Tips for Making Potty Training Easier on Both the Parent and Child

Child sitting on the toilet
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Potty training can be a trying experience at times. It's important to make sure your toddler feels supported and that you uphold a positive attitude to ensure success.

Steps for Potty Training Success

Here are some things to avoid during the process of potty training your child.

Don't Try to Force the Issue

Make sure that your child is ready to use the potty, is able to communicate his needs and can handle the physical requirements involved before starting. Always offer encouragement and support.

If your child refuses to go, forcing him to go and sit on the potty will only create a charged atmosphere and can lead to more resistance. It can create negative associations with using the bathroom that can be hard to undo and can also cause your child to withhold urinating or voiding, which can be harmful.

Try to approach this time of learning much the same as you did with other skills like sitting up, walking, and talking.

Don't Start Potty Training During a Time of Stress

Even good stress is bad stress when it comes to potty training. Marriages, new babies, and vacations can be just as difficult for your child as a divorce, death, or a move to a new home.

If anything big and new is on the horizon in your lives, reconsider potty training. Wait until life settles down and the normal flow of activity resumes. This creates security for your child and helps him place toileting easily alongside other structure and routines.

Don't Set Deadlines 

Young children don't work too well under deadlines and they certainly don't have the same concept of time that adults do. Be realistic with your time expectations, or throw them out the window altogether.

Programs that promise that your child will be potty trained in three days, one day or even 100 days aren't taking your child's individuality into account. Each child has his own temperament and brings different skills to the table, so there is no true one-size-fits-all method out there.

Programs that operate under a time schedule often suggest punitive measures, are inflexible or are actually training the parents instead of the child. This sets many parents and children who don't meet the deadline up for a feeling of failure.

In addition, they may not take into consideration the many different lifestyles of families, which include parents who work, families with many children, children with special needs, multiples, and parents who share custody. Make sure any method you use fits the needs of everyone involved and is flexible.

Don't Treat Accidents Like a Big Deal

One of the cornerstones of potty training methods that work is: It's just a part of life. It's natural and every living animal from apes to zebras do it every day. Accidents happen, and when they do, this is just part of the process.

Overemphasizing accidents can actually reinforce, leading to more accidents. So keep the tone even and matter-of-fact, enlist your child in clean-up activity and move on to the next opportunity to use the potty.

Don't Use Clothes That Are Difficult to Manage

Ask any child care teacher who is in charge of a group of potty trainees and they will tell you just how difficult it can be for little arms and hands to manipulate complicated pants, overalls and other clothing when the urge to pee or poop is looming.

Ask what a task it is to re-outfit a child who has had an accident wearing those garments. First and foremost, use your child's motor skills as a gauge when choosing clothes during potty training.

Shy away from overalls unless your child is adept at removing them and putting them back on. The same is true for suspenders, belts, tights, one-piece shirts that snap at the crotch and anything with lots of zippers, snaps, buttons or other fasteners that might be unfamiliar to your child.

Clothing that works: dresses, skirts, pants with elastic waistbands like sweatpants, pajama bottoms, and shorts. Of course, if you're comfortable with it, let your child run around in just underwear or in the nude. After all, it is the ultimate potty training outfit.

Since winter in cold areas is a time of layers and bundling and heavy coats, most experts and parents agree that it's not the optimal time to start potty training. However, when potty training in the summer, boys have it made with their drop-and-go trunks, but girls will have issues with one-piece suits. Moms who have ever gone to the bathroom and tried to pull up and resituate a wet suit on themselves can identify. Consider two-piece swimsuits for the little ladies.

Don't Give in to External Pressures

External pressures can come from many sources: Grandparents, other moms at the playgroup, preschool administrators, spouses. Keep in mind that while many grandparents are full of wisdom about childrearing, some advice just doesn't ring true today. Go with your own instincts and rely on the knowledge you have about your child's readiness.

Where other parents are concerned, just as it is with teething, crawling and walking, so it is with potty training. These are skills that children learn, and they all learn at different times, at their own pace. Resist getting caught up in the competition now, because it doesn't end with potty training. Your child still has to learn to read, write in cursive, and drive.

Schools that require your child to be potty trained by a certain age may do so simply to meet licensing standards or avoid inconvenience. Licensing standards require that any room with a child in diapers be equipped with a diaper changing table and a sink as well as other supplies. If the sink must have hot water at a temperature that differs from that of the sink available to children, this can mean that the school must run new plumbing from a separate hot water heater.

Schools may not want to deal with the hassle of equipping a room, or they may not want to spend the money. And think about it this way, if the school is already setting an arbitrary deadline for toileting skills and not taking into account the individual needs of each child, what other areas will they apply this thinking to as well? Consider that this may not be the school for you or your child.

Don't Expect Night Time Training Anytime Soon

Generally speaking, urinary control comes before control of bowel movements and dry nights come well behind both. It is completely normal for bed-wetting (or enuresis) to occur in children until they are 4 years old.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 40 percent of 3-year-olds are affected. For many children, bladder control at night comes much later and does not necessarily signify any medical problem.

The Academy lists two main factors. Your child's bladder has not yet developed the ability to hold urine the whole night and/or he hasn't learned to recognize when he has to go, to wake up and make it to the toilet, and use it. For a child who is asleep, that's a four-step process.

Don't Discount Your Child's Fears or Attachments

Children can develop some fears during potty training, and they are as large to them as any fear adults could imagine having. Children may not understand the mechanics of the toilet and that large flushing sound in that small space can be frightening.

If a child experiences even one slip off the toilet seat and their bottom touches water, it can set them back to square one or even require a potty training hiatus. Some children have a hard time dealing with watching their poop disappear down the drain as if it were as much a part of them as an arm or a leg.

Treat these fears with sensitivity. Discuss the fear without invalidating it or making your child feel ashamed or as if his feelings are unimportant. Some children may need help expressing their fears, so offer them the vocabulary that seems appropriate.

The same is true of attachments children may exhibit during this time. Diapers may represent a feeling of security in many ways. It is a time when parents are intimate with their children and are taking care of their needs, and letting go of that takes some children more time.

This doesn't mean letting your child go back and forth between wearing diapers and training, but it does mean making sure he is ready to take that step of independence. If he seems to want to cling to diapers, suggest that it's potty time and tell him that afterward (whether he's used the potty or not) he can have a story on your lap or have some tickle-time. It may not be the diaper he's missing but rather the closeness with you. It can be cold and lonely in the bathroom, after all.

Don't Worry Too Much

Really. You've probably heard it or read it a million times by now, but it's true: It's highly unlikely that your child will go to college in a diaper.

Try to take potty training in stride and work together with your child. Look at it like just one more learning opportunity, one more step of growth and independence in the life of a very special person in your life. If it helps to put it in perspective, think of all the new and scary times you've had where you were equipped with the coping skills of an adolescent or adult—a new job, a new relationship, learning a new language, giving a speech, taking a driver's test.

Then imagine doing those same things without the matured coping ability you have today, with the motor skills of a small child, and a head so big you still can't get your arm up around it to touch the opposite ear. Treat your little guy or gal with the same patience and encouragement you'd want in the same situation, and don't forget to still have fun along the way.

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