pottyJust the thought of potty training can cause parents to feel stress. I know it did for me. How should I introduce it? Will my child be ready in time for preschool? Exactly how many accidents will I have to clean up? These are some of the questions that went through my head as I prepared to train my almost two-year-old.  

You’d think I’d be ready, since I had an older child. But children can be totally different. My older daughter was a piece of cake; it was like she never wanted to be in a diaper.

Not my baby girl, a smart toddler with a strong-willed personality that wanted nothing to do with potty training!

As an early childhood professional, I am a true believer of letting your child show signs that they are eager to conquer a new task organically. But for my youngest, I was so confused.  She showed of signs of being ready, but our early efforts to train her flopped. I had to turn my “can’ts” into “cans,” try new strategies and encourage her growth. After several months of consistent effort, we had a potty trained toddler in our home . . . and it felt so good!

Signs of Readiness
As parents, it’s hard not to compare children and milestones. But kids are truly one of a kind, with their own rhythm and readiness. Here are a few some signs that your child is possibly ready to begin potty training.

  1. A decrease in wet diapers: if they are capable of waiting for a few hours in between wet diapers, they are more prepared to be toilet trained.
  2. They have the ability to undress: Potty training is much easier if they can pull down their pants by themselves. Practice doing this with them – it will also build their fine and gross motor skills!
  3. They are curious: They may follow you or a sibling to the bathroom to watch the process or ask questions about how the toilet works.
  4. Predictability: If your child is going at routine times of day, this can make toilet training easier because you can help them sit on the potty during these times.
  5. Desire: Some kids want the independence of using the potty –  and tell you so through words or actions.  If they show this desire, go with it!

All that said, if you’re truly concerned that your child is struggling or not interested, it never hurts to seek feedback from their pediatrician.

Okay, are they ready?! As with all things parenting, you need to find the methods that work for you.  But here are a few tips – from myself and other parents who have been there – that might make the process easier.

Potty Training Tips

  • Let go of pull-ups: Many of my mommy friends ditch the pull-up during potty training because it feels too much like a diaper and can be confusing for kids.
  • Freedom reigns: Some parents swear by “three complete days of nakedness.” Take a weekend, let them drink a lot of water and allow for tons of accidents as they learn to hustle to the potty.
  • Favorite undies: Some children are motivated by wearing “big kid” undies with a favorite character or object.  
  • Incentives: Sometimes a sticker, a special activity or a chocolate chip for using the potty can kick in the enthusiasm. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable giving candy, don’t do it. Do what works for you and your child.
  • Special toys: One mother shared with me that she purchased a toy that her child could only hold during potty time. What a way to get your child to sit still! That is, if they can set it down without having a meltdown once potty time is over . . .
  • Sing it!: Trying including songs as part of the routine! My now three-year-old still sings Daniel Tiger’s “When you need to go potty, stop and go right away” while heading to the toilet.
  • Target practice: Make a game of it. One game a friend of mine suggested is putting a Cheerio in the potty to help boys aim.
  • Positive praise: The more you bring attention to positive behaviors, the more likely they will repeat these actions. You can say things like, “You said you needed to go potty and then you did it! Great job!” Try modeling positive self-talk: When you go to the bathroom, bring them along and then say, “I did it! I used the potty!”  
  • Clockwork: Time and structure is everything. Observe how long it takes your child to digest food or hold water and use this information to your advantage.

Finally, remember that patience is a virtue. The thought of not buying diapers is awesome, but when kids are rushed before they are ready, they are more likely to regress or develop anxiety about the process.  

Looking back in my parenting journal, I’ll leave you with this note that I wrote to myself:

Karter is just not ready to use the potty, or at least I didn’t conquer it this week. And I’m totally okay with that. She is excelling in areas, and reserved in others. I don’t blame her for wanting to be my baby for a little longer. I will continue to encourage her without being forceful. Often times we as parents rush our children to grow up, and then when they are older we wish they had stayed young. Enjoy your children just where they are. Nothing more precious than time…

More resources to help with potty training:

About Brandy Wells, LSW

Brandy Wells is a licensed independent social worker specializing in childhood mental health. She is mom of two little girls, Kennedy and Karter. And soon-to-be “Baby K!” She writes about practical parenting skills using her knowledge as a mental health professional on My Motherhood Magic.

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