5 Ugly Facts About Potty Training (and How They Can Help You)

Potty training is often more frustrating for the parent than it is for the child.

For your child, it’s like learning to drive when they’ve never been in the driver’s seat before. Actually, it’s more like learning to drive when you’ve never even been in a car before.

It’s difficult. And often times, disgusting. (Okay, that last part doesn’t really fit the car analogy.)

This is one of the areas where parents express the greatest amount of impatience…which makes sense, because changing diapers is awful.

Patience is important, however.

To help you along, here are 5 ugly (yet important and helpful) facts that you should understand when attempting to potty train your child.

1) Your child may not be ready.

This point should really be extra-bolded and underlined.  Kids develop at different rates, and the reason your child can’t be potty trained could be because he or she simply isn’t ready.

Parents love to rush it because they hate changing diapers and don’t like the feeling of their child being “behind.”

They hear stories about how (insert name of family member’s child) was potty trained at 16 months, and suddenly, they think their own child is behind when he isn’t potty trained at 17 months. This is definitely one of those developmental milestones where it doesn’t make sense to compare to other children.

WebMD says that most children aren’t ready to start potty training until they are between 22 and 30 months of age.  And even from that point, it can take several months.

2) It’s okay to trade candy for poop.

Maybe not literally.

However, rewards can be a powerful motivator.  Sometimes the issue isn’t that your child isn’t ready, but just isn’t feeling compelled to use the toilet when he or she is perfectly content in a diaper.

Here are some ideas for rewarding forward movement with potty training:

  • A “potty treats” candy jar – Pretty self-explanatory…when your child successfully uses the bathroom, offer a candy treat as reward.  This only works well if you child doesn’t already have access to candy on a regular basis. (And please, don’t leave this jar in the bathroom – that’s just gross.)
  • A potty training sticker chart Kids enjoy visuals, so having some kind of reward system where they visually track their progress can work wonders.  Here’s one chart you can print out – you can buy some stickers and let your kids have fun accumulating stickers on this chart.
  • The mystery gift box – Probably a healthier alternative to the candy jar, you can create a little mystery box where, after each successful potty attempt (or maybe at the end of the day following multiple successful potty attempts), he or she can pick out a toy.  This doesn’t have to be a costly setup; you can fill the box with fun toys from the dollar store.

3) Unlike an Olympic event, #2 may be more difficult to achieve than #1.

There are some differences between poop and pee, but I don’t think you need me telling you that.  By the way, I’m going to refer to poop and pee as #2 and #1 because I feel more like an adult that way.

When it comes to going #1, your child will generally have a quicker time potty training for one big, obvious reason: they get more practice with it.  Also, it’s physically easier to do.

For #2, there’s a little bit more work involved.  Kids aren’t used to the sensation of having to force out a poopy (oops, I mean #2) while trying to stay balanced and steady on the toilet.

Some kids even develop a fear of pooping on the toilet, which may lead to constipation; and this can be a circular problem when #2 then becomes more painful (and reinforces the fear).

All you can do is be patient, supportive, and understanding.  Even if your child has mastered #1, there could still be some work involved to master #2.

4) It can help to make the experience fun and enjoyable for your child.

In addition to building in some kind of reward system, there are some other things you can do to make potty training fun for your child.  As an adult, using the bathroom may be a private matter, but it’s often quite the opposite for a child.

Because it’s such a new and potentially scary experience for your child, you want them to view it as a fun adventure where they’re not alone.

Here are some ideas for making potty training a bit more fun:

  • Have a potty party – Not quite as disgusting as it sounds, this can be a little celebration either with your immediate family or with friends of your child.  The goal here is to show them that they are not alone in this adventure, so if they have friends or family who are also potty training, it’s a great reason to get them all together.  (And no, the party doesn’t need to take place in the bathroom.)
  • Cheerio targets – This one only works for boys, but you can put Cheerios in the toilet and make a game where your son has to aim at them.
  • Read stories about potty training – There are several books for kids around the topic of potty training, where the lead character becomes potty trained.  These are fun to read with your child as you begin to prepare them for potty training.

5) Even when it seems like you’ve successfully potty trained your child…accidents can still happen.

Don’t be discouraged if your supposedly potty trained child has an accident.  And more importantly, don’t let them become discouraged.

Accidents happens and shouldn’t be viewed as a step back.  Make sure you child knows that – the worst thing you can do is to make them feel shame about it.

There is a thing known as potty training regression, however, where a seemingly potty trained child continues to have accidents and/or wants to return to diapers.  This can occur for a few main reasons:

  • Your child wasn’t ready to be potty trained – It’s possible that you started training your child really early, and despite some successful attempts, he or she really wasn’t quite ready yet.
  • Your child is stressed  – watch for major things that may have changed in his or her life, such as attending a new day care.
  • You might be pressuring your child – If your child feels a lot of pressure from you to use the toilet, it may backfire.  It’s important to remain supportive and encouraging, especially when facing regression.
  • Medical conditions – Although not common, sometimes potty training regression can be caused by a medical condition.  If you have concerns that this could be an issue, talk with your child’s pediatrician.

Pooped Out Yet?

Potty training is rarely easy for parents, and it can get to be really exhausting when you’ve been trying for months without much success.

Fear not, your day will come soon enough.  Everyone is eventually potty trained.

What are some things that worked for you when you potty trained your little one? Leave a comment below!

About Eric and Tiffany Matthews

We're Eric and Tiffany, the parents behind Cynical Parent. We're just normal parents who are navigating parenthood with both eyes wide open (probably because there's a kid yelling nearby). And of course, we're pretty cynical. Don't believe everything you read or hear, whether it's on the internet, or from a close family or friend (or even from us!). Every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes you just need to try and see for yourself. :)


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    I love your article, especially your quote “Potty training is rarely easy for parents, and it can get to be really exhausting when you’ve been trying for months without much success.”

    Let me know if i can help any one around!!

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