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Expert Recommendations on Prepping for Potty Training

Potty_parents_400Here’s a potty seat recommendation, how much time you should clear in your schedule, and what to keep in mind. From Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right.

Set a date.
You need to pick a date to start the process. You can pick any start date. I usually recommend starting about two weeks after reading this book, but really, tomorrow is fine, too. The two-week waiting period is to prepare you and to give your mind a break. Chances are, you’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading up on potty training, thinking about it, asking around the playground, fending off the know-it-alls, and feeling a little guilty every time you change a diaper. Give yourself two weeks NOT to think about it. Set a date that will allow you, and hopefully your partner, to focus fully on potty training for three or four days. Holiday weekends are perfect. This is the same sort of preparation period people go through when they pick a date to start a workout routine, a diet, or to quit smoking. It gives you that last hoorah. Set your date and luxuriate in diapers for those two weeks. The waiting period also preps you for a major transition in your child’s life–from baby to little kid. I find some parents have a fear about giving up their baby. It’s a bittersweet time and worth self-examination. It’s my personal philosophy that we shouldn’t try to hold our children back to fill our own emotional needs. In a bit, I’ll offer some advice to help both you and your child cope with the emotions of the transition.

Get a potty chair, or if you already have one out, put it in hiding.
Every single parent who has attended my class has made the “put the pot out so they can get used to it” mistake. If you haven’t put it out, don’t. If you have and your child has only ever used it to pee and poop in, you may leave it out. If the potty chair has been used for anything else besides peeing and pooping, put it away.

I also don’t suggest letting your child pick her own potty chair. They’ll inevitably pick one with bells and whistles, and you don’t need that. This isn’t a toy. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the BabyBjörn potty chairs. If your child asks to use the potty chair between now and your selected start date, go ahead and let him. So, say you’ve set a start date for two weeks from now. He’s been using the potty, but inconsistently. Still, it’s in the bathroom and has not become any sort of toy. You can leave it out. During the two weeks between now and your start date, if he asks to use it, let him. But don’t make a big deal about it. Just say, “Thank you for using the potty.” You are not going to mention potty training. You are not going to give accolades. Just go with a simple thank you or a reflection back to him: “You used the potty chair to pee in. Thank you.”


Clear your social calendar for a week, starting with your start date.

Just to clarify, let’s say you’ve decided to start potty training in two weeks on a Sunday. You will clear your calendar for a week, starting with that Sunday.

I usually crack up at the look on moms’ faces when I say this. Jaws drop, faces go white. What?! Yes, clear your calendar for a week. (Don’t worry, working moms: we’ll hit day care situations in a bit.)

You will be home for the first few days, with small outings planned. After that, you want to be at your child’s bathroom beck and call for at least a week. The reason for this calendar clearing is simple: if you have things planned, you’re more likely to get stressed out. What if your child had a lot to drink in the morning and doesn’t pee and it’s time for Music Together, story time at the library, a play date, or whatever? You are more likely to pressure him or get aggravated. You’re tempting fate with an accident in the car. What if your child has to poop, and you’re in the one place that has an out-of-order toilet? At this point, you will be only three days into potty training; you will still have a way to go before you and your child absolutely know his signals. Set up yourself and your child for success!

I’m asking you to clear a small amount of time. I’ve had parents practically flip out and tell me they can’t possibly stay home for a few days, to which I respond that if you can’t stay home with your child for a few days, you might want to change your priorities. At this age, your child should be neither overscheduled nor overstimulated with entertainment. If you and your partner are both full-time workers out of the home, I’ve got a whole chapter on day cares; that is its own ball of wax. In a full-time day care situation, it’s usually best to pick a three-day holiday weekend, and maybe even take an extra day off to make it a four-day weekend. The more time your child has to learn this with you, in the familiar setting of home, the better it sticks.

An interesting side note to clearing your calendar: just one generation ago, kids were potty trained at seventeen to twenty-two months. I truly believe it’s because our moms, for the most part, were stay-at-home moms. I mean stay at home. They didn’t work at home, they had no computer for email and Facebook, no cell phones, no identities to preserve, no mommy groups, no playdates, no baby gymnastics, no music classes, and no swimming lessons. Now, I’m forty-three, so maybe I’m talking to a younger audience here, and I’m certainly not saying our moms exhibited the best parenting. But I do believe it was that stay-at-home factor that made potty training so easy. Between my mom and her three best friends, they literally had twenty kids in a ten-year span. All four moms used cloth diapers, and none had a dryer. And each of those kids was fully potty trained by twenty-two months.

If there’s any pressure for your child to perform, it’ll backfire and have you unnecessarily pulling your hair out. Do yourself a favor and listen to me. Clear your calendar. Please don’t make the mistake of assuming your child is going to be the potty training all-star. They exist, but usually where we don’t expect them. Do not think I’m making this up. Many parents have fallen prey to the fantasy “My kid is smart, he’ll pick this up. I’m clearing my calendar for three days and then that’s it! Back to business as usual. I don’t have time for this to take longer than that.”

Again, trust me. That very thinking will lead to tears—yours.

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