By Georgina Chong-You

You’ve gotten so used to the ease and peace of mind of diapers for quite some time now, but you’ve now reached the unavoidable stage in your toddler’s life…toilet training.

Potty training is the season of toddler life that is probably the most dreaded by all parents. It can literally turn into a battle between you and a small human who can seem like a military-trained black Ops mind-controlling ninja whose only objective is to wear you down. Yes, this is the actual truth and I speak from experience after potty training my five children.

Now, the bright side is that you and your child win in the end; but the battle is certainly not for the faint at heart.

When I first enlisted in potty training “camp,” I read a few potty training books to get motivated. After memorizing all of their instructions and tips I just knew that I could conquer this challenge wholeheartedly. I. Was. Ready. Or so I thought. My expectations were high and a bit unrealistic for both my son and myself. And I quickly frustrated us both after the first two days. He wasn’t ready and I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was. So we decided to wait and try again when he was more ready and I was more willing to be patient. Once we gave it another go, the end result was a success, and he and I both came through smiling. The mistakes I made in potty training “camp” in the beginning forced me to take a few steps back, recalculate my goals and expectations, and then start again.

Here are some common mistakes that parents make during potty training:

Mistake 1: Starting Too Early

You may think your child is ready to be big because they can do a few things on their own, but each milestone achieved is not a green light to push your child into another milestone. The normal age for the start of potty training is usually around 2-3 years old, so starting before that age may mean that your child has difficulty understanding the how-to’s of potty training. “Children will use the toilet when they can feel their body signals,” says Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor.

Tip: Children normally show signs that they are ready for the next milestone in their lives, which helps parents to know when they have the green light to introduce something new. Some of these signs are grabbing their genital area, jumping up and down, or watching you pee in the potty.

Mistake 2: Anger, Yelling, Argumentative

“Toilet training can be one of the most difficult developmental phases that both children and parents experience together,” says doctors Stadtler, Gorski, and Brazelton of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Don’t make it more difficult with anger or arguing.

Tip: Encourage your child, applaud their efforts, smile and laugh when mistakes happen. Lighten the atmosphere of potty training and take the pressure off you and your child.

Mistake 3: Not Counting the Cost

Before you enlist in potty training “camp” you must first weigh all of your options and count the cost. Potty training is messy and time-consuming and tiring. Are you prepared to endure the 3 am wake-ups to urine-soaked sheets, bathing a toddler who has wet themselves through their pajamas, or the puddles of urine (and sometimes poop) that you will inevitably find on your carpet, or the never-ending extra loads of laundry each day. If not, you will revert back to diapers in a heartbeat.

Tip: In order to not become frustrated at this daunting task, choose a time to potty train when your life is not too complicated. This should be a time where you can set aside hours in the day to patiently take your child to and from the bathroom to pee on the potty, calmly wash sheets and clothes when accidents happen because they will, and give your child and potty training your undivided attention.

Mistake 4: Comparison Trap

No two children are alike, not even in the same family, so don’t get caught in the comparison trap of expecting your child’s potty training experience and results to be the same as their sibling or your best friend’s son.

Tip: See your child as a unique individual where, as their parent, you have top-secret information into their heart and personality. Their potty training journey will be shaped by your ability to not set unlikely expectations for them.

Mistake 5: Prizes for Pee

Gummy bears or M&Ms at potty time may seem like a quick way to get them to do what you want them to do, but it may quickly backfire turning into manipulation when your child decides to go to the potty every five minutes just for candy, or when you are suddenly out of candy and they have a meltdown and won’t pee on the potty.

Tip: Dr. Corwin calls the potty experience a “private accomplishment” for any child and they want to receive praise for it. So, instead of prizes use words, like “Great job!” or “That’s exciting!”

Mistake 6: Real Underwear
Training is preparation for the real thing but you don’t want to get too real too soon. Real underwear during potty training only results in a very wet set of clothes.

Tip: Training underwear is the best way to go!

Mistake 7: Expecting Perfection
Lots of accidents will happen during potty training so you have to be prepared for them and not shame your child when they do happen. Yelling when potty accidents happen only makes your child fear you and the potty, which defeats the purpose.

Tip: Keep calm! Potty accidents can always be cleaned up.

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Remember, although you go into the potty training “battle” prepared to be strong and endure to the end against a worthy opponent, your intent is not to be a fierce competitor but a compassionate comrade in arms.

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Written by Cathy Griffin.
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