5 proven ways to engage your child with potty training (and avoid battles)!

In their amazing book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen”, Faber and Mazlish outline 5 skills to help you engage your childs cooperation. This post explains how you can apply these 5 skills to potty training to help make it a success.

The following scenarios are extreme examples, and I am sure none of you would speak to your child this way, but I include them here to highlight each skill and the difference that they can make to how things might come across from your child’s perspective.

Skill 1: Describe what you see or describe the problem

Instead of: “You’re not paying attention!” or “You always forget to go potty when it’s time” “Why don’t you ever do as I say?”

Try: “I see you need to go potty”

Instead of: “How may times do I have to tell you to use your potty when you need a wee!?”

Try: “Your potty is right there for you” 

Children of this age don’t really understand that you are asking them a rhetorical question and it’s also hard to do what’s needed when people are telling you what’s wrong with you.

When you simply describe the problem, your child has a chance to solve the problem and tell themselves what to do in this situation.
Changing your language to take the “you” out of the equation will sound less accusatory.

Skill 2: Give them information

Instead of: “Who has done this poo on the floor?”

Try: “Poo goes in the potty” 

Instead of: “You never use your potty when you need to go, do you?”

Try: “It would be really helpful if next time you used your potty when you need a wee or poo” 

Simple information is easier to process and learn than accusations are. When you give children information, they can usually work out what needs to be done for themselves. This gives them a chance to show you that they can be responsible.

Skill 3: Say it with a word

Instead of: “I’ve been asking and asking you to go to the potty and all you’ve done is ignore me, messed about and you said you would do it 5 minutes ago and I don’t see any sign of this happening anytime soon!”

Try:Potty time!” or “potty first” or “toilet time!”

Less is more! Children don’t like lectures and long explanations. Shorter is better.

Skill 4: Talk about your feelings

Instead of:  I’m so sick of you wetting/pooing your pants! You’re really annoying me and making life hard for me!”

Try: “Keep your pants dry/clean” or “I like it better when you do what I ask”

Children need to hear your honest feelings, but it must be delivered in a way that they can understand what to do about it. By describing what we feel, we can be genuine without being hurtful. It’s possible to cooperate with someone who is expressing irritation or anger, as long as you’re not being attacked. If you’re not feeling like you can be patient, tell your child that it might be better for you if you talk about it later when you can give them the attention they deserve. Be careful with this one if your child is very sensitive and only say things you think they can cope with and understand.

Skill 5: Write a note

If your child can read, a note saying something like “poo in the potty please!” or “Help Mr Wee get to the beach today!” might help. If your child can’t read yet, try drawing a simple picture of what you need to happen, to inspire them. (This is particularly helpful for children with ADHD or other executive function issues who may need a visual reminder of every step of the process or the end result to prompt them.)


Using these skills can encourage your child to cooperate with you without leaving bad feelings. So that you are prepared for the moment when it happens, practice how you might try one of these before you get the chance, so you can see how different it might feel to think about things from this perspective. Maybe using these skills can also help in other areas of parenting too!

Getting stuck?

Talk to Rebecca about a private consultation or check out one of our courses for more support.

We love how to talk so kids will listen!

Here’s the full book details. You can also consider joining this amazing group by Sarah Parkes for more practical parenting  tips and support. You can also listen to my episode on Sarah’s podcast or watch the video.

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