Dear Diane,

Help! We have been trying to potty train our daughter. We have put her in undies and have told her where to go wees etc and this is fine. She is happy to sit on the toilet or potty. However she won’t release! She will dance around holding herself until she can’t hold it any longer but seems to be petrified of actually going in the toilet. We have praised her up, had Teddies and dolls on the toilet, we have a magic stick, we’ve poured water in, we’ve read books etc etc. Nothing seems to work. She is 2 years and 3 months.


This is one of those situations where, even though it feels totally counter-intuitive, we have to go backwards in order to go forwards.

Your daughter is toilet-trained in that she knows when she needs to go and can hang on till she gets to where she feels safe and OK.  Somehow, the step to weeing on the toilet or potty is too great for her at present. The answer lies in creating small enough steps so that she can progress easily.

Keep her in undies but the moment she begins “the dance of I need to go”, pop her in pull-ups and let her go and wee wherever feels safe. Once she trusts you to respond to what her body needs, she can come and ask for a pull-up, go off and wee and be changed by a pleasant parent.

Once this has become easy, when she needs to go, pop on her pull-up and take her to the bathroom to wee.

Once this has become easy, begin the third step.  She needs to sit on the toilet or potty with her pull-up on to wee.

Most children take themselves to the fourth step.  They decide they don’t need the pull-up on and just wee in the toilet.

PS  The majority of children progress easily from manageable step to manageable step.  Very occasionally, a child finds the last step too great.  If your child can happily wee on the toilet or potty  but somehow cannot get to the “air on the bottom” stage, you will need to take smaller steps.  Start by carving a small hole in the pull-up for her to wee through. Each day make the hole a bit bigger so that your child get used to the feeling of weeing with an increasingly small “cover” area.

Some useful articles and resources on toilet training

Find out more about toilet training for older children in When Toilet Training is not Working. We also remove the stress with 10 Top Tips for Toilet Training and discuss how to Toilet Train in Just one Week.

Try this toilet training method for quickly and easily potty training in as little as 3 days.

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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