If you search: How to potty train my toddler on Google, you will see headlines like: “Say Goodbye to the Diapers in 3 Days” and “Try This Fool-Proof Method to Potty Training Your Toddler Fast.”
While it might be true that some children do learn to use the potty in three days and that the “fool-proof” method works for some kids, the reality is, all children learn differently, and what works for one child is not going to work for every child.
New Skills Take Time
Let’s take away the pressure of saying goodbye to diapers in three days.
Let’s look at potty training as potty learning.
Our children are learning a new skill that takes practice and patience to master. When they learn to do things like walk and talk, eat with a spoon, and share their toys – we model, narrate, let them practice, and encourage them. We can do the same thing when they are learning to use the potty!
Let’s look at some practical tools you can use when potty learning feels tough.
Make Being on the Toilet Appealing
It’s important to pair the potty with something enjoyable, not something that only takes them away from fun things. Sometimes they will have to leave their friends, the game they are playing, or the show they are watching to go to the potty. Giving them a special box of toys and books to use when they sit on the potty can help them view this as a more enjoyable task.
It can be helpful to start changing your child in the bathroom and then dumping out the contents of their diaper into the toilet. This helps the child see that this is the place where toileting happens. Forming this connection will help them know where to go in the future when they have to pee or poop.
Follow Their Lead
A common misconception is that children should be starting to use the potty as soon as they turn two. It’s important to remember that each child learns at their own pace, and rushing them to understand the potty before they are ready can actually make this experience more challenging.
Some clues that your child may be ready to start learning about the potty include:
- Showing interest in the potty
- Telling you they want underwear
- Wanting to practice sitting on the potty
- Feeling uncomfortable in diapers.
When you notice that your little one seems interested in the potty, present them with opportunities to try it out. This might start with them sitting on the potty – first with their clothes on, and as they become more comfortable, you can encourage them to try sitting on it before a bath. After they have practiced just sitting, they may slowly move to trying to go pee.
If you start potty learning and it’s not working, it’s ok to take a break and reset and try again in a few days, weeks, or even months when you feel they are ready.
When we follow our child’s lead and let them show us when they are ready, it will make the whole potty learning experience so much easier on all of us.
One of the best ways to avoid power struggles and tantrums with children in any situation is to offer choices.
Allowing your child to control pieces of the potty learning process gives them a sense of power and autonomy as they learn this new skill. Some examples of choices we can give our children include letting them:
- Choose their new underwear.
- Choose a toy they can hold while on the potty.
- Choose if they want to go to the potty before or after brushing their teeth.
- Decide to try it on their own before you ever start a structured program.
Giving our children the opportunity to make choices not only helps us to avoid power struggles, but it also helps them develop their decision-making skills and independence!
Storytelling is by far one of my favourite tools for teaching children! Most children can easily relate to stories, and we can use this tool during the potty learning process as well.
We can tell them a story about when we were young and learning to use the potty:
“I remember when I was young, and I started to use the potty. At first, it felt funny! I wasn’t used to doing it. It got easier over time, and I loved how I could be so independent and didn’t need to use diapers anymore!”
We can also tell them the story of their success, even if they are small successes:
“Going on the potty feels tricky sometimes; you tried to sit on it today!”
“You tried to pee, and a little came out! You got it right in the toilet!”
Avoid Making a Big Deal Out of Accidents
Many traditional potty training methods will have you make a big deal about accidents. It can be so frustrating when it feels like we are constantly cleaning up after accidents. Sometimes it feels like the only way to stop our children from having accidents is to use punishments.
The truth is, ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN. The way we respond can make a big difference. Big reactions to accidents can add pressure to our children to learn this skill that is already incredibly complex. Eventually, our children may begin to feel that they can’t live up to this pressure, resulting in even more accidents.
Another reason big reactions are not helpful is that they show children, “when I do this, I get a big reaction from my parent.” If your child seeks this connection time with you, they may use accidents for extra time together.
Finally, big reactions around accidents can cause our children to feel shame. When our children feel shame around toileting, they will be less likely to come to us when they have an accident or even when they need to go.
Instead, we want to expect and embrace accidents. When we take away the pressure of accidents, we will see less of them!
“Accidents are how we learn. That feeling in your body you just had before you peed… that is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to go to the bathroom! This is your body’s way of learning to pee on the toilet.”
“You started to pee. That’s ok. I’m so glad you told me! Let’s quickly go to the bathroom in case there’s more, and then we will clean it up together.”
Trust + Time
Trust that your child will learn how to use the potty.
All children learn in their own way at their own pace. Don’t worry if your child’s friends are all using the potty and your child isn’t. Use these tools to support your child with this learning process, and trust that they will use the potty when they are ready!