How to make potty training less stressful for you and your child.
It’s the moment in toddler-hood that can cause parents, and kids, so much stress….Potty Training. I get so many questions about this topic. I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this horrible weekend event that everyone is dreading. It can be a simple, part of life, process like learning to walk.
There are a lot of different approaches to potty training. If you are familiar with my blog posts and my approach to parenting, you already know that I focus a great deal on parenting within the relationship we have with our children. This often entails following our child’s lead and seeing things from their point of view. This is no different for potty training.
Take a moment to consider potty training from your child’s point of view. They have spent the last year or two relieving themselves in their diapers. All of a sudden, one day it is decided that they will no longer do this and that they should start relieving themselves in a bathroom. This is a big shift! Not to mention, bathrooms can be loud and scary places (both of my kids had HUGE issues with public bathrooms thanks to the automatic flushing toilets and the hand dryers). All of a sudden parents are stressed or worse yet you are stuck at home for 3 days and can’t go anywhere because you need to learn this new skill. This creates a lot of anxiety and stress for parents and children.
In order to avoid this rock your world approach, I found that a slow steady pace for potty training was helpful. Making it “just something we do” instead of a big event, reduces the stress for parents and the child. I have seen a lot of children develop “toileting issues” as a result of the anxiety that can be created around potty training (especially if there is shaming, punishment, or forced toileting involved). This just leads to more challenges for both the child and the parent. Remember it is a natural and gradual process.
When you choose to introduce this concept to your child is up to you. I introduced it early on to both of my children with little or no pressure or expectation. By 1 most kids become interested in the toilet so this may be a good time.
“There should be no pressure, no reward or punishment, no adult deciding when the child should learn to use the potty. The environment is prepared and the child is free to explore and imitate in these natural developmental stages.” (The Joyful Child)
1.Take time to introduce the concept of using the bathroom. It sounds silly but introduce your child to this concept and that this is where people relieve themselves. It seems common sense to you but remember this is new to your child. From a very young age you can talk to your child about body functions and how these are a normal part of life. Along these lines you also want to start incorporating it in daily routine. So before leaving the house, meals or naps simply say “ it is time to use the bathroom” .
2. Have child-friendly access to a toilet. Have a toilet (or a couple depending on what you find convenient) in a place the child can access. Keep it in one place so they know it is there. If you move it around it can get confusing. Try to create a bathroom environment that creates as much independence as possible. This will allow your child to freely explore and access the toilet if they would like. Some children do better with small potties on the bathroom floor, others may do fine with a step stool and a small seat over the regular toilet. Find what makes your child most comfortable. I also had a potty in the trunk of my car. This was a life saver when we were out and about. As I mentioned before public bathrooms can be overwhelming to a child so if you have a potty in the car, you can offer that as an alternative.
3. Make it fun. The biggest challenge for some children is sitting on the toilet. Have a few books or toys near the toilet that they can play with. This is especially true for bowel movements. Some kids just do not have the desire to sit on the toilet during these when they could be playing elsewhere.
4. Provide your child with diaper free time during the day. This can be done at any age. I did this with both my children when they were just a few months old. The idea behind this is that your child will get used to the sensation of eliminating themselves. Diapers are so absorbent that children can’t feel when they go to the bathroom. Allowing for diaper free time, even before your child has bladder control, helps your child become aware of the sensation of going to the bathroom. Be aware that accidents will happen during diaper free time (especially if you are doing this before they are able to control body functions). We purchased several absorbent and water proof pads to have our children sit or lay on so it would contain the mess. Keeping them in an easy to clean area is also helpful. As they mature and gain more ability to control their bowel movements they will learn to be able to control themselves when they feel the sensation that they have to go. How much diaper free time you do is up to you. I found that it was beneficial to even just do a little bit. With my oldest we did a lot of diaper free time. Because we were on the move more when my youngest was born we did less with her. An added bonus is that this helps prevent diaper rash as the child has time to air out.
5. Avoid punishing accidents. Whether you are doing diaper free time or in the middle of potty training, don’t punish your child or shame them for having accidents. Stay calm and reassuring. Simply say “I see you are wet, let’s get some dry clothes” help them change, clean it up and move on.
6. Be patient. Children mature at different rates and so does their ability to control their bladders and bowels. Your child may catch on quickly or it may take a while. Eventually, your child will use the bathroom successfully. Do not force your child onto the toilet. If your child is resisting let it go. This creates more issues and a power struggle that will only make things more challenging. FInally, try not to compare yourself to others. Some kids have control over their body functions earlier than others. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to speed this up. Follow your child's lead and try to tune out the pressure and comparisons from the outside.
7. Be Prepared for set backs. Changes in schedule, a new sibling, starting school, a divorce, or any other major change can cause a setback. These are usually temporary, and will resolve on their own if no one makes a big deal out of it. Offer support, avoid making a big deal out of it, and your child will get back to where they were.
Following your child’s lead and their needs will always be a great guide. Potty training is a natural process, your child will achieve it. Thinking of it as a process shifts our expectations for immediate success, and allows us to better partner with our children as they begin to successful.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.