How to Potty Train a Stubborn Child: Part One

My three-year-old is still not potty trained. Some days, I wonder if she’ll ever get there…and then, I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. After all, we cloth diapered….and she’s a girl! All the research I did states the same thing–girls potty train faster and babies in cloth diapers potty train faster.

Apparently, my stubborn three-year-old didn’t get the memo.

All the research in the world doesn’t mean that my cloth diapered baby girl would be potty trained early because when it comes down to it, she is her own person.

My husband works in clinical research. You can conduct studies on diapers, creams, and medications, but in the long run, each person can have a different reaction. That doesn’t mean you throw out the study, but just that you have to re-adjust your thinking. This is what is called an outlier. Someone or something that stands out of the norm.

So, here I am. An overtired mom praying for the day that I only have one child in diapers…and I am re-adjusting my thinking.

Here are five tips for potty training a stubborn child (because I can’t be the only one!)

Stop thinking your child is just being stubborn. Ha, as I’ve referred to potty training a stubborn child, I realized that I’m looking at it wrong. As parents, we have this timeline that we expect our children to just get behind and follow. They walk at one, talk at two. They stop breastfeeding at twelve months or twenty-four months or thirty-six months…or they never breastfeed. We have this idea in our heads that they’ll follow our timeline…but that’s not always the case. If you had told me when Brookie was a baby that she would still be in diapers, I would’ve laughed.

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Here’s the bottom line. Potty training is a skill to be learned. Just like walking, counting to ten, reading, and riding a bike, it is a skill. A skill that each child reaches when they’re ready. If they’re not ready, you’re going to be banging your head against a wall while your child is in tears. It will be a long, drawn out process that will fail. I say this–because I’ve been there. We threw in the towel on potty training and I don’t regret it.


Don’t compare your child to the eighteen-month-old who was potty trained. In fact, don’t compare your child. Your child is an individual with separate needs. When you try to compare them to another child (who might have been ready earlier) you leave yourself feeling inferior and that will make your child more vulnerable and less willing. Now, if your child was potty trained at a young age, know that I’m not saying anything against you. Every child potty trains when they are ready.


Talk it up. We borrowed a DVD from the library called Potty Power. It was great. Brookie couldn’t stop talking about the potty. For the first time in her life, it seemed to click. Not enough to get her on the potty full-time, but enough that the potty wasn’t this big and scary thing. Let your child see you go and talk about what you’re doing. It can be awkward, but it really helps if you can get the conversation going. Have terms so that they know what to say when they have to go. Make it to be a normal, healthy part of life. Remember, they will eventually forget any awkward bathroom conversation from two or three years old.Potty Power - For Boys & Girls


Do not discipline. A child who has never been potty trained should not be disciplined for it. Like I said, earlier, it is a skill. Treat it as such. If you feel like you’re not making progress and your child is too old to still be in diapers, talk to your doctor to rule out medical conditions. Most children will reach a point where they are embarrassed to be in diapers before it can be a discipline issue.

Use rewards. Find something that works for you and for your child. My daughter loves stickers and chocolate. We utilize both. Stickers if she asks to sit on the potty and does so. M & M’s if she goes. Then, celebrate the success. Make the experience a positive one. Treat yourself too, parent. One M & M for the child, five M & M’s for the parent. This process can be hard on the parent too.

And finally, don’t push too hard. If your child is resisting every effort, then take a break. Remember, your child won’t go to college in diapers. It will happen, eventually. Honestly, it’ll happen sooner if you aren’t pushing too hard. One day, it will just click.

I’ve heard the stories of children who wake up one morning and just start going, all on their own. Hey, if you can potty train that way, why put pressure on them earlier? That’s where we’re at. I am hoping one day she’ll do just that.

Until then, this is what I’m doing to encourage us in that direction.

A reward system in place. Like I said, stickers for sitting on the potty and m&m’s for going. Lots and lots of praise.

Cloth trainers. I ordered them from Fluffy Penguin where I order most of our diapers. They’re cheaper than pull-ups and she actually feels the wetness. For the first time, she asks for diaper changes and she’s even gone on the potty instead a few times.


Talk it up. We talk about the fact that mommy and daddy use the potty. We watch potty training videos on YouTube or from the library. When she points out the “diaper” on her Princess Belle doll, I gently correct her and say something like, “she’s a big girl princess wearing big girl underwear.”

Sit her on the potty. I try to get her to sit on the potty twice a day. She rarely goes, but she’s getting there. I’m also trying to get her more comfortable with public bathrooms because right now she’s terrified of those.

Pray for patience. I’ll admit it. I am so over waiting, but I’m  waiting her out, anyway. She’ll get there. In fact, I’ve seen signs that we’re almost there. I can’t wait to share what worked and what didn’t.
In the comments, share what your biggest pitfalls were when it came to potty training. Let us encourage one another. We’re not in it alone!


  1. Elizabeth @ What Mama Knows

    Yeah, potty training is not my favorite thing about parenthood…but you are right about taking the pressure of, and so so true about not comparing. Oh yes and about the m&ms for the grown ups 😀

  2. Brittany Ferrell

    I am fairly certain our daughters know each other! My nearly 3-year-old likes to wear underpants over her pull ups because she hates making a mess, but does not yet trust herself to get to the potty in time. She came up with this solution, not me! Ugh! But you are right, it is a skill and has to be learned and they will learn it in their own time! Great post!

  3. mrandmrscapps

    I SO get this. My 2 year old wanted to potty train even before she turned 2, then she suddenly stopped trying to go in the potty. Its a moment by moment thing. One moment she wants to, another she doesn’t. Trying to not become frustrated and simply wait and encourage her to become potty trained! Great points!

  4. thecoffeemom0617

    My daughter was fairly easy to potty train. We had to put her on the potty once an hour though. That was all that worked for us. Treats didn’t work well, but we tried lol.

  5. Kristie

    The reward system really works! My daughter was trained in no time. My son wasn’t. But I’m glad you pointed out not to compare. We do that way too much in so many instances. I loved these tips.

  6. therusticfive

    These are great tips. We will be potty training soon. I’m a firm believer in they will use the potty when they are truly ready just like any other thing they learn to do like walking and reading. Thanks for sharing!

  7. caseyp1110

    My two and a half year old daughter started the process willingly and now has no interest. We have kind of let it go too…or just not worrying about as much. Not like she’s going to go off to college in will work it self out. |I like the reward idea and i think we will try that!

  8. gloriousmomblog

    Oh man, I have two in diapers! But my oldest has autism and I’m betting my youngest potty trains before him.

  9. Jen

    I love your insight, humor and perspective!

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