Potty training is a rite of passage that every parent must go through sooner or later. At some point, even those parents who are petrified of poop will be cleaning it off of their bathroom floor when their preschooler doesn't make it up onto the toilet in time. It happens to the best of us, you guys. And when the sh*t hits the floor, you may in fact be tempted to lose yours, even if you typically subscribe to a more peaceful parenting practice. But, by utilizing positive parenting techniques for potty training, you're probably more likely to keep your cool when it comes to surviving the ups and downs (lots of downs) of potty training.
"In general, setting the tone of positive parenting can keep the household more playful and supportive and less fraught. With fewer battles, everything works better for the whole family. Giving your child a sense that they are competent and supported in their lives has an impact on potty training even though it seems unrelated," says Dr. Aliza Pressman, Developmental Psychologist and co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center.
Experts have touted positive parenting techniques for everything from quelling sibling rivalry to making meal times more enjoyable, and potty training is no exception. These 12 positive parenting techniques for potty training will help you and your child both survive this dreaded developmental stage with way less trepidation and uncertainty.
1. Recognize Readiness
"One of the first steps in beginning potty training is recognizing the signals that your child may be ready," says Melissa O'Connell Liggett, Ph.D., developmental psychologist at Children’s National Health System. "A child that is able to independently pull down elastic waist pants or a pull-up, that is indicating when they have gone or when they have to go, or who is showing an interest in using the potty, is one that may be ready to begin training. However, it is also important to recognize that even with those signals and cues, a child may still be somewhat resistant to toilet training, so patience is key."
If your child isn't ready as soon as you thought they should be, it is also OK to wait. Letting go of pre-conceived notions about when your child should be potty trained is A-OK and relieves stress from you both.
2. Avoid Shaming
I bet you don't like feeling shame from others when you've done something wrong — neither does your child. Chances are, they already feel bad when they have an accident, so gentle direction instead of admonishment is the way to go. "Telling your child what to do instead of reprimanding him or shaming him into using the toilet is more effective," says Dr. Pressman. "For example, if your child has an accident, avoid saying, 'why didn’t you tell me you had to go when I asked you, now it’s a mess.' Try saying 'please let me know when you have to pee so I can help you get to the potty in time!'"
3. Use Your Manners
Please and thank you are the magic words in potty training, and in life. "Say please, but don’t ask. For example, rather than inviting your child to say 'no' by asking them if they have to use the potty, try telling them 'please sit on the potty so we can go out and play,'" says Dr. Pressman. Approaching your child with firm direction that has a kindness behind it is one way to ensure that your child feels supported in their potty training adventure.
4. Learn The Basics Of Praise
Dr. Pressman agrees that using praise and small rewards can be motivating to potty training children, but wants to remind parents that praise must "be specific" and "be enthusiastic without investing too much into their success or changing your whole personality of course." Dr. Pressman also encourages parents to "use touch to reinforce the connection (hugs, high fives)" and "use praise immediately" instead of waiting until later on to talk about potty training victories.
5. Use Praise, But Do So Sparingly
It is also a good idea to keep in mind that too much of a good thing can turn out to be a not-so-good thing. "Remember to use praise and rewards sparingly so you don’t inadvertently create a little praise junkie," says Dr. Pressman. "For new habits and behaviors that need a little extra push, it’s OK to use these techniques. For things that need more long term internal motivation, better to pick another strategy. That said, we don’t find many college students looking for positive reinforcement when they go potty so in this case, it’s totally fine!"
6. Practice Patience
"With anything related to staying patient with a young child, remind yourself that they are so new in this world and learning so much every day. This won’t keep you from losing it, but being aware and reminding yourself can give you some distance before you lose your patience" says Dr. Pressman. "And finally, if you find you are having power struggles over potty training, abort the mission for two weeks and don’t invest any energy or emotions or conversations about it. Give your child space to stop fighting back and to feel a sense of agency. Then, circle back after there has been some time away and try again."
7. Let Them Watch You
"Don’t be afraid to let your child join you in the bathroom. Social modeling is a powerful tool in helping children learn, so let them see how it’s done by watching you," Dr. O'Connell Liggett tells Romper.
This one might be a little out there for some people, but I can speak from experience when I say that it really does work. Watching older siblings is also a great way to encourage your little ones to take the step to use the potty on their own.
8. Create A Routine
"Establish a consistent routine of going to the bathroom during the day, even if your child does not successfully go," says Dr. O'Connell Liggett. "Before going to bed at night or for a nap, waking from sleep, shortly after meals, and before car travel are all good times to practice. Establishing the routine helps your child establish self-regulation and makes the routine a priority in their day."
9. Keep Your Pediatrician In The Loop
It is also imperative to receive support from your pediatrician if your child is struggling with potty training. Dr. Pressman is representing Mount Sinai’s parenting center at Aspen where Dr. Carrie Quinn, the executive director and founder of Mount Sinai’s Parenting center, will be doing a panel on Reinventing the Pediatrician Visit in order to spark brain-building interactions, promote executive function, and strengthen parent/child relationships, something that is needed when parents need guidance on how to utilize positive parenting techniques with developmental issues like potty training.
10. Find Support
In addition to having the support of your pediatrician, keeping friends and loved ones in the loop while you're working to achieve the goal of potty training can help keep you in a positive head-space.
"I always suggest having a support system in place before you start potty training" says potty training consultant Allison Jandu. "Make sure you have your spouse, or family member, or friend available to back you up, and fill them in on your plans before you get started. That way, if you start to get frustrated (as it can be a trying time!), you can call on someone to take over while you take a few moments to decompress and get back in the right frame of mind. No one will fault you for it."
11. Sticker Charts Are Your Friend
"Use a sticker chart: Not the kind of rewards chart where when you get five stickers, you get to choose a prize. But rather the sticker itself is the reward," Jandu tells Romper. "Every time you child has potty success, let them choose a sticker and put it on their chart. At the end of each day, you can look at the chart all together as a family and celebrate! This will give your child a huge ego boost as it allows them to visualize their progress all in one spot."
12. Use A Countdown
"Countdown the days to no more diapers on the calendar," says Jandu. "About 3 to 5 days before you are ready to start potty training, wake up each morning and 'X' off the day with your child. Say, 'X more days until you are a big boy!' Use a lot of positive, encouraging talk during this time. This not only eases your child into the idea that their diapers will be going bye-bye, but it empowers them into believing they can do it."
We did this when my youngest was potty training and it really did work wonders when it came down to finally getting him trained overnight. While he was a bit older than most when it finally happened, a countdown combined with a sticker chart really did help him get over that final hurdle.