Children expressing an interest in the toilet might be ready to unleash the wonderful world of potty training upon their parents. Or they may just be fascinated that tiny toys can be flushed down the toilet in a swirling tunnel of water.
The University of Michigan reports that most children are ready to potty train at 24 to 27 months, but some children will be ready earlier or later than that. So all the science really tells us is that at some point in toddlerhood, your child will start using the potty in its intended form, and not just as their new favorite toy.
There are tomes of advice on what to do when potty training, but there’s really not much that says what not to do. And because no single method works best for every family, we think it’s more important to call out the terrible potty training advice that flat-out doesn’t work.
Here’s the type of advice to run away from while screaming in terror.
Ask for Public Feedback
Every parent needs a shoulder to cry on after cleaning plenty of big kid underwear for the second week in a row. But resist advice that says you should poll success stories on social media.
Don’t crowdsource your potty training advice from Facebook. Otherwise you’ll face hundreds of heated comments ranging from, “Rule with an iron fist! Show them who is in charge!” to “Let them potty train themselves! Let them run naked and pee everywhere until they get it!”
You’ll also end up with ongoing pressure to comply with the advice, or face a lifetime of unregulated peeing: “Trust me. If you don’t do it this way, your child will not be potty trained until college.”
Heap on the Rewards
There is an argument for incentivizing your child to use the potty with a special reward, like a new toy or brand new Panda Bear panties once they’ve used the potty for a few weeks in a row. But heaping on constant rewards can actually backfire in a few different ways. For starters, your child may decide that stuffing their face with candy while on the toilet is all the rage and insist they have to go all the time. You may also find yourself stress-eating that same candy as you beg your toddler to just use the toilet, and forever associate it with peeing in the potty.
Meanwhile, rewards can also prompt potty training regression. Give your child one too many stickers, toys or treats, and when you gently take them away once they’ve mastered the potty, they could decide to just turn their underwear into a diaper until the rewards return.
Teach Your Child to Hold It (Tight)
Potty training should ultimately be about your child recognizing when they need to head to the bathroom and take care of business. But it’s easy to accidentally teach a child to just hold their urine indefinitely and refuse to go until they explode all over their designer duds.
Focus your potty training efforts around body awareness instead of accident avoidance. Talk about what it probably feels like when they need to go potty, that they need to head for the toilet the moment that feeling occurs, and how to clean themselves up afterwards. But this advice comes with a warning: be prepared to hear the play-by-play of what their little bodies are doing. Just smile in response, and pretend the details don’t make you want to vomit.
Become a Potty Scholar
How many books, YouTube videos and digital courses about potty training can you really consume before slowly going insane? Our guess is one.
Keep yourself from succumbing to potty scholar fatigue, and only read up on what you truly need answers to.
Fortunately, children and grown-ups alike have been going to the bathroom since the beginning of time without the need to read up on the subject to figure out how to do it. So instead of trying to become the foremost expert on potty training, focus on setting up your bathroom to be a fun and comfortable space.
Get a child-sized potty or cushioned seat that’s comfortable to use, keep the toilet paper within reach, and set up the sink for convenient hand washing. Show them how to do it a few times, then let your child figure out the rest.
Ever read about those parents who insist their infant has been potty trained since they were six months old? Or the ones who insist that 18 months is the perfect age and waiting any longer will turn your child into a pants-wetting freak until adolescence? There’s a pretty good chance that all these parents are really doing is teaching their child to hold their urine, or to only go in their presence.
However, early potty training isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your child is actually ready to start. Maybe they’re showing an interest in the potty and want to sit on it and actually go on their own sometimes. If that’s the case, then get them started, whether they’re 18 months or 3 years. Just don’t make a mad dash for the potty finish line while dragging along a diapered child who really couldn’t care less.
Ever read about those parents who refuse to do anything to encourage potty training, even if that means just placing a step stool next to the toilet for easy access? Instead, they want their kids to pee freely in any location they choose. It’s true some kids do well just deciding when to train themselves, while others will get comfortable sitting around in their own diapered mess. These same kids are likely to decide dealing with the toilet is an unbearable chore.
There’s nothing really wrong with waiting until your child is ready to start going to the bathroom on their own, even if that means they’re older than their peers. But your bathroom should still be designed for potty training success with a kid-accessible potty and maybe a book to help pass the time. Then, just encourage them to use the bathroom when needed without turning it into a high-pressure situation.
Turn Potty Time Into an Epic Party
There are resources floating around the digital world that insist on turning potty training into the biggest bash of your child’s young life. Balloons? Check. Cake? Check. Copious amounts of gifts? Check!
Maybe your child will feel so inspired and loved that they’ll somehow get the abstract concept of celebrating their potty time and just start going on their own. Or they could end up crying in disappointment over the lack of fireworks and confetti every time they go, and demand justice. Instead of an epic party, consider working towards a fun celebration once a month that celebrates their hard work as a big kid.
Use Toddler Friends as Aspirational Examples
Glorifying toddler friends as shining examples of what should happen during potty training is just intense peer pressure in disguise. Your child may understand that their friend has a handle on dry pants and toilet time, but they are more likely to see your praise for what it is. Shaming your child into hopping on the toilet doesn’t work if they’re not ready and aren’t motivated to do it.
Try talking about what a big kid their potty-trained friend is instead of using it as a shaming resource. Comment on how their pants are nice and dry, and how they got a special trip to the park or toy store a month after mastering the potty. Talk about it like you’re just genuinely happy for this kid, and not at all incredibly jealous that his parents are done spending hundreds of dollars on diapers that stink up their house.
Get it Done in Three Days
We’ve all seen the Facebook posts celebrating potty training in three days or less. Sure, this works for some motivated and ready kids, but for others it’s just a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. The timetable you’ve set surely isn’t your child’s, because their concept of time is measured by how long it will be until their favorite show is on, and the last time they saw Grandma.
In reality, potty training on a schedule creates unrealistic and frustrating expectations for child and parent alike. Your child may show an interest one day, and absolutely none the next. And they’re also very likely to embrace full toddler mode and resist whatever it is you actually want them to do.
Successful potty training is really all about becoming a potty advocate and facilitator for your child. That means communicating how to use the potty, and, when giving them the tools to do it themselves, largely leaving them alone. They don’t need you to tell them when to go to the bathroom and when not to. They just need to know you’re there for them.
What’s the worst potty training advice you’ve ever gotten? And what did you do that actually worked? Let us know by leaving a comment below: