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9 Expert Potty Training Tips

Potty_book_400These are the things I’ve found over the years to be tremendously helpful in potty training. Overall, go with what works and be prepared to fend off unwanted advice. From Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right.

Have stuffed animals, dolls, cars, trains, or any other favorite toy “watch” your child use the potty. This works great the first few weeks. Kids love the idea of showing off to an audience of inanimate objects. It also works great for the child who doesn’t want to leave an activity behind. The thrill of the “audience” seems to have limited power, though. Its magic fades after about a month or so (or whenever your kid gets hip to your shenanigans).

Always offer choices. This works well in all areas of parenting. Do you want to use the big pot or the little pot? Do you want to go before Daddy or after Daddy? First, this gives the child some control, which they love. Second, it automatically implies that whatever you’re asking them to do is going to happen. But within those boundaries, it gives the child some control. And third, it slips in some learning about the concepts of “before” and “after,” and what they mean. Giving a choice works well as a prompt: “Come, it’s time to pee—do you want to go first or second?” Giving choices is a great parenting trick in general and can smooth other difficult areas, like getting your child to get dressed. Generally speaking, you should offer two options. Too many becomes confusing.

Have a “poop book” or two, which are books you keep by the potty or toilet and read only while pooping. They don’t necessarily have to be about poop. There are two reasons for this. First, it helps with the “read every book in the house” problem. Second, it acts as a “prompt” along the lines of a nighttime CD. [Note: If you don’t already use a nighttime CD to help encourage sleep, you might want to start. Select only one or two CDs to play at bedtime and only at bedtime, and soon, the music becomes a cue for sleep. In a short amount of time, your child will fall asleep within the first couple of songs. It won’t work if you use the same CD to dance around to during the day.] Along those same lines—repetition and consistency—a poop book becomes a cue to poop, and soon your child will poop within the first couple of pages. I’m serious. It’s wild how well this works.

An added benefit is that pooping can require some concentration, and introducing new books at potty time will put your child’s focus on the book instead of the poop, while a familiar book will keep the focus where it needs to be. Then, too, you’ll probably have the poop book memorized in short order and will be able to recite it for your child when using bathrooms outside your home.

While the book doesn’t have to necessarily be about poop, Everybody Poops and anything that combines Elmo with the toilet seem to be kid favorites. Ditto for Elmo on any videos about poop. I personally don’t think you need any kiddie-potty videos, but if you can stand them, have at it. Elmo = toddler crack. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Respect privacy. As potty training progresses, your child will request more and more privacy. Even in the beginning phases, however, while you do have to be present, don’t get all up in your child’s business. Don’t keep looking between her legs or lifting her butt to see if anything is happening. You can be right beside her to assist or read without being focused on the action. Sometimes it even helps to look away or whistle, like you have no idea what’s happening.

Make it a habit to show or tell your child where the bathroom is in any new setting, including stores. Something simple, like, “Oh, we’re in Target now. You know they have a bathroom over there in the back. Just let me know when you need to use it.” When relevant, specify who, if anyone, is available to help. This is great for when you have a play date at someone else’s home. Kids get confused—they may know you are a grown-up, but may not know that Pascal’s mom is also a grown-up who can help. The “status” of teenagers can also be confusing to kids. If you are around teenagers who are willing and able to help your child, you can point them out. This is important because accidents tend to happen more frequently outside of the home due to reduced vigilance on your part and more distractions. Sometimes your time frame for getting to the potty is reduced dramatically when you’re not at home.

Be prepared when you’re going someplace exciting. Toy stores, carousels, train stations—anything that thrills your child—will most likely bring on a pee and possibly a poop. Remember: the anus is a sphincter muscle that opens with emotion.

To promote healthy pooping, be sure your child is adequately hydrated. Encourage drinking water over milk or juice. It’s better for you and creates a great habit. Be conscious you’re not withholding liquids as a way to try to manage accidents.

Be creative and think on your feet.
What works today might not tomorrow. Come up with something new. If you come up with a unique solution that works for you but you’ve never heard of anyone else doing it, go for it! Every child, and every circumstance, is different. Go with the flow. I remember a former client, Diane, who was having a hard time getting her son Luke to pee in the potty. Luke loved everything about toilet paper. In a moment of insight, when she knew he had to pee, she put a square of toilet paper in the potty. Luke peed in it! That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. A lot of parents get very nervous and want to do everything “by the book,” literally. It’s okay to use your own creative ideas if they strike. Just about everything is okay if the pee is landing in the potty and you’re not doing anything too weird. I’ll leave what constitutes “weird” to your own family parameters.

Let it go! I know all this probably seems overwhelming. Don’t worry. It’s a lot of information that will become second nature in a short amount of time. You and your child will find your groove. Give your child the gift of responsibility and back off. There’s a fine line between watching your child and hovering; learn the difference.


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