When my twins were born, I suddenly had three children in diapers. The mess, the money, the smell, the waste, the fight to get clothes on and off—ugh, it was a lot. As much as I hated dealing with diapers, I never felt the need or desire to force my kids into potty training. I had heard stories about parents training their children as babies to use the bathroom by observing their body language and then getting them to a toilet before an accident happened. I knew there were some parents who just took away the diapers and forced their way through getting their kid to use the toilet. No thanks. I had also been told not to stress about my kids learning to use the toilet. “You’ve never seen a college kid wearing diapers, have you?” Well…that’s a bit ableist, and I went to Penn State—I saw a lot of stuff.
My take on potty training was mostly relaxed and I followed my kids’ leads. While I did work with my son with more urgency than my daughters (preschool required students to be potty trained and he wasn’t quite there), I never put my kids through any rigorous or planned potty training bootcamp. You don’t need to either. Here is some advice from someone who no longer has kids in diapers.
They Need To Be Ready
That whole “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink” adage came from a parent who dragged their kid to the bathroom and asked them to pee on the potty. Don’t quote me, but it’s the same concept. Kids, toddlers especially, are stubborn AF and will do what they can to maintain control. If your child isn’t showing any interest in sitting on a toilet, wearing big kid underwear, and is totally cool sitting in their dirty diaper then hitting the start button on potty training will likely be frustrating for everyone involved and exhausting for you as you clean up another accident and start another load of laundry.
Thankfully my oldest was a toddler and was slowly becoming interested in potty training shortly after her siblings were born. Daycare had taken the lead and started to offer children the opportunity to sit on mini toilets after diaper changes. We bought a mini potty and encouraged her to try sitting on the potty at home. We used pull-ups for a bit but what really helped my daughter was wearing underwear she picked out. Between getting the hang of peeing and pooping on the potty and not wanting to mess up her underwear, the process clicked into place for her.
During the first couple of weeks, I was sure to remind my daughter to use the potty or would ask her to try to go if it had been an hour or two since her last attempt. There was some bribery at times and I used M&Ms to motivate her when she was reluctant, but I never threatened or forced my daughter to use the toilet. Yes, there were accidents on her part and anxiety about accidents on mine but there was never a power struggle.
Find The Right Potty And Way To Go
We tried a few different mini potties that my kids could sit on but my daughters didn’t love the urine splashing against them as they peed so I bought a seat insert that sat on the regular toilet seat. (A foldable one is great to keep in the car for trips to public bathrooms.) The insert had handles and I placed a step stool in front of the toilet so that they could easily get up and down.
My son was afraid of the big toilet but also hated the splashing that happened when he peed in the little potties. I attempted to show him how to pee standing up, but he didn’t like that option either. We practiced just sitting on the toilet with the lid down to get him used to the idea. Then I had him sit on the toilet seat insert with his clothes on and while holding his hands. That progressed into naked sitting while holding his hands. When he was ready to try peeing I taught him how to push his penis down so that I wasn’t getting hit in the stomach with urine as I squatted in front of him. Pooping took a bit longer and I threw away several pairs of underwear before he figured it out. He wanted to figure it out but it was just harder and a longer process.
There is no way my son would have been able to do a three-day potty-training camp just because I decided he was done with his diapers.
You Might Have Setbacks
Fighting your way through potty training is fighting a losing battle. Yes, potty training is tricky and exhausting at times but it should involve your child willingly participating or at least motivated to try with encouragement and rewards. Kids shouldn’t be reprimanded or punished for any potty training set backs or accidents. Rebecca Parlakian, senior director of programs for the child development nonprofit Zero to Three, says this about potty training kids, “They learn new skills through practice and repetition and opportunities to fail,” she says.
It’s okay if your child regresses during the day or nighttime accidents are still happening. There are several reasons why regression happens including constipation, a new home, new sibling, divorce, or accidents. Anxiety and shame can perpetuate the cycle of regression, so stay calm, and be sure to build up your kid’s confidence with praise. And keep an extra set of clothes handy at all times.
We need to be patient and gentle with our kids during this really big shift in time for them. Some kids are ready to start the potty training process between the ages of 18 and 24 months. Most kids are ready to start around the age of three. But every child is different. And unless they are the ones ready to ditch the diapers, everyone is going to struggle.