Potty Training: Are We There Yet?

For our first baby, we approached potty training like a task to be accomplished. A skill to be learned. One more thing to check off the list for that day. Pee and poop — in the potty. How difficult could that be?

Well, pretty difficult.  While our daughter was perfectly normal, OUR expectations were totally out of whack. Pooping in the potty was a breeze. But peeing in the potty was something she couldn’t be bothered for. Too many butterflies to chase, too many bugs rescue. She was BUSY, people!

Rewards — stickers, tiny candies, TV time — all  helped, but only temporarily. When she peed in the potty, she was doing it for US — and the candy. She wasn’t doing it for HER. We caused ourselves lots of unnecessary aggravation trying new techniques, stressing, and worrying about it. Then one day, she was ready. Just like THAT — she decided she liked the potty better than the diaper.

That’s where a lot of potty training advice goes off-track. It doesn’t take one crucial fact into account: Potty training isn’t about learning the rules to make Mommy and Daddy happy. Instead, it’s about harnessing your toddler’s natural, in-born drive to master his or her own body. Think of it: Babies spend all their time trying to gain mastery over their flailing, unruly little bodies. Once they can talk, walk, and run, they feel an unbounded sense of exhilaration — I can move this body where I want! I can make things happen in the world! Potty training is part of that drive to master their little bodies. And the reward is in the accomplishment itself. I’m not totally against potty-training rewards, but I do think it’s important to understand that the sticker or candy should be a minor part of the potty-training picture.

But progress must be at THEIR pace. Your toddler doesn’t wear a watch, nor own a calendar. Your toddler doesn’t care if the cutoff for preschool entrance is coming soon — potty training can’t be forced. Chasing butterflies and rescuing bugs truly are more important to them — until they’re not.

So what’s a parent to do? As always, check with the pediatrician, but if everything’s OK, mellow out. Adopt a Zen attitude. Breathe deeply. Calm your mind, Grasshoppah. Wax on, wax off. Encourage, but stay one step behind your little potty trainee. It will happen.



Dr. Heather
The BabyShrink
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Welcome to BabyShrink.com, where parents turn for open, honest and direct answers to questions regarding their babies, toddlers and children up to age seven. Dr. Heather, the author of BabyShrink, is a licensed psychologist specializing in child development. She's also the mother of four young children, which gives her the unique ability to respond to parents' inquiries about the social, emotional and behavioral development of your children from both clinical and practical points of view.

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2 comments on “Potty Training: Are We There Yet?
  1. Louise says:

    Toddlers will soon realize that the feeling of peeing (especially pooping) in a diaper is uncomfortable. Great article.

  2. Jane Reese says:

    Hello Dr. Heather,

    Thank you for article. I quite agree with Louise that the toddlers will soon realize the uncomfortable feeling. But if the diapers are good, it will absorb the wetness and one of the tip I found useful is the no nappy day.

    Oh well, to many things to put in the equation of potty training, but patience is everything 🙂 And yes, Zen attitude… Breath deeply!

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"Calling all parents who are about to embark on the wild adventure of potty training their child -- this is your must-read! With authoritative practical advice, playful tips, and a spirit of connection and love, Dr. Wittenberg gives us an easy-to-read gem of a resource that can lead your family to a diaper-free finish line with minimal fuss -- and a big helping of laughter. Enthusiastically recommended."

- Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD, co-author of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It

About Dr. Heather
About Dr. Heather
I'm Dr. Heather Wittenberg, child psychologist and mom of four. I specialize in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers -- and parents! I've got over 200 articles here to help make parenting less stressful and more fun. Got potty training questions? Come on over to my Potty Page where I've got tons of ideas for you.
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