When it’s time to potty train, many parents learn the hard way that it’s not nearly as cute as when their toddler takes a step, not as endearing as the first time they hear “mama” and nowhere near as adorable as the first wave. It can be messy, exhausting and downright hard to keep your cool when it’s time to start the potty training process.
Why is potty training so difficult sometimes? The answer may lie in when we choose to potty train our children. Mary Mangan, child care professional and owner of Seminole Sitters, says, “Many parents feel pressured to have their child potty trained by a certain age, or even earlier than their peers. What is meant to be part of natural development has become unnaturally competitive. Children are innately able to read emotions and attitudes of their parents’, and this added pressure typically does the opposite of what is desired; the stress prolongs the process. Potty training in an encouraging, deadline-free manner will reduce a child’s stress and even future accidents.”
It’s up to us as parents to prepare our child for potty training by providing a calm, safe experience. It doesn’t pay for us to get too excited before potty time or to put too much pressure on our child to perform. To help create the right atmosphere, consider staging an activity that takes place at potty time. The activity can be the focus and it just so happens that while this activity is taking place, your child is sitting on the potty.
Here are a few ideas to try:
Easy art with recycled paper. Hang a page from a large drawing pad on the bathroom wall near the potty. Provide stickers, crayons or markers, and see what your trainer can create while sitting on the potty. Other options are handheld chalkboards, window crayons on a mirror or window, or even an Etch A Sketch®. Of course, stay close by so none of your supplies end up in the potty.
Use a timer. Provide your child with a basic kitchen timer and let them decorate it with stickers or even paint. This gives them a sense of ownership for their special ‘toilet timer.’ Choose a pre-set length of time to spend in the bathroom and explain that when the timer goes off, it will be time to get up from the potty. Fill that time with songs or a word game. When the timer goes off, if the deed isn’t done, get up and try again in a few minutes - set the timer to remind you when to head back to the potty. Parents need reminders too, right?
“I Spy.” This is an oldie but goodie. Choose an object in the room, such as the toilet paper and say, “I spy something white” and let your child guess. Follow up with different clues if they don’t guess it right away: “I spy something white and shaped like a circle.” I Spy can be played at almost any age and is a great way to distract them from the task at hand and build vocabulary at the same time. If I Spy is effective, consider stocking the shelves with an ever-changing parade of interesting objects. It could even be a seasonal shelf in the bathroom to keep up with what’s going on outside the realm of the toilet.
Foam letters in a bag. Fill a canvas bag with foam alphabet letters (found with the bath toys at most department stores) and play a game. You could have your child pull out a letter randomly and identify the letter, sound, words that start with that letter, or if that letter appears in their name. For a child who’s really familiar with the letters, have them put their hand in the bag and guess the letter by the way it feels. Run the water. It sounds obvious, but sometimes as parents we forget the things that worked for us. Turn on the sink. Or try the tub. Or the shower.
Experiment. Turn on the water and take the focus off your child for a moment while you occupy yourself with something else. Notice if taking your attention away helps your child relax.
Audio book. You can purchase books that come with an accompanying audio recording of someone reading the story, or you could create your own recording. Take a look on your smartphone for apps that offer children’s audio books, and you’ll be ready any time, anywhere.
Get ready to share. “Children learn to speak, move and act by modeling their parents,” says Mangan. Kids are often going to want to be “like mommy” or “like daddy.” Mangan suggests that when we model using the bathroom for them and talk with them about what we are doing, we help them overcome fears and doubts, and they become more familiar with the process of using the toilet rather than diapers. Keep in mind that everyone you know learned how to use the potty at some point. Don’t be afraid to experiment with many ideas until you find a combination of techniques that work for your child. Taking a step back from the potty training process and preparing activities that make the time more inviting can help your child feel more comfortable on the toilet. With your loving support and attention, your kids will master the potty.
Tips to make potty training peaceful
Elizabeth Pantley has some tips to help make potty training natural, easy, and peaceful. The first step is to know the facts.
• The perfect age to begin potty training is different for every child. Your child's best starting age could be anywhere from eighteen to thirty-two months. Pre-potty training preparation can begin when a child is as young as ten months.
• You can begin training at any age, but your child's biology, skills, and readiness will determine when he can take over his own toileting.
• Teaching your child how to use the toilet can, and should, be as natural as teaching him to build a block tower or use a spoon.
• It takes three to twelve months from the start of training to daytime toilet independence. The more readiness skills that a child possesses, the quicker the process will be.
Elizabeth is the author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Child Say Good-Bye to Diapers. For more tips, search for 'Elizabeth Pantley' on this site.
Sara is the parent of two delightfully messy children; one in particular needs lots of encouragement to use the potty! When she’s not playing with her kids, she is a writer, professor and speaker.
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