Potty training hell. Just let it go


Parenting isn’t a walk in the park. It has the most amazing highs but some pretty hideous lows. Quite often the lows can feel like a massive dark canyon that you can’t find your way out of. For us, potty training has been one of those canyons.

Our daughter is a bright, happy and intelligent 3 year old. We introduced a potty into her daily life probably when she was about 18 months old. We didn’t make a big thing of it, just explained what it was for. Like most mums, I rarely get to go to the loo on my own so she’s usually with me and often watches with great interest as I do a wee. I’ve even got reward stickers stuck to the loo for going!

At about 2 and a half, she started to tell us when she’d done a wee and poo so we thought she was getting ready to start potty training. We bought a Peppa Pig toilet seat, stocked up on princess reward stickers, and bought her Princess Polly Potty book which she loves. She seemed to understand the book and talked about Princess Polly weeing in her potty all the time. And of course, we bought her Frozen and princess knickers.

So, when we decided to start potty training, I was quietly confident that we would have it sorted in a short space of time.

How wrong was I?

1st Attempt

Day 1 was pretty much as I expected with lots of accidents, but I thought the second day would start to get better. It didn’t. There were less accidents, but that was because little Miss was holding on to her wee. She got very upset at the mention of sitting on the potty or loo so we didn’t push it.

We abandoned the first attempt of potty training at day 3 as she was also holding on to her poo too. She was becoming very upset and agitated. Everyone said she just wasn’t ready so we went back to pull ups. Little miss changed back into our happy little daughter again.

We continued to include sitting on the potty as part of her daily routine. We continued with the book and trips to the loo with mum. She gradually started to wee less frequently and was sometimes dry over night. So, a couple of weeks before her 3rd birthday, we decided she was definitely ready so tried potty training again.

2nd Attempt

Almost instantly we hit the same problems. A very distressed little girl who refused to sit on the potty or the toilet, holding on to her wees for hours on end. It was as if she’d forgotten how to wee because she held on to it for so long. She held on to her poo for 4 days so we abandoned the second attempt at potty training.

We spoke her key worker at nursery who said she just wasn’t quite ready. She was moving up to the big class once she turned 3 in a few weeks. They thought the move would probably help when she saw that most of the other kids were in knickers not nappies.

Over the next few weeks we carried on with pull ups, but kept potty / toilet as part of her daily routine. Little miss loved reading Princess Polly Potty and seemed to understand about doing wees and poos on her potty. She was weeing much less frequently and because of this, doing bigger wees which her pull ups couldn’t cope with. Nursery were concerned that she was holding on to her wee for long periods of time so we contacted the health visitor. She came out, offered some advice and said to go to GP to check there was no water infection. In her opinion little miss was ready to try potty training  again.

So, 3 weeks ago, we decided it was time to try again. Nursery had been taking her to the loo with the other kids and she’d been sitting on the loo there and doing a wee.

Potty training is going to be a breeze, I thought. Nursery have done all the hard work. All we needed to do was carry on what they were doing.

3rd Attempt

We started on the Sunday so that little Miss didn’t have an accident at ballet on the Saturday. We had a few accidents in the morning, but thought that was to be expected. What we didn’t expect was her to refuse to sit on the potty or toilet again. We thought as she’d been sitting on the toilet at nursery, it wouldn’t be an issue.

A hasty purchase of a training seat and steps combo followed and we felt sure that would do the trick. We muddled through until nursery again on the Tuesday. They said she’d done really well and only had 2 accidents all day. One when she was eating her lunch and was engrossed in that. The other when they didn’t get her to the loo in time when she said she needed to go.

The next few days followed in a similar vain and we felt she was making great progress. We’d put a pull-up on when she said she needed a poo as we didn’t want the complication of her being constipated again. That worked and she did a poo and was then happy to go back into knickers.

We had the long Easter weekend ahead of us at the caravan. We thought it would be the ideal location for us all to relax and for little miss to continue with her progress.

Day 1 at the caravan was probably one of the most stressful days I’ve experienced as a parent. Little Miss did 2 wees all day and both times she was extremely distressed. Again it was as if she had forgotten how to wee as she held on to it for hours. Attempts to get her to wee on the loo or potty failed and she got more and more upset. In the end both wees went all over the carpet.

Day 2 was a slight improvement in that we were able to read the signs better. We managed to catch most of both wees in the potty. Unfortunately she was standing up with knickers on when she did them. The next few days followed the same patterns. 2 wees a day, 1 morning, one late afternoon with a very distressed little girl who was nearly cross-eyed she was so desperate. No amount of coaxing, tickling, blowing bubbles, reading, dancing or playing would get her to go. By the end of day 4 we were managing to catch all of her wee in the potty. Unfortunately she was still standing up when she weed.  She seemed terrified of sitting on the potty to do it.

Watching her get so upset was the hardest thing. We felt so completely and utterly helpless and useless because we didn’t seem to be able to help her at all. We were worried sick that she was damaging herself by holding on to her wee for so long but felt utterly powerless to do anything about it. Even when we put a pull up on her, she still held on to it for hours.

We’d been to the Drs a few weeks before and she’d said to go back if things got worse. They had so we did.

Unfortunately it was a different doctor and she was awful. She didn’t want to listen to any of our concerns about whether little miss was causing herself damage by holding on to her wee for so long. Even hearing that she’d held on for 17 hours didn’t get her attention. She was extremely patronising and said there are no quick fixes with potty training. We were told to contact our health visitor if we’re having problems, not a doctor.

So, we endured another weekend of feeling completely helpless and inadequate as parents. Nothing we tried would coax little miss into weeing regularly. By that stage we didn’t care where she did it, we just wanted her to wee more often than she was.

We contacted the health visitor again first thing on the Monday and she came out armed with a plan of action. The first thing was to work out whether it’s something mechanical that’s the problem, or whether it’s something going on in her head. To help with that she’s started a continence assessment.

The first 2 days of completing the drink and wee diary, 1 day at nursery, 1 at home, has convinced me it isn’t something physical.  She wees regularly at nursery on the toilet. There is something going on in her head. She is either scared about using the toilet or potty at home.  Or she hasn’t clicked yet that our loo does the same thing as the one at nursery, it’s just bigger.

I’ve spent a long time on the internet trying to find something to help us or others who’ve experienced the same kind of issues as we are. From what I’ve found it is actually quite a common thing for toddlers to hold on to wee for hours on end at the start of potty training. Unfortunately, those who’ve experienced it haven’t gone back on the forums to say what they did to overcome it!

So, we’re still working through it. I know she’ll get there and we’ll do our best to make that happen sooner rather than later. And once we do get there, I will write about it again so that anyone else experiencing it can hopefully learn from what worked and what didn’t work for little miss.

In the meantime, thank goodness for wine.


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