Problems With Potty Training Willful Children

By Renee Miller
A willful child’s strong personality can turn potty training into a battle.
A willful child’s strong personality can turn potty training into a battle.

One child may master the potty on the first try, but others may need several attempts before diapers are a distant memory. If you have a willful child, potty training can become more complicated and frustrating. There are several roadblocks a stubborn or resistant child may throw in their path to potty training, but most children will use the toilet when they are ready.

Resistance or Refusal

A willful child tends to fight for control at every turn. It helps to remember that your toddler has few areas of her life where she feels she has any control, writes Alice Sterling Honig, a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University, on Mom and Dad determine meals, play time, and bed time, and using the potty is an opportunity for your child to exert control. If you don’t allow yourself to be drawn into the battle, she will use the potty eventually. Some children are ready to potty train as early as 2, but your toddler may not be ready until she is 3 or 4 years old. Be patient and allow her to control when she will use the potty.

Bowel Movements

It's not uncommon for a child to master peeing in the potty but request diapers for bowel movements. According to pediatrician Vincent Iannelli's website Keep Kids Healthy, your child may be refusing to use the potty for bowel movements because he prefers the security or familiarity of diapers. While you may be tempted to keep the diaper off so you can wait your child out, don't. A willful child may hold bowel movements for a long time, and this can lead to pain and problems such as constipation. Don’t punish or tease your child when he refuses to use the potty for bowel movements. Instead, pay attention to when he usually has a bowel movement, and try to get him to at least sit on the potty during these times with the diaper on. This allows him to experience going while sitting on the potty. Your child will soon be comfortable enough to use the potty without the diaper.


A child who is willful in other areas of life may suddenly refuse to use the potty after she has used it successfully for some time. Sometimes this happens because of a change in her routine, such as a new day care or a new sibling. Don’t punish your child for regressing. Allow her to make the decision to use the potty, and be there to support her when she does. According to the University of Illinois, you may need to back off and wait a few weeks. When you do resume potty training, don’t fight about using the potty. If she is still not interested, wait a few more days before trying again.

Selective Refusal

Some toddlers may go to the potty at home, preschool or day care, but refuse to use it anywhere else. If your child is using the potty in one place but not others, it may be because he is more comfortable in certain places because the potty is part of his routine; other places are outside his comfort level. Reassure your willful child that it’s safe to use the potty wherever he goes, but keep things light and positive -- don’t pressure him to do things your way. Give him time to become comfortable with the idea and let him make the transition on his own.

About the Author

Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.