The Heartbeat of Hope (On potty -training strong-willed children)

I’m happily welcoming back Ashley today. Her words give hope to this mama of a not-quite-completely potty trained boy, and I’ve a feeling I’m not alone. ~Kelly

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Several weeks ago, I really thought I’d never see this day.
My strong-willed son pooped in the potty for the fifth time this week, AND stayed dry through his nap.

Yes, I feel like such a mom for celebrating that achievement and slightly abashed to be using the word poop on a blog post.  But as my four year old daughter Abby told me last night,

“You shouldn’t talk about poop, Mommy. And speaking of poop, I just tooted. And I laughed so hard I might throw up!”

So, there you go. I shouldn’t talk about poop, but speaking of poop, FIVE times!

But back to Benjamin. We’d tried everything for potty training. Everything. And I was losing hope faster than a toilet flushes (or doesn’t flush in our case). We’d already successfully potty-trained one child, albeit a girl, so I knew the ropes and I knew we were doing what we should be doing, yet without any success.  The root of the issue was that Benjamin is a strong-willed child and he did not care to apply that strong will towards using the potty.  We had tried coaxing, encouraging, threatening, and scolding and all we found was that you can lead a child to the potty, but you can’t make him. . . well, you know.

So, I prayed. I walked and I prayed and I poured out my heart to God about Benjamin. He was wearing me down with his will. This conversation with God went on for several days. And God began to do the thing he does so well: impart wisdom.  He showed me it wasn’t just about the potty; it was Ben’s obedience as a whole. On the surface, it looked like several issues, but underneath it was one common root: obedience. That was my starting place.

Then I starting reading Dr. Dobson’s The New Strong Willed Child. Here,  I found my beloved son in the pages, and hope began to bloom again in my heart. He’s not alone; I’m not alone. There are many parents out there who have felt like I’ve felt and many strong-willed children who grew into mature, solid adults.

Hope is where it’s at. Hope is the heartbeat of the soul, like blood to the body. When the heart begins to despair, everything withers.

With Benjamin, I began to crack down on obedience. Obedience had always been a high priority for us, but we discovered, along with all parents of strong-willed children, you can’t fight every battle or your entire day will be a battle. It’s a balance to choose your battles without letting the child “rule the roost” as they say.  So, I began to shift that balance.

The effects were immediate and fierce. Ben rebelled against the changes. He spent several mornings and afternoons in time-out, hands in lap, facing the wall. He had to visit the potty every hour and sit there after lunch and dinner. He hated it and he fought back. I knew consistency was my best ally, but still it was hard. I was exhausted every evening.  I kept Ecclesiastes 7:8 on a note card by my desk:

The end of a matter is better than it’s beginning, and patience is better than pride.

And then, a turning point. The first bowel movement success, rewarded with a cherished Spiderman toy. (We had discovered that unlike our sweet-loving daughter, Benjamin was not motivated by food rewards.) And then another success, rewarded with a dollar-store bow and arrow set ($2). And then another.  In between all these little potty successes, another change was happening. Benjamin began to relinquish his fierce resistance.  He began to show a sweet side he’d been hiding for awhile. He would voluntarily hug me fiercely and tell me he loved me. For the first time, he submitted to the new potty schedule, even reading books on the potty on his own.

Dr. Dobson says that there are certain children who must test their authority very thoroughly before they will submit to their leadership.  I’m sure there are many more battles to come, but sometimes it seems like just when you think a phase is going to kill you, it passes. And for this little season, it seems we’ve been tried, tested and approved.

If you are a potty-training parent of a strong-willed child, take heart. There is hope. And after the storm, the calm is well-worth the effort

A believer and a dreamer. A pastor’s wife and a mama to three. A little creative and a little messy. Imperfection guaranteed. By the grace of God, I am who I am and His grace to me has not been without effect. Ashley blogs over at Little Pieces of Ordinary. A place where she shares how God reveals His grace to her through the everyday occurrences of life.


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8 thoughts on “The Heartbeat of Hope (On potty -training strong-willed children)

  1. Mandie

    I so needed to read this! Definitely going to look into Dr Dobson’s book for my two VERY strong willed boys. My three year old is not potty trained and I am just so frustrated with it all… and we have tried it all. Thanks for the hope.

    1. Ashley H.

      Mandie, believe me, I was at my wit’s end with it, too. Consistency really was the key for us. Making him sit every day after meals until he had success. Blessings to you on your journey!

  2. Emily Cook

    Oh, potty training is one of the most difficult things about being a mama, I think! I am so glad you have had a breakthrough! And there’s nothing wrong with blogging about poop- Hey, I actually have been known to DANCE about it! 🙂

    I am reading Dobson right now too and am also finding it incredibly helpful (but exhausting!) Stay strong mama! And call for backup when you’re not! 🙂


  3. Brandee Shafer

    I am glad to have read this, today, and I’m thinking I need to give Dr. Dobson a whirl. I felt like a parenting genius for 9 years before #2 came along. We call her the Wild Orange. I suspect that she would drive Mister Rogers to drinkin’.

    Congratulations on the potty success.

    I blog about poop so much that I have a poop category on my blog. I recommend embracing the word. Poop is funny to people of all ages.

    1. Ashley H.

      Brandee, I totally thought I was a parenting genius while parenting sweet little Abby! Ah, Benjamin has humbled me in so many necessary ways. 😉 I love my boy.

  4. Tracey J. Vessillo

    I am the mother of a strong willed child. I, too, read Dr. Dobson’s book…and like many of you, our family struggled mightily with the issue of bowel withholding (aka…refusing to poop in the potty) until our (now 11 year old) daughter turned four. Despite endless Google searches and countless calls to our pediatrician, none of the recommendations produced the desired results. Adding to the frustration was the lack of printed material regarding this particular potty training problem. Our lives revolved around four tiled walls what was NOT happening within them. Fueled by the desire to assist others gripped by this challenge, I decided to turn our family’s experience into a book and (finally) self-published “I Can’t, I Won’t, No Way!” A Book for Children Who Refuse to Poop. Available on (see reviews), it is one of the ONLY stories of its kind — written entirely from a child’s perspective. I can’t claim that it will solve the problem but, it will go a long way in helping both child and parent!

    I have learned to embrace the gift I have been given…the life that has been entrusted to my care. I believe it is about channeling the “will” without breaking the “spirit”… and am ever grateful for the amazing young lady who has taught me as much as I have taught her!


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