For most parents, potty training is a source of massive stress. Trying to get your little one to not only understand the mechanics of using the toilet, but to actively use it, is overwhelming. Not just for us parents — our kids feel the stress too. Despite our feelings about it, there are ways to make getting your kids on the potty easier, and they all have to do with re-framing the way you look at the process.
My son was a late potty trainer. He was only a couple months shy of his fourth birthday when he finally gave up diapers. I was definitely feeling the stress of potty training earlier, and I know he could feel it too. Eventually, I just said fuck it and stopped until he seemed more ready. Allowing him that time made the process so much easier when we really got into it.
Janet Lansbury, who is certified in parent/infant relationships, believes parents should back off when it comes to potty training. If parents focus more on supporting their kids rather than “training” them, the whole “toilet learning process” could be a lot smoother for everyone. She asks a valid question, “Why would we add toilet training to our already overloaded job description when doing less works just as well, if not better?”
She makes a good point. If potty training is so fucking stressful, why don’t we find ways to make it easier? Of course, there are times when it’s necessary (hello, preschools not accepting kids who aren’t potty trained.) But even then, there has to be ways we can allow our kids to feel like they’re active participants in learning how to use the toilet. It’s not like we’re training them on how to use a computer program. We’re trying to teach them to actively listen to their bodies when it comes to using the bathroom.
Lansbury has excellent steps for us to allow our kids the space to learn how to use the toilet versus training them to do so. As she points out, toddlers are defiant. Think about it. Your two-year-old’s favorite game is driving you batshit. That’s what makes them lovable assholes. If they fight you about everything from taking a nap to eating, why wouldn’t they give you a hard time about potty training? As soon as we try to force them into it, it’s practically guaranteed they will resist.
That’s why looking at it as toilet learning makes a lot of sense. Kids are learning to be in tune with their bodies to make relieving themselves easier. They already have the skills, so all we’re doing is introducing a change of venue. For some kids, it’s the change that’s difficult. Finding what makes them the most comfortable is key. There are little ones who feel more comfortable using a kiddie potty. Parents may be less than thrilled with this one because they’re gross to clean, but ultimately it’s not about you.
If your little one feels comfortable with going on the big potty, that’s awesome. There are certain things that will really aid their potty success. A seat that fits tiny tushies is imperative. You can get one they can put on themselves as needed, which is common. But there are also ones that attach to your toilet seat. Having their feet dangle may feel weird, so make sure you get them a little stool to rest on. This also really helps with leverage for pooping. Making the bathroom an appealing place is definitely helpful to the process.
For my son, the potty seat and stool was integral to him being able to successfully poop on the toilet. Having his feet flat but his knees elevated made it easier to push. Sure, it felt weird to him at first, pooping while sitting, but he caught on quickly.
Modeling behavior is also a great potty training or toilet learning tool. Our kids never leave us alone in the bathroom, so why don’t we turn it into a teaching moment? Saying something like, “My body feels like it needs to tinkle” illustrates that listening to your body is key. Describing what that feels like also clues them in to what they should be looking for. Kids are already intuitive when it comes to going to the bathroom. They’re not just peeing all willy-nilly in their diapers. The key is harnessing that intuition.
A lot of parents let their kids go naked from the waist down to teach them to trust their urges to pee. If your kiddo feels more comfortable with covering, offer them the choice of a diaper or underwear. Don’t admonish or punish them for the inevitable accidents. They’re still learning to trust their instincts.
Using physical cues is another tip Lansbury has for parents. All kids have a “tell” — their way of indicating their need to go. If we spend more time observing them and learning their tell, we can help them. “It looks like you need to go to the potty, would you like to try?” is a great way to encourage potty training. She also notes that we need to learn when to take no for an answer. Forcing them to go can create hesitation and an unwillingness to try using the toilet.
Ultimately, the emotional readiness is the hardest part of potty training for kids. Trying something new feels scary, even if they can physically handle it. As Lansbury points out, toddlers don’t get too many independent moments. Giving them the space to figure this out is huge. When they realize they can trust themselves, they will be more confident. And when they’re confident you see a lot less accidents and fear.
“There is no more powerful, confidence-building affirmation for toddlers than ‘I can do it myself,'” Lansbury says.
It’s hard to be less hands on with potty training. But if you give it a try and trust the process, your kids will surprise you. It doesn’t have to be stressful.