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My Son has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, I Need Help Potty Training


​My son has ODD. I was wondering if you could give me some ideas on how to address his negative behaviors and how to get him toilet-trained? Thank you.


potty training

Thank you so much for emailing in. We are guessing that your son is around 3 years old, based on the potty-training question. There is such a wide variety of strategies on potty-training. We would suggest you  visit the website, to see if any of the books there look like they would be helpful.

We would recommend that you potty-train your son the same way as if he was not struggling with behavioral issues. Be very matter-of-fact with him, use words he will understand, remain calm even when there are mishaps and messes, and keep these three steps in mind when addressing potty-training as well as his behaviors:

  1. Teach:  Teach your son what the expected behavior is. Say it with words. Show it with actions. Read it with pictures. This is a skill, just like riding a bike or reading, so teaching is the first step. You can even begin your teaching weeks before you actually start in order to familiarize him with the routine.
  2. Practice:  Like any new skill, your son has to practice potty-training over and over again to get better at it. A good time to start potty-training is when you or his daily caregivers have a lot of time to practice with him. It is also easier if he wears clothes (light shorts or sweatpants) that are easy to pull up and down so he can be a part of the entire process. Pants with hard-to-open snaps or stiff jeans will probably take too long to pull down, and when he is learning to sense when it is time to go, that long wait will just lend itself to more accidents.
  3. Frequently repeat Steps 1 and 2.

Here are few more suggestions to consider as you start this adventure:

  • When you first begin, take your son to the toilet hourly.
  • Some kids are afraid of the "big loud appliance," so using a little potty seat is a good thing.
  • Get him used to the routine. He won't go every time, but have him sit down on the toilet. This will give him practice pulling his pants up and down and washing his hands after using the bathroom.
  • When he does go, praise him. When he is able to go standing up, one way to avoid messes is to put a Cheerio in the toilet and have him aim at it. 

When he does have an accident, make him be part of the clean-up team. This is not a punishment, just a natural consequence. He can help wipe up any messes, clean himself up and put wet clothes in the laundry. He also needs to get new pants from his bedroom and change. Many times, kids at this age wet their pants because they don't want to leave an activity they are doing; it interrupts their fun. By making him do the entire clean-up routine, he will learn that he misses a lot of play time when he has an accident. You can say something like, "When you go potty in the toilet yourself, you will be able to get back to your toys much more quickly."

Praise is very important here. Give praise when he initiates a trip to the bathroom, even if he does not go. Give praise even if he tinkles a little in his pants, but then remembers to head to the bathroom. Give praise if he gets his hands all sudsy when he washes up afterwards. This will take a lot of time and patience on your part, but it is worth it. 

For misbehaviors, follow the same three steps we mentioned earlier. If you teach and practice, and he still continues to misbehave, give an age-appropriate consequence (time-out) that fits the "size" of the misbehavior. Then reteach your expectations again, and send him on his way. 

Boys Town actually has a book, "Help! There Is a Toddler in the House!," that has lots of other good parenting advice. You can purchase it at Feel free to call the Boys Town National Hotline® (1-800-448-3000) for additional help if you hit a brick wall with these strategies.