Potty Training 101
I really think we should keep tabs on how many diapers we change! When these guys are teenagers with attitude, we should just keep reminding them of just how much we did for them! It is indeed a major celebration for every parent when we can convince these strong-minded toddlers that the coolest thing in the world is indeed to sit on that throne and say bye-bye to diapers.
I really believe that each child is so unique, and the truth is that in this particular endeavor, the parents feelings and attitude matter a lot as well. There are so many new and groovy books that are written nowadays, and I don’t discourage you from reading them as some have really fun and novel ways of approaching this sometimes stressful process. But after working with children for over 31 years, I hope to offer you some general pointers that just may help.
I think parenting is a lot about choosing your battles. And although I want you to scream when something is dangerous, and really make them brush their teeth, I just don’t think you can force them to poop on the potty. So I would begin by saying that this process is almost 100% child-led. This idea of a naked boot camp weekend, and by Monday Johnny is full potty trained just doesn’t work in most cases. When Johnny was just about all ready, a stronger nudge might done the trick, but if children really don’t want to use the potty, they will often play their card, rebel, hold it in, and get constipated. Constipation is actually a very common and sometimes chronic problem. It becomes intensely behavioral, but it starts with a physical feeling that is annoying and painful, and then your little guy says, “I am just not going to go!” And then things get worse.
So please always avoid or at least help with constipation, especially around these potty training months. Keep it soft and flowing, and that at least will prevent an obstacle and give you the best chance to have your little one keep an open mind about the process.
As it is really child-led, some people wait, and literally don’t even discuss the idea of the potty. And that is ok! I mean no pediatrician should tell a parent when to potty train. I think each interaction is a delicate and unique balance, and I want both child and parent to go at their own pace. But in most cases, the child around 15-18 months is actually becoming more aware of their bodily functions. They may make certain faces after they go, or point to their diaper as if to tell you they just went. Well, this may be called the first step! I think potty training is like driving a stick shift car. Your child is controlling the speed at which they will be willing to drive, and you are unfortunately often stuck in first gear for a long time!
But if your child is showing signs they are willing to go into the next gears, then you should be ready to help them shift gears and allow the car to drive a bit faster! When your child is first showing interest, or at least a willingness, you should get that first potty, and just make it oh so cool!
You can decorate the potty with stickers, and perhaps save special activities that you do, whether it’s reading a book, playing a quick game, or telling a fun made-up story while they sit on the potty. No actual result is needed, but you are celebrating their willingness to sit and befriend the potty. Of course, the moment they resist or show a fear, just take a break. Change something up, and try again. I like the ideas of sticker charts, and reading books about potty training, or watching videos, but don’t use all of your tricks before they seem more ready. Indeed it can take a full year before they are willing to feel the urge, hold it in, run to the potty and do their business!
Many like to take the portable potties on the go, just to keep things consistent. Try to keep it as light-hearted and without pressure. You just don’t want them to rebel and develop an aversion to it. You’ll see them go in spurts, where things seem like they are really getting closer, and then it will lag or slow down for a few weeks. In many cases, it takes them seeing a buddy or cousin who can do it. And all of a sudden they just decide they want to go for it!
It honestly runs the full gamut, where some kids are full trained at 2, but many are still not fully trained by 3.
In some cultures they find a way to read the child’s cues and faces so well, that the child can be trained closer to 9-12 months old! But this is really the parent training themselves to read the baby, and doesn’t fully mean the child will go on their own when fully mobile.
There are of course the stubborn ones, and often these kids are the incredibly intelligent and super strong minded ones, who refuse to use the potty until 4, but this is not common.
For most, number one is easier, and number two comes later. Many will still wear a pull up at night for a full year more, or until around 4. I aim for daytime control first, and really don’t push the night time - let that come naturally.
Sticker charts and even M&M’s are all fair game when it comes to convincing these guys. I say don’t push, but a little nudge is fine. You plant the seeds, water and nurture it gently, and it will grow I promise. They won’t go to college in diapers!
So explore your feelings on it, as you count too! And be sincere. Don’t just follow one specific book or model - follow your heart. This is just one of many stages where your child wants to feel your true support and encouragement, and not see your stress or feel like a failure. So keep it light and fun and keep the faith! It will happen…when they are ready.