Parents always want to know the perfect, easiest, fastest, cleanest way to potty train. I wish I could give all those parents an answer in one blog post. But the truth is that each child will benefit from different strategies, struggle with different areas, and achieve success at a different rate. There is no perfect age to potty train, and signs of readiness aren’t always as clear as we would hope, but despite that most children will achieve bladder and bowel control. Sphincter control is a developmental milestone.
In typically developing children, we expect this skill to develop no matter what method we use. Think of it as crawling or walking. What method did you use to “train” your child for those milestones? Probably the “watch and cheer method”! Unless your child was presenting with a red flag that made you or your doctor suggest therapy, the skills develop as your child’s body matures.
The difference with potty training (I am calling it training, but we are really just guiding not training) is that for the most part, the child will need an adult to suggest that diapers are not forever. The child might develop the skill to hold and release pee and poop voluntarily but we need to show them to release into a toilet and not in the diaper.
When I had my first baby I thought I had to read all the books out there because I felt very unprepared to be a mother. The first book I read was: ‘The Happiest Baby On The Block’. I spent a lot of my precious waking hours during those first few months reading that book because I wanted my baby to be THE HAPPIEST. Well, I was really annoyed when I finished the book and I read the back cover; all the important information was there in 5 paragraphs. My point is, I don’t think you need to read a book to potty train your typically developing child.
There are definitely things you can do to set up for success, and things you should avoid to prevent bad habits that will take you and your child down a rabbit hole. But those can be learned by finding the right sources or reaching out to trained professionals, instead of following advice from comments on your parenthood Facebook group.
I will share with you 5 easy steps to take to set up for success PRIOR to starting the formal potty training process.
1. Talk about pee and poop when you go and when they go. You can give descriptions of color and consistency. Kids love to talk about poop and farts; have fun with it and normalize it. Let them build interest and an emotional connection to peeing and pooping.
2. If your child plays with stuffed animals or dolls you can start to plant a seed by asking if the toys wear diapers or go in the potty/toilet. Observe if your child understands the process: does he wipe or flush? Avoid directing your child’s play, this is more an opportunity to peek into their point of view.
3. Include stress-free potty time in your daily routine: This is a time for no expectations and no fighting. If they don’t want to sit, just move on to the next thing. If they sit, great! If they sit and pee or poop, give lots of positive reinforcement. This can be when getting dressed in the morning, before a nap, after a meal or before a bath at night. Choose a time that will fit organically into your routine.
4. Don’t force them to sit. If they refuse, don’t draw attention to it and move on with your day, it is not a failure.
5. Don’t distract them with tablets or books: How long is too long? If you have to ask yourself this question, then it’s probably been too long already!
The bed is for sleeping and the toilet for voiding. This applies to both adults and children. When sitting at the potty or toilet you want your child to connect with their body. When you sit in a hole your rectum is lower than the rest of the pelvis, our friend gravity kicks in, and the blood pools in the blood vessels around the anus; so not a good habit.
I offer webinars and 1:1 virtual consultations to help you through this process, whether it is to start or to correct a process that is not going smoothly. Individual plans developed by a trained professional work better than anecdotal advice!
Shelly is a licensed Physical Therapist in WA state and a mother of 2 girls, ages 5 and 2.5. For Shelly, motherhood has inevitably shed a light on the importance of pelvic floor function for good health. Shelly founded Happy Potty Time in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic as she realized the science of pelvic floor physical therapy has a clear place in pediatrics.
She has completed continuing education in physical therapy treatment for the pediatric pelvic floor through the American Physical Therapy Association and she is committed to lifelong learning to best serve her pediatric clients. When she’s not working or taking care of her 2 little ones (or doing laundry, or cooking, or cleaning up after the family) you can find Shelly running around Green Lake in Seattle.