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When to Stop Potty Training

Are you wondering if you should stop potty training, or maybe not if but when to stop trying to potty train? Well, you’ve come to the right place. As important as it is to know when to start potty training, it is equally important to know when to stop potty training.

I’ve gone through potty training with my son twice. TWICE. And twice he’s gotten it. Twice he’s started off doing really well. And then twice, he stopped. Just stopped and acted like we hadn’t been doing anything for the last month.

Twice I thought, if we just power through, he’ll come around again. And I found myself frustrated after a month of “pushing through” with nothing to show for it but anger, stress, and disappointment. None of these things were helping my son and all of the emotions were making it worse. The constant “battle” mode of trying to force potty training was draining to both of us and I knew we needed to a change.

Twice I had to look at the situation and decide what was more important… my sanity, or potty training. Twice I had to look at the situation and feel like I’d failed.

But here’s the thing…. nothing and no one failed. It just wasn’t the right time. Part of potty training successfully, is also taking into consideration if it’s working, and if it’s the right time. Sometimes it just isn’t the right time. And we have to remember that we are working with little humans. Yes, humans. They have a mind of their own and we can’t force our children to care about peeing in a toilet.

In order to know if it’s time to stop potty training, we also need to look at the signs of when it’s time to start potty training and if we should have begun in the first place. In this post, we’ll take a look at both signs it’s time to start potty training, and signs it’s time to stop potty training. And then of course, we need to evaluate the method of potty training and what to do once you make the decision to stop potty training.

In this post you’ll find the following:

  • Sign’s it’s Time to Start Potty Training- a discussion of what’s really important.
  • When to Stop Potty Training
  • A brief discussion of potty training methods and tactics
  • What to do once you stop potty training

Signs it’s Time to Start Potty Training

When it comes to potty training, there are a few telltale signs that your child is ready, but I tend to not agree fully with the readiness lists that people put out there as I’ll explain below. But let’s take a look at these readiness signs before we get to knowing when it’s time to stop potty training.

The two most important things on this list are:

  1. Your child is interested in potty training. This interest might be wanting to wear underwear, or wanting to sit on the toilet like their older siblings, etc. If there’s interest, it can be piqued and the process can begin.
  2. You feel ready. If you aren’t ready to commit the time and patience to potty training, then no one is ready. It doesn’t matter if your child is interested or not… you have to be mentally ready to take this on as the parent, or it is not going to work.

After that, you have to consider your toddler’s abilities, but honestly some of these really just need to be assessed during potty training and none of these have to be present ahead of time. Some “abilities” don’t have to be present at all, ever- during or after the potty training process. So this is where I completely disagree with most potty training readiness lists…

3. Staying dry. You might notice that your toddler is staying dry in their diaper for longer periods. This is definitely a readiness sign, but isn’t something you have to see ahead of time. The reality is that until you potty train, babies and toddlers are simply used to peeing little amounts often throughout the day. They aren’t used to doing one big pee and “finishing”… this is something you teach during potty training.

4. Wanting their wet diaper changed. Again this is a great readiness sign, but not a necessity and not something that will happen for many children. Toddlers don’t know any different, so they might not ask to be changed. Also, diapers are diapers for a reason,- they don’t feel wet against your child’s skin. The wetness is absorbed and your child still feels dry. Now if your toddler gets into potty training and could care less if they have wet underwear…that’s another story.

5. Telling you when they are going, or grabbing at their diaper when they go. This is a fantastic readiness sign for potty training! Your child is aware of when they are peeing or about to pee. Awesome news if your child is showing this sign. Again, not a must have though. This feeling of I’m about to pee, or I am peeing now, is something they learn during potty training. You’ll find out their physical capabilities around the feeling of having to pee when you teach them about peeing in the toilet and officially take that diaper off. Obviously, they have to learn this quickly, and it’s great to know ahead of time, but is also part of the learning process of potty training.

6. The ability to talk. A great skill, yes. If your child can say some words, they can learn to say “potty”…which will make the process go more smoothly. This also is not a must have though. Our daughter potty trained at 18 months old, and she wasn’t able to tell me with words when she had to go, but she got her point across with other little noises and physically walking to the potty. She potty trained quickly and easily. 6 months later, the words came.

7. The ability to pull their pants down. This potty training readiness skill makes every list and I never understand why. Toddlers are not going to the potty on their own. This is a process that requires a lot of attention and help. Since you will be there anyways, you can just go ahead and pull their pants down for them. This is not essential at all.

So, after going through the list of potty training readiness signs and knowing when to start potty training, I am a firm believer that there really are only 2 signs it’s time to start, and the rest will come. If we go back to those top two reasons to start potty training- basically you and your child both need to be ready and interested and care about it. If one is not, it will not work.

As I’ve found recently with our son, you can both be interested and care, and the process can go great… but then things can change. Your child’s interest level can change. And you can’t force a child to be interested in something or care about it. Which brings us to the reason everyone is here reading this post…. knowing when to stop potty training.

When to Stop Potty Training

You were ready. Your child showed interest. You started potty training. Then one of two things happened:

  1. Potty training never really took off and it was a struggle.
  2. Potty training went great, and then became a struggle.

If you look through the signs to start potty training, and you felt confident that there was reason to start, but potty training never really went well, I would encourage you to take a look at the method and tactics that you used. It could be as simple as making some tweaks and changes to the method, and you’ll be off and running with it. I’ll discuss some of my favorite tactics below.

If you started potty training, but now realize that your child wasn’t actually ready, that’s all the information you need. Admit that to yourself, and then just stop potty training. Start again when you feel your child is interested and ready. There’s no rush. Your child is not going to be in diapers come kindergarten- don’t worry!

Now those of you that started potty training and saw success, but then saw a spiral of struggles and frustration… I feel this so much and this next part is for you. You are not alone and you didn’t do anything wrong.

I saw the end in sight. I saw the success and then it all came crashing down.

A change happened. Those two most important reasons to start that BOTH have to be in place- changed. Our son was interested. He wanted to wear underwear. He wanted to pee in the potty. He did it. I was close to calling him potty trained! Then he stopped wanting to. His interest changed and it’s not something I could force. You can’t force someone to care.

Here are the signs I took note of when deciding to stop potty training:

  • Doesn’t care when underwear are wet
  • No longer saying “potty”
  • Doesn’t want to sit on potty
  • The reward system is no longer motivating

My son took awhile to potty train compared to our daughter. But he got it and did well. We’ve done it twice now, and after going slower but doing well, he then very suddenly totally refused and we had to stop.

So let me give you some insight to what happened for us:

We first went through potty training when he was 20 months old. He caught on and was peeing and pooping in the toilet. About a week in I thought it was going great. Slow, but great. Then he backtracked. Then did good again. Then backtracked even further. After a month of trying to push through I stopped and just figured we’d try again when he was older. He’d done great, but he wasn’t sustaining it.

We’d started at that age because he was interested. He wanted to wear underwear, and he was asking to be on the toilet like his big sister. But I figured maybe he was just too young, even though we’d found success with his sister when she was 18 months, and it went incredibly smoothly.

When he was almost 25 months old, we tried again. He’d shown interest again, and I was hoping to have him potty trained over the winter so we could be out running around not having to worry about going potty come nice weather. We started the day after Christmas (3 days earlier than I was actually planning) because he was so interested on that day I hated to pass up the opportunity.

We started fresh as though we’d never done it before. He had a lot more words in his vocabulary now, so he could actually tell me potty. By day 5 he was telling me potty and actively engaging in the process.

By day 10, he was asking to go all day long without prompting, he was super motivated by his reward chart, and he was only having 1 accident each day (usually when distracted and playing with his older sister).

He then had 3 or 4 days in a row where he was completely dry all day long without me prompting him to go! I had my eye on 7 days in a row of this to call him potty trained and that the process had been a success. But on the next day, he regressed. I powered through and tried to prompt him more and help him stay focused. He regressed more.

Before I knew it we were 1.5 months out from our starting day, and we were back to 30 minute checks and me nagging him all day long. It was slowly getting worse instead of better. We couldn’t get back to where we were. He’d pee a HUGE accident and not even tell me. He had been able to come to me and tell me that he’d had an accident back on day 3.

Guys it was brutal. We’d done it. We’d seen the end in sight, and he suddenly ran as fast as he could in the other direction. He was tired of it. It pained me to stop because I saw how capable he was and knew how hard we’d both worked to get there, but it had become a battle. We had to stop for my sanity and his.

He’d rather play. It didn’t matter that we sang Daniel Tiger songs about “stop and go right away” and explained that his toys would be there when he got back. He’d rather sit in wet underwear, even underwear full of poop… he’d rather sit in that and keep playing, instead of stopping and going and coming back.

He was no longer motivated by food treats or prizes. And it didn’t matter if I changed up the type of treat or prize. He no longer told me potty. He no longer told me if he’d had an accident. He was content to be in wet underwear. And it was suddenly a battle to get him to sit on the potty. He didn’t want to sing songs or read books in there anymore. He was done. It took me awhile to accept it, but we finally stopped.

I think there are a couple of factors that played into this…

  1. He’s a BOY. I’ve heard so many times that boys are harder to potty train. They potty train later. They are slower at the whole process. They are harder. Why I have no idea, but this is consistent with what happened in our household now as well.
  2. He’s not the oldest. My oldest had my full attention. He’s got so many distractions now with his older sister playing with him and life just happening around him. He’s focused on those things, and not on potty training.
  3. I was more distracted. With my first, she was my only focus. Now I was pulled in different directions and couldn’t give him undivided attention as I’d done for her.

We have a plan for our in between phase, that I talk about below in the “What to do once you’ve stopped potty training” section of this post. But even with that plan, we’ve officially stopped potty training so that we can all take a break. We’ll start again when he shows interest.

Until then, we’re kind of stuck in our in between mode. And it’s ok. It’s ok to stop. I have to remind myself that, and I’m guessing maybe you might as well. So I’ll say it again. It’s ok to stop potty training.

My Recommended Potty Training Method

If your child was interested in potty training, but then potty training was a constant struggle from the get go, it’s possible that the method needs some tweaking. I absolutely love the potty training method that we’ve adapted for our family and highly recommend it.

I’ll give a quick summary of how we potty train below, and you can read our full method with all the details by clicking here.

A summary of our potty training method:

  1. Put your child in underwear.
  2. Place on toilet in regular intervals. (Every 20-30 minutes for the first couple of days, then start to stretch it out to 1 hour intervals by days 3-4, and longer if you can after that.)
  3. Keep your child on the toilet for 5 minutes. Keep a stash of books and maybe a small toy in the bathroom to keep their attention and pass the time quickly. We love using books to teach colors, shapes, numbers and letters during potty training. In fact, my son over the course of potty training, pretty much learned all of his colors, shapes and numbers 1-10. Here are a few of our favorite books for potty training entertainment and learning:
  4. Do dry checks throughout the day. Praise and reward your child for being dry (a small food treat works great). It is super easy to tell if your child is dry if they are wearing underwear, which is why I don’t use a naked method.
  5. Use rewards. We use a sticker chart on the wall. We couple this with food treats (we use a small food treat – cereals work great as they are small and don’t make a mess) and small prizes. Don’t shy away from food treats. It is beyond helpful, and you phase it out pretty quickly when potty training goes well!

When you are ready to come back to potty training and try again, I highly recommend using the sticker chart and this method. It is such an enjoyable process when it goes smoothly and this method really works!

What to do Once You’ve Stopped Potty Training

You’ve stopped potty training- now what? It doesn’t mean all goes back to normal and you forget all the hard work you’ve put in…

I’ve now had to officially stop potty training our son who is 27.5 months old. It was a really hard decision to make, but once I finally made the decision to stop, I have to say my stress levels went WAY down.

If you are at this point like I am, every day is a constant battle. It is stressful for you, and stressful for your child. No good comes of it.

So, once you decide to stop potty training, just embrace it. It’s something I struggle with, but it’s important to just kind of go with the flow and follow your child’s lead in this moment.

I, however, don’t want all of my hard work to be lost. So, there are a few things I’m doing to just keep potty training in our son’s mind. We’re keeping the thought of it alive, without pushing it.

Here’s our plan for the interim time between now and officially potty training again…

The Once You’ve Stopped Potty Training Plan of Action

You might be thinking- What’s there to plan? Stopping is stopping right? Well yes, kind of. But you’ve put the idea out there. You’ve put the work in. The momentum is going to stop drastically, but the idea of potty training doesn’t have to completely go away.

The plan

  1. Put your child in diapers or pull ups. This immediately takes the stress off of everyone. You aren’t cleaning up accidents. You don’t have to nag your child all day long. Your child doesn’t have to feel bad when they do have an accident, etc. This might be the hardest step for a type A person like myself!
  2. Place your child on the toilet at specific, consistent times. Pick a couple of times. Do not overwhelm your child with doing this all day long. Remember you are NOT potty training anymore. But, you can keep them practicing by putting them on at certain times throughout the day that they can learn to expect. Here are the times I do:
    • First thing in the morning. We go straight to the bathroom. I take his nighttime pull up off and play it off as “you sit here while I grab a diaper” and put him on the toilet. We are usually able to catch a first morning pee at this time if we are quick to get him in there after he wakes up.
    • Before nap. Right before his nap, we do this again. This is the first time I need to change his diaper during the day, so he gets time to sit on the toilet. I keep the diapers in the bathroom and we’ve mastered putting on diapers while he stands.
    • After nap. We do it again after nap, and then one more time…
    • Before bed.
    • Before leaving the house. I also throw this one in every once in awhile. Once you have a potty trained child, this is just kind of a standing rule… go potty before we go anywhere. So since his big sister is going, our little guy can try too. If you don’t have older kids you might skip this one.

      These times provide opportunity. They are NOT surprises to him as we do it every day. He expects them, so he doesn’t resist it. He gets to practice sitting on the toilet still, and a lot of the time he still pees. He announces it with a smile “pee now!” and is proud of himself. We cheer and make a big deal. But then the pressure is off and the diaper goes back on.
  3. Keep the sticker chart up and prizes/treats ready to go at all times. I’ve decided to keep the potty training rewards chart up on the wall. That way he sees it and knows he can use it at any time and I am ready if he decides to.
    • Instead of reminding him to go potty all day, I now simply give him a few reminders that if he wants to go on the potty he can still tell me. He then reminds me that if he does tell me, he gets a “sticker” and then can earn his “prize.”
    • He seems excited about it, but is rarely motivated to actually do so (if he was we’d be potty training again LOL). Occasionally, however, he still tells me potty (very randomly and rarely). When he does we put a sticker on the chart and praise, praise, praise, and if he earns enough he still gets a prize.
    • This way, he can decide when he wants to engage in this on his own terms.

At first, I was also showing him if his diaper was wet or not… we use the Target Up and Up brand and the yellow line turns blue when wet. It was a really nice visual. I was telling him he could still try to stay dry if he wanted to and keep the line yellow. He was interested at first, but then not so much. So we stopped this. But it is a nice visual still for me, otherwise I was going to just make the switch to pull ups. I probably will do that once the diapers run out. But this visual might be a great way to still work at staying dry for some kids!

So that’s our plan. We are practicing the idea of going potty in the toilet, without actually potty training. We are removing expectations and pressure but keeping the idea alive in our world. We are keeping the rewards chart up and available to use. We are letting our son take the lead with how much he wants to do. Everyone is happier.

When he shows interest again, we’ll potty train once more. Until then, we’ll stay in this in between phase.

Remember, it’s ok to stop potty training. It’s better to have a good experience with it for your child, than to try and force it and have everyone hate it the entire time.

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