Why babies resist the potty: Potty resistance and what to do.
Today let’s explore why babies resist the potty and what you can do about it.
When your baby resists the potty while doing elimination communication, it can be a frustrating experience. You might be wondering what is going on, and if there is something that you did to cause the resistance!
Don't worry. Potty resistance is normal, and I'm going to help you get through it.
You will learn:
- Reasons babies resist the potty and what it might mean
- How to let go of self-doubt and see the whole picture
- Questions to ask yourself when your baby resists the potty
- How to help your baby adapt to change
- Information about developmental leaps
- How to help your baby through a potty pause
- How to get in touch with your baby's changing rhythms
- How to offer your child privacy
Links and other resources mentioned today:
- The Go Diaper Free Book
- Montessori from the Start Book
- Dr. Sears' Baby Book
- The Wonder Weeks Book
- The Wonder Weeks App
- Continuum Concept Book
- Easy Catch #1
- Easy Catch #2
- Easy Catch #3
- Easy Catch #4
- Potty Pauses Podcast Episode
- Free Observation Log
- The Tiny Potty Training Book
- Potty Pause MiniCourse
- Top Hat Potty at TinyUndies.com
- Mini Potty at TinyUndies.com
- Easy Start Guide for EC (Free Download)
Download the Transcript
If you can't listen to this episode right now (um, sleeping baby!?)...download and read the transcript here:
Welcome to the Go Diaper Free Podcast, where we're all about helping you stop using diapers as early as birth. I'm your host, Andrea Olson, author and mom of five EC’d babies. This is episode 42, why babies resist the potty and what you can do about it with elimination communication and regular potty training.
All right, so today's show, I'm going to have anything I mention in this show over on the show notes linked, live for you there at godiaperfree.com/42. Let's go ahead and dive right in. I have plenty of resources over there on the show notes in case you are having potty resistance and you don't know what to do.
First of all, why would a baby resist the potty after going willingly for so long? And what do you do if your baby resists the potty? In other words, how do you get out of it?
First of all, why do babies resist the potty? The first thing I want you to know is when a baby is resisting the potty, it's an indicator that something else is going on, that something else in the baby's life or the family's life is shifting.
And what I want you to do when a baby resists the potty is to not take it personally and not feel like you guys stink at EC, or it's just not working, or it's not for you, or blame yourself. “What did I do wrong? I've screwed it up. I don't understand my baby. I'm a failure. I'm a terrible mom or dad, etc.” I know all of you that's gone through your mind at some point or another. It's the self-doubt. It really can kill your EC practice.
Instead of doing that, or if you do that, just say, “Wow, I notice I'm doing what Andrea was saying I would do when my baby resists the potty.” Then zoom out. Everybody zoom out.
You're zoomed in to a very, very small little bug on a flower, and then you're going to zoom out to see the whole forest. This baby must be going through some kind of a change.
First thing I want you to ask yourself when you zoom out, is there something in the baby's life, the family that is shifting right now? Have you just gone on a trip and come home? Are you about to go on a trip? Have you just bought a new house, moved into a new house, left, maybe moved?
Has somebody in the family lost their job or gotten a new one? Has somebody gone back to work full-time? Are the partners, the parents fighting, or is there a divorce happening or happened? What is going on that could qualify as a big life change? Has somebody in the family passed away? Has an animal passed away? Is somebody sick in the family? Zoom out and see, are there any life changes going on right now?
If you find that there are, then what you would do is help your baby adapt to this change. In other words, give it time. Do whatever you would do normally to help a baby adapt to any change going on.
The next thing that, when you're zooming out, you can look for is a developmental change for the baby. We have oncoming mobility. We've got teeth coming in. Maybe baby is about to roll, or sit, or crawl, or start creeping along the furniture, which means just like sliding across side to side. I hate that word, but that's what people call it, creeping. Maybe baby's about to walk, maybe baby's about to run, or learning how to jump, or something else that's a developmental milestone that all babies go through.
If you want to see when babies typically go through these milestones, I highly recommend the Montessori book, Montessori from the Start. It's got a great pictorial guide, a little timeline of all the stages of the baby and what they go through and what they're developmentally working on at those times. Which as an aside, by the way, the Montessori sensitive period for toilet learning, starting and finishing toilet learning, toilet mastery, self-toileting is 12 to 18 months. Anyway, in that book, it shows a lot about when to expect what developmental milestones in that little drawing. Also, Dr. Sears’s Baby Book has a lot of that. The other baby book has that as well. You can find a lot of resources.
So, zoom out. Instead of freaking out, zoom out. Would you remember that? Don't freak out, zoom out. Life changes, developmental changes. What is happening or maybe is about to happen.
And if you want to look into something else as a cool resource, The Wonder Weeks is something one of our Go Diaper Free community introduced me to years ago. Basically, it posits that there are these leaps that babies take in development, and right before or during a leap, there can be a lot of fussiness and other things that you might notice it might be hard to handle with your baby.
And knowing about these leaps and when they happen at this week and this week and this week you expect to leap. It's an average, but typically with feedback I've gotten from people is that yeah, it's pretty accurate and it explains why my baby's getting really fussy. Potty resistance can happen during those times of leaps as well. You can check that out. They have an app and a book.
Another thing to zoom out and address, is your baby ill? Did your baby just get over being ill? Is your baby starting to show symptoms of being ill that you don't even know about yet?
Maybe your baby has developed a UTI or is developing a UTI. And a lot of people actually find that they can diagnose a UTI just from the early signals they get from something's going awry with EC and they look into it further. And then they go to the pediatrician, and they say, "Oh yeah, your baby has a UTI." That's a urinary tract infection for those who don't know. It could be something there.
There could be constipation or diarrhea happening from the illness that could definitely cause your baby to resist the potty because maybe it hurts. Maybe they need help with the constipation. Remedies for this kind of thing, remedies for developmental changes, by the way - like milestones, crawling, things like that - are really going to be… Just be patient and know that this baby is going through something and this too shall pass.
Keep pottying at whatever ones are easiest. Keep getting the poops, keep getting the mornings, whatever works for you during this resistance phase. And if it's developmental and mobility is forthcoming, then just wait it out.
We have life changes, developmental changes. And with illness, what do you do about illness? Well, you treat the illness. If you've got teething happening, we treat the pain of the teething. Homeopathically, you use Ibuprofen or Tylenol, whatever you want to or you and your doctor decide you are going to do. For illness, well a lot of people ask me, will the baby diarrhea everywhere if they're ill and I'm practicing EC?
Actually, typically babies will signal more strongly when they're about to have diarrhea because they really don't want to do that on themselves. It is a really intense, strong, just it's your instincts, you guys. We don't want to kill off the whole tribe, right? If we bring disease or keep disease in the tribe, we're all going to die off. It's a very strong ingrained instinct. If I'm sick and I'm having diarrhea or I'm having bowel movement that might have some kind of bug in it, then I'm definitely going to want to do that away from me and away from people in the sleep space.
Hygienically, it kind of makes sense when you think about it. It's very logical. If they're going through an illness, then they might resist the potty during that time. We want to address the illness and help them through that and go see your doctor. Always want to rule out.
If you've just changed from nursing or formula to solids, this can also cause resistance ‘cause maybe the poop is too hard. We want to address the constipation by giving packs of pureed prunes or using a child/infant dose of a constipation remedy of your choice depending on what your doctor says. You can definitely work with that, but we also want to rule out does this child have any food allergies that might be causing potty resistance and also causing fussiness and everything else? It's always good to call on our pediatricians who can help us with the big picture stuff and see why might my baby be resisting.
Well, let's see if there's anything medical here. And usually it's not that crazy, that's like a last resort. I always say, well, if you can't figure it out otherwise, go see your pediatrician, get a full health checkup and see if anything's going on.
That is actually about it. What to do if a baby resists. That was why babies resists. Now what to do if the baby is resisting. Oh my gosh, I left out one of the biggest reasons for resistance, or two of them actually. Let's back up for a second.
The two would be they want more control or you are over-offering. These are two other reasons why your baby might be resisting the potty. I talked about this on my episode on potty pauses.
Potty pauses are a little bit different than potty resistance. Potty pauses are weeks and months long. Potty resistance is just sudden resistance out of nowhere where they're not really letting you hold them anymore or put them on the potty or they just won't go. They fuss.
Let's talk about these two, you guys, before we move on to what to do. First of all, you might be over-offering. When your baby was born, maybe it was going to the bathroom every 10 minutes after feeding and maybe you're going for every other pee and all the poops. And then when your baby is four months old, maybe they're going 20 minutes apart. And then when your baby is six months old, maybe they're going 25 or 30 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes apart, depending on how long ago they had eaten anything liquid. And then when your baby's one year old, maybe they can hold it 45 minutes. Do you see what I'm getting at? Your baby's rhythms and intervals expand as they get bigger. It makes perfect logical sense, right?
In the middle of everything, you're not going to know all this stuff, you guys. EC is not a part of our culture. It's not ingrained in the way we live anymore. It used to be passed down as you just knew it. Just regular typical knowledge of our cultures. Now, it's not.
So you have to learn it, and this is fine if you feel like, “oh my gosh, I didn't realize I'd be over-offering.” We just think about it and then do an observation period. Look at any of my other podcasts. Or my book, Go Diaper Free, describes how to do observation. When you feel out of sync with your baby and your baby's resisting, definitely a good time to do some diaper free observation time and to get back into tune with what is my baby's natural timing interval right now?
From the time they wake up and from the time they feed, how often are they going to pee and when are they pooping? You might be over-offering. In this case, you don't want to back off completely, but maybe you start going for every other one. You definitely want to get back into touch with how often is my baby going to the bathroom now. We did this recently.
Our baby at the time of this recording, our youngest fifth baby is almost five months old. We did this recently and found that she actually could hold it up to 40 minutes depending on if she was engaged, in the baby carrier, stuff like that. But we downloaded my log and did all of that.
You can also download my log, I'll put the link in the show notes to the observation log there. It is essential in understanding if you're over-offering. That could cause resistance.
The next and last - promise, this is actually the last one this time - is that the baby wants more control. Think about this for a second. I mentioned this in previous podcasts and I mention this in my book a lot. If we were in intact culture where we are living in, for example, a warmer climate with mud huts, very little clothing. Baby is crawling, baby can crawl out to the potty space where everybody else goes and go to the bathroom there.
Jean Liedloff in her popular book, Continuum Concept, which I'm a huge fan of and has really informed my parenting, with a grain of salt because it is definitely just based on stone age Indians. You have to adapt it to what your situation is. She never meant it to be a parenting manual by the way, but it really became one.
But in there, she mentions a couple - and in an interview of hers that I quote in my book as well - she mentions about the baby pees on the mud floor in the hut and the mom shoos them out and says, “No, you don't pee on my floor. You know better now, you know where to go, go.” She doesn't say all that, she just shoos them.
18 month old seems like he needs to pee, the mother stops talking, points over to the edge of their little deck, and the baby walks over and pees over the edge of the deck. This was obviously not a stone age Indian. This is in a different culture where she was - in Bali. Lots of examples of “Yeah, it's not okay to go in here, shoo, go on out there.”
The point I'm making, you guys, is that babies at 6 months, 8 months, 12 months would ideally for hundreds of thousands of years and millions of years of evolution of our current human form, as our mammalian form, we would already be potty independent. Do you get what I'm saying? Of course at this age, if they're resisting it's cause they're done with your help. This is their body. These are their functions. They know when they need to go. They're born knowing, believe it or not, and they just want more control over the process.
Now, let's talk about what to do. When baby resists the potty, we definitely want to zoom out and see what's going on - like I already talked about - and address whatever it is, developmentally, life change, illness, milestone. Whatever it is, give time, give space, keep up with the easy catches in the meanwhile and just understand what's going on and remedy it as best we can.
Comfort our children, soothe, heal their illnesses, things like that. The other thing is if it's a control thing and an over-offering thing, we want to measure the timing and make sure we're not over-offering. We want to make sure we're not hovering and helicoptering and waiting for every single pee. I don't do that. You would think that I do that, but I don't. I have five children. I don't have time for that.
I really highly rely on timing as far as her natural timing. When she wakes up, I take her. When I notice the poop signal or I hear a very big shift in energy and I know she's concentrating on one, I tell her to wait and I take her to the potty. These are the four easy catches. They're in other previous episodes. 28, 29, 30 and 32 are the four easy catches on this podcast. They're also in my book and on my YouTube. I have it everywhere because it's really important if baby's resisting the potty to keep going in some way.
Simultaneously, if they're wanting more control, you're going to teach little parts of the potty process. I outline these as the building blocks to potty independence in my book, Go Diaper Free. If you don't have it, please get it. Do yourself a favor. Stop waiting and procrastinating on getting it. Just get it. I promise I wrote it because I didn't have anything that showed me visually and very clearly and very simply exactly how to do EC. I know about why. I know about all that stuff. I want to know how to do it. That's in my book.
Teach those building blocks. Give them some space. If you want to, put them on the toilet seat reducer. “Ignore them.” I say that in quotes. You're not really ignoring them. You're in the room with them but you're turning your back. I would peel the grout on the tile wall. I would just pretend to clean something. Just turn your back and give them privacy. That often helps cure resistance immediately.
We also want to be firm and clear. If we have ditched diapers already and they're well beyond knowing and they've done it successfully for weeks and weeks, it might be a little bit of a test and this is our first chance at positive discipline. We get to be very firm and clear and say, “Your pee and poop goes in the potty,” because we know in our heart of hearts that our value is that this is where it's hygienically appropriate to go to the bathroom and we want to teach and model and not waver in that.
If we've already ditched diapers, say we did it at walking or at 14 months or at 18 months or whenever, we are very clear that we're not going back to diapers and we're very clear that I know something's going on. They're exerting their independence, but we have to go to the potty. This is where our poop and pee goes. If that means a couple of misses happen, which we call accidents in EC language, it's okay. There's a process here.
And actually, there's another whole reasoning to potty pauses that I cover in the podcast episode on potty pauses. Can't remember the number right now but I'll link to it in the show notes on the blog that explains what exactly might be going on when you see that they're resisting and doing a full-on potty pause. It's a really great example from a long-time diaper free baby mentor Kirsty Connor. Definitely read that as part of that episode and I'll link to it again.
But yeah, we want to be firm and clear, “This is where the pee and poop goes,” if we've already ditched diapers and we're that far along. If the baby's resisting at four months, you don't need to be firm and clear. I mean, you can be clear, but you don't need to actually get into the discipline role yet. And by discipline I mean teaching, I don't mean spanking.
But yeah, those are the reasons why babies resist the potty, most if not all of them, and then what to do if your baby resists the potty. If you're in a full-blown potty pause, don't worry. Definitely get my book. It covers that extensively. There is also a deep dive mini course, like small course, on potty pauses that can help you understand it fully and get out of it. That's a supplement to my book and you can get that separately. I'll also link to it in the show notes.
But if you're in one, you don't need to stay in one and it can really be debilitating. “Oh my gosh, I've done all this EC, what was the point if now we're just in a constant daily struggle?” I'll teach you how to get out of that struggle, how to do a little reset, and how to get back on track in that course and in my book, also on the podcast if you want to check that out.
That's it for today, you guys. That is why babies resist the potty and what to do about it.
My name is Andrea Olson with Go Diaper Free at godiaperfree.com and you've been listening to my podcast. I'll see you next time with our next episode.
In the meanwhile, be sure to subscribe so you can be alerted when the next episode comes up and I'll see you then. Take care.
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About Andrea Olson
I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 10 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)
We have just started training our 22 month old son. Day 2 & not going well. He used to be fine on the potty, but since we’ve gone without nappies, it’s as if he knows what we’re trying to do and has decided to reject it. He won’t go near a potty. It feels like the desire for more control. But I don’t really know how to deal with it. He’s going everywhere except the potty…. I’m also finding it a challenge to know when he’s about to pee. He has cold and cough at the moment, so not 100%. Can’t bear to think that day 3 will be as bad!!
Hi Fiona! This is very, very, common. You are absolutely right, he is testing you to see if you are going to stick with this. You might try bringing the potty to him instead of taking him to the potty, it can help. xx Andrea
Thank you!! I’ve been so confused by why our 6 month old all of a sudden started resisting his potty chances. We’ve EC’ed since 2 weeks and never had a problem until now when he does everything he can to twist and turn and squirm out of the potty hold. Now I have a much better idea of what to look for at the cause(s). This came at the perfect time for our family.
Hi Colleen! I’m so glad it was good timing for the information! xx Andrea
Oh my, now I know why😅 baby has the chicken pox (we don’t vaccinate against that here, so every child gets it at some point). She just had her first two tiny teeth. She is working on learning to crawl. And she’s just a few days shy of the fith leap😅 I guess that’s why she’s not very cooperative at the moment
Oh goodness, that’s a lot going against her. I hope she’s feeling better soon!! xx Andrea
Hi Andrea, we are on day 1 and my 21 mo old is refusing to even sit on the potty now- she was this morning but after nap she’s screaming and clinging to me whenever I try to bring her to the port or the potty to her. It’s like she’s afraid of it now. It’s already clicking some as she notices when she pees or goes uh oh when starting, just can’t get her to sit on the potty. I have read your book. Any suggestions? Thanks :)
Hi Mandy! Resistance can crop up in the beginning because it is new and they’re testing to see if you’ll stick to it. If you feel that she is fearful, I would do some potty play. Play with her toys/dolls and have them “go potty”. Cheer them on, be silly, have fun. Really fun distractions like bubbles when she’s on the potty will help too. xx Andrea
Andrea, I am back, my last question was April 7 in podcast 37, but here I am trying to get back on track and this is step 1, I did it back in April and it literally saved my life.
The baby was resisting more and more after doing amazing in all aspects. It made no sense at all and nothing… NOTHING has changed. I zoomed out and payed attention to me, a few days in I noticed my heart would race every time I was bringing her to potty & she screamed and arched until I set her down to go back to play and inevitably pee in the living room…. I went to the dr bc the racing heart was odd, especially since I have been so into EC and potty training early with major success til then. After months of testing I got my answer last week. My heart was responding to random brain signals nearly killing me. I had 186/111 blood pressure chronically and was on the verge of a massive stroke. I started my heart meds Wednesday of last week and my crazy heart has levelled out.
As of today our little one is back to telling us and taking us to potty 99% of the time and more into it than ever. My rascal’s potty training turn truly saved my life.
I hope that others can zoom out and see that ANY difference is noticed by these kids, mine was 15 months old and knew before I ever could have dreamed that I was in danger. Yay for potty training! My life saver!
Wow! I am so relieved to read your story and I never even imagined you could zoom out to something on this level. Definitely adding to my current update of the book as a possibility – check yourself out! Thank you for sharing! Would you mind sending me a pic of you and your little one and giving me permission to share this on Instagram? This is so touching and so needs to be heard by others. Sending you well wishes for continued recovery!!! xx Andrea
Been having about a week of pause with our 6 month old. She does appear really ready to pop some teeth though (increased fussiness and wHItE gums). Trying to be patient and continue to offer as we did before.
Also, we often miss a lot of BMs. She must really like the position of her car seat for pushing out those BMs. Any recommendations for emulating a car seat position over the toilet? I’m usually in tune when she needs to go #2 and offer but many days she just prefers to wait and go when we are in the car. Trying to stay positive.
Hi Danette! You can do the classic EC hold over the toilet, or sit her on a low potty like the Tiny Undies mini potty. That will put her in a similar position. Offering the potty before and after a car trip is a good idea too. She will learn to use those opportunities. The car seat can often be the last hurdle, so just keep at it and don’t stress! xx Andrea
We have been through so many pauses with our little girl. She’s tuning one next week, and I thought we were through with the latest pause. She just started walking last month, but for a few weeks got more cooperative after mastering that. But now she’s resisting again. And Im sure she wants privacy. She will always go to her ballpit or her playroom to eliminate. I can offer the potty, she might sit (usually not) and do nothing or completely refuse, and then go to be alone and do it. I had just taken her diaper off, offered the potty, she got of and straight away went to pee in the ball pit. While i moved that to the bathroom to clean later, she went to her playroom, pooped on the floor and started playing with it 🙄😬
I want to give her privacy. But of I’m not right there, she will get off. The same with the big toilet. If I as much as look away, she will get off head first – not trying that again. You have written several places to use the vig toilet, og baby gets off the little potty. But in our case, that’s not safe.
But what do I do then? Please help😅❤️
Hi Maiken! Try working on teaching skills, any part of the potty routine. It really helps make it fun again and get young toddlers engaged with the process. xx Andrea
My 5-month old is now resisting the potty. We just started EC like a week ago so it’s still very new, but all last week we were doing great, she loved the potty and we were missing only a few pees so we decided to switch to cloth diapers so we didn’t keep wasting and throwing away diapers only peed in once or twice (I didnt feel comfortable putting a half used diaper back on her). Ever since we started the cloth diapers though she’s been resisting the potty. What would you recommend?
Hi Erica! Resistance can crop up for a number of reasons. Illness, teething, a developmental leap, etc. It may just be a coincidence that it started with the cloth diapers. I would recommend doing some observation again, see if her timing has changed. You can try changing up the hold you are using, or receptacle. Often that does the trick. xx Andrea
Hi Andrea. I just started following you lately and I am loving it. So i have introduced my baby to the mini potty since he was 6 month old. I didn’t know much about it and didn’t follow any particular technique. My son is now 15 months. Since the start the story has been the same. It goes pretty well for around 2 weeks, i get a lot of catches and then all of the sudden he is start resisting the potty strongly. So i end up needing to take a break for a few weeks (i have tried keep trying but the resistance just grows stronger) and then i restart. From what i have been listening from you it sounds like using the toilet reducer would be better for him (so he doesn’t walk away), but the toilet reducer for him is the worst thing in the world. He screams and cries like crazy. He even cries when he sees me going to the toilet…. any thoughts? He tolerates the mini potty (when not resisting potty altogether) but he won’t let me walk away (for me to give him privacy, he has anxiety about being alone).
If your little one will sit on the potty, but does not want you to leave, you can offer privacy by busying yourself in the bathroom. For instance you can clean the shower or sink or respond to an email on your phone (you can pretend if you don’t really feel up to it).
Basically you are offering privacy, but are still there. 😊
hi Andrea, we started EC with 6 months with easy catches (morning pee etc), holding over toilet. That was pretty easy to manage. At one point (after three months) she refused to be hold over the toilet and we slowed the process down. Now, 13 months old, we bought the potty and the seat for the normal toilet. But it seems like she is afraid of both. We tried your sitting tipps but still she wont sit on the toilet. Any other idea? Thanks in advance.
I would try airlifting to the potty mid pee or poo.
Also, try some role playing with some stuffed animals or a doll on the potty. Make it fun and try to get her to laugh. Kids learn best through play 😊
Hi andrea! We have been doing EC with our girl since 10 months old. She has done really well up til last 2 weeks. She started telling us when she would have to go about 2 months ago, started pooping on the potty around 5 months ago (she had some bouts of constipation which made pottying for poops impossible). We did have some consistency issues with offering and also due to poops being off, which i feel made things last a lot longer then they should have i.e. keeping her in diapers. but all in all it was going well. The past month she has had some constipation again, she is learning words left and right and we think she is about to get some molars in….so a lot going on. I have also had trouble sleeping so i do have some extra tiredness and whatnot going on personally. So i definitely see how that all would effect her. We backed off, 1 re-read your book and we would basically only offer after sleep (morning, nap) and around when she would normally go after eatting and right before her bath, For a week it went well. now 3 weeks later she wants nothing at all to do with the potty 90% of the time- screams and arches back even though she definitely needs to pee ( she pees the second the diaper is one). I can sometimes get her to sit after her 2nd meal/before nap when she needs to go or right after nap, but it is like 1/2x in a week. I should add she does not take off her own pants as she has had no interest in that though we model it and tell her about it. So what on earth do we do?? DO we put underwear on now instead odf diapers? Will that not make her mad to feel and see all the pee? She is 21 months old.
First off, You got this! EC is not linear and can become frustrating when we aren’t gracious and patient with ourselves. It sounds like she is going through a lot developmentally which can cause some resistance. Backing off like you have is 100% okay. Tiny trainers would be a great place to start as a transition out of diapers. They are great training tools to help solidify that mind-body connection and encourage her to go in the potty to avoid being wet.