Tales of Toilet Training

Many parents feel pressured to potty train their kids as soon as they turn 2--but if they're not ready, it's probably not worth it.

Any parent can tell you, when a kid turns 2, a kid’s bathroom business suddenly becomes a topic for public discourse.

Family and friends, and even strangers, begin asking, “So, is she potty trained?” Or less well-meaning, “When is he going to get out of diapers?”

Tricia Smith has three daughters (pictured below): ages 5, 2 and 6 months. When her first child turned 2, she decided to tackle potty training right away. Never mind that she was sleep-deprived with a newborn at home… Her daughter was 2 – that touchstone year when societal pressure expects a child to go from diapers to undies.

She applied all the knowledge she had gleaned from friends and the internet and poured herself into getting her daughter to sit on the potty.

“I wish I could take back that week of pee all over the floor and tears and stress,” she said.

For all the stress it caused, in the end, it was a bust. Tricia gave up. She got back to chasing her toddler, taking care of her new baby and working as a neonatal nurse.

And then, just days after her daughter turned 3, it happened.

“She woke up and wanted to wear panties, and that was that,” Tricia said. “When they are ready, it will happen, without all the hubbub.”

So now, with her middle daughter, she’s much more relaxed. Her 2 1/2 -year-old is working toward potty proficiency, but isn’t there yet. Like many toddlers, she will go sometimes, but when not wearing a diaper or training pants, she still has accidents.

“I just feel like society has this imaginary standard that kids should be potty trained at 2 or whatever. And in the big picture, what’s another year? Is it really worth the anxiety over it? Heck, no,” she said.

Potty time

Even before you start potty training in earnest, parents can toilet teach by example. This means before age 2, it’s good to let children watch you go to the bathroom. (Cue laughter from parents who know there’s really no choice in the matter.) Or, while supervised, let a child throw a piece of toilet paper in the toilet and flush. Warning: They may love it so much they want to do it again and again and again.

Once a child shows signs he’s ready to give it a go, choose a method that appeals to you. This can range from elimination communication (which actually begins in infancy), in which parents use signs, cues and timing to get baby to go in the toilet without the use of diapers to the three-day potty training method, a sort-of cold-turkey approach to ditching diapers.

The three-day method, which some parents stretch out to five days, requires intense focus on the parents’ part. Some parents take Friday off from work, and then commit to following their pants-free child from sun up to sun down through the weekend, reminding their kiddos “Let me know when you need to go.” It can be exhausting, but some parents will tell you it’s worth it, especially if the child has a breakthrough on day three.

Some parents opt for a slow transition – moving their 2-year-olds to training pants, such as Pull-Ups, and then giving them leeway of sometimes a year or more to grasp the concept and feel comfortable enough to pull down their pants to go on the potty. Though this process can take longer, the upside for parents is the security of the training pants to catch the accidents.

Still other parents choose a method that’s somewhere between the crash-course of the three-day method and the security of the Pull-Up. This could mean placing a sticker chart in the bathroom or offering rewards like M&Ms for potty success. Some kids find reward in the underwear itself. For these kids, take them with you to pick out undies in their favorite colors or with beloved characters. Elena of Avalor panties, anyone?

Parents should remember that the individual development of a child will lead the way on the potty-training journey. That includes the differentiation between going pee or poop. Some kids take to tinkling easily, but give a hard “no” on going poop in the potty.

For these kids, be patient. You can try rewards and praise, but ultimately, you can’t make a kid go to the bathroom. If you have a child who won’t do number two in the toilet, watch for cues that he needs to go, then guide him to the toilet to sit and wait. Make the wait more tolerable by reading her favorite book or playing his favorite song.

Most children are potty trained by age 4. If at age 4 your child still shows no interest – or reverts in toilet training behavior, it’s time to talk to the doctor. Although, occasional accidents into preschool and beyond are normal.

When to Begin

The Mayo Clinic provides these guidelines for potty-training readiness. If you answer mostly yes, it’s potty time! If you answer mostly no, wait.

  • Does your child seem interested in the potty chair or toilet, or in wearing underwear?
  • Can your child understand and follow basic directions?
  • Does your child tell you through words, facial expressions or posture when he or she needs to go?
  • Does your child stay dry for periods of two hours or longer during the day?
  • Does your child complain about wet or dirty diapers?
  • Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?
  • Can your child sit on and rise from a potty chair?

What are some basic principles behind good toilet training?

  • Proceed slowly, and take signals from your child.
  • Give your child a feeling of active participation, control and independence.
  • Deal with potty training matter-of-factly, using simple and straightforward words for bowel movements (like BM, poop, or stool), urine (like pee) and body parts (like penis, vulva and anus).
  • Do not use negative words like “stinky” or “dirty” to talk about poop. After all, the poop came out of your child’s body, and they made it. Your child may feel it is still a part of them.
  • Never pressure or force your child.
  • Praise your child for every step in the right direction and keep your attitude positive.
  • Accidents are part of the process and may continue for months, even when a child is 3 or 4. However if accidents are frequent in a 3-year-old and are not diminishing, talk with your child’s pediatrician.
  • Keeping a positive tone and using lots of praise will work much better than punishing, criticizing or shaming your child.
Categories: Little Ones