How to Talk to a Child Struggling with Potty Training

If you have hit a wall with your child’s potty training and you can’t seem


If you have hit a wall with your child’s potty training and you can’t seem to figure out how to move forward, it can help to simply talk to him or her. But how do you really talk to a toddler and get him to open up about what he is thinking and feeling?

As a professional potty training consultant, I have done a lot of research on the best ways to talk to young children. It all comes down to building trust and then really listening. I once read somewhere that when talking to a child, think of your compliments as deposits and your questions as withdrawals. Therefore, you want to be conscious that you make a deposit before you make a withdrawal.

Here is a sample scenario which you can modify to your particular situation to try and find out why your child may be having a hard time with not pooping on the potty, withholding, regression, or any other potty training setback.

First of all, take him somewhere where you can interact with him one-on-one. It is important to make him feel special and important, so organize a fun “date” where you will get a chance to actually talk. Think lunch at his favorite restaurant or maybe the ice cream shop.

When starting the conversation, engage him with something personal that interests him:

“I’m so happy to be able to spend time together today just the two of us! I know you have been reading some new books lately. Which one is your favorite?”

Next, try to get him to identify his feelings and what he likes:

“Do you like it when I read to you? How does it make you feel?” (You can offer suggestions: happy, loved, sad, mad.)

“Did you have a good day at school today? What was the best part about it? What was the worst part about it?”

Wait for him to finish each answer completely without interrupting or offering your opinion. If a long pause goes by before he starts to answer, just make eye contact and nod, or gently offer, “It’s okay, I’m listening,” to encourage him to keep going. Then respond with simple answers like: “That must be so hard,” and, “That must make you feel pretty bad.” Try telling him something that was challenging for you but how you overcame it and how you felt proud and happy once you did.

After you’ve established a good “give-and-take,” you can lead in with questions directly related to potty training:

“Your teacher said you had an accident at school today. How does it make you feel to have accidents?”

Use phrases that spike curiosity and make him think:

I wonder why you don’t like sitting on the potty sometimes?”

Lastly, put the ball in his court:

“So what do you think you should do?”

The conversation is simply exploratory. You want to find out how your child is feeling and what he is thinking. For example, when speaking to one particularly stubborn (yet very adorable) 3-year old, his mom and I were able to figure out that he didn’t like having to stop playing to go potty which is why he was struggling. From there, we were able to make adjustments and allow him to take his toys into the bathroom when he had to go and the problems quickly diminished.

Good luck and happy pottying!

If you feel like you need more personalized support, feel free to email me your questions directly to

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