Toilet training the strong-willed child

By Tracy Fulwood, Pottytraining.com.au

Whether you are toilet training, eating vegetables, or trying to get dressed in the morning, the strong-willed child can put our patience to the test. They push the boundaries at every opportunity and will often choose to do the exact thing that you don’t want them to do. They are very clever like that. So clever, they often reach “terrible-twos” at eighteen months.

When it comes to toilet training, the strong-willed child has been identified as one of the two personalities that are the hardest to toilet train. In fact, the research was gender specific and the strong-willed little girl was the key player. The challenge lies when you try to tell them what to do - they just don’t like it. When you are wired to take over the world, don’t expect compliance.

In the Know Your Child system we call the strong-willed child the Courageous Lion, hear me roar. They are independent, their favourite words are “I do it” and they are very capable and switched on, seeming able to pick things up quite quickly. They are highly motivated to get their own way.

Their challenge lies in the fact that they want control. When toilet training, they can feel out of control and tend to be key contenders for constipation issues and UTIs because they don’t like the out of control feeling of going. They are very good at holding on.

If you are telling your strong-willed child what to do you will be getting refusal. They will do the opposite of whatever you are requesting, simply to prove the point - I am the boss.

The good news is, they are the easiest to toilet train.

This is where understanding your child can make all the difference. You just need to fulfil their ultimate need, which is control. This of course does not mean give them control, that is disastrous. I cringe every time when I hear parents counting to three. More often than not, the child knows it is mere idle threats that won’t be followed through with. This is highlighted when parents stop at two, knowing they still aren’t going to get obedience from their child at that point and will look silly when the reach three and have nowhere to go. You are just giving your child full control with that method. If they haven’t done what you asked the first time, then they are dictating the situation. Full stop. You need a strategy to address (or better still, prevent) the first act of defiance. They know they have already gotten away with it so there is no reason to stop here and will keep pushing the limits, because obviously they have been shown they can.

Every child needs boundaries, but you will find parenting the Courageous Lion very difficult if they aren’t in place from the beginning. Surprising enough, your child’s need for control is escalated if you are letting them get away with undesirable behaviours. They will act up more when they feel out of control, so firm boundaries that are set in place and followed through with are integral for their security. There is just a better way to do this in order to create harmony in the household. And believe it or not, you can have harmony with the strong-willed child. They will never stop testing you on a daily basis, that is just who they are, and you don’t want to “change” them anyway, they are amazing personalities. We just need to help them use their powers for good not evil.

So how do we do this? The answer seems so simple, that parents can find it hard to believe that this is the solution. One key strategy to help your Courageous Lion act the first time, willingly, is choices. Where either choice they make you get what you want.

“Do you want to throw the Yum Yums in the toilet or blow bubbles?” 
“Do you want to read the Dumpy Dump Truck book or the Zoo Poo book?” 
“Do you want to pull down your pants yourself or mummy help?”

Doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is a choice, where either choice they make they are sitting on the toilet. And you are totally in control now, without telling, forcing, yelling, bribing… counting, etc. Simply by using the right words and understanding ‘why?’, your strong-willed child will respond positively. Imagine if you missed something so simple, because you just didn’t know.

One mum I was speaking to responded, “But, she will want to pull her pants down herself, I don’t need to ask her that.” Exactly. That is not the point of the exercise. Of course the “I do it” child will pull down their pants themselves. We know this. That is what makes them so easy to toilet train. They have all the independence factors mastered first. Once you help them overcome their control issues, they are toilet trained.

When you give your Courageous Lion the “illusion of control” through choices, they feel like they have made the decision themselves. This fulfils their needs and helps them relax to go. Battle of wills gone.

You don’t give them a choice where they can lose. “Do you want to poo on the toilet or in your nappy?” If you don’t want to them to poo in their nappy or pants, then don’t offer it as an option. Remember, you are controlling this. Choose what you want to happen.

The exciting thing is, that once you know your child, you can use it for every aspect of parenting. We apply it to toilet training so you can toilet train quickly and without the stress! Referring back to the opening sentence, you now have the power.

“Do you want to eat five peas first or two carrots?”
“Do you want the water in the red cup or the blue cup?”
“Do you want to wear the yellow dress or the pink one?”

With three children myself, I know, parenting is not easy. But we can certainly make it easier or harder on ourselves, and our child, based on what we say and do. When a parent is pulling their hair out, struggling with a child that refuses to do anything they want, it really is devastating when you look at the alternative. Imagine missing out on harmony in your household, simply because you didn’t know. Particularly when the solutions are so easy to implement.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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