I get lots of questions about toilet training children and with some children, it can be a really challenging business. Recently, I received this email from a desperate mother….

I am writing and desperate for help with our precious five year old daughter. She started school in November 2012. She is still not toilet trained (wees and poos) and at the end of last term we had to put her back into pull ups to go to school as she keep wetting her knickers in the classroom/on the carpet. We’ve tried EVERYTHING to get her to go to the toilet. Loads of encouragement, sticker charts, rewards, celebrating and new princess knickers etc. We’ve tried ignoring it until she told us she was wet/dirty, making her clean herself up. Telling off, reminding, not reminding, homeopathy… She simply does not seem to care if she wees and poos in her knickers, all over new (and highly desired clothes), at school, at the shops, in front of friends etc.

We have given each of the things I have mentioned above a good go to give them a chance to work. Nothing does. The only time I can remember that she did pretty well was when we were on holiday and I was asking her to go to the toilet every couple of hours. She’s always worn pull ups to bed. She decided she no longer wanted to wear nappies just before she turned three and was doing well. She started having lots of accidents and it’s been a roller coaster ride ever since. We haven’t noticed any patterns that relate to changes in food or sleep or her day etc. Aside from this problem she is a completely normal and delightful child. Not on any medication nor does she have any behavioural issues. We took her to our GP late last year and had x-rays, ultrasounds and urine tests to make sure nothing physical was causing it – all tests were clear. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I don’t know how we are going to start the new school term with this problem. 

Although, most parents feel that they are the only one with this problem, this mother is certainly not on her own.  Having her child thoroughly checked out is a good start so we can be clear that there is no physiological or medical barrier to her knowing when her body needs to wee or poo.

If you are having an issue like this, a question worth asking yourself is: “How well does my child cope with ordinary requests to come to the table, get dressed, tidy up, got to bed etc?”  If you find yourself answering that she is not particularly good at tolerating the very ordinary frustration of stopping what she prefers doing and doing something that a parent asks of her, you may find yourself with the key to her toileting problem

If a child is still wetting and soiling at this age and there is no medical or physiological problem, the odds are very high that she keeps putting off going because she doesn’t want to stop what she is doing and, when she cannot hang on any longer, she wets or poos.  The solution is to hold her responsible for her own lack of responding and to inconvenience her so that she eventually decides that it is worth listening to her body’s need to go in the first place.

Each time she has wet patches or skid marks or doesn’t smell good (and, of course, if she has wet or poo-ed), clean her up and then park her in her room.  Say crossly, “Now! I’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do.  You wait here” and close the door.  Go and clean up whatever you need to and then have a cup of coffee till you have cooled down.  Stroll back to her room, open the door and say, ‘You can come out now!” and leave the door open.

If you do this every time she has ignored her body signals, she will rapidly learn that it is more convenient to go when he body signals to her that it needs to go.

You will notice that there are no rewards, punishments or endless futile discussions – merely holding a child accountable for something she is well capable of being responsible for.

After just a couple of days of using this approach, this mother has noticed an improvement in her daughter’s toileting. So, while it’s early days, I hope this will help to make things easier for everyone!

Some useful articles and resources on toilet training

Find out more about toilet training for older children in When Toilet Training is not Working and help for children that just won’t go in Toilet Training your Children.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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SUCCESS! As soon as I moved him out of the kindy he was in it just happened! We are now out of night nappies as well and he is able to start swimming lessons. Toilet training can be so hard, and I felt like it was never going to happen. Sometimes it can be an outside influence that halts progress, or they reach a stage where they get sick of being reminded. I tried everything solidly for over 2 years, and sometimes a change is as good as a holiday! I also used Diane’s matter of fact approach, and reiterated… Read more »

Rochelle Gribble

Yah! Well done, Natasha 🙂


I also have a 4 year old who was doing well with the number 1’s but refusing to do the number 2’s. He is back in pull-ups at kindy, and no one mentions anything to him to take the emotion out of it. He is very scheduled and I feel he also sees it as an “interruption” to his play, so I will also try this over the holidays as I know there is no physical issue, and have tried everything else!

Rochelle Gribble

Good luck, Natasha! I hope you have some success with this! Do let you know how you go 🙂


this is exactly like my 4 1/2 year old and we are so worried about starting school in february, we have tried everything!!!!! i might try this over the holidays and see how it goes thank y ou 🙂

Rochelle Gribble

Good luck, Tess – we’d love to hear how you go!

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