Potty Training, Power Struggles and How Not to Handle Parenting Disagreements

After a rough-go at potty training, H was finally pee-pee trained, but still holding his ground on Number Two. I was so excited that he was finally peeing in the potty that I was not concerned at all that he wasn’t pooping.

But, after a couple weeks with no movement (so to speak),I asked H what was going on. “Mommy, I don’t want to poop in the potty,” he replied as though it was a perfect justification.

We’ve been here...I’ve got this, I thought. “Ok,” I said, “no problem. You just let me know when you’re ready.”

A couple of months passed. Still nothing. Every time he had to poop, he politely asked for his diaper. One night after we put the boys to bed, my husband told me that we needed to talk. My usually easy-going husband looked at me with a gravely serious expression and proceeded to tell me he was very concerned that H was not pooping in the potty.

Expecting something much more dire to come out of his mouth, I laughed and said, “Oh, that? Don’t worry about it. He’ll do it when he’s ready.”

Definitely not the answer he wanted to hear. We engaged in a heated debate about the topic of pooping, my husband arguing that it was “ridiculous” that an almost 4 ½ year-old was still pooping in a diaper... me arguing that even though it seemed ridiculous, we’d (or at least I’d) learned from our first go at potty training that there was no way to force him to do it. NO. WAY.

Our only option was to let him decide when he was ready. We can give him the opportunity to go, I explained, but ultimately it’s up to him.

I mean, of all the things to be concerned about with H’s development, this is what was keeping my husband up at night?? I was annoyed. Very annoyed.

The night after this exchange, I was downstairs cleaning up the kitchen while my husband gave the boys a bath. Over the noise of the sink and running bath water, I heard my husband’s voice escalate and then H screaming “No Daddy, Nooooooooo!!!!”

Being the hands-off, super chill mom that I am, I immediately sprinted upstairs. “What’s going on?” I angrily asked my husband as he was unsuccessfully trying to force H to sit on the toilet.

“I told H he needs to at least try pooping on the potty before he gets in the bath,” he retorted.

H was screaming like he was being tortured and sobbing, “Noooooooo, I don’t want to, I DON’T WANT TO!!!!.”

“You have to at least TRY!” my husband yelled.

Red-faced and hysterical, H couldn’t stop sobbing.

The Pooping Game Score was officially at:

H -1, Daddy - a big, fat 0!!!

Once the dust settled, the boys were in bed, and my desire to reach over and strangle my husband had subsided (a little), we resumed our debate.

“Obviously, that was a giant disaster,” I blamed.

“But, he has to learn to poop in the potty,” my husband replied, “and if we don’t lay down the law, how is he going to know that we mean business?”

Ah, the age-old parenting struggle - what do we do when our expectations for our kids don’t line up with our kids’ideas and desires?

How do we honor their wants and needs when they differ from ours?

Are there times, such as teaching your child to poop in the potty, that we as parents should attempt to force our will upon them?

I’m not sure I have the answers to all these questions, but one thing I’ve learned is that forcing our will upon our kids is a great way to ensure they will end up doing the exact opposite of what we want.

Every time parents are in a power struggle with their kids, it tends to end up like my husband’s attempt at potty training. Kids - 1, Parents - a big, fat 0!

Every situation is different and there certainly are situations when it’s absolutely necessary to override your child’s will. Your child wants to do a cannonball into Lake Tahoe, but doesn’t know how to swim...your child’s “will” is to eat a piece of leftover chocolate birthday cake for breakfast...your child thinks it’s a spectacular idea to climb over the staircase and see how long he can “dangle.”

But there are certain things, that no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot force your child to do or not to do- pooping on the potty/not pooping in their diaper being two of them.

Two take-aways here.

One: I need to go back and read my non-violent communication post for a refresher on how to have better communication with my husband. Using sarcasm and being dismissive are not the best ways to talk out a parenting disagreement- whoops! Sorry, babe!

Two: Engaging in a power struggle with your child will most certainly result in the opposite outcome you are hoping for. So, whenever possible, avoid them!

After a more attuned conversation with husband about his potty training concerns, I convinced him to get on board with my hands-off approach. When H had to poop and asked for his diaper, we continued to ask him if he’d like to try on the potty, but we left it at that.

No more trying to persuade him or forcing him to sit on the potty. When he said no, we simply replied, “Ok, just let us know when you’re ready.”

Several months went by. Summer was approaching and my boys were signed up to attend summer camp together. In order to attend, they had to be potty trained. I explained this to my two-and-a-half-year-old and told him it was time to learn how to go poo-poo and pee-pee in the potty. Three days later, he was potty-trained.

Not to be outdone by his younger brother, H decided he was ready to take the plunge. After C pooped in the potty, H came up to me and said, “Mom, I have to go poo.” “Ok, honey,” I replied, “Would you like to try in the potty?” He paused for a few seconds, then looked up at me and said, “Yeah, Mom, I’m ready now.”


Potty Training Resources:

Baby Bjorn potty chair

The Potty Train

Once Upon a Potty


Article from pediatric urologist Dr. Steve Hodges

Is/was potty training a struggle for your child? If you're on the other side of it now, what helped? If not, what is your child's main struggle? Leave your comments below, the Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you.

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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.