I offer A LOT of elimination communication and potty training classes and consultations and I get A LOT of parents who are ready to give up on potty training.
I’d say that the number one reason clients schedule a consultation with me is that they’re frustrated by potty training and/or they can’t make sense of how to progress through the potty training process.
They want to quit potty training because yes, potty training can be super challenging, at least parts of it.
But somewhere deep down, the clients sense there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even if they currently don’t see it, and that potty independence is a possibility.
They contact me and request I guide them to the light. Below is what I’ve culled from many years of potty training coaching.
I’m going to share WHY you should stick with potty training (even when you want to quit) and exactly how to get through the most challenging parts of potty training.
(You may be reassured to know the majority of families who’ve done our Potty Training Plan had very similar questions and concerns. Parents got stuck on the same issues, and fortunately, the advice on how to proceed works for most families!)
5 Reasons to continue with potty training
1. Even though potty training makes sense to you, it may take your child some time so be patient.
You desperately want your child to know that the potty or toilet is where pee and poop go. It seems pretty straightforward. Eliminating in the toilet makes perfect sense to an adult. But you are training a small child, who has been taught to pee and poop in a diaper.
By initiating potty training, you are pulling the rug (or diaper, in this case) right out from under them. For many children, recognizing and accepting this drastic change will take some time. If your child has been in diapers for 20 or 30 months, it’s acceptable to spend 7 days (just a ballpark number) on just Step 1 of Phase 1 of the Potty Training Plan.
You’ve got to be realistic about the timeframe and the reconditioning of your child’s beliefs about elimination. Be patient.
2. Although potty training is nonlinear and a little elusive, trust the process.
Most authentic real world learning is nonlinear. Sure, academic learning is often taught in a linear way, but real world learning has ups and downs, big picture learning intermingled with fine details, pauses and great surges of progress.
Potty training falls under the category of real world learning, and it will be nonlinear. Regressions, resistance, and pauses can be interpreted as “negatives” during potty training. It certainly feels that way.
But we cannot see what is going on inside the child during these lulls. Yes, there is learning going on.
Your child may be processing this profound transition. She may be assembling the tiny pieces of learning into the bigger picture. We don’t really know what’s going on in that little body and mind.
So, just like with any other major life skill, like learning to sleep through the night, tie shoelaces, or ride a bike, there are going to be ups and downs in the learning process.
The way to get through this imagined roadblock is to trust the process.
3. When all goes well and then things backslide, stay the course.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who nailed potty training in the first week or two. Lucky you! Your child was compliant and learned quickly. The accidents decreased day by day at a steady rate. Your child was at ease during the process.
Then, all of a sudden, there were accidents or resistance. You felt like you were pedaling backward.
Again, trust the process. The Potty Training Plan is not off the rails. Your child can’t unlearn what she has learned.
First, be okay with this. Stay calm. Present a facade of confidence. Let her have the space to move through this.
Take time to reflect on what the next step of learning may be. Try shifting something - the receptacle, the cues you use, the frequency that you offer pottytunities.
Be thankful for the initial days or weeks that potty training was easy, trust the process, and stay the course.
4. Despite doubts, most parents continue through and end up with a potty trained child and a renewed sense of confidence as a parent. Keep going.
Does your child seem to dislike (or outright despise) or not care about potty training? This is very common. Often parents read their child’s emotional response to potty training as a sign that the child is not “ready” to potty train.
Over several years of coaching, I have only had one parent ultimately decide that it was not the right time to potty train, after assessing her child’s response to potty training in the first few days.
Hundreds have continued with potty training, despite having doubts, and reported gratitude and a sense of strength and confidence for moving through the difficult parts to having a potty trained child.
One of the greatest aspects of potty training is that you’re offering your child the gift of independence. Deep down, we know we want our children to evolve and grow, but when it’s difficult during potty training, we often fall back to wanting to keep our babies babies. We think we’re pushing them too hard.
But consider this: Half of the world is out of diapers by the age of 12 months. Your child is biologically and emotionally ready to say goodbye to diapers. Aren’t you too?
5. Potty training almost always doesn’t get any easier when your child is older, so stick with what you’ve started.
During my potty training or EC coaching sessions, I always stress the 3Cs from Andrea’s philosophy: commitment, confidence, and consistency.
With this in mind, you stick with potty training after you’ve started. You exude confidence (and it’s okay to fake it at times). You stick to the structure of the program, while making necessary accommodations to meet your child’s unique needs.
You have to potty train at some point. For almost all families, it doesn’t get easier to potty train when your child is older. The way you teach your child is to stick with what you’ve started.
If you decide to quit or pause potty training, you will have to start all over again. The issue doesn’t go away.
If you start and quit or half-heartedly commit to potty training, your child will perceive a mixed message about the importance of potty training. For them to believe in potty training, you have to show that you believe in potty training.
5 Tips to get through the hard parts and move toward potty independence
While the above five points are generally philosophical in nature, below I offer some tangible tips to get you closer to potty independence.
1. Acknowledge small successes.
If your child is consistently having accidents, keep a bowl or mini potty close by and try to get just a few drops of pee into the bowl.
Even if there’s a puddle of pee on the floor and only 3 measly drops of pee in the bowl, acknowledge the success: “Thank you for getting the pee in the bowl.” Baby steps, baby steps.
Try to find several small signs of progress throughout the day, even on an especially challenging and messy day, to acknowledge (and build your confidence).
2. Set a limit on how long a child can sit on the potty.
Some children say they need to potty (or you know they need to potty) and end up sitting on the potty for 20 minutes with no results. And during those 20 minutes, they are read countless stories or get to play with the special bin of toys next to the potty.
To cut the drama, set a limit and stick to it.
It’s okay to say, “I’ll read one book while you potty, but that’s it.”
You can also use a timer to set a reasonable time limit. I’d say a few minutes if you think she needs to pee and a bit more if she needs to poop. No reason to sit all day in the bathroom!
It’s good to set boundaries around pottying, even though we’d do just about anything for a pee or poop in the potty during the first few days of potty training.
Running the water from the faucet in the bathroom can also expedite the process.
Yes, some children will pee on the floor right after they run out of their allotted time in the bathroom. I encourage you “airlift” your child to the potty, mid-stream, in this instance with the reminder that “pee goes in the potty. Let’s finish on the potty.”
Stay consistent with your boundaries around potty time. It’s best to not give in to the push and pull of toddler drama over “I need to go. No, I do not need to go.”
3. If you’re on Step 2 of Phase 1 of the Potty Training Plan and doing brief, clothed outings, try to throw in a couple really exciting (albeit brief) outings each day.
Since you don’t have a lot of time, you will need to get creative: a new bow for the dog’s hair, a box of sidewalk chalk, a special snack hidden in the front yard, a tea party or racetrack for toy cars...something is waiting for your child outside (or very nearby in a park or something).
Then, you can remind your child, “After you go potty, we will get dressed and go outside to see your surprise.”
This is not bribery. This is teaching your child that it makes sense to take care of business before leaving the house. It is a natural transition that should be taught during the Potty Training Plan.
It’s okay to motivate the child to pee in order to see what’s in store outside.
4. Encourage your partner, another family member, babysitter or a close friend to join you in administering the Potty Training Plan.
The Plan will go better if you get the occasional break. It’s tiring to “ninja hover” all hours of the day.
Plus, it’s good for other caretakers to feel comfortable and confident pottying your child. Their approach may be a little different than yours, and that’s okay. It’s actually good for your child to develop a degree of flexibility and ease when pottying with others.
If you do all the training, it is likely she will always prefer your support when going potty.
5. See if a friend wants to potty train her child at the same time that you potty train your child for support.
You and your friend can read The Tiny Potty Training Book together; schedule your training together. Lean on each other on difficult days. Offer encouragement and bounce ideas off each other.
Make sure you acknowledge that your potty training experiences will probably look very different. No two children are alike. No two households are alike.
Try to go into it wishing your friend and her child so much success! In order for this to work, you will have to limit the comparisons and judgment. Attempt for a truly supportive relationship and both of you and your children will benefit. Celebrate together when you have potty trained children!
What got you through the most difficult aspects of potty training? Please share in the comments below.
Big thanks to Kate for this awesome guest post! Please see the show notes and hire her for a one-on-one phone or Zoom consultation...she is amazing.
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)