You told yourself that she'd learn when she was ready, or that seeing all the other kids wearing "big girl" underwear would change your 4-year-old's stubborn refusal to toilet-train. It didn't, and your patience is wearing thin. Assuming your daughter has received a few months of instruction and is healthy, her behavior is the result of resisting toilet training, according to the Children's Physician Network and Dr. Barton Schmitt, author of 2004 article in the journal "Contemporary Pediatrics."
Ditch the diapers and pull-ups. Anything that's designed to absorb a lot of moisture and skip using the toilet won't make potty-training any more attractive to your 4-year-old. If she resists wearing fun character-inspired underwear, hide the diapers and claim the store ran out. As Schmitt explains, no preschooler likes having urine running down her legs, which also makes it a powerful incentive to toilet-train.
Transfer responsibility. Asking, reminding and even discussing toilet training with your 4-year-old only strengthens the power struggle, according to HealthyChildren.org. Instead, explain that it's her responsibility to get her pee and poop in the toilet. Keep silent, even when her body language clearly indicates her need to use the toilet. She'll soon realize that using the toilet is preferable to wetting or soiling herself.
Require clothing changes. Explain that your daughter cannot walk around in soiled clothing, and that she must wipe her genitals and legs with a toddler wipe and change her clothing if she has an accident. By 4 years of age, she should be able to do this herself for urine accidents, but might need help if she has a bowel movement in her pants. If she resists or refuses changing, Schmitt recommends grounding her in her bedroom until she agrees to change her clothes.
Reward success. When your daughter successfully uses the toilet, reward her behavior with a few small candies she wouldn't otherwise get or give her a sticker on a special chart. Let her earn major rewards with a certain number of reward stickers, like a special trip to someplace you wouldn't normally go. Keep the rewards specific to toilet training. In other words, if she already gets cookies or a trip to the playground three times a week, it's not likely to be an effective incentive.
- You can also use plastic training pants with cloth inserts to keep urine off the floor. The internal cloth pads create a sensation of being wet while containing some, but not all, of the urine. While wetting the padded insert doesn't feel good, the sensation isn't as immediate or dramatic as urine streaming down her legs.
- Keep child-sized toilets close and accessible in every room when your daughter first starts wearing underwear.
- Provide a small stepper stool and child-sized toilet lid to make the transition to the standard toilet easier.
- Never punish, tease or ridicule your child for not being toilet-trained or having accidents, and don't allow other family members to either. You want your daughter to use the toilet because it feels better than having an accident in her clothing and because it's the age-appropriate thing to do, not because she feels ashamed or embarrassed.
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