What to do if your child is a ‘potty refuser’ (Pedcast)

Weaning children off of diapers isn’t always an easy task. Doc Smo helps parents potty train these so called “potty refusers” by enrolling them in his school of natural consequences. Listen to this pedcast to glean practical tips for getting reluctant toddlers to use the toilet.

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It is an almost everyday occurrence that I see in the office an otherwise normal three year old who comes for his checkup and is wearing diapers. Let’s face it: for a three year old, life is good in diapers! It’s all play, no interruption, and Mom or Dad takes total responsibility for keeping him clean. Well, when I see these 3 year olds in diapers who are otherwise developmentally normal, it’s time for Potty Boot Camp. It’s time to enroll them in the “School of Natural Consequences.” I love the School of Natural Consequences; it’s tuition-free, and the learning comes fast. Sort of “in-your-panties learning.”

Today’s episode of Doc Smo addresses the question of what to do when your child refuses to transition from diapers to underwear during the day. Before we get into today’s talk, let’s preface by saying that this discussion assumes a child who is both developmentally and physically normal; they have no problems with control of lower part of the body, and they have no intellectual or developmental delays of significance. Johhny is just refusing to keep himself dry while he’s awake. Or worse, nobody has even asked him to do so during the day.

So how do we approach this situation?

Let’s take a look at the tools we have in our parenting toolbox:
• The first and most obvious tool is rewards. Rewards for appropriate potty behavior include stickers, stars, parent’s praise, candy, and potty presents. Reward is a powerful motivator, and I definitely recommend that you use this tool.
• Let the natural consequences happen…don’t get in the way. Let your child deal with it. Let them deal with their inaction. Make the potty waste their problem!!!! They will quickly learn that it is in their best interests to use the potty.
• The final tool, which I don’t recommend you use in this situation, is punishment. I don’t think you should force your child to sit on the potty, I don’t think you should yell at them, and I don’t think you should belittle them. Remember, your message is lost once you emotionally charge a situation with young children. You don’t want to create negative associations with the toilet. You want your child to want to please you, you want them to take responsibility, and you losing control or creating anything that they find punishment is not going to help with their toilet behavior.

Doc Smo Pearl: “Children learn quickly when consequences of their actions (or inactions) matter.”

Corollary to that Pearl: “Once your child has taken ownership of a problem, they will find a solution.”

So what should you do if you have a three year old (or older) who is clinging to diapers?
I recommend the powerful 1-2 approach to dealing with the Potty Refuser. We are going to use the combination of rewarding good potty participation with enrollment in the School of Natural Consequences. This approach is a powerful combination of motivators. How can they refuse?

Here are the details of this approach:
• Step 1: get them on board mentally with the idea that they will be wearing big-kid undies. Give them some warning, get them pumped. Show them fun underwear, get some pretty panties, talk it up. Create excitement about the process.
• Step 2: Set up some rewards, and make sure they are comfortable with the potty setup. These rewards could be stickers, stars, check marks, presents, or even candy. At the same time, make sure your child is comfortable with the potty itself and with the words they’re going to use.
• Step 3: When the big day comes, get out of the way. Let them be responsible for what happens. Don’t chase them around the house reminding them to use the potty; only say something to them about the potty when they will be leaving the house and be away from the potty.

When they have an accident, don’t get mad. Remember, you change the subject completely when you get angry. Your response should be…”Oh honey, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. You need to clean that up.” Your child should then be responsible for:
• Cleaning up the mess with paper towel
• Taking their dirty clothes to the laundry
• Taking care of washing with a cloth
• Getting clean clothes

Your attitude throughout this process needs to be matter of fact. The theme here is, “This is your problem, not mine.” Children don’t like to clean the floor, do laundry, clean themselves, or stop playing for anything. While this whole process is going on, explain that if they had used the potty, they would have gotten a gift AND be playing already.

As I said before, this is a powerful approach. It is a good lesson for the future as well: this is your problem, you craft a solution, I’ll help.

I personally have never seen an otherwise normal child not be effectively potty trained in 2 weeks. Most children transition in few days, unless parents make one of the following mistakes:

• Don’t make the big mistake…changing back and forth between pull-ups and underwear to avoid inconvenience (such as preventing accidents in public). Give this new approach a reasonable trial.
• Don’t chase Johnny or Janie around watching for clues they are about to pee. They need to take the initiative. This is their problem remember.
• Don’t inject emotion into the learning process. When you yell or belittle, it changes the subject. Learning new things, especially something big like this, is hard. Expect that there will be accidents, and it’s okay.

Do use your most powerful weapon—your praise—even for the least bit of success. Deep down, your child always wants your love and affection.

This approach usually works great for urination, but many children rebel about pooping between 3-4 years of age…That’s a whole other episode of DocSmo.