by Kristin Kuiper, LMSW, MSW
Recently, a blog reader asked me to address the difficult toddler milestone of potty training. Where do I even begin with this one?! So many parents have different strategies, “what worked for them” stories, and opinions on this issue. Speaking of myself, I have two kids down, one to go in my household!
I remember several years ago, when my oldest was in the thick of potty training, I took her to the mall play land to burn off some late afternoon toddler energy on a cold winter day. I was holding my then newborn daughter while my 2 ½ year old was having a good time climbing on rubber breakfast food. As I was settling in with my cup of coffee and taking a breath from the challenges of the day, my 2 ½ year old called out “Mommy, I need to go potty….Mommy, I’m going potty!” Not less than 10 minutes later, the play land had been cleared out and a cleaning crew had arrived to scrub down the big waffle and banana. Oh, I felt humiliated. I felt embarrassed. And only now can I look back with some semblance of a smile.
I’m sure most parents carry around these potty training horror stories. Isn’t parenting full of these types of “I never thought this would happen to me” moments? When it comes to potty training, I truly believe that as parents we need to relinquish what is out of our control (our toddler’s behavior) and focus on what we bring to the process. Patience, consistency, and creative thinking is the foundation for reducing some of the anxiety and frustration that comes with walking a child through this time and will work towards strengthening the relationship you value with your child.
Here are a couple of potty training suggestions that many parents I have worked with (and myself) have found to be helpful.
- Reward system: whether it is a sticker, an M&M or a lot of verbal praise, toddlers this age thrive on immediate gratification for positive behavior. Developmentally, this is how their minds work. When there are accidents, which are inevitable, be cautious not to take away rewards or punish. Reinforcing the positive behavior is the goal.
- Don’t compare: Parents are quick to volunteer success stories. When you are in the middle of potty training, this can often be discouraging instead of helpful. Comparisons get you nowhere. Just because it is taking your child a bit longer to grab on to the idea does not mean that your parenting skills are the problem. Keeping perspective, and your sense of humor, is critical!
- Consistency: Some children who are very ready to potty train succeed quickly when parents give a focused amount of time to the process. For example, you might try committing to 3-5 days of home time. During those days, have your child sit on the potty every 1-2 hours, focus heavily on rewards, and limit outside activity and distraction during that time. Focusing on the task in a concentrated block of time takes commitment but may reduce the overall time it takes for your child to latch on to this new behavior.
What has or has not worked for you? What other childhood milestone challenges are present for you as a parent? How have you been able to keep perspective while facing these challenges?