Tough Toddler Talk

Amity asked us 2 questions about her spunky little girl, so we thought we’d put them together and focus on the common theme. Enjoy!

Hi Mamas,

My 29-month-old toddler was potty trained very near perfectly for about 3 months and now she has decided she will not use the potty. She just started going all over the floor and wants to wear a diaper again. She knows exactly what to do and just chooses not to go on the potty. How can we help encourage her without waging a battle about this? It is beyond frustrating for everyone! Just when we thought we were done with diapers, it is very disheartening to take a huge step backward. Help!!


My 2+ year old refuses to allow me to brush her teeth. If I want to brush her teeth, I basically have to hold her down and force it. I hate doing this to her but I don’t want her to get cavities. She is taking fluoride everyday and drinking water, but is that enough? Which is the lesser of two evils? Thanks!

Dear Amity,

As you may have noticed when you sent in your questions, both center around the issue of control — your little firecracker’s control over her own body.

At this age, toddlers are starting to master control of their bodily functions, which is why potty training was a snap – at first. They are fascinated by what comes out, what it looks like and feels like, and the power they have over it.

Your daughter is gaining physical control over her bladder and bowels, and has now figured out that she can use that to influence your behavior, too. When she goes on the floor, or demands a diaper, chances are she’s getting a big reaction from you, and maybe some pleading, offers of bribes, and more. She may look like a small-fry, but she’s got big power and she’s owning it!

The same is true of toothbrushing. Those are her teeth, and by-golly she’ll decide who messes with them, and when. Have you been bitten yet?

In both cases we’d suggest that you resist forcing the issue and try to dial back your reaction, because she’s playing you. When you get into a battle of wills with a toddler, no one wins.

With potty training — follow her lead, but don’t offer the privileges of the potty trained, because she isn’t acting like one. It’s frustrating after you’ve come so far, but the regression will be briefer if you can put your disappointment aside, take a neutral attitude, and let her drive the train.

So put away those cute Dora underpants you got her, and put her in a diaper if she asks for it. Let her know that her underpants will be back when she chooses to go in the potty, acknowledging that she’s the boss here. Yup, it IS her body, but it’s your couch and carpet.

With toothbrushing, have her choose her own toothbrush and toothpaste (preferably with one of those tacky, but irresistible characters she loves) and encourage her to play with them whenever the situation allows. In the tub, before bed, whenever. Brush your own teeth while she’s watching and engage her in a game — races work well, so do offers to time her (how fast can you put toothpaste on?). Yes, you’ll have some messes, and lots of wasted, gooey toothpaste, but that’s OK. Once she gets into it she’ll take over and do it herself.

Her teeth will not get cavities and rot in the meantime. Remember, back in the day kids typically didn’t get their teeth brushed at all until they could do it themselves, and that was before fluoride. Her pearly whites will survive this transitional period just fine.

And never forget, you ARE smarter than your toddler, even little smarty-pants.

Good luck!

~ The Mamas

We love getting all of your questions and want to give you everything that our combined brains have to offer. So keep sending them in! But if you are looking for a more personal touch with lots more detail and follow up, please visit us at and to find out about the royal treatment. You deserve it, Mamas!

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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