Just as babies hit various developmental milestones in the first year of life and beyond, so do we, moms.
Nailing the latch, surviving sleep regressions, embracing your new body, and going on a girls’ night out—these are only some of the most memorable markers moms hit along the motherhood trail. While they may receive less fanfare than our child’s, these often-uncelebrated sweet spots of parenting life can make an ordinary day feel magical.
One milestone that parents both dread and look forward to the most (which, by the way, is just as stress-inducing and pressure-driven as other milestones in life) is succeeding in this sticky, stinky business called potty training.
The Secret to Potty Training Success
I started dreaming of a life without diapers on my son’s first birthday. The desire to go diaper-free didn’t come from my little human, though—it was mostly me and the pressure from my Facebook newsfeed where almost every week some toddler is being praised for their fantastic work in the bathroom.
Aaand, also because the MIL had been giving me the “Oh, so your kid still pees and poops in a diaper?” look.
We were at the in-laws’ and I was changing my kid’s third diaper for the day when the MIL chimed in and shared how she potty trained all of her six kids at seven months.
What?! No way! Please excuse me while I pick my jaw up off of the floor and eat my toddler’s diaper.
Because I was amazed by her revelation, I asked how she did it. “Oh, it’s easy. You just have to pay attention to your baby and look out for cues to know when he needs to pee or poop,” she said.
I admire and secretly envy her for having the time and patience to stare and stalk her tiny humans all day, but I wasn’t confident I could do the same. So upon returning home, I did what any other neurotic, anxious mother would do: I Googled.
I read parenting forums and devoured every article I can find about potty training—from “Potty Train Your Child in 3 Days” and “How to Potty Train in a Week” to “Toilet Train Your Toddler in 5 Easy Steps.” I was convinced that if other moms can toilet train their toddlers in a week or less, so could I. So I ditched the diapers for a week, bought a toddler potty chair, and got to work.
I tried naked time, took him to the potty every 15 minutes, cheered for him, and belted out Frozen’s Let it Go. For a week, I spied on my kid with my sharp eagle eyes, obsessively looking out for the slightest facial expressions and movements that signaled pee or poop time. It was exhausting. I wanted to return my kid to the manufacturer because, dang, how could they forget to add a potty training switch parents can quickly flip?
A month had passed and nothing improved. Feeling like a complete and utter failure, I waved the white flag and bought another pack of diapers. “Easy there,” my mom said, sensing my defeat. “He won’t wear a diaper to prom, I promise.”
A year and around 900 diapers later, however, my kid suddenly walked up to me and said out of nowhere, “Mama, can I go pee in the bathroom like papa?” Cue in angels singing at the gates of Heaven, please!
And that was it. True story.
So if there’s one advice I can share to potty training mamas. It’s this: Don’t.
Don’t rush potty training.
Don’t fight your child about his or her body.
Don’t sweat your late bloomer.
Potty training isn’t a necessary evil. It is evil, yes, but not necessary. Why? Because they’re not giving out Potty Training awards yet! Kidding. Seriously, every kid has their own timeline.
If your child is ready, then it will happen quickly—no power struggles involved. If you begin toilet training under pressure, you may end up with serious consequences, from a child with constant accidents to a child with fecal retention. Let your kid be the captain of the ship.
So take a chill pill, mama. They won’t go to prom in diapers, anyway (My Mom. 2015).
So What Can You Do Instead?
I would say NOTHING,
BUT you would probably still demand answers. So here are some tips, not to help you go diaper-free in a week, but to help you make potty training as smooth and effortless as it ought to be.
Remember that children learn behavior through imitation.
Children tend to imitate what the adults around them do or say. Use this to your advantage by demonstrating to your child how to use the toilet.
Do a running commentary on what you’re doing. Show your kid how you use the toilet, how you flush, and wipe yourself, pull up your pants, and wash your hands. Expect some clumsiness when they first try to do it themselves and be confident that in time, they’ll be able to do it right and on their own.
If you’re potty training your son, you can have his father or older brother to show him how it’s done. There are child size urinals that your kid can practice on, or you can be creative, like that one parent who placed a few floating fruit loops and told her son to hit those.
Check for signs of potty training readiness.
As I mentioned earlier, every kid has their own timeline and there really is no right age to start potty training. There are, however, some signs to look out for to see if your kid is ready to hit the potty. These include staying dry for at least two hours at a time during the day, hiding to pee or poop, being uncomfortable with soiled diapers, and showing curiosity about the toilet.
Make a potty available.
Having a potty in each bathroom of the house is helpful so your child can practice any time they want. You can choose from a child-size portable potty or an adapter seat that attaches to a regular toilet where your child can sit securely and comfortably. If you’re using an adapter seat, buy a step stool that your child can use to go up and down the toilet seat with ease. He can also use it to support his feet while he is sitting on the potty.
Help your child shake off the fear of using the potty.
My child refused to use the potty at first because he was afraid of falling into it. To help him shake off the fear, I told him some stories, played some games, and even composed silly songs. You can also read some children’s books on potty training. (Yes, they exist!) Among the popular ones are Alona Frankel’s Once Upon a Potty, Taro Gaomi’s Everyone Poops, and Tony Ross’ I Want my Potty, which was my son’s favorite. You’d be surprised how little things like these can help your kid kick their potty anxieties away!
Here's a Youtube Video from Howcast on what you can do if your child is scared to use the potty:
Don’t worry about accidents.
Accidents happen even if your child has been consistently diaper-free for five days or so. Try not to express any disappointments when your child has an accident, or it will backfire. Instead, be supportive and encourage your child to try again.
Watch out for signs of constipation
One thing that can keep you and your child from winning the potty war is constipation. Children who don't get as much exercise and don't eat as many vegetables or whole-grains (e.g., my kid) tend to have harder stools and more bouts of constipation. That makes them more likely to "hold it in" and avoid the potty as much as possible. To help your child let it go without all the fuss and pain, make sure to keep your toddler hydrated and provide him or her with healthy choices of fruits and vegetables. Cutting back on rice, bananas, and low-fiber cereals and bread also helps.
Potty training is a unique journey that takes a whole lot of patience, perseverance, and a positive attitude. And most of all, the understanding that it actually does not depend on you, mom.
We can only set the stage, but we still have to follow our child’s lead. Again, it happens in their own time and own way.
Whether that is sooner or later doesn’t really matter. Everyone uses toilets eventually.
Plus, what’s so great about underwear? Wedgies, anyone?
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