pick this up on their own too, from watching other male family members go to the bathroom.

6. Your Child Gets Upset When They See Their Stools Flushed Away.

Some children believe that their wastes are part of their bodies, so this 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.

7. Your Child Is Afraid of Being Sucked Into the Toilet.

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 him or her flush pieces of toilet paper. This will lessen the fear of the sound of rushing water and the sight of things disappearing. You can also try using a stand-alone potty chair, or a potty seat that goes on top of your regular toilet bowl.

8. Your Child Has a Bowel Movement or Urinates Right After Being Taken Off the Toilet.

While frustrating, this might happen frequently 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. If this happens a lot, it may mean your child is not really ready for training.

9. Your Child Wants Diapers for Bowel Movements and Hides While Pooping.

This indicates that your child is physically—although not emotionally—ready to be potty trained. Instead of considering this a failure, praise your child for recognizing the bowel signals. Suggest that they have the bowel movement in the bathroom while wearing a diaper.

10. Your Child Urinates While Sleeping.

Like most children, your own toddler probably will take a little longer to complete nap-time and nighttime toilet training. Encourage your toddler to use the potty immediately before going to bed and as soon as they wake up. 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 for you for help.

11. Your Child Only Goes Potty With One Particular Person.

It's normal for a child to depend on one person in the early stages of training. If your child will only go potty with you, gradually withdraw yourself from the process. For example, offer to help your child get undressed or walk your child to the bathroom, but wait outside the door. 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.

12. 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 include an illness in the child or a relative, a new baby, a change 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. The regression should pass with time, but talk to your child's doctor if you're worried.

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