Potty training. We’ve all been through it ourselves and once we have children of our own we get to experience the side of it that our parents so kindly navigated when we were the little ones. Potty training can be exciting for parents, as the thought of never buying another diaper (or at least not going through so many if you have more than one child) sounds pretty incredible to most. But as joyous as that first potty experience may be, it can also be a cause for lots of stress for those involved. The thing to remember is that this is one of the biggest moments in your toddler’s life because they are moving beyond you just taking care of their needs. For many toddlers, the potty training experience is one of their first memories and one of the first things they do themselves on their own. It is not our job as parents to dictate how the process is done, but to help our child through the process and enjoy the experience together. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on this adventure:
1. Never make it about YOU!
It is easy to feel that you have to keep up with the Joneses in this department. When Nancy down the street says her daughter was potty trained at 18 months because they sat her on a potty while breastfeeding from birth, it’s hard not to feel that you’re behind for waiting until your child is 3 before even caring if they use the toilet or not. But here’s a little advice from a preschool teacher: most of the kids who potty trained very early have more accidents because they weren’t allowed the privilege of listening to their own bodies. It’s like Pavlov’s dogs – They learned to react on command, not by instinct. If you don’t have them on a timer or remind them every 5 minutes that they should try and use the potty, they go all over themselves, the carpet, outside in the mulch… you name it! True potty training should be called potty teaching as it really is more about teaching than training. A good teacher helps a child learn to react to their own needs so that they can do things on their own, not just react to a a sound or command. My point with this one is this: do not feel that you are doing something wrong because your child is 3 and still in diapers. It’s no big deal!
2. Be patient, but persistent
Once your child is ready (by ready I mean they have asked to use the potty on a regular basis, have asked you to change their wet/soiled diaper as soon as it’s happened, or willingly go with you at the suggestion of trying to use the potty) keep it up, but don’t expect it every time. Once the interest is there it can take up to a year to see the hard work pay off. Don’t push them if they are not interested. Don’t make them sit there for 5 minutes if they say they need to go and end up not going. Don’t get angry that they interrupted what you were doing just to sit on the potty so they can swing their legs back and forth singing every verse they know of the wheels on the bus for 5 minutes! Your patience will be tested – just go with it and know that this is part of the teaching process, helping your child make the brain to body connection. But be persistent! Just because they only pee in the toilet one out of every 7 attempts, doesn’t mean you should stop. Never discourage your child from sitting on the toilet nor say to them that you don’t think they have to go. Listen to them as they are learning how their bodies work. A simple cold shiver could make them feel like they have to go pee pee or they may just want to see what the inside of every bathroom in every store looks like. The point is keep going! It’s the persistence in helping them that pays off in the end. With patience and persistence you’ll both get there!
3. Realize that pull-ups are not all that helpful
They are just diapers in disguise. When your child is ready, go straight to underwear. I know it’s more laundry. I know it sometimes leads to a mess that has you gagging or just throwing clothing away. But it’s short lived this way. It does not take long for a child to realize the discomfort that accompanies a wet or squishy pair of undies against the skin. I’ve never had a child go beyond 2 weeks of daily accidents if they go straight to underwear, and I’ve been helping toddlers with this since 2002! Diapers/pull-ups are great for naps, bedtime, long car rides, tummy sickness, but for everyday use they do nothing to help teach a child to listen to their body. That’s all I have to say about that.
4. Bribes and treats do not teach
You want to help your child feel a sense of accomplishment. This is a HUGE milestone in their lives. You want to acknowledge them for all of their hard work! It’s only natural and they should be able to enjoy something as soon as a potty moment happens. But acknowledgment does not mean bribes or treats. Why? Because bribes don’t teach, they train. “You go to the potty, you get an m&m.” Child goes to potty, you give them a treat and a few weeks in you decide to stop. Child goes back to not using the potty. Why? Because they were trained to react to a desired command for a treat. I’m also not a big fan of using food as I feel that using food or withholding food can set up all kinds of eating disorders later in life. Instead, high fives and hugs go a long way to help your child feel like they are accomplishing something. The fact that you are there for every potty moment means more to them than eating a piece of chocolate.
5. Your child should be ready….and will be. Just let it happen!
We lucked out that our little guy was ready at two. He just decided one day that it was time to start going in the potty. My best friend’s son literally said to his Mom and Dad that he will use the potty when he turns 3. And on his third birthday he did and never went back to diapers. Some kids go later, some are earlier. The point is, your child will know when it’s their time. They are people and they know what their body is telling them. They will be fine so it’s nothing you should ever worry about. It will happen when it happens. As long as we as parents are encouraging, supportive, proactive, patient, calm, caring, and loving through the process, our kids will be just fine.