When Potty Training Goes Awry

When my older son, H, was almost two years old, a girlfriend of mine came over for a play-date with her almost four-year-old son. The boys were playing when my girlfriend’s child announced, “I need my diaper changed!” My girlfriend turned to me and nonchalantly explained that her son “wasn’t quite potty trained” yet. I nodded empathetically while silently judging, *Geez, he’s almost four, don’t you think you should step it up a notch? *

Cut to two years later…

A few days before H’s fourth birthday, I was standing in his bedroom changing his dirty diaper, the contents of which appeared to have come from a grown man, not an almost-four-year-old. Bad visual, I know.

Let me explain.

When H was two-and-a-half, we decided to potty train. After consulting several friends and a couple of “experts,” my husband and I agreed to do a “naked weekend.” We would stay home all weekend and let H run around naked, making sure he drank plenty of water, and bringing him to the potty every 15-20 minutes. By the end of the weekend, we were told, he would be potty trained. It sounded easy enough.

Except it wasn’t.

H did not want to be naked, did not want to drink extra water, and had ZERO interest in peeing in the potty let alone sitting on it. Message received- potty training was not happening.

“Not to worry,” one expert told us. “He’s just not ready.” She’s right, we thought, no big deal. We’ll just wait a couple of months and give it another try. Besides, even though he was starting preschool in the fall, they didn’t require him to be potty trained. Plus, I’d read that boys aren’t usually ready until they are three. We had plenty of time! I wasn’t concerned.

We waited and tried again. No dice. A few more months went by and we gave it another go. Once again, H refused to go anywhere near the potty and had a massive meltdown when I mentioned the word underpants.

I was officially getting worried. Even a little panicked. He was three years and nine months now. All of his friends were potty trained. Was there something more going on? Was it sensory-related? What did it mean?

I decided to have a talk with H. Doing an Oscar-worthy acting performance to conceal my anxiety, I calmly and nonchalantly asked him why he didn’t want to go pee pee in the potty. Without hesitating, and with complete confidence, he said, “Mom, I’ll do it when I’m four.”

Oh, I thought. Well, that seems reasonable. The "something more going on" was simply his desire to be in control. Being a control-seeker myself, I decided to let it go and to trust him. “Um, ok,” I responded, “thanks for letting me know.”

There was no more mention of underwear or pee pee in the potty until the day after his fourth birthday when I came downstairs with a pair of underwear in my hands and stated, “H. You’re four now. What do you think?” He looked at the underwear, looked up at me, contemplated for a moment, and then said, “Ok, Mom. I’m ready.”

And that was that. He was pee pee trained that day.

My takeaway? As parents, we have so many expectations of our children- what kinds of things they should be doing, when they should be doing them, and how they should be doing them. Sometimes our kids have their own expectations that are different from ours, and sometimes we just have to be ok with it. Letting go of our shoulds can make life a lot easier.

Oh, and as for number two potty training...well, that’s a whole other post!


FREE SPD Guide

Who has the time to read dozens of books on SPD?

Download my FREE 25 page PDF guide to Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder.