Trouble Potty Training a 4 Year Old

Ever since my daughter was 3 she used the potty with little effort. She did use a diaper at night. She always waited to poop until I put the diaper on her.


Now at 4 1/2 she refuses to sit on the potty. She says she is scared. After trying everything from rewards, to talking to her, I held her on the potty for 45 minutes, she screamed the entire time, I started to get worried someone would think I was hurting her and gave up.

There are also a lot of changes we have been going through lately. I do not know what to do to help my daughter use the potty. Please help.

By Dawn from Myrtle Beach, SC

August 28, 20100 found this helpful

Have you asked him why?

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August 31, 20100 found this helpful

Maybe he's afraid to sit on it. Do you put him on an adult toilet or a child's 'potty' ?

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August 31, 20100 found this helpful

My daughter uses a chart hanging in the bathroom and when her child goes she gets a sticker to place on the chart. after a certain number of successes she gets to have a small prize. So far so good.

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September 1, 20100 found this helpful

I am not sure if this would work well for pooping but it worked well for my some with peeing. We set a timer alarm on the computer that would go off every two hours just for him to try, whether or not he had to even go. We gradually lengthened the time between the alarms and this worked so well for us. This way it was the "alarm" telling him he needed to try and not us. There were no hard feelings or getting upset that way. I am not sure if this would help in your situation but it might be worth a try. Best of luck.

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September 1, 20100 found this helpful

My 2 1/2 year old runs around with no diaper, pants or underwear while we are at home. If he says he needs a diaper, I know he needs to poop so I make it fun and say don't you run to the potty, I have to go first, don't beat me to it. It's working.

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September 1, 20100 found this helpful

Try putting him backwards on the toilet. Buy a few hot wheels {or some special car he wants} but ONLY allow him to play with them on the toilet tank while he "going" and no other time.

You can also add some special books that he only gets to read/play with when he is on the pot. A lot of kids feel like they are going to "fall in" when they sit on the toilet forward and by putting him on the pot backwards he can lean against the tank and feel secure. He will also be able to climb up onto the pot by himself this way, it worked for my son and my nephew.

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September 2, 20100 found this helpful

I like Coll3's method. Games are a lot more fun than nagging!

My daughter used the "sticker method" with her son because that was what worked for him. She added an extra layer, though: if he regressed badly, he'd have to peel off a sticker and give it back to Mama. He didn't like that!

My daycare folks used a different method with my youngest that may not work for your little one: he had a "potty buddy." Since there was another boy my son's age, they had side-by-side potty chairs. They may have used a schedule too. The point is, my son and the other boy didn't mind sitting awhile because it was their little social time as well. Frankly, if you're not too shy to be seen on the toilet, you may try setting your boy's potty chair near the toilet and the two of you can chat while you, he, or both of you "take care of business." You can teach him about handwashing at the same time.

Best to you and your son as he conquers this challenge.

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October 5, 20100 found this helpful

At 4 1/2 (barring any developmental delays) your child should be able to tell you why the toilet is so scary. Until you understand why it is so scary, it may be impossible to make it better for your daughter.

My oldest was scared that the toilet would overflow. It never had before, but that was her fear. To get her past it, I had her stand at the door where she could hear and see the toilet flush, but not be near if it did. She cried the first few times, but soon she did come closer and eventually got over the fear.

You also stated there are other changes at home. Little kids don't handle stress the same way adults do, but they do get stressed none the less. She may not be scared of the toilet so much as the change has bothered her to the point that for whatever reason her fear/stress is attached to the toilet.

Both for my own children and the children I have worked with in day care, the best method I found to potty train any age was to put them in the clothes and panties for the day. If there is an accident, THEY not you are responsible for changing their clothes and getting the clothing to the designated location (hamper, laundry room, etc) You can assist, but they have to initiate the actions. At first kids don't want to slow do to go to the bathroom, but they soon realize that it does take longer to change than do the right thing.

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October 6, 20100 found this helpful

Delicate subject, but this has to be asked. Does your daughter feel afraid to potty because it hurts? If this is a yes, is it possible someone has been hurting her? Talk to her about her fears. Something out of the ordinary has happened.

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February 12, 20110 found this helpful

If she likes to primp, let her put on lipstick or make-up after each successful poop! It worked for my grand-daughter.

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July 12, 2011 Flag
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I have a 4 year old and he starts school in September, but he can't stop wetting himself. I tell him everyday, every couple of hours, and I even tell his nursery teachers. I've been to the doctor's and everything seems normal. I just don't know what to do.

I've punished him, for example, I took his DS, television, and toys out of his room, the lot. I have rewarded him for going to the toilet, but yet nothing seems to be working. I don't know what to do I'm at my wits end!

By shell

July 13, 20110 found this helpful

Please do not punish him, he's not doing it on purpose! There are a few things I would like to suggest. Since it's urine it maybe he's not aware of the need to urinate. Take him to the toilet and tell him to try, you're trying to train his bladder. Don't ask him if he needs to go as some kids are so engrossed in whatever they are doing they forget to go. Has he been checked for a urinary tract infection as that can also contribute to it? Also when I wasn't drinking enough water I would also have accidents, water down juice and try to limit any pop/ soda as that irritates the urinary tract also. Have they checked the size of the bladder? If it's too small he'd tend to have accidents. Good luck. Linda

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July 14, 20110 found this helpful


This is what my daughter did. She had our grandson (age 4) try to pee in the toilet by using cheerios or fruit loops(placed in the toilet water) and told him to aim for the middle and sink them like a battleship. He thought this was great fun and couldn't wait to go potty. She rewarded him with a cookie, even if he had to go around dinner time, a reward is a reward. Please do not punish him. He can't help it. Your son will relate peeing in the toilet with a punishment and not want to go out of fear. He might not have the sensation to go yet. You can call your son's Dr., and get any information from them. Sometimes they will go at a later age. Remember he will not be peeing his pants when he is in junior high. It will take a bit of time but you will succeed. Good luck to you both, and I hope this helps. Hugs.

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July 15, 20110 found this helpful

I agree with everyone else, don't punish him. But, I don't necessarily agree that he isn't doing it on purpose, & I also have another suggestion below this. If he is a strong willed, stubborn, smart kid (or if there is any kind of anxiety in his life) this could be a control issue. If so, by punishing him you would be unwittingly contributing to his desire to be in control & his determination to not let you control him. And no, he doesn't have to be a bad kid to do this, I am certainly not saying anything like that!

My 3rd child did the same thing, he wasn't potty trained until he was 4 1/2 (2 weeks before he started school!) and this at a time when they expected kids to be trained by 2 1/2! It's a long story, but basically he was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 2, had 2 1/2 years of chemo that totally traumatized him. We tried & tried to potty train him, tried everything we'd done with our other 2 & everything everyone suggested, nothing, he actually got worse!

Doctor checkups said there was nothing physically wrong with him. By age 3 1/2 we were told this was a control issue, going potty was about the only thing in his life he could control. We couldn't make him use the potty! So we backed off with the pressure. Age 4, still not interested. We knew he had to be trained to start pre-school in the fall but he wouldn't listen when we tried to tell him, he just kept peeing in the pull-ups & ignoring the underwear.

Four weeks till school starts. I take him to the store to buy a package of pull ups & calmly tell him that this was the last package. When they were gone, they were gone & he'd have to start wearing "big boy pants".

Three weeks before school-Pull ups run out & he whines for more. I stayed calm & sympathetic as I repeatedly had to tell him no more & put his underwear on him while he whined.

Honestly, he 'trained' himself in a couple of days. He didn't like the feel of wet or dirty underwear when he went potty in the cotton underwear, even though I cleaned him right away (explaining to him as I did that this wouldn't happen if he used the potty). After a couple of days he told me he was going to go potty! And he never looked back!

Now, with that said, you got a lot of really good ideas & suggestions here, maybe some of them will help you. I would also like to say to make sure there isn't a medical condition & offer another suggestion.

My mom was apparently a bed wetter until she was around 10 or so. All her life she's had to hurry when she got the urge, especially now that she's older. Nothing wrong with her medically, or so she was told. Then during medical tests for something else, she was told that she had a very small bladder (the Dr. asked her if she'd ever had trouble holding her urine) & the Dr. said that her bladder had never "matured" & grown with her as she grew up! No wonder she couldn't wait! And it only took her 70 years to find out!

So, I wouldn't worry about that right now, but if he doesn't outgrow this in a few years, it might be something to talk to your doctor about.

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July 17, 20110 found this helpful

I have a six year old who has days where she will continually wet herself. The problem is if she's fully engrossed in something she doesn't pick up on the signal that she needs the loo, until its too late. So she will wet herself. However, at school she hardly has any accidents. This could be because they remind the children to go to the loo every break time. Maybe we should make sure they use the loo every couple of hours or so.

When my little girl has an accident I just give her clean clothes to change into. There is no point in chastising her for something she has no control over.


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October 5, 2010 Flag
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I have a 6 year old boy who refuses to poop on the potty, he will pee in it just fine. When it comes to pooping he will hide and go in his pants. I have tried everything from bribery, taking favorite things away, time out, candy, money, toys, cleaning himself up, and washing out his underwear. I have tried gating him in the bathroom, making him sit on it after school, and talking to his Dr.

My Dr. said everything I have tried should have worked. He normally doesn't do it at school. I am at my wits end. He will go if he wants something, but after he gets it he will poop in his pants. He will push a little out in the toilet and as soon as he sees you are busy he will go hide and do it in his underwear. He will do it in the bathroom in front of the toilet, but not in it. If anyone could please help me, I will be very happy. Thank you.

By Stacey from Ludington, MI


Potty Training an Older Child

Try getting a stool for his feet that will put his knees a little above his bottom when he is on the toilet. He can push down and that will make his bowels move easier. I learned this by accident with my son many years ago.
Hope this will be a help.

By jsham

Potty Training an Older Child

Dr Phil talked about this on his show once. He said when it comes to kids, you can't control what goes in their mouths and you can't control when and what comes out the other end. Some kids are just stubborn and it's their way of showing you they're in control. My grandson was probably 8 years old and still doing this. He will quit, but only when he gets ready unless it happens to be a medical problem which sounds like it's not. If I were you I'd probably try not to make too big of an issue of it. I think boys just don't care how much they stink or what others think. My grandson didn't. (06/07/2010)

By TXBetty

Potty Training an Older Child

I know you said you talked to the Dr., but was he ever checked for internal tears or any other medical problem? We had this problem with our son and granddaughters. They would hold it for days. They were checked and had tears. It seems that when they stand to go they have more control of the pain. I guess it smooshes it more. I know gross. We gave them mineral oil and it seemed to soften the stools and soon they realize it doesn't hurt anymore and they go on the potty. Good luck!

EJin PA (06/08/2010)

By momx2

Potty Training an Older Child

If there is nothing physically wrong with him and he's not constipated (making it hurt to go), then I would say this is a control issue. My middle child (who was then the youngest), had leukemia as a toddler. When it came to potty training he absolutely refused to use it no matter what we tried. We finally had a Dr. who told us it was a control issue because he felt so out of control in the rest of his life with everything that was being done to him, that this was the only thing he could control. So we left him alone until a month before he started preschool at 4 1/2. I had already explained that he couldn't go to school if he didn't use the potty, but it didn't help. Finally I took him to the store to buy his pull-ups and told him it was the last package I was buying and when they were gone he had to wear "big boy pants". A couple of times with dirty/wet underwear and he was "trained".

I know this won't work if you son doesn't care if he is rewarded or has to clean up after himself, etc. He knows better and can control himself, or he would do the same thing at school. I think the more of a struggle there is, the more he's going to resist you, he is controlling this situation and possibly pushing your buttons also.

My suggestion would be to take a really careful look at what is going on in his life right now and see if there is anything, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, that is frightening, upsetting, or stressful to him. Any changes in family life or with family members or friends? What about school, any changes there? It could also be school itself, that can be very stressful and frightening to kids even when they are excited about it, not to mention they are always being told what to do there. Did he go to day care or preschool? Sometimes just leaving mom and going to school can trigger some things.

Also, maybe if you let him make as many choices for himself, give him a couple of choices in clothes he wears, pjs, snacks, activities, etc. Let him feel he has a little more control in his life, it might help.

The opposite could be true also. Does he have all the control? I have met parents who are good intentioned, but allow their young children to do whatever they want with no restrictions or limits. Those children will act out also and are begging for someone else to take some control of their lives.

Obviously this is a very stressful situation for you and I can sure understand that. But the more upset and stressed you are, the more control your son has over the situation. Take a deep breath and regroup, come up with another plan. Here is what I would maybe try:

He knows he can "poop" just a bit for a reward, so stop rewarding him. Stop bribing him, don't threaten him. Take as much stress from the situation away as you can. He's old enough to understand and reason with. Explain to him that you are tired of fighting with him over it. Remind him that "big" kids and adults don't ever potty in their pants and they don't get rewarded for using the toilet, it's just something you have to do. Tell him firmly and calmly that if he wants to act like a baby and poop in his pants, then he has to wear a diaper like a baby. If he says he doesn't want to, give him a chance to try, but if he continues, then go buy diapers or plain training pull-ups (nothing cute!) and make him wear them when he is not at school (he seems to control himself with no problem there and you don't want to embarrass him). If he argues, don't make it sound like a punishment, just firmly and calmly re-explain that babies who poop in their pants have to wear diapers until they learn not to.

This could work, unless the issue is that it's hard to be a "big boy" at school and he needs to be a "baby" at home, in which case it could make it worse.

Also, don't be afraid to talk to the counselor at your son's school, they could give you some good suggestions. A therapist could help also if the situation isn't a physical problem.
Good luck, I know this is rough, but don't be embarrassed or beat yourself over it, try to stay calm and see if the situation can be resolved with time and the advice of all the wise people here and around you.

Too bad things can't always be easy when raising your kids. I had a cousin who tried everything they could think of to break their son of his "binky", even taking him to a psychiatrist. At age 5 his teeth were becoming crooked when my grannie went to visit. She looked him in the eye and said "If you don't suck on that thing anymore, I'll give you $20 when I come back to visit". He threw the thing away and when she came back 6 months later, he proudly collected his $20 bill! LOL!


By lyonpridej

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August 28, 2010 Flag
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My daughter is 4, we have been having troubles with potty training. She is fine when it comes to peeing in the potty, but won't poop in the potty. She would rather go in her panties.

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