The Gentle Push of Potty Training

The journey of potty training is a unique experience that can best be utilized as a great learning experience for both parents and kiddos alike.  One question we get asked often in early childhood is “How do I get my child potty trained?”  Ridding your family of diapers and perpetual clean up has to be one of the most exciting transitions from toddlerhood to preschool for parents universally.  Here are a few tips on making the transition for your family and keeping your sanity.


1. Look for a cue that your child is ready.

There is a wide variety of “typical” when it comes to a timeframe for potty training.  As a first step, when your child is around 18 months old, start to look for clues that your child may have developed enough body awareness to know when he or she needs to go potty, or has already gone potty.  Typical examples might be the child grabbing his/her diaper before or after soiling it, your child telling you that he or she needs to go potty, or him/her showing an interest in a sibling or parents’ potty habits.  


2. It’s most successfully done as a gentle nudge and not an aggressive push.

Although many parents have a strong drive to have a potty trained child, potty training falls in line with a couple of things in life that are better accomplished through a nudge and not a push.  Many children, when feeling strong pressure or shame from parents, can hold on to potty training to retain control of something….for years…years.  Consider a pressure-free but supportive approach.


3. Reframe your goal to be helping your child develop body awareness and control instead of potty training.

This is a really unique chance at a young age to help guide your child to develop a sense of what is happening in his or her body.  Consider utilizing language that encourages them to talk about their body parts and what is happening.  


4. Undies or naked all the way.

When your child is ready, consider utilizing a long break from school and switch to undies or going naked during the day, minus naps and sleep.  In our Leap Academy experience, this is the absolute fastest way for a child to develop self awareness of what’s coming out.  Yep.  It’s messy.  Buy a lot of underpants and be prepared to throw some away and clean up a lot.   An hourly or bihourly question of “Do you want to sit on the potty?” is a good way to help them start to gauge.


5. It’s okay to celebrate, but not recommended to scold or shame.

Scolding, shaming, expressing frustration with your child when he or she has an accident, at any age, is a great way to create more accidents.  I haven’t found any research that this approach is successful, nor have I seen a child for whom this works.  However, an incentive to celebrate might be a good jumpstart to success.  At Leap Academy, we have given stickers for sitting on the potty or going potty.  In my own home, we used M&Ms for each step along the way, including just sitting on the potty at first, peeing, and then of course, finally, pooping, which generally takes the longest.  As a note here, I want to say that many children’s bladders are not developed enough to handle sleeping at night without an accident until well into preschool or even later.  I’d recommend utilizing a diaper or pull up at bedtime until a child is consistently dry for a week or two before considering switching to undies for bed.


6. Expect setbacks. Expect cleanup.  

When my son was born, my daughter, then three, would walk into the living room while I was breastfeeding, pull off her pants, and pee on the carpet in front of my eyes.  All potty trainers, especially early potty trainers, have setback periods and accidents without fail.  It’s not your fault.  They might be screaming for attention (or control), but they might not either!  His or her body might be growing and adjusting, or he or she might just really, really love playing with legos and push the limits of how long it can be held.  


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