My Friend’s Four-Year-Old Refuses to Potty Train: Advice?

potty training advice

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I am honored to have the opportunity to partner with Mamas Uncut. This article is part of a series of answers to common parenting challenges from their community members. This article was originally shared on Mamas Uncut.

My friend’s 4-year-old refuses to potty train: Advice?

A Mamas Uncut Community Member asks, “I have a friend of mine who has a 4-year-old who refuses to potty train. She’s tried everything from treats to special underwear. She wants to get him potty trained so he can start preschool. Any ideas to help her out? Thanks in advance!

Dear Mamas Uncut Community Member,

Some children feel pressured or anxious if potty training begins before they are truly ready. This can cause resistance and lead to a power struggle. What your friend can do is tell her child that it’s his decision when he wants to start using the potty. You want the child to feel in control of his own body. Allow time to pass and see if the child demonstrates interest in using the potty.

In the meantime, your friend can provide activities to make the potty fun without the pressure of actually using the potty. For example, read children’s books or watch programs, such as “Daniel Goes to the Potty.” Your friend could also purchase a potty seat and let the child decorate it with stickers, sit on it with his clothes on to look at a book, or pretend that his stuffed animals are using the potty.

As far as diaper changes go, make sure they are done near or in the bathroom. Dump the contents of the diaper into the toilet to give the child a signal that this is where the pee and poop go.

When he does start to use the potty, it’s fine to praise and reward him. But make sure he knows that it’s on his terms. For example, your friend could say, “John, you wanted to go to the potty and you did. Good job!”

Some things to consider include: does the child have issues with constipation or painful bowel movements? Does the child have a disability? If either of these holds true, then please consult with the child’s physician.


Kathryn Schwab, M.S., Ed.S., is a certified school psychologist who has worked with children and their families for over 10 years. She received a Master of Science and Educational Specialist Degree from the University of Dayton.

More articles from this series:

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