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A Parenting Dialogue: What's Your Best Potty Training Advice?

by Vannessa Rhoades 03 Aug 2023
parenting dialogue
A Parenting Dialogue: What's Your Best Potty Training Advice?

Q:

My daughter is 2 ½, and I am wanting to get her going more on the potty training end. She knows some things already, like what the potty is for and how to flush. She even sits on it sometimes but never when she needs to go. How can I help her learn to tell when she needs to go and to sit on the potty then? Would it help to set up a bathroom schedule of sorts? Any nighttime potty training tips? Should I transition her from diapers to something else to help with the process? Any practical advice would be appreciated.

A Parenting Dialogue: What's Your Best Potty Training Advice?

The New Mom

A:

Potty training wasn’t too very hard for us. Let me share with you what's working with my little girl who is 3 years old now.

  • Started doing potty training when my daughter was two. 
  • Bought a training potty and showed her how to use it.
  • Put her on it before and after bedtime. Stayed with her during the potty training session and told/convinced her that she needed/could do it. In the beginning, it took time.
  • Appreciated her when she did it well.
  • Encouraged her to tell/flag us when she had a need.

These are my best tips for potty training from personal experience. The result is that just a few weeks later she was almost completely free of diapers. Just to be safe we still have her wear a diaper at night (I guess that’s one of my best tips for night time potty training). It's rarely wet the day after though.

-- Shawn, mother of one toddler

The Experienced Mother

A:

Honestly, I wouldn't do much more than you're already doing. Put a kid's potty in the bathroom next to yours and simply carry on with your life. Talk about it, demonstrate it much like you're already doing, then let your child set her own pace. She'll come around to it.

In my opinion, it is a huge mistake to try to potty train early. It adds stress, creates complications, and sucks time away from an already busy life. There are many more important things to spend your effort on.

My kids were trained as I described. They had it down by the time they were 3 with very few lapses ever. Several of their friends were intensely (to my mind, invasively) potty trained. They not only kept wearing diapers longer than my kids but also suffered more relapses. A few of them even retain stress issues surrounding the bathroom up to this day.

Relax. I don't know many 8-year-olds that say, "Oops, I pooped my pants." This is more of a non-issue than it seems.


-- Katie, mom of four grown children


The Pediatrician's Approach

A:

When it comes to toilet training, there’s really no one “best” way of doing it. Each potty training method has its pros and cons. Here are three of the most popular techniques and potty training tips recommended by pediatricians.

Child-oriented potty training

One of the most successful potty training methods, according to research from the National Institutes of Health, is simply observing a child’s readiness signs for each stage of the process. This concept was first presented back in 1962 by the renowned T. Berry Brazelton and is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Child-oriented potty training typically starts between 2 and 3 years of age, when your little one begins telling you they want to use the toilet. With this method, caregivers may talk about using the potty and offer it as an option, but there’s no assertive push to make the child use the toilet. Instead, they allow their little one to take the lead and often continue using diapers or pull-up training pants until the child is trained.

This method works well for parents who aren’t in a hurry to toilet train. It doesn’t require a parent or caregiver to concentrate all their time and energy on the process or devote large chunks of time to it. Because it’s initiated by the child, there tends to be more cooperation and less regression. The downside is that it takes a while. You may still be using diapers for a longer stretch of time with this method as compared to other toilet training techniques.

3-day toilet training method

Introduced in 1974 by psychologists Nathan Azrin and Richard Foxx, this method is a favored option for caregivers who want their little one toilet trained quickly. Along with child-oriented techniques, research indicates this is one of the most successful strategies for toilet training. This train-in-days method is most effective when the child is at least 22 months old. On the first day of training, all diapers are tossed aside. The child is dressed simply in big kid underwear and a t-shirt, shown the potty, and told to let their caregiver know when they need to go. Accidents will happen (many, many accidents, in all likelihood). Caregivers are supposed to pick the child up and rush them to the potty each time in order to finish. This technique requires a lot of patience, plenty of praise, and a large stockpile of clean undies and fluids.

Most caregivers see results quickly with this method, so it’s especially useful for a child who needs to be toilet trained in time to start school or another activity. You’ll need to devote your entire schedule to concentrating on this activity for the full 3-day span, though. Be prepared to clean up lots of accidents.

Parent-led toilet training

The basic premise of this method is that caregivers or parents prompt a child to go to the potty at regular intervals or based on a set schedule. For example, a parent may take a child to the toilet every 2 hours to sit on the potty throughout the day or after every meal, etc. It can be used at any age.

This method may be more appealing to parents who need to adhere to a strict schedule. It may also be easier to be consistent with this method when there are multiple caregivers involved. Parent-led toilet training doesn’t require any massive changes to the family routine or big periods of time to concentrate only on toilet training. The disadvantage is that since the child isn’t the one leading the charge, they might not learn to identify their body’s signals as quickly.

     

    The Holistic Approach

    A:In her article on Mindful Potty Training, Waldorf teacher and holistic parenting advocate Willow Westwood encourages parents to approach potty training in a loving, non-shaming, and effective way that is based on a clear understanding of children’s developmental needs. 

    “Just like most things where children are concerned, potty training can be humbling for us caregivers. It can be frustrating, non-linear, smelly, [and] embarrassing. Using the bathroom isn’t something little kids are good at yet—that’s fine,” says Westwood. “If you’ve gone in your pants for three years, suddenly being told that that’s the wrong thing to do can be confusing and disorienting. They’ll get it eventually, but how you react in that learning time is important…The more you hold on to embarrassment or shame about their accidents, the more they’ll learn to associate those feelings with using the bathroom, which can cause problems down the line and needlessly stress everyone out!”

    Here are a few of Westwood’s top recommendations for a holistic approach to potty training:

    • Use cloth diapers from the beginning. They allow a child to actually feel wet and begin recognizing their body’s signals.
    • Give them opportunities to feel wet, to feel what happens when their pee/poop comes out. Give them opportunities to feel success (e.g., “Wow! You peed in the potty! Now your pants will stay dry.”) Avoid putting so much pressure on accidents.
    • Start by going pants-free around the house and yard. Make a weekend (or week) of it! Expect that they will pee or poop on the floor. The upshot is that they’ll learn much more quickly to be aware of what is coming out of their bodies, and they won’t equate the feeling of peeing in underpants with the “correct” feeling they’ve learned of peeing in a diaper. 
    • Don’t use a reward/punishment system. The goal here is to help them understand that not sitting in their own pee is its own reward!

     

    A Parenting Dialogue: What's Your Best Potty Training Advice?

    The Bottom Line

    If you and your child are prepared to start the potty training process, selecting the appropriate method is essential for your family. While selecting a method, take into account your child's temperament, your parenting approach, and the practicalities of your routine. Many parents use a combination of potty training tips and techniques to customize a solution that works best for their household. Remember that potty training is not a quick fix and demands a significant amount of perseverance and determination, regardless of the approach you choose. However, it can be less overwhelming if you select a method that is suitable for your child and family.

     



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