Potty training can be a stressful time for both toddler and parent. As a mother, grandmother, and childcare provider of many decades, I’ve been part of many, many potty training failures and successes. I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way that may remove the stress from this very important step in your child’s development.
Don’t start too soon. Potty training is appealing for many reasons. Saving the cost of diapers and no longer going face to face with the pooh while changing diapers are just two of them. But it is to both of your advantages to not rush, to wait until the child is really ready before beginning potty training. Although some children are successful much earlier, the most effective age for potty training seems to be between 28 and 36 months (2 yrs 4 months and 3 yrs old.) The child must not only be able to recognize the signs (feeling) that they need to potty and poop, but they must also be able to control their bodies to hold and release their urine and stool on request. Parents need to understand no amount of ‘teaching’ can make a child control a body function if their body does not yet have that capability.
Be consistent but flexible. Do not boom-a-rang potty train. Begin using disposable training pants. The old-fashioned multi-layer cotton ones are great too – if you don’t mind washing them. Once potty training begins, diapers should no longer be used. It sends confusing messages to switch back and forth. Offer frequent, consistent opportunities to use the potty to include as soon as he or she wakes in the morning and from any nap, after each meal or snack, immediately before leaving or arriving home (or daycare or school) and of course before bed at night. In addition, learn your child’s signals. You will notice that he or she stands a certain way, makes a particular face, or has some other tell tale signal when they need to use the potty. When you see these signs, announce to the child that they need to use the potty and hurry them to do so. This will help them relate the sensations they feel at that time with the need to use the bathroom. Be prepared to change your schedule and/or be late as much as needed during this time. His or her last second rush to the bathroom must take precedence over your need to be on time.
Never punish for accidents. It is most important that you never lose your temper or show your frustration to your child for his or her accidents, and absolutely never punish or shame them for it. Negative reinforcement does more harm than good, often slowing or setting the process backward. Bribes also do not work in potty training. Again, a child cannot be forced to control a body function that simply is not yet fully developed. Positive reinforcement is always best, giving heavy praise when the child successfully uses the potty, stays dry for a period of time, or at the least, tries to go when you ask them to. Nothing motivates a child more than a warm hug and sincere, ‘great job buddy!’ from his or her parents.
Introduce big boy or girl underwear. Once your child is staying dry for periods of time consistently (wakes up dry each morning, goes shopping or on playdates without accidents, etc.) it’s time to introduce them to underpants. The bigger deal you make of this the better. Selecting styles with a favorite character or color can be a big incentive for a child. Begin by putting them on instead of training pants for an hour or two at a time to familiarize your child with the feel of wearing them. Increase the time spent in underwear as they continue to be successful. Once graduated to wearing them the majority of the time, it may still be wise to wear a pair of training pants underneath their underwear when you know a bathroom will not be available such as while in the car. Remove the training pants once you have reached your destination. This will prevent unavoidable accidents, which can be very important. Potty accidents, after periods of success, can be heartbreaking to a toddler.
Know when to consider it done. It’s important to allow your child to move at his or her own pace, but know when to consider it a success. It is not unusual for children to have occasional potty accidents well into their early elementary school years. Once your child is able to take his or her self to the bathroom and release both urine and stool as needed, potty training is complete. When he or she is wearing regular underwear consistently day and night, it’s time to celebrate. I love the idea of a graduation party. Make cupcakes, blow up some balloons, maybe invite grandma and papa or whoever else may be important to your child. Make a big deal of getting rid of the last pair of training pants; announce to the attendees that he or she is officially a big girl or boy.
Following these simple tips can remove the stress from potty training and allow you both to enjoy the first of many steps towards independence.