Potty Training

Parents who have one or two children under 5 often don’t have a great deal of experience with child development and all they have to go on are the words of family members or friends with older children because they certainly don’t remember what it was like to be an infant or toddler.

Family and friends sometimes inadvertently provide a great deal of misinformation because often all they have to go on is the one or two children that they have raised and those children might be very different from your children on a variety of characteristics.

When we see children under 5, invariably it is for potty training issues. Parents come to us very distressed that their child isn’t meeting expectations and the parent is often feeling very guilty or inadequate. People who are feeling pressured and guilty aren’t in the best frame of mind for anything, let alone potty training a child, so the first things we target are the parent’s feelings and reactions.

Often we find that all the pressure is EXTERNAL and if we can remind the parent that it is THEIR child we are talking about and not their mother-in-law’s child, sometimes that’s about all that needs to be done. Even when the pressure initially appears internal, it is often discovered that the pressure was external to begin with and that the parent has merely internalized it. That is, they have 3 friends who have potty trained their children and the friends put pressure on the parent and the parent then internalized that pressure and feels it from within now.

Your child will be ready when he is ready. Simple as that. Not a day before, not a day after. You can yell and scream and prompt and bribe and cry and buy all the books and packages and special pants and potty chairs that you want to. Your kid will be ready when he’s ready and that’s all there is to it. Don’t sweat it.

Now, that doesn’t mean don’t do anything in the way of preparation. You can talk about the potty when you go, you can show them what it is and tell them how they can use it one day, you can notice when they seem to have to go and help them understand that the discomfort they feel is because they have to go, you can talk about how nice it will be for them when they get bigger and can wear underwear, you can tell them that they can go to story time later, after they learn to use the potty …


Do not use derogatory and critical language when discussing that your child isn’t yet potty trained! Don’t call him a ‘baby’ or tell him he’s ‘too little’ or that they don’t want any ‘stinky pants kids’ at story time. That’s just passing the guilt and pressure on to them and as we said before people who feel pressured and guilty aren’t in a great frame of mind for anything, including LEARNING how to use the potty.

If you have insensitive or clueless family and/or friends, save yourself the hassle and avoid those folks. Maybe you ‘have to’ go by them for a holiday? What are holidays for anyhow? Want your kid to remember holidays as embarrassing and guilt-ridden events where people are nasty to him? We’re not thinking that’s the kind of tradition you have in mind for your kid. Maybe you save the big family holiday for next year and have a small family holiday at home this year.

Our final comments are that the potty training issue is usually only a big deal when adults make it so. If you put a great deal of pressure and guilt on your child, constantly nag and plead, and make the whole thing a very unpleasant event for everyone, it has the potential to go VERY VERY BADLY for a long time.

Kids that feel a great deal of anxiety about the whole potty training thing are the ones that end up having trouble with it for years. They get nervous, angry, frustrated, they feel guilty, stupid, immature, left out, and those emotions start to affect their behavior overall. They act out and have tantrums at the grocery store. They have nightmares and want to sleep in your bed. They start to refuse to go to day care or to Grandma’s house. You wouldn’t even think those things are related to potty training, but often, that’s all their pent up emotions finding a way out.

That is the kind of thing we see in kids 7 and 8 years old who may actually be potty trained, but they still have a great deal of stored up anger and frustration that’s still leaking out all over.

In conclusion, use positive words to prepare your child to use the toilet. Talk about it when there is opportunity or interest. Link toilet training to good things. And when your kid is ready, you’ll know and he’ll know and you can begin then. If you take that approach, potty training takes all of about 2 weeks and is a fun and exciting experience for all involved. The important thing to remember is that your kid is YOUR kid, no one else’s. The only person your kid has to answer to at this point is you.

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