A few weeks before my child’s third birthday, I was honestly worried that she would never use the potty. I realize now that this fear was unwarranted, as all children learn to use the potty – just like all children learn to walk or talk, in their own time.
But when I had poured time and energy and patience into encouraging her to use the potty, and I was seeing little or no change in her attitude toward the porcelain beast, I was distraught.
“Will my child ever learn how to do this? What am I doing wrong?”
What it all boiled down to, however, was not that I was doing something wrong. . . it was that I was doing too much. Letting go and allowing my daughter to potty learn in her own time was one of the hardest things and best things I have ever done as a parent.
Learning to let go of a potty training mentality
It’s hard to see pottying for the developmental stage that it is when there is so much information out there on how to train your child to potty. When I use the term “potty learning” I get weird looks. You probably will, too. But I found that it’s important to use the term learning – when thinking or talking about our children and their potty experiences – because it describes the process of getting to know one’s bodily functions correctly, and it helps us to see this development as a learning experience instead of a deadline.
You might feel kind of silly saying it at first, but after a while, your correct labeling should result in a perspective change regarding your child and the potty. Because using the potty is like all the other infant and toddler milestones we’ve experienced with our children. Like smiling, rolling over, crawling. waving, sitting, or walking, it comes when it comes, and no amount of coaxing or coercion can make it happen any faster.
When we can see potty learning as a learning experience instead of a deadline, we are much more of a help to our children as they learn to listen to and understand their bodies.
Dealing with special circumstances
Every child’s potty learning experiences will happen during different conditions and span an individual length of time. Many times, potty learning will coincide with another change like welcoming a new sibling, starting preschool, or less foreseeable circumstances like illness, injury, or other developmental milestones.
When there is a special circumstance during a child’s potty learning experience, it can temporarily speed up, halt, revert, or limit the learning that the child is doing. There’s not much that we as parents can do about this except to treat our children with respect and support as they move through the changing rhythms of their surroundings and their little lives.
We can’t change what happens while a child is learning to potty. Siblings will be born. Vacations will thrill. Preschool will start. Injuries will occur. Learning to draw a circle might be much more interesting than sitting on a potty.
But we can change our reaction to these circumstances. Instead of trying harder to get my child to pay attention to pottying during special circumstances, I found that it was much more productive to support my little girl with what was going on in her world. Then, she was free to pay attention to her body when she was ready. Listening to her body was just one of many things that she was learning. Who was I to say that it was the most important?
So, what can I do?
Encourage your child’s way of relating to his body.
My daughter started to talk to her pee and poo. “Pee pee, do you need to come out now? What about you, poo poo? Are you ready to go in the potty?” Other children might really like to read books about the potty, or ask questions about their body parts. They might want to see their diapers and the *ahem* stuff inside them. Indulge your child’s individual interest.
Model toileting behavior.
As far as you are comfortable, allow your child to see you use the toilet, and make sure that you wipe, flush, and wash. They’re watching! One way that you can mold a child’s pottying is in toilet etiquette – my daughter knows that she can ask for “privacy please” and that she should give privacy to others when they’re using the potty. Direct your teaching and urge to “train” toward etiquette.
Fight the urge to bribe, cheer too much, or use shame or punishment.
Obviously, punishment for not using the potty or having accidents is detrimental. But bribery and shame can be just as harmful to a child. Children are smart – they know when we are trying to manipulate them, and they don’t like it! It hurts them. Using positive parenting and gentle approaches, we can help instead of hinder their internal progress. Instead of trying to control the potty learning, we can use encouraging language like “poop goes in the potty” and “accidents are how we learn” in order to help the process along without causing stress or detriment. “They all get out of diapers sooner or later,” writes Laura Markham, PhD. “Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will never win.”
Oh, and most importantly, Relax.
Go ahead. . . just take a deep breath.
I didn’t do a stellar job of allowing my daughter to potty learn on her own. It took me months of struggling to help her potty to realize that I was doing too much and that I simply needed to let go. I finally told my frustrated little preschooler “Mommy’s so sorry. I don’t care if you use the potty or not. You’ll do it when you’re ready. It’s your body.”
When I finally realized she didn’t need me to train her, she just needed time to learn, I let go and I let her get to know her body.
If you find yourself in a frustrating situation regarding the potty with your child – maybe it’s time to let go, and let him learn to “go” in his own time.