Potty Training: What Is The Best Way To Begin Potty Training?

Dear BabyShrink, What is your take on potty training? Just GO FOR IT, or let the child initiate it all? I have heard (or read) everything from "start at 3 months old,"; to "you can do it in ONE (or three) day(s),"; to "they'll get it when they are developmentally ready." We are in the midst of training now, but I feel like we're just limping along. I want it to be DONE, but I don't have time to spend 3 days in the bathroom with her (like some books suggest) or plan an entire party around the event (yes, a real suggestion for a "one day solution). I guess we're doing okay, but it's just a PAIN IN THE ARSE!

Katie Kat

Lawrence KS

Hi Katie Kat,

This is another issue that triggers tremendous parental guilt, stress and competitiveness. We think, “My kid is SUPPOSED to be fully trained by now….My Mom says I was potty trained at 18 months….He’s gotta be out of Pull-Ups before he starts preschool…The kid down the street has been trained for over 6 months now!”

But first, let me ask you this: What is the definition of “potty trained”, anyway?

For some, it means wearing underwear…except for away from home, pooping, and at night. For others, it means wearing a diaper, but (usually) peeing on request in the baby potty. And for still others, it means different things, on different days! Even most preschools, despite their protestations to the contrary, will actually work with your toddler on this one. So once we realize that there is a whole continuum of potty training (what some call “toilet learning”), we can relax a bit. The other thing is the grandparent issue. Yeah, I know your parents put pressure on you to get your kid trained yesterday…but the world is really a different place, now. I mean, if THEY had super-duper- absorbent diapers in the super-duper sizes we have now at CostCo, they wouldn’t have been in such a rush either, would they? And let’s face it, there’s nothing grosser than trying to help a tiny tushie balance on a disgusting gas station toilet…isn’t it easier sometimes to just change a diaper?

Forcing a kid to toilet train when they’re not ready is a recipe for disaster. Remember the “anal stage” from your Intro Psych class? Freud was getting at the fact that toddlers are fighting mightily to gain control over their own bodies. When we interfere too much, we start a struggle over power and control that we truly don’t want to win.

So, what to do?

All kids are different. I would suggest trying out one technique at a time, based on how the technique appeals to YOU and your schedule. TALK ABOUT IT with your toddler, using encouraging, simple language (and model it at home too! Dontcha love that?). Read humorous books together, like our current favorite, “Everybody Poops”. But regardless of technique, attitude is the most important thing. Don't fall into the trap of expectations/pressure/disappointment. Understand that accidents WILL happen, maybe even for months (or years: sorry!) after the initial potty training is "done". Don’t punish or scold for mistakes, and don’t press for progress when there’s a lull. Know that potty training often does progress in phases: dry at HOME, in the DAYTIME first....but diapers outside and at night. Then dry at night, (or not!) and so on. Some are lucky and it all happens fairly quickly....but for most, not so much! :) But it WILL eventually happen.

Good luck and aloha!

~~Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

I’d love to hear readers’ potty training stories and suggestions!