Potty Training Basics

Child holding potty seat

If you have a baby and you think you don’t need to know about potty training, think again. Helping your child learn to use the toilet is a lot easier if you’ve prepared. Now is the time to prepare.

Communicate Openly and Gently

I think the most important preparation you can do for potty training and for most other parenting is to create a foundation of good communication. It takes more time than just telling your child what to do, sure, but it’s worth the relationship you are building.

These are the habits I find most important for those early communication preparations.

  • Open conversation – Do you welcome questions? (“Mommy, why do you sit on the potty instead of wearing a diaper?”)
  • Compassion about issues – Do you calmly help when your child has an accident or has trouble when doing something that s/he was asked not to? (“Mommy, I made a mess.”)
  • Supportive and helpful – Do you offer help when asked? (“Mommy, would you help me?”)
  • Encouraging of independence – Do you ask your child to try alone once you’ve shown how to do something? (“You can do it like this. Now, you try.”)

Even if your child isn’t verbal yet, you communicate with one another. You can respond when needed and give space when needed.

If you have already been responsive in your parenting, it will be a lot easier for your child to learn to use the toilet. If there is less mystery around the tools and the process, it won’t be so intimidating. Or, if it does feel intimidating to the child, you can encourage those brave moments of trying something new in a safe situation.

Of course, this kind of open communication with your child will help you both now, during potty training, during those difficult years (whichever difficult years they might be), and into your adult parent-child relationship in the future. It isn’t special to potty training, but I found it an important part of my family’s positive potty experience.

Start When Your Child Is Ready

Is your child ready for potty training? More to the point, are YOU ready for potty training? If you haven’t learned that teaching is easier when your student is ready to learn, you might want to work on your own awareness first.

If you start before you child is ready, it will be a frustrating experience for you both. I watched a friend push her one-year-old to use the toilet while he pushed back by squatting in the middle of her hard wood floor every chance he got, leaving them both in tears most days. I just remember the screaming from them both. It was such a painful situation to witness that my reaction was to back off even further from encouraging my children to use the toilet. All I did was point out where the tiny toilet was, tell my child what it was for, show where the underwear were in the drawer next to diapers, and leave it at that. In the end, after she experimented with the potty on the floor, my daughter told me when it was time to switch—not start training but switch. One day she wore diapers, and the next day she wore underwear. There were accidents, but we took care of them.

Signs your child might be ready:

  • Regular dry diapers
  • Pulls pants up and down
  • Curious about your use of the toilet

Your child will already be familiar with the toilet or with a child’s potty if you’ve been using Infant Pottying—also called EC (Elimination Communication) or just diaper free. More important, though, you and your child will both be aware of the signals that even a very small baby gives before urinating or passing stool. Rather than ignoring or even suppressing these signs, you take advantage of them in infant pottying. The process of your child learning to use the toilet independently will be fairly seamless if you’ve already acknowledged together what it feels like to need to void and how to respond.

The Stuff to Put in Place

Potty. You don’t necessarily need a small toilet or a child seat for your full-size toilet, but it could be one step in the process. We love the Beco Biodegradable Potty Seat. Your child will use the potty for such a short time, and you needn’t worry about creating plastic waste because you can plant this in the garden and watch it break down.

Step Stool. If you don’t have a small potty, you may need a step up to the toilet. My kids used a yoga brick. We also carry a Beco step stool, which is useful in a lot of places where your child needs a few extra inches to use the adult-sized equipment.

Underwear. Training pants with extra absorbency are helpful for that transition period. You might be able to avoid the training pants by adding a diaper insert to regular underwear, but it might be more difficult for your child to be independent when there are several pieces that need to go together correctly. We love the new Bummis training pants and Super Undies trainers, which come in snap-on or pull-up styles.

There are a lot of other products you can buy to encourage, reward, and otherwise pressure your child to use the toilet, but I think that puts too much emphasis on this short phase—and more pressure on your wallet than is necessary.

Using the toilet shouldn’t be a such a big deal that your child gets into a pattern of needing and wanting praise for meeting simple developmental milestones.

Potty Learning or Potty Training?

Some say that calling this process “potty training” puts the emphasis too much on your role as a parent, while “potty learning” focuses on the child’s own process. I agree! Call it whatever fits for you. Just understand that you might have to explain if you use a phrase other than that commonly used. That can be a good thing if you want to start a conversation.

Is It Potty Time?

If you have good communication with your child, your child is showing signs of readiness, and you have a few helpful tools in place, maybe it’s potty time.

Have I made it sound simple? I hope so. It was simple for my famly. When I saw signs of trouble, I ignored them. I didn’t want to focus on a resistant child, creating a more resistant child and a combative relationship between us, so I just let go until my child told me it was time. What’s the rush?

If you had a different kind of experience, please do share. I don’t want to assume that everyone will have the same easy time with potty learning that my two children did.

We carry tools for potty training independence.

Image © Fisechko | Dreamstime.com

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