Got a parenting problem? Parentdish's agony aunt Liat Hughes Joshi and author of Raising Children: The Primary Years, plus her panel of experts from child psychologists to nutritionists, can help.
Q: My little boy is nearly three and still reluctant to use the potty. We started trying to train him when he turned two and are still at it. It's been going on for months and is not getting any better. If I take his nappies off he has accidents. If I leave them on, he doesn't want to use the potty. We've had comments about him still being in nappies from his grandma, another mum and even a stranger. What can we do? T.P., Somerset.
A: Potty training is surely one of the most stressful aspects of parenting preschoolers and comments from others (including older relatives who declare that their children 'were all out of nappies by 12 months') really don't help.
To deal with that side of things, if you haven't already, I'd formulate a cheery but firm set answer along the lines of , 'Well, I'm sure he won't be in nappies when he's 18. They all do it at different ages and it's not a race.'
That might silence your mother-in-law (possibly satisfying in itself!) but it's obviously not going to get your little boy out of his nappies any quicker.
Be aware that he could be picking up on any anxiety or disappointment you feel about him not being trained yet. It might seem like every other approaching three-year-old you know is fully dry day and night, but chances are that many will still be having accidents.
A recent survey by Real Nappies for London found that whilst 88% of children are potty trained by age three, that leaves a significant minority of 12% who are not. Boys are recognised as being a little harder to train than girls, with 20% still having accidents at three to four versus around 10% of girls. So the message is, relax because what you're going through is well within the bounds of normal.
Part of the issue for you and your son might be that he simply wasn't ready to start potty training at just turned two (at that age, some children are, many aren't and waiting until around two-and-a-half can make things quicker and easier). Possibly as a consequence, this has become a very protracted and no doubt stressful process for you – perhaps a battle of wills at times.
For now, I think you need a break from training and afterwards, a fresh start with all this. Take a week off and let him just wears nappies - don't even try and get him to use the potty, although by all means leave it out and if he chooses to go, offer lots of praise (and a reward if you like – see below). Advise his nursery or any other carers that you will be stopping for the week and that they should do the same.
I don't know exactly how you've approached training so far but I spoke to Heather Welford, author of NCT Successful Potty Training, about your situation and what you can do when you're ready to restart.
She advises that because your little boy is that bit older you could try going straight to the loo, skipping the potty stage altogether. It might well make him feel more grown-up – more like Mummy and Daddy – and as a bonus makes cleaning up easier.
Heather says: "Toddlers respond best to gentle encouragement, rather than huge pressure or any suggestion this is a big deal. So be pleased if he sits on or stands at the loo, even with clothes on. Make sure he feels comfy and safe. A box to rest his feet on will help."
I'd add that you should use of those smaller, toddler seats to make the loo less scary for him – some children feel insecure on the grown-up seat and fear they will fall in and even get flushed away! Something easy to keep clean such as the Tippitoes Toilet Trainer seat here will do the job.
Heather also suggests it's time to lose the nappies altogether for a while. "Try a week or so without nappies - yes that risks a lot of 'accidents', but at three he is probably able to develop control and he may respond quickly."
Make sure you choose a quieter week when you can stay at home a bit more so there's always a loo to hand.
It's vital not to get cross, show disappointment or punish him if he has an accident. Clear it up matter of factly, although it's fine to add a gentle 'next time let's try and get that in the toilet!'
Many parents find offering a reward when their child successfully 'produces' works well so perhaps you could use a sticker chart or give him a Smartie when he uses the loo?
Don't worry that you'll still be having to hand over a Smartie every time he goes when he's a teenager – he'll probably forget to ask for one after a few weeks of being trained.
Check out Liat's previous advice columns:
How can I encourage my six-year-old son to enjoy writing?
Should my ten-year-old walk to school alone?
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years.