Under the best of circumstances, potty training is one of the worst things you have to do as a parent. It's messy, it's emotional, and it can take for-friggen-ever. The worst of it is there's only so much you can do: It's mostly dependent upon a toddler... so you can imagine how well that goes most of the time. But there is one thing you can do that will seriously help everyone's efforts: stay positive. Negativity and shame are the enemies of this process. For example, there are times you don't realize you're shaming your toddler when they're potty training that might be holding this all back. Don't worry, I'm here to help.
Please don't think I don't get it: Remaining upbeat when your 3 year old just took a dump on your carpet is far easier said then done, especially when you just asked them if they needed to go potty. But experts (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) agree that potty training is most successful when it's low-stress and non-punitive. And think about it: Have you ever been shamed into doing something that was ultimately a net positive? Even if shame motivated you to do whatever it is you're supposed to do, are the associated icky feelings (or even traumas) worth it? Or don't you wish there was another way?
Sometimes during the process of potty training, shame gets transmitted unintentionally from parent to child when a parent slips into destructive behavior. For example...
1. Pushing Them To Potty Train Before They're Ready
The swathe of "normal" is way broader than some people think. Some kids are done potty training before they're two (this is rare, by the way); others are only starting to be ready well into three. Look, I totally get wanting your kid to be one of the early bloomers because who the hell wants to keep changing diapers, but the fact is that if they're not ready they're not ready, and trying to force the issue not only won't work, it can potentially further delay any progress by making your child doubt themselves (or actively dig their heels in more and longer than they would have).
2. Telling Them "Other People" Will Make Fun Of Them If They Don't Use The Potty
Because, really, that's just a passive aggressive way of you making fun of them for not using the potty, and they will absolutely pick up on that. It's letting them know that you feel they should be ashamed but not wanting to take direct responsibility for motivating them through shame.
3. Dismissing Their Potty Training Fears As Silly
Like... yes, it's sort of silly to be scared that the toilet is going to eat your butt or unduly upset by the sound of it flushing. But their fears, silly are not, are real and theirs and, moreover, you can't know how they process the world and maybe it's a lot bigger and louder and scarier to them than it is to you, an adult. Making them feel foolish about it isn't going to help matters.
4. Yelling At Them For Accidents
Again, I get it, I really do. And sometimes it's not even like you really want to yell at your child, you just want to yell near your child (at the situation, if you will). But remember they're learning and it's a really big, inconvenient adjustment for them that's requiring both their brains and bodies to fire on all cylinders.
Accidents are going to happen. It's best to take them in stride and just keeping moving forward.
5. Punishing Them For Accidents
Experts agree that negative reinforcement will not advance your potty training agenda in large part because it's going to undermine the confidence of your kiddo (who is going to need every last ounce of self esteem they can get to get them through this ordeal). If your kid knows they might get punished for having an accident then potty training stops being about succeeding and starts being about not failing, which can be really super stressful and make them more prone to mistakes.
6. Comparing Them To Other Kids
Again, "normal" is a spectrum. Highlighting kids on one end of the spectrum as being "normal" and your kid as falling short of expectations (even though they're just fine and developmentally appropriate operating on their own timeline) can make them feel self-conscious and ashamed which is going to be counterproductive.
7. Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Some people find great success with, say, the three-day method... others don't. My second child was full-blown potty trained in three days (night and day) and has only had one or two accidents in the ensuing two years. My first child was... absolutely not potty-trained in three days, much less at night. It had nothing to do with the method or how we went about it: It was all about the kid, their readiness, and their responsiveness to the tools we were giving them. So if your little one doesn't jive with whatever deadline you've set forth, either as a stated goal or in your head, don't take it personally and please don't make them feel ashamed by letting your disappointment show.
8. Calling Them A Baby
It's just mean, TBH. Telling them you think they're being a baby (or just generally calling them names) isn't going to stop them from behaving a certain way. It's only going to let them know that you feel negatively toward them and make them feel ashamed, which just isn't going to help anything.
Also, think about it: if you're telling them you think they're old enough to be potty trained and then you tell them they're being a baby... that's a helluva mixed message, no?
9. Making Too Big A Deal Of "Potty Language"
I know it's not strictly speaking polite to go on about poop. Sure, there's a time and place for it, but don't make them feel bad for giggling about poo or even for being a titch more fixated on pee than usual. This is part of how they process what's going on and changing in their lives.
Also, let's be honest: poop is funny and bodies are weird and this is actually a great way to get your kid more interested in potty training.
10. Overreacting To Regression
Just when you think you're in the clear: bam! Three days of accidents at preschool in a row. It completely sucks, I know, but it's also very, very normal. (Sometimes they get cocky and just forget to go.)
Take a deep breath, realize this isn't forever, you haven't gone back to square one, and move forward.
11. Complaining About Their Lack Of Potty Training Progress In Front Of Them
I know it's occupying a lot of your mental energy and it's the source of a lot of stress and good goddamn reason to complain, but the name of the game is positivity when it comes to your kid. Moan about the slow progress via text or after they're asleep or when you're sure you're out of earshot of your kids: you deserve to vent. But if you're venting and they're right there listening you're going to be setting yourself back by making them feel bad.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.