Potty Learning – Learning to Let Go

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.

Nobody’s Perfect

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.

About The Author: Amy W.

Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work Amy_willa My NPN Posts

Military spouse, breastfeeding advocate, natural parent, and seamstress, Amy ran into natural parenting by accident, and now blogs at Amy Willa: Me Mothering, and Making it All Work and Natural Parents Network, in order to share her experience and inspire others to live an authentic life and seek peace in parenting. Amy enjoys sewing, selling Silly Bear Handmade cloth diapers and eco friendly home goods at her Etsy shop, and is a passionate and compassionate breastfeeding advocate. She is active in La Leche League International, and pursuing a Public Health Degree and certification as an IBCLC.

15 Responses to Potty Learning – Learning to Let Go

  1. Jenn @ Monkey Butt Junction  

    This post is so timely for me. We are just beginning to have “potty discussions” at home. I’m frankly really intimidated by the whole process, but posts like this remind me that it isn’t something that needs to be done on a strict deadline, and that sometimes one step forward, two steps back is the route we all take to get to our goals.

  2. Holly

    My oldest was four. And even though I didn’t have pressure from outside to ‘get it done’, I felt like people were thinking it! And had to fight the urges to force the issue. I think it was knowing my son’s personality very well, and knowing that it just wouldn’t work if I tried to force it that kept me from stressing too much. Having said that, I will not complain if my other children do not follow in his footsteps!

  3. Kim  

    We are under pressure from everyone about our little guy and using the potty. Luckily I don’t collapse under pressure, I simply say he will learn in his own time when he is ready. Most people don’t get it, but that is okay. We will stick with it and one day he will say let’s use the potty and my response will simply be “okay” 🙂

  4. Kat @ Loving {Almost} Every Moment

    Thank you for this! It couldn’t have come at a better time. Just today I again found myself getting a tad frustrated with my son’s lack of interest and quite frankly, total aversion, to the potty. He’s 2 1/2 so I *know* that it will come at the time when he’s ready, but it’s so nice to hear it from someone else. I do look forward to the day he’s ready though!

  5. Amy W.  

    It’s hard to wait. Society is a little obsessed with toilet learning, and there’s so much pressure to “get it done!” But when the time comes when your little one is truly ready, both of you will be so happy! Abbey is truly very proud and thrilled to be able to “listen to her body and use the potty” – all in due time!

  6. Jenni  

    By three it’s a bit too late, but for future reference, controlling urine and stool is actually something newborns do, and if we listen to it, they can use the potty from the beginning. There are tons of books out already about it, search under elimination communication. The good ones stress respecting the baby and not forcing it, just watching for signs as you would with breastfeeding.

  7. Valerie (Momma in Progress)  

    Thank you for writing this. My second child is almost four, and has never once shown more than remote interest in using the potty. I’m trying to be all zen about it, we haven’t even mentioned it for months, but still zero motivation. Logically I know it will happen eventually, but it’s hard not to have a swell of panic every once in a while.

    • Amy W.  

      Valerie, know that I am with you in your feelings of sporadic panic 🙂 Potty learning is an up and down and around the bush type of learning experience. Our children have to learn about their bodies and how to control them, and they’re learning so much other stuff in the same time period! Like Jenni said, even if we don’t practice EC, we can watch for signals that our children are going to go, and help them to the potty without forcing them to go. It will happen. Have faith!

  8. Michelle  

    When my eldest daughter was about to start nursery school.(kindergarten?) I had to carry her potty everywhere because she refused point blank to sit on a toilet. I was really worried about what would happen at school. I even approached the headteacher and asked if it would be worth sending her in nappies (diapers?) The head told me to relax. If she had an accident or two, they’d clean her up and eventually (and she promised it wouldn’t be long) my daughter would start wanting to use the toilet just like the other children. I had doubts. Huge doubts. But the old, wise headteacher was absolutely right. Well, almost right. There was not one accident and my daughter used the toilets without fuss, all of her own accord. It made me realise that sometimes we really do need to take a step back, relax, and let things happen in their own time. By the way. Either your bathrooms are enormous compared to ours in England – or you live in a mansion! 🙂

    • Amy W.  

      Oh, that’s NOT our restroom. Ours is tiny compared to the one in the picture. Abbey still has trouble using large potties and public potties. But she has time to become comfortable with that! That’s a great story about your kindergartner! Thanks for sharing.

  9. zen mummy  

    This couldn’t have come along at a better time for me ~ thank you! Our 2.5 yeard old sort of wants to use the potty, but she isn’t always sure when she’s about to go. We’re keeping it pretty low-key, and I’m sure she’ll get there in her own time, but any and all tips are gratefully received.

  10. Mary

    My girl was ready to train at 18.5 months and pretty darn close to completely accident free a month later. I was surprised at all the media out there that said not to try training before age two, and I’m still surprised at all the comments I get about how she’s “already” trained. In my opinion, an early attempt can yield surprising results. She was “ready” only in that when without diaper she would state “tee-tee” right before she peed. I’d scoop her up and we’d run mid pee to the potty and she’d finish and get an m and m for a reward. Worked amazingly well, and within two weeks she was heading for the potty herself without prompting. but if I had waited for other signs of “readyness” we might never have given the potty a try. Other factors I attribute to success are using cloth diapers so she knew when she was wet, and giving her lots of diaper free time in our fenced in backyard. (that was actually to heal a persistent diaper rash, but pointing out to her when she was going helped with her own potty awareness!)

  11. Amy  

    Sage advice, Amy. Thank you for sharing this with other parents. 🙂