Potty training seems to scare so many mothers. When do you start, how do you go about it, why won’t my toddler do anything? Frustration, tears, miserable moms and even sadder kids. This is not how it needs to be.
When will my toddler be ready?
Potty training is a harsh word. Toddlers learn to use the toilet and do not need to be trained. All they need is a little direction and suggestion when they are ready to reach the milestone.
When will my toddler be ready? They will show you! Each child is individual. Some are ready at 18 months, but most take far longer, often closer to 3 years.
Experience of a new mom
When I was a new mom, I wanted to potty train my first daughter at 18 months. That seemed to be the age other moms around me started and, well, I didn’t want her to be behind. So, I got a potty and panties, made a star chart, etc.
Things did not go well. She would not sit on it, and when she did, we could sit for an hour and nothing happened. I was getting tired and frustrated and she was getting miserable. After about 6 months we maybe had one wee, another 6 months of tears and frustration and still no luck.
I thought I was doing something terribly wrong. I was told to smack her when she did it in her pants, or give a punishment. Well, I probably tried it once and realised that was no good either. She certainly was not doing it on purpose.
In the end, this kid needed time. Much more time than I thought. She was fully off nappies at 4.5 years only. When she eventually figured it out, it took a week and we were done.
Lessons learned from my first child
In hindsight I now know I was pushing her too early when she was just not ready. You cannot make a baby crawl or walk. They get there when they are ready in their own time. I was never going to go through that same stress ever again.
Potty training the next children
With my second kid I still tried to train him, but was far more relaxed and calm and things went so much better. He was all done when he was 3.
My third kid was a surprise: 2 years and 2 months old and one week of potty learning and we had no more nappies, day or night.
I was very relaxed with my fourth kid. We had just moved house and I was pregnant with number five. I just left him to figure it out all by himself. I specifically remember that from quite young (17 months) he had some bladder control and could wee on demand. However apart from suggesting he use the toilet at bath time, I never did anything further, he learned it all alone with lots of examples from siblings. He was 3 when he was out of nappies!
Kid number five took much longer again. He took ages to learn to walk (19.5 months) and took ages to say his first word. So, I figured that learning bladder control would also take a while. And, indeed, he showed no interest at all till he was about 3.5 years old, so I just left him. He eventually refused to wear a nappy in the day and ran around without one and then he started to learn. It took time and no rushing from me. He had figured it all out by the time he was just over 4!
Potty training done right
My sixth child is 2 years and 5 months and is now almost completely off nappies (only the night ones remain). What did I do? Same as the last few kids, I did nothing at all.
It has been a very hot summer so far, so I just started taking her nappy off and letting her run around with a panty, or leggings or nothing. After a while she started to notice every time she was wet and come and tell me. We would change and just carry on.
Bringing out the potty
I started to notice how often she would need to go and at what times she most often went, I also started to notice her behaviour just before (she would hop around and just look uncomfortable).
So, one day I took out the potty and asked her if she wanted to sit on it and wee. She did want to sit on it, but of course did nothing. However, five minutes later, without me asking, she hopped back on and did her first wee in the potty. We clapped our hands, told her she was clever and left it at that.
Next time she did not want to sit on it, so again I just left her. The next day she did not want to use the potty, but decided she needed to sit on the toilet instead – and that was the end of the potty. She goes to the toilet when I remind her and occasionally on her own, too. The accidents get less and less each day.
There are no reward charts or sweets when she gets it right, and no cross words or angry faces at the accidents, either. Painlessly she is learning without any tears or negativity. She will eventually make no more accidents. It may take a week, it may take a month, it may take 3 months.
Is it worth the stress?
In the end it really does not matter as we all get there eventually. One day as an adult no one will ask your child at what age they learned to walk or talk or use the toilet. No one will ask about it at a job interview and, really, no one will care whether you were 2 years or 5 years old. Why do we put so much stress on this when they are little? Is it worth the tears and frustration it seems to take?
My opinion: it is definitely not worth the struggle when they will figure it out without a struggle all by themselves.
Baby number seven arrives in a few months and potty learning holds no dread for me, because once again, I plan to do absolutely nothing!
This is the second guest op-ed on this blog. The author is Naomi Mitchell, Dominique’s oldest sister. Naomi is a mother of 6, currently expecting number 7, a qualified staff nurse, doula, and entrepreneur: besides working as a doula, she is amazing with the sewing machine.