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Potty Problems Episode 1: My Child Doesn't Tell Me When They Need to Go

Updated: Mar 16

One of the most common complaints I hear from newly potty training parents is, "He still doesn't tell me when he needs to go!" or "Unless I tell her to go potty, she will just go in her pants!" Does this sound familiar to you? Keep reading - there is a solution!

Your child learning how to listen to their body and take themselves to the toilet when nature calls is one of the key principles of potty training. But why does this seem so challenging for some kiddos to grasp? Maybe instead, we should be asking...what could we potentially change about the way we potty train to encourage this?


Many (maybe even most) parents will potty train by:

  1. taking their child to the potty every few minutes

  2. asking continually if they need to go

  3. setting timers, or

  4. having them sit on the potty for extended periods of time


And these are all GREAT ways to get pee and poop in the potty (another key principle of potty training)! But is it allowing your child to learn and understand the signals their body sends them about when to go, OR is your child learning to go only when they are prompted?


There are 2 potential problems that can arise from these methods:

  1. Your child never learns the signals their body sends them about when to go potty because you have already prompted them to go before they got that opportunity. (i.e. their bladder is never full enough to emit those signals because they are sitting on the potty too frequently) AND/OR

  2. Your child becomes fully dependent on the prompt from you, and doesn't realize they CAN go potty without being told to do so first.


Some kids are super literal, so this could very well happen! Not to mention that excessive prompting and asking can annoy and frustrate your little one and lead them to resist potty use altogether! Kind of makes sense right? In reality, some kids only need to pee as few as 2 or 3 times per day. (My own son is one of these kids! In the industry, we call them "camels".) And that is perfectly normal FOR THEM. Some kids need to go every 30 to 40 minutes. And that is perfectly normal FOR THEM.


As your child's potty teacher and coach, it's important to be aware of this frequency so you know you aren't prompting too little or too often. Which is why I typically recommend not prompting or timing at all (insert "mind blown" emoji here) for at least a short period of time. Brace yourself for a few accidents, yes. But accidents are our best teaching moments! You can even turn the accident into a success by catching some of the pee/poop in the potty. Your child instantly is able to see that: A. they had a funny feeling in their tummy, B. the pee/poop started coming out, and then C. it went into the potty....the dots start to connect! It's an amazing learning opportunity and greatly decreases the amount of time it takes for your child to start self-initiating.


But say the ship has sailed and you feel like you have been over prompting or your kiddo is experiencing prompt dependency....that's still okay!


Here are some tips to help:

1. Use a potty watch or wrist timer to help bridge the gap between YOU prompting them and them taking some of the responsibility on themselves.

2. Give them some bottomless time. Being bottomless greatly increases body awareness and intensifies those sensations! It also makes any accidents apparent as soon as they start to happen so you have a greater chance of creating a success out of the situation!

3. Let them know you aren't going to bug them about when to use the potty anymore and then don't bug them about using the potty anymore. Just watch closely for their cues and "potty language". When you physically notice that they need to go, talk to them about it. Say, "It looks like your body is trying to tell you to go potty. When you're ready, it's right over there." Then back off. If it results in an accident, gently talk through it.

4. It's still okay to prompt at certain times.

  • upon waking

  • before leaving the house, and

  • before sleep


Otherwise wait for them to really have the wiggles before bringing it up. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Our kids are capable of SO much!! Have some faith. Don't fear accidents. Everyone makes mistakes when they're mastering a brand new skill. It's a critical part of the learning process!! Soon, those little words, "I have to go potty!" will be music to your ears. Still can't seem to crack it? Reach out for a personalized consultation. I'm happy to help!

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