Frustrated that your toddler refuses to sit on the potty? Learn why you shouldn’t worry—and what to do about potty training instead.
For one reason or another, it’s become the source of power struggles between you and your usually cooperative toddler.
You tried everything, like frequent trips to the potty, watching videos and songs, and even confiscating items. Rewards and incentives don’t work either—he couldn’t care less about wearing “big kid” undies or earning stickers and stars.
He might even show many signs of potty readiness and knows what he’s supposed to do. But the few times you convince him to sit on the potty, he still holds his pee the whole time (never mind that he pees in the diaper the minute he pulls them back on).
Let’s face it: potty training is enough to make you feel like a failure.
As silly as it may seem, many parents struggle when their toddler refuses to sit on the potty, or feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. It doesn’t help when you’ve tried everything, or when other kids seem at least interested in sitting on the potty.
Why you shouldn’t worry if your toddler refuses to sit on the potty
So, what do you do when your toddler refuses to sit on the potty? When he might even be scared to use it all?
I can understand why parents feel stressed when their toddler refuses to sit on the potty. You’re used to getting your child to comply on nearly everything else—except sitting on the potty. Some preschools require students to be potty trained, making you feel pressured to meet a deadline.
You might even feel misled by all the advice you’ve heard, from using potty charts to sticker rewards. That stress and pressure you feel is bound to rub off on him at some point, delaying the process even further.
But after three boys—one of whom broke out in tears even just mentioning potty training—I’ve learned that worry and stress is the last thing you need. That stickers and stars can only work so far, and that even if you think you’ve “backed off,” you’re still putting pressure on him in ways you may not realize.
When my toddler pooped in his diaper minutes after refusing to even try sitting on the potty, I knew this was one area I couldn’t—and shouldn’t—try to control.
Take a look at these five compelling reasons you shouldn’t worry if your toddler refuses to sit on the potty — and what to do instead. Or take a look at this video where I offer a summer—as one parent said after watching it:
1. Using the potty is one thing your toddler can control
Unlike most household functions—the time to sleep, chores to do, even what to wear—using the potty is one of the few things your toddler has control over. You literally can’t make his body suddenly pee or poop, no matter what.
No wonder you end up with power struggles over sitting on the potty.
You might feel a loss of control, even threatened, at realizing there are things about him you have no choice over. Meanwhile, he feels frustrated at the pressure to do something he may not be ready or willing to do.
It’s a lose-lose situation.
What to do: Give him that choice to decide when to sit on the potty. Choices empower kids because, in a world driven by adults, they feel ownership, and in this case, something important: their bodies. Let go of the need to control what “should” happen and let it unfold on its own.
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2. Your toddler will see potty training as a bad thing
It’s easy to assume that the more you talk about using the potty, the more your toddler will finally take to sitting on it. And when he refuses, it can be hard to let it go, to the point where you’re losing your temper and he’s in a crying fit.
The result? He’ll have a negative association with sitting on the potty. He knows it’s a point of contention for you, and may even put up a fight because it’s a sure-fire way to get a reaction. Or he’ll resent using the potty because it feels like the source of all your arguments.
You may be trying to get him to sit on the potty, but the added stress only pushes him further away.
What to do: Back off from getting him to sit on the potty. And truly back off—sometimes we think we’re not talking about it much, but we’re still tense, anxious, or snappy. To completely avoid all power struggles, set a date for one week where you won’t mention sitting on the potty once.
3. You can’t compare your toddler to other kids
Many parents will point to their older kids and say, “I potty trained his older sister when she was two years old! I don’t know why he refuses to sit on the potty.” You see other toddlers in play dates who’ve already ditched diapers for undies, or worry that yours is “getting up there” in age and still needs a pull up.
When I started to get antsy about my son’s disinterest, his pediatrician reminded me, “No one enters kindergarten wearing a diaper.”
As tempting as it is to worry about whether your toddler will ever stop using diapers, the truth is, he will. It might be later than others, but all this stress and anxiety is useless when you realize the inevitability of using the potty.
What to do: Stop comparing his potty training progress (or lack of it) to anyone else’s. And if you feel pressured because of preschool requirements, reconsider whether that preschool is a good fit.
4. Timing has no effect on future success or current abilities
As parents, we can sometimes be competitive, don’t you think? We love to share that our kids started walking at 10 months or reading by three-years-old. We check off these milestones with a sigh of relief—one less thing to worry about.
Because we all know what happens when they don’t hit those milestones: we worry.
We always have this elusive “future” harping on our backs. As if one missed or delayed milestone might mean a tarnished future, one more thing that might hold them back.
You probably already see how silly it is, right? In hindsight, when your toddler sits and uses the potty has no bearing on his future success. No adult brags about how early they started potty training—no kindergartener talks about it, either.
And you won’t find any correlation between how soon or how easily a person potty trained with how smart or talented he is. It’s not a factor in the future, so it shouldn’t cause you to worry in the present.
As I say in my book, You Are Enough:
“Consider milestones and timelines as a general gauge, but know that all kids develop at such a wide range. The goal isn’t to jump to worry and stress, but to ask yourself what, if any, can you do in this moment to help. If the answer is nothing, then focus more on staying calm and supportive, while reminding yourself that things will always work out one way or another.”
What to do: Let potty training happen on its own, and remind yourself that when your toddler stops wearing diapers has no bearing on his abilities.
5. Potty training should feel easy
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Want a simple trick to see whether your toddler truly is ready to potty train? It should feel easy.
Yup, potty training, including getting him to even sit on the potty, should feel effortless. And when it’s not—when you’re stressed, worried, or arguing with him—that’s your clear sign he’s not ready.
Here’s why: when he decides and is physically and mentally ready, potty training won’t take a long time or feel so stressful. It won’t be a battle between you two. It’ll happen on its own, and quickly at that, too.
Sure, you’ll deal with messes and accidents, and there may be times when even your “ready” toddler puts up a fight. But you’ll notice a drastic difference between trying to potty train a toddler who’s not ready, and one who is.
What to do: If you struggle with potty training at all, hold off—even for a few weeks—and ask him again down the line.
And check out Potty by Leslie Patricelli, a hilarious children’s book to encourage him to sit on the potty:
My toddler tended to poop after every meal, so after dinner one night, I asked him, “Want to sit on the potty?”
To my surprise, he actually complied. It was the first time he sat on the potty with his diaper off, and for a full 25 minutes, too.
Before that, I worried because I couldn’t even get him to sit on the potty, much less actually use it. But it was when I let go of those worries that potty training became much easier.
The added pressure only encourages kids to see potty training as a point of contention and source of arguments. Using the potty is one of the few things we have zero control over—the quicker we realize this, the better for all.
We also can’t compare them to others, or worry that potty training predicts their future success (or is a sign of their current abilities). And finally, potty training should be easy and effortless. Any time you feel resistance is a sign it’s not yet time.
My worries of whether my toddler would ever take to the potty were gone—all because I let go of the stress and worrying. And of course, not one of my kids entered kindergarten wearing a diaper—just as their pediatrician predicted.
Get more tips:
- Secrets to Fix Potty Training Accidents
- How to Get Your Toddler to (Finally) Poop in the Potty
- Potty Training Books for Toddlers to Ease Their Anxiety
- How to Potty Train Twins: The Ultimate Guide
- How to Potty Train Gradually
Don’t forget: Join the FREE 5-day email mini course, Peaceful Potty Training today: