Little boy with his pants downPotty Training and Parent Pie

A lot of parents express that they’re at their wits’ end with potty training. They say they have tried everything from rewards and charts, to stickers, bribes and positive reinforcement, and NOTHING has worked!

This is a difficult situation, and not unusual, especially for boys. 

A child can be well into the potty training process, then for one reason or another, a new baby comes along, or something completely different happens, and potty training either stops, or begins having set backs.

It’s normal for a child to regress a bit when a major life event happens. It’s common when a new baby arrives for an older child to begin having accidents or to wish to return to baby status by being in diapers again.

Most of the time the reason why this happens lies in the way the child has interpreted things through his immature reasoning. When that happens, I suggest parents begin by looking at the situation through the eyes of a child. 

Parents begin potty training when they sense their child is ready and able to potty train. Success happens partly because the child is enjoying the praise and love his parents send him when he’s successful. This praise is a subconscious emotional pay-off that works to support his success with potty training, until it gets misinterpreted when baby #2 comes along.

What is “Parent Pie”?

When a second baby arrives an older child may begin having more potty accidents than his potty successes. Parents see that as failing at potty training. The truth is the potty training hasn’t failed, the child’s focus shifted. 

The child used to get a pay off from the praise associated with his potty training successes, and now when issues crop up, he (most likely) begins getting his pay off from the comments made about his lack of success.

There’s a good reason why this happens; I called it Parent Pie. 

To a child, the amount of positive attention and emotional energy a parent gives feels like a fabulous snack that he loves and craves, it’s like getting a slice of a delicious “Parent Pie.” The problem is, due to his immature reasoning, he also perceives getting negative attention as a slice of Parent Pie too; it’s just a smaller slice.

Think about how you handle things when you’re disappointed that your child has had an accident? You stop what you’re doing, look him in the eyes, and lower your voice to show him you mean business. In other words, you completely focus on him, and he eats it up. That’s a lot of Parent Pie!

He knows, because he experiences it everyday, that his lack of success on the potty keeps mom occupied with him. His immature reasoning incorrectly has him concluding that mom is choosing him over the baby.

This is not something that only occurs with sibling rivalry or potty training. Parent Pie can happen with any issue since it’s all about your child’s effort to get more of your focused attention.

The Potty Training Solution

Potty training becomes a success when a child makes the connection between a full bladder, the need to stop playing so he can go potty, and the fact that this is his responsibility, not his parent’s. 

In order for that to happen, a parent needs to stop being in charge of the toileting like they did when he was in diapers. As soon as you know that your child has the basic knowledge and experience to go potty, let go. Become uninterested. Adopt the attitude that he’ll go potty when he goes potty. Stop any negative comments so the child isn’t gaining Parent Pie through negative attention. Don’t mention accidents, don’t give lectures, make no comments, nothing. Just silently help him change or clean up, or if he’s old enough, let him do it himself.

Boundaries When Wet

Of course you can set boundaries about being wet. You can say, “You can’t sit on my sofa when you’re wet, pull up a chair.” Or, “I can’t give you a hug because you’re wet, but I can give you an air hug.” You’re not punishing him for being wet; you’re just giving him boundaries because he’s wet.

A Sneaky Tip

Consider loading him up with water, juice and popsicles to fill his bladder so he gets the opportunity to be successful as often as possible. And since rewards haven’t worked up to this point, don’t give him rewards when he succeeds, or you’ll be setting him up to believe the normal things you’re supposed to do in life all come with rewards, and they don’t! 

I’m not saying you should ignore him when he has an accident; I’m simply suggesting that you become aware of your words in order to watch the amount of negative attention your child is digesting with his Parent Pie.

Potty training is all about Control: Yours, Mine, and Ours. This article shares ways to work with child and parental control.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

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