Gentle Potty Learning Tips
I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile – Kieran started to transition out of diapers in April 2010 (he was about 30 months old when I washed my very last diaper), but I think it’s taken this long to really sink in that our child is really, truly done with diapers.
Kieran started showing interest in going on the potty chair shortly after he turned a year old.1 By the time he was 14 months old, he was regularly going on the potty chair at certain times of the day (every morning when we woke up, every afternoon after nap, etc.). But we never took it that next step by putting him in undies at that window of opportunity, mainly because he rarely told us when he needed to go, but also because I was simply uneducated about infant potty learning.
Potty learning was . . . interesting. And easier than I thought it would be. Admittedly, I still had some less-than-great parenting moments during potty learning. Now that I’m on the other side, I wanted to share a few gentle parenting tips that really helped us (and that I wish I would have used more often).
- Watch for Windows of Learning, But Do Not Pressure: Advocates of elimination communication talk about “windows of learning,” or periods of time that infants/toddlers are particularly aware of their elimination functions. If you didn’t do EC, you can still watch your child for signs of a window: Is she interested in what is in her dirty diaper? Is she showing signs of discomfort with a wet/dirty diaper? Does she want to watch you use the toilet? Does she ever express interest in sitting on the toilet herself? Has she discovered where potty/poo come from?
Use these bits of awareness and interest to your advantage: give her opportunities to sit on the potty chair, but do not turn it into a power struggle.
- Notice When Diapers Are Wet/Dirty: Become aware of when you are changing diapers. Does he usually potty right after waking? After a meal? Does he poo at a similar time every day? You probably know this already (especially if your little one is in cloth and you are changing him after each elimination), you just need to become conscious of it. Once you are, plan ahead – put him on the potty chair (or toilet ring) a few minutes before he would have gone in his diaper.
We first started Kieran on the potty chair because we knew he always went pretty quickly after he woke up. Once he saw how fun it was to go in the potty chair, he was very willing to sit on it regularly.
- Make Her Comfortable: Find a potty chair and/or toilet ring that is comfortable for your little one. For our son, we were really impressed by the design and the price of the Baby Bjorn potty chair and toilet ring. They were comfortable for his little tush, easy to clean, simple, and they survived many a toddler toss on the hard bathroom floor.
- Release Control: Make an effort to shift your thinking that this is about “training” your child. You can’t make your little one pee or poop.2 You can help him become aware of his own bodily functions gently and respectfully.
- Have Fun: Instead of sighing like a pariah every time you have to change a pair of wet undies, instead of turning potty time into a battle of wills, make potty learning fun.
When Kieran is reluctant to go potty, sometimes we’ll turn it into a game: “I’m going to count to ten, let’s see what number you potty at. I think you’ll potty at three.” Kieran will insist that he’s going to potty at four. The argument about whether or not to potty at all is forgotten.
Back when Kieran was first learning to recognize his body’s cues, he went potty in some interesting places. Once when he and Tom were outside, Kieran told Tom he needed to go to the bathroom, and so Tom said “ok, let’s go.” Tom turned to get something, and when he turned back around, Kieran was squatting near the driveway. Tom went with it, and when he brought Kieran in for a wipe, we all three sat and giggled excitedly and high fived since it was one of the first times Kieran had given us advance notice of a poo.
- Get Creative: Related to the “have fun” tip, don’t be afraid to get creative when it comes to potty learning. If your little one needs inspiration, motivation, or simply help making the connection between her elimination functions and the toilet, try one of these ideas:
*If your child has a friend who has learned how to use the potty, let your child watch her. (Assuming, of course, the friend and the friend’s parent are ok with it.
*Have your child role play with a doll or stuffed animal.
*Read books about going potty. We read Everyone Poops for about a week right before Kieran started pooping in the potty.
*Put the potty chair anywhere, especially when your little one is having naked time. If you are in the playroom, bring the potty in. If you are watching a video, bring the potty in. Make it accessible and normal.
- Provide Plenty of Leeway: There are going to be a lot of accidents in the future of a parent with a potty learning little. The sooner you sit back and relax, the better your child’s potty learning journey will be.
Kieran learned how to use the potty after he had about a month or two of naked time. Naked time is great for potty learning kids, because they can actually see when they are eliminating – it helps drive the point home for our very visual, concrete thinking toddlers.
Before he was fully in control of his bowels, we had several instances where Kieran pooped in places other than the toilet or his diaper. There was the driveway incident mentioned above. Shortly after that, he pooped on a porch step. A week or so later, he pooped on a shelf in the living room. On each occasion, I very calmly said something to the effect of, “wow, you pooped! Let’s clean this up – poop goes in the potty.” I had no desire whatsoever to shame him – each time he was so pleased, almost proud of himself, for pooping. He had made the connection between the physical feeling when he needed to go and the muscle coordination to control eliminating. It was a success and a step in the right direction- even if we needed to move it a few more steps over to the bathroom.
- If You Mess Up, Apologize and Reassure: I will admit that some of my least gentle parenting moments during potty learning involved my exasperation with Kieran when he would refuse to sit on the potty chair (games or no games), and then he would have an accident within five minutes of refusing. By this time he was in undies, so accidents meant I was scrubbing carpet. Scrubbing carpet just does not invoke the most playful, gentle parent in me. Several days in a row we had the same scenario: Kieran would wake up, refuse to potty in the potty chair; Kieran would get dressed, come into the kitchen, and potty on his chair or on the floor (because he couldn’t make it to the toilet, not because he was purposefully peeing on the chair or floor). On the third or fourth day in a row of refusal + quick accident, Kieran was in fresh clothes after an accident. Ten minutes later, he pottied on the kitchen floor. I was so exasperated. And Kieran? Kieran was crushed. He started crying and saying “I’m so sorry mama! I’m so sorry I had an accident!”
Oh mamas. Hearing those words coming out of Kieran’s mouth because of a potty accident devastated me. I gathered him in my arms and apologized for being short with him. I apologized for being impatient. And I admitted that I have times where I can’t get to the bathroom in time either.3 Every time after that when Kieran didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, I made every effort to smile and shrug. “It happens!,” became my new mantra. And Kieran would often look to me for reassurance and ask, “even you have accidents mama?” Even me.
What are your tips for gentle potty learning?
- Of course now I wish we’d done elimination communication. I’m learning more about it in case we have another one though! Be sure to check out yesterday’s guest post on EC called Learning to Communicate. ↩
- Thanks to Amy of Innate Wholeness for pointing that out! ↩
- No, really. I have an incredibly small bladder. I wet the bed for.ev.er when I was a child – I actually had a procedure done to stretch my bladder when I was a kid, it didn’t do much to help. I am notorious for peeing all the time. Usually I make it to the bathroom. ↩
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"Gentle Potty Learning Tips"
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