How to Avoid the Potty Power Battles With Your Toddler

Updated: Oct 31, 2019


Inside: Potty training without the toddler power struggles and meltdowns.


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Here’s a magic trick I love to watch whenever I get the chance. Sitting in on my kiddos Montessori class, I watch as the teacher moves through the changeover in their day and rising volume of 15 preschoolers coming in from an outdoor recess..


She guides them to the next thing (potty, wash hands, get ready for rest time).


Without nagging.


And these small humans all do their jobs. It looks so simple.


Her voice doesn’t match their bonky kid volume. There aren’t whiny meltdowns over the next thing to be done (taking snowpants off, getting ready to be inside).


There are no toddler power battles.


It’s true that preschool teachers seem to have the magic when it comes to getting toddlers to comply to the school routine without all the fuss and fanfare we see at home. (And it’s common for kids to hold it together with the routine at school, but then let loose at home where the behavior can see-saw in the other direction.)


But is there a way to bring some of that magic home?


How do you shift away from the long-running power battle with your toddler over coats, toy cleanups, and peeing in the potty before nap?


Here are ideas for how you can step away from constant potty power battles with your toddler.



Language is important when you're trying to get your child to comply to a rule.


There's no getting around that words matter. That's true even for 2-year-olds who often understand way more than they can speak. And it's easy to fall into the trap of saying the same thing over and over again to your toddler...

...while frustrations mount that you're seeing NO ACTION from your child.

What are you saying? And what's not working?


First, have you ever listened to a preschool teacher talk to toddlers? The language they use conveys the message that the teacher EXPECTS the child to follow the rule. Things you might hear..

The rule in our classroom is we go potty before starting for the day. That's our rule.

Which sounds super different from...


You have to go potty before we start.

When I'm working with parents having issues with potty training, I always ask how they been reminding their child to go pee. What do you say?




And here's the thing. We all sometimes DON'T say the perfect thing.

Especially when you're dealing with a particularly rough day of resistance from your child, and nothing seems to be going swell. I remember one time I paused and realized what I'd been saying on repeat to my kids...

You need to do....You need to bring this....You need....You need...

Ugh, right? No one wants to be spoken to that way. Including our kiddos.




What are some do's and don'ts with language to avoid potty power battles?

First thing to do.


  • Pause and LISTEN to what you're saying. We are teaching our kids to speak with kindness and respectfulness to others, and sometimes we forget to be mindful of language ourselves.


  • Notice what you're saying between the rush to get somewhere. Notice how you react when you're on the receiving end of developmentally-appropriate toddler resistance (remember they're programmed to be saying NO right now).


I've noticed personally that those hard days and pressure-filled moments (don't want to be late to school! you have a meeting after drop-off!) tend to bring out speech that is less than stellar for getting your toddler to comply. In fact, you tend to see MORE BEHAVIOR when you're using language that triggers a power battle.


Related: I've learned so much on how language can affect behavior with young kids through this favorite parenting book on how to talk to little kids. Because when kids feel heard, life at home tends to buzz along with far less drama. That's what I've found as a mama. I'm also someone who loves concrete scripts and ideas for what to do when I'm feeling stuck with tough toddler behavior, and this book has been so helpful in that way.



What kind of language helps keep the peace with your toddler, while still asserting boundaries?

Language that's helpful in setting up rules with your toddler:

  • I expect

  • This is our rule

  • Our family rule is

  • I can see that you.. look mad/sad/are doing a pee dance

  • What was my message? (Great for the toddler who seems to be ignoring you)

Language that's NOT helpful in setting up rules and prompting to go pee:


(These are examples of battle words that tend to bring on power battles with kids.)

  • You have to

  • You need to

  • I know you need to (battle words, hello power struggle)

  • It's time to go potty, OKAY? (don't do a polite ask, that's also ineffective)


Here's another example of what kind of language can bring on an instant spurt of toddler behavior:




Shifting your language can also help with sibling rivalry.



"Your brother can go outside because he went potty. You have to stay until you go. "

Oof. That's not going to go well.


You don't want to compare siblings! Comparing siblings can read as shaming. And more importantly with potty training, it doesn't tend to help with getting your toddler to step up to go pee in the potty.



Related: Do you feel like you're seeing loads of sibling rivarly with your kiddos? I've found so many helpful tips and reworked my own language to reduce that sibling dischord with the help of this parenting book. It's been my go-to and has really helped me re-think how language can reinforce bad behavior or sibling rivalry if you're not mindful of what you're saying to your child. And if you are just bringing a baby home, this is one of my favorite children's books for talking about that big change with your big kid.


Here's more language to avoid with your toddler. Forcing your child to sit.


You have to sit here until you pee.

Forcing a child to sit on the potty will bring resistance and also likely will NOT bring a pee. Remember your kiddo holds all the power with the pee.


Related: Are you feeling stuck because your child REFUSES to sit on the potty? I tallk through the solutions for that issue that commonly comes up in the early days of potty training in my e-course Potty Training Solutions. Check that out right here.





And here's a prompt to pee that falls flat because there's TOO MUCH language.


Try saying this one out loud!


We're going to go to the park in a bit and before then we need to go potty. Let mommy know if you need help and when you're ready you can get your pees out in the potty, okay? Let's go get our pees out.

Is there a prompt in there?


TOO MANY WORDS!



Seeing toddler behavior? Try pausing to observe what words (and tone) you're using to remind your toddler to go pee.


You want to keep it simple with your toddler. It takes a minute to process your words and if you're saying too much, your kiddo won't hear your message. And then you'll have a toddler who didn't follow your prompt because you said too much.



Keep in mind the simple trick to knowing if your language is propelling more resistance...


Pause and listen to what you're saying to your toddler.

Then ask yourself these questions..

  • Would I feel annoyed if someone used those words with me?

  • Does it sound like I'm trying to shame him into doing what I want him to do?

  • Would I feel yucky if my parent said that to me about me and my sibling?

  • Does it sound like I'm begging my toddler to go potty?

  • Could I say the prompt with less words?

  • Am I seeing success (child willing to sit on potty to pee)?


Because if you're not seeing success with your prompts, you do want to change them up!

And if you said yes to any of these questions above, then it's a good idea to try using different language.


Try a different way of prompting your child to go pee. The process doesn't tend to go well when the language sounds like begging, shaming, setting up for a power battle, or overwhelming your child with too many words.

Be mindful of the words you're using with your toddler. The magic with language and potty training — your words can make things better, or can make the process feel like a flop.


Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs




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© 2020 by Oh Crap Potty Training From ME to You, LLC

Jen L'Italien

Potty Consultant

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You may not take any images or content from this site without written permission. Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs

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