I try to consider developmental limitations when communicating with my children but during potty training I found my voice unrecognizable and said things that I hope my children were too young to remember. Why is it so stressful? Is it the mess factor? Do we feel pressure from society to have our children trained at a certain age? Is it just plain annoying to deal with a basic bodily function multiple times per day?
Whatever it is, it can be difficult. It requires patience and perseverance. So get as much information as you can and then prepare for frustration. My children are 13, 10 and 8 and all perfectly potty adept so it all worked out but at the time…
What can you do to make potty training easier? Where do you begin and how do you hang in there? What are some common challenges?
- Wait until your child is ready. There is no magic age to begin potty training but for most children it is between 20 months and 2 1/2 years (boys are usually at the older end). Some signs of readiness are that your child knows when they are voiding or stooling, they can stay dry in a diaper for at least two hours, they have the language to understand and express what needs to be done and they can manage their own pull up/underpants and get on and off the potty. DON’T START POTTY TRAINING if there is a new baby in the house, you are planning a big trip, your child has been ill, your child is constipated, you have just moved or there are other significant changes/stressors occurring in your family.
- Where to begin? Usually around age 2 years it is helpful to buy a child sized potty. Keep it in the bathroom and in low pressure situations (before bath, after waking, before bed) encourage your child to give it a try. If there is success, celebrate. If not, try again another time. Try to keep the negativity out of the process. Pat yourself on the back that you are keeping it all cool at this point but remind yourself that the next phase will likely resemble a “Dirty Jobs” episode.
- Ready to step it up? Once you decide your child is ready ((and you are ready) and you have introduced the basic concept of the potty, clear your schedule for a few days to begin Potty Training Boot Camp. Give your child lots of fluids, put them in underpants (fun ones for some incentive) and plan to follow them around. Do potty sits every 30-45 minutes, especially after nap, drinking or eating. Make it fun with books, small prizes and lots of encouragement. If you think a bowel movement is imminent, let them sit on the potty in front of a show. If they void or stool on the potty they need a reward. Your child may be satisfied with praise but my kids wanted STUFF. It doesn’t need to be big (think Dollar Store) but it needs to be consistent. OKAY I admit it, I used Skittles (one for void and two for stool) and it was by FAR my most beneficial reward. I wondered, would my children always ask for candy after producing or would they have some freakish need to run to the bathroom at the sight of a Skittle and I will tell you they do not.
- Okay, boot camp is over, I cannot trail my toddler 24 hours a day, now what? This is where most of us realize that potty training is a mini marathon, not a sprint. The process usually takes 3-6 months. Simplify your schedule, ALWAYS carry a change of clothes and make sure all caregivers are aware that you are potty training and use the same method and cues. Put your child in regular underpants as often as possible. There are times where an accident would be really difficult so use pull ups when necessary. However, I have found that regular use of pull ups can prolong the process. Plan to visit every disgusting bathroom in your town and prepare for accidents (usually at the most inopportune time like during flight take off or when you are showing your house to potential buyers). During the throes of potty training, I always kept a two piece potty with plastic bags and extra diapers in my trunk. Line the potty with the plastic bag and put the diaper absorbent side up inside and your child can void into the apparatus and you can wrap it up and throw it away on your way into Target. Just pray they don’t have to go poops because I am not sure that would work out as well.
- What to do when your child has an accident? First of all, know they WILL have accidents. Take a deep breath and remember that this will not last forever. Let your child own the mistake, “That is a real bummer, I bet you will get it in the potty next time”. Have your child help you clean up in a reasonable way and move on. If you find your patience running thin or you are just too overwhelmed (the rest of your life will still be happening with all of its joys and stressors), put on a pull up and take a break of a few hours or even a few days. Try again when you feel ready. If you did the boot camp and 2 weeks of continued trying and your child is still having more than three accidents a day, it may be time to put things away for another month.
- Many children go through a phase of regression. There can be many triggers for regression, a new sibling, a move, an illness and sometimes there appears to be no reason for a sudden boycott of the potty. Just keep your cool and start over. You may want to put your child back in diapers (I know this is hard after graduating to regular underpants but this phase will only last a short time). You can usually skip the Potty Training Boot Camp and just go back to the constant monitoring, scheduled potty sits and rewards. It is a good idea to see your pediatrician if your once trained child begins having accidents just to rule out any medical causes.
- The child that won’t poop on the toilet. This is very common but you should still discuss the issue with your pediatrician to be sure there are no physical or psychological factors involved that need to be addressed. If your child is constipated you will need to talk to your pediatrician about managing your child’s stools before proceeding. Many children are afraid to stool on the potty. Be patient. If they ask for a diaper to stool, let them have it initially If they are fully trained for urine and still will not stool on the potty for more than 2 months, you may want to try Potty Training Boot Camp (see #2 above) for a few days. Don’t let them have diapers (tell them that you ran out). Do frequent potty sits, make it fun and give immediate rewards. You need to be careful that your child does not start withholding stool. If your child does not have a bowel movement for two days, talk to your pediatrician about ways to soften your child’s stool and keep moving forward.
- Complete refusal of training. If your child is 3-3 1/2 and you have made no progress at all in toilet training then you should discuss your child’s situation with your pediatrician. More than likely they are not ready to train but physical and psychological contributors should be ruled out. DO NOT force your child to sit on the potty. Many of the children that I had in my practice who refused training did best when control was given to the child. Make a production out of putting the big kid underwear away and telling your child, “I know you are not ready to wear big kid underpants and use the potty so let’s put the diapers back on but will you let me know when you are ready?”. Usually a power struggle is fueling the resistance and taking away the fight can help move things along.
GOOD LUCK and LET US KNOW WHAT WORKED FOR YOU!