top of page

How to Avoid the Potty Power Battles With Your Toddler

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Inside: Seeing potty training resistance? Potty training tips for avoiding the toddler power battles and meltdowns.

This content contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

Here's a skill I saw in action. Sitting in on my child's Montessori class, I watched the teacher move through the changeover in their day and the rising volume of 15 preschoolers coming in from an outdoor recess.

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

Without nagging.

And these small humans all did their jobs.

It looked so simple.

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

I watched in wonder and saw 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 with behavior that see-saws into the testing-boundaries-every-minute direction.

But is there a way to bring some of that magical, complying-with-the-routine energy to your 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 toddler power battles, especially about using the potty.

how to avoid the potty power battles
how language helps with avoiding the potty power battles

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. That there's a confidence in the child being capable of doing the task.

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 as a potty prompt?

parenting pitfalls with language
Parents don't always say the right thing.

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

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 kids.

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

First thing to do.

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 from your child when you're falling into the trap of language that brings on toddler power battles.

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.

hoping for more peace in your home
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:

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

(These are examples of power battle words that tend to bring on toddler power battles faster than you can say macaroni.)

  • 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:

how to avoid sibling rivalry
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 discord with the help of this parenting book. It's been my go-to for years 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 child 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.

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?


Also watch the use of the word WE. You and your child may be going to the park, but you and your child are not the same person. Your child is going to pee on their own. Your child is going to take a nap in the toddler bed later (not you).

pausing as a parent to help avoid power battles
Seeing toddler behavior? Try pausing to observe what words you're using to remind your toddler to go pee.

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

how to remind your toddler to go to the potty
Words matter with potty training.

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.

The magic with language and potty training — your words can flip a child to follow the routine expectation, or can make the transition feel like a total flop.

Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs

join list for potty training cheatsheets


bottom of page