Photo credit: jessica lewis/ Flickr Open/ Getty Images
You're so over diapers, but your toddler so isn't. Sound familiar? It should. Potty training is one of most toddler parents' favorite conversation topics — and milestones to reach. Family doctor, author, parenting speaker and mother of four, Deborah Gilboa, M.D., explains the ins and outs of potty training and why it's so on our minds — even when it's not on our little ones' and real moms share what potty training tips really worked for their kids.
Why is potty training so hard?
Gilboa answers most parents' first — and most desperate — question, Why is potty training so hard?, by saying, "Here is the perfect recipe for a toddler power struggle: something you care about greatly, but that she has complete control over the outcome."
Developmentally, kids need to have quite a bit under control before they can potty train. Gilboa explains why we can't actually put potty training on our mama time tables. She says that potty training requires four steps for a child:
Recognize a feeling of fullness in the bladder or rectum. To do this a child needs to be able to feel when they're full and know what it means — so that requires the nerves that lead from the bladder and rectum to the brain to be fully covered with myelin, or "insulation." For girls this happens between the ages of 18-30 months and for boys usually between 24-36 months.
Hold in the pee or poop. The child has to figure out which muscles these are and have great control over them.
Stop what they're doing. This includes playing, bothering your sister, cuddling with Mommy and so on. The ability to delay gratification for a different goal can take a long time to learn.
Get to the bathroom before eliminating.
Gilboa shares that most parents try to make potty training important to kids citing that she's observed parents try prizes, stickers, praise and even candy as well as scolding, time outs, threats or other negative consequences. She discourages using food and negativity for potty training but she does add that occasionally parents will find a long-term motivator that really speaks to their child, like, "You're only allowed to join that dance class if you use big girl underwear. Do you want to go?"
She answers the real question here, Why does this matter to us so much?, by saying, "Many parents feel that a potty-trained child signals successful parenting, and that a 4-year-old in diapers means they're parenting failures. This is not true!" She explains that some kids hate change, some kids care more about autonomy than making their parents happy and some kids would just rather play than bother with self-toileting. Importantly, she adds that all of these reasons for later-than-you'd-like potty training are just fine.
Photo credit: Deborah Gilboa, M.D.
Gilboa's final potty training message^ Don't stress, kids figure this out. And if we stress less, they often figure it out faster.
Real moms share with us what worked for them when it was finally time to potty train their little ones.
Jenny Feldon is the author of memoir Karma Gone Bad and mom to Eva, 5, and Noah, 3. She blogs at Karma (continued...). About her best potty training tip, Jenny says, "The best potty training tip I ever got came from the director of our preschool who believes that an "all or nothing" approach to underwear works best... and that waiting until a child is truly ready is much easier than trying to force it. She said as soon as he pooped in the potty, we should make it a celebration and switch to full-time underwear without looking back (gulp!) I told my son that the day he pooped in the potty, it meant he was ready to be done with diapers, and we'd go to the store and buy him special Lightning McQueen underwear. We talked about it every so often while he experimented with peeing in the potty, but I tried to keep it casual and not put a whole lot of pressure on him. One day, he called out gleefully from the bathroom for me to come see... he'd pooped in the potty and was so proud of himself. We went to Target that afternoon, and the next morning he raced to his drawer and pulled out his brand new Lightning underwear. From that moment on, we never looked back. Definitely a few accidents along the way, but having that "milestone" in place helped him feel excited and ready to say goodbye to diapers for good."
Photo credit: Jenny Feldon
Potty Training Tip^ Celebrate successes.
Ilene Evans is a professional granola baker, writer, single mother and yoga teacher who blogs at The Fierce Diva Guide to Life. About her best potty training tip, Ilene says, "I had gently suggested the idea of wearing "big girl panties" to my daughter a few times but never forced the issue. Ultimately I let her take the lead and decide when she was ready. However, once my daughter decided she was done with diapers, the diapers disappeared. There were no pull ups or training pants (except for nighttime). There were only panties and no matter how many accidents she had in one day, we stuck with only panties. There was a short period where there were a lot of accidents, but it passed quickly. I'm glad that (a) I let her choose her time and that (b) once we made the decision, we did not go back."
Photo credit: Ilene Evans
Potty Training Tip^ Once you start, don't stop.
Photo credit: Kimberly Muro
Kimberly Muro is a mother of four with another on the way who pursued her passion in the photography world. About her best potty training tip, Kimberly says, "With my kids I've waited until I knew they were really ready. They were 3 - 3-1/2 years old. I didn't push potty training early. Once I saw that they were ready, I took a few days at home and had them sit on the toilet every 20 to 25 minutes, even if they said they didn't have to go."
Potty Training Tip^ Take a few days at home to practice.
Melissa Nielsen is a lover of chocolate, music and Sharpie markers who blogs about her adventure as a mom of children with autism. About her best potty training tip, Melissa says, "My advice is to wait until they're a little bit older. A child has to learn how to control the bladder muscles in order to be successful, and that can't happen if they're still trying to figure out other gross motor skills like walking, running, jumping, etc. You'll be ready for diapers to be gone much earlier than your child is. We waited to start my son until after he turned 3; and by 3 1/2, he was completely accident free during the night and the day. Just remember — diapers are a lot easier to change than soiled underwear. So push away the voice inside your head that is telling you to potty train right now and listen to the voice from your little one. You will see the signs when they're ready and you'll save yourself — and your little — a lot of frustration if you wait until the time is right."
Photo credit: Melissa Nielsen
Potty Training Tip^ Wait until she's a little older.
Photo credit: Lauren Apfel
Lauren Apfel is a classicist turned stay-at-home mom of four — including twins — who writes regularly on her blog omnimom and is a contributing blogger for Brain, Child Magazine. About her best potty training tip, Lauren says, "Potty training is about readiness. If your child is truly ready, it should be a quick and painless endeavor — days or weeks, not months and certainly not years. The problem is that readiness is not always recognizable, especially to a first-time parent who doesn't "know it when she sees it." It's not just that your 22-month-old daughter can chat endlessly about peeing and pooing or that your 28-month-old son is gung-ho to try. It's a constellation of emotional, physiological and developmental qualities, all of which must be present for success. In my experience, the biggest mistake parents make is starting too soon because they are ready to be done with diapers, not because their kid is. It was the friends of mine insistent on putting 18-month-old bums on the toilet who were the ones still dealing with those bums at 3 years old. If you are genuinely unsure whether your child is ready, he probably isn't. Better to err on the side of caution."
Lauren adds a note to moms of twins saying, "You might not want to potty train them at the same time. She says, "If you have twins, consider potty training them separately. With two toddlers there is an understandable sense of wanting to "get it done" in one fell swoop, but this conflation can complicate matters. The odds are that, for whatever reasons, your twins will not be ready at the exact same time. Training them consecutively — with however much space in between you feel is necessary — allows you to focus on each child individually: Their processes will most likely be different as well. A bonus is that the second twin can then learn from and be inspired by the first."
Potty Training Tip^ Understand what "ready" to potty train means developmentally.
Val Curtis is the editor-in-chief of BonBon Break, an online magazine for women featuring the best of the web. About her best potty training advice, Val says, "Keep it positive and don't force it. After battles with my first, we decided to let my daughter choose when she would potty train and it was a breeze. She regressed at one point and wanted diapers again. We followed her lead and it only lasted for about a week. Also, keep a drawer full of cute panties or underwear within their reach as soon as they show any interest."
Photo credit: Val Curtis
Potty Training Tip^ Keep it positive.