Four Tips to Help Late Potty Trainers

Four Tips to Help Late Potty Trainers

With children ages nine through fourteen, we are (thankfully) far removed from potty training days.  There were days, however, when I thought I might never be done with diapers.  I’m sure that most parents have that feeling, but when you have a late potty trainer, it can feel even more like that.

While Molly was potty trained at a more typical age, her brothers (one with Autism and another that had developmental delays) were both late to being toilet trained.  In fact, though two years separate their ages, they were both finally potty trained at 4 years 10 months old.

Yep, that’s right.  Both of my sons were nearly five years old before they were out of diapers.  Not only does that mean we spent a fortune on diapers, but it means that at one point, I was very pregnant with my third child and still had two in diapers that could have, theoretically, been out of diapers.  I was very worried that I would end up with a five year old, a three year old, and a newborn all in diapers at once.  Thankfully, Noah pulled through for us and left the diapers behind just a few months before Molly was born.

While we found some of the things we tried to be successful and some not so much, I thought I would share some of the things we tried.  Each child is motivated by different things, so things that didn’t work for us may work for you.

A caveat: For whatever lucky reason, both of our sons were dry throughout the night for a couple of years before they were successfully using the bathroom during the day.  So, I don’t have any good advice about night training.  Sorry!

Four Tips to Help Late Potty Trainers

Bathroom only Toys

This was suggested to me by a child psychologist that I was talking to about an unrelated issue.  He suggested that we buy a toy that our child would really, really want to play with, but to have it available to the child only while he was sitting on the toilet.

Yeah, I know.  This sounds both unsanitary and like it really limits the type of toy that it is.  But, by the time we tried it, we had already tried a variety of things.  We picked a toy that could be cleaned and that was small.

This one didn’t work for us at all, but I’m sure it might work out for the right kid.


This can take on whatever appearance you are comfortable with and that you think would work well for your child.

When we first tried this with Noah (who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism), I had a small crate with inexpensive toys and offered that he could pick one, if he successfully used the bathroom.  This was a dismal failure.  He wanted the toys, but just couldn’t make himself do it.  So, I suppose in a way, this wasn’t a failure because it was through this that I realized that he just wasn’t able to do it at that point.  No reward would be great enough to make it happen.  There was no point in making either of us miserable.

Rewards did, however, help Jack make progress.  They weren’t what cinched it, but they helped.  His rewards were just M&Ms.  He got one for trying, and three for success.  (I think, if I’m remembering correctly.)

Conditioning / Behavior Modification

That sounds all Pavlovian, doesn’t it?  In my defense, I was in graduate school working on my masters in special education while we were working with Jack on potty training.  So, it was certainly the kind of thing that was on my mind.

This solution came to me in a flash one day, and it was ultimately got Jack out of diapers.  You see, he loved to drink juice.  Granted, at that point in his life, what that meant was a cup filled three-quarters full with water with the rest filled with a 100% juice.  So, I decided that every time he asked for more to drink, I would say, “Go try to use the bathroom first.”

To my surprise, he didn’t complain.  Even more to my surprise, he started using the toilet regularly.  In fact, he got so used to it that he just started using the bathroom before he even asked for a drink.  Then, he just started using the bathroom no strings attached.  It had become a habit finally!

Just Wait

Unless your child has a special or medical need, they will likely just get to a point where they finally go on their own.  You’ll have to teach them about it, so I’m not suggesting to just ignore it and expect that one day they’ll say, “Excuse me, Mom, I’d like to use the restroom now.”  They have to know what to do, so you’ll need to train them.  But, there just comes a point where there’s no point to push it.  If they’re not ready, they just may need more time.

I still remember our pediatrician, the father of a large family, pointed out that small children only get to have control over a very few things in their lives, and using the toilet is one of them.  If you try to force it, nobody will win that battle.  Everyone will just end up being miserable.

This was the way that finally worked for Noah.  After a long time of no successes and even fear of the toilet, one Wednesday night out of the blue, he just announced, “I need to go the bathroom!”  We were puzzled for a moment before realizing that he meant in the bathroom.  It sounds crazy to say, but from that moment on, he used the toilet.  He just needed to be ready, I guess.  And, when he finally was ready, he was ready.

How has potty training gone at your house?  Was it a struggle or a breeze?

List it Tuesday at Many Little Blessings and Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


  1. says

    It’s already a relief to me, just to know I’m not the only one! Our 3 year old is still potty training, and meanwhile, her brother who’s a year younger wants to start potty training now. She was doing really well, and then suddenly she just went right back to not using the toilet.

    • katy says

      My son turned 3 in november and we are struggling still. He goes good fora while then goes backwards..

  2. says

    Out of 8 children, we had 2 boys and 1 girl that were late-trainers. They were also my bedwetters, but that’s a whole ‘nother post! Your m&m rewards and behavior/conditioning are the things that worked best for us. We used mini-m&m’s and smarties during the ‘create the habit’ phase and by the time they were initiating and going on their own they were mostly weaned off those little treats. I adapted these ideas from a book/system called Potty Training in Less Than a Day – using their basic principle without the pressure of forcing them to perform.
    Thanks for your encouraging post, Angie – potty training has been one of my least favorite tasks as a mother!

  3. Naytuff says

    Mine have a problem only at night..! So I wake them up at 3:00 am nightly plus limit evening drinking! Works great and the sane time every time works!! Used to have to do it twice a night now it’s only once if that!! Thank God!! Plus they are highly praised for it next day, positive words work always..! Also same bedtime every night and a reminder that their gonna be woke up!!

  4. Cassandra says

    My son was 4.5., No special needs or anything, just wouldn’t go. Nothing and I mean nothing worked. I talked to pediatrician who suggested that she do an xray just in case and we found out that he was SUPER constipated and backed up… couple of days of miralax later and he was good to go..literally! Now our youngest is over 4 and he finally is making progress. He’s just stubborn beyond belief. Thanks for sharing!

  5. says

    We had one who trained easily in 3 days at 2.5 and one who didn’t catch on until 4.5 . . . and a third who is currently just over 3 and kinda sorta interested but not really. All such very different personalities.