& here’s what happened…
But before we get there, I want to address something. I have always found it fascinating that we talk about “training” our children, almost as if they were dogs. I’m not judging anyone who has used the word potty training or even sleep training about their child because it has become a cultural norm (I myself used the terms before becoming a mom). But, if you truly stop and think about it, when we use the term “training” when referring to our children it comes off as belittling and dehumanizes them a bit. Our children are humans (tiny humans, but still humans) and we wouldn’t say we were “training” our partner or our friend, so why is it seen as normal when discussing our children? We can lead our child, support them, and guide them but training seems so strict and ultimately feel like it takes the love out of what we are doing.
You know my stance on sleep training, but you may not know how I feel about potty training. After reading my thoughts on the word “training” you may have a better idea, but here’s how I feel about potty training: it’s not absolutely necessary. If we have the time and space to do so, we can take a very child-led approach when it comes to potty learning. I do understand that in some cases a completely child-led approach to the potty is not always possible (ie: if your little one will be going to daycare/school and they require that your child is no longer wearing diapers). Although even when we have a deadline, we can help our child learn to use the potty in a gentle and respectful way, without shaming or manipulation (both of which are very common with traditional potty “training”).
So, what happened when I took a completely child-led approach to the potty? I’ll tell you!
At around 15 to 18 months Lilah started showing a lot of interest in the toilet whenever I would use it. So, I ordered her a potty on amazon. I put it in the bathroom and she would sit on it while I was on the toilet. Sometimes she would have a diaper on and other times she wouldn’t. She would often walk over to it and sit on it just for fun. Then at about 20 months she started wanting to actually use the potty. She’d go sit on it and sometimes she’d pee, and other times she wouldn’t. For about 2 weeks she consistently would tell me she needed to go pee but then she randomly lost total interest in the potty and I never pushed it. I kept it around but she never wanted to sit on it so I finally just put it away. Whenever I used the bathroom I would ask her if she wanted to go but she never expressed interest or excitement and again, I never pushed it. At about 2.5 years old she woke up one day and told me she wanted to wear panties. I told her that I would buy her panties but that panties meant that she needed to use the toilet. I ordered her some panties and when they came I asked her if she wanted to put them on. She was so excited to use them and after she put them on I let her know that she would need to tell me if she needed to go pee. Once she put those panties on she was happily telling me when she needed to go pee, but with #2 she would tell me “I need to put a diaper on so I can poop.” I didn’t force it and I just followed her lead. Within 5 days she was only peeing in the potty but she wasn’t pooping in the potty. I kept a toilet in the car so that she could easily go when we were out and about, and she never peed in a diaper again (I actually still keep this potty in the car in case she randomly needs to go). As she got closer to the 3 year mark (about 32 months) she hated having her poopy diapers changed. So, I told her that if she pooped in the toilet she wouldn’t have to lay down and I could easily wipe her while she was on the toilet. She was still wary of pooping in the toilet but then one day she came to me and told me she needed to go poop and wanted to do it in the toilet. Once she finally went poop in the toilet and realized how much easier it was, she was more than happy to poo in the potty. Her experience with the potty was completely child-led and at her own pace. By 33 months she was using the potty at her own accord and never looked back. The potty was never forced on her and it was never a negative thing. I trusted that she would do it in her own timing and she did!
Given that I was still nursing her to sleep I did continue to have her sleep in a diaper just in case she had an accident at night. Part of this was because I didn’t want to have her wake up fully to tell me she needed to use the restroom. She wore diapers at night until she was about 3 years and 3 months and it happened completely by accident that she stopped wearing them at night. We had gone to my parents house to stay the night. I forgot to pack a diaper so I told her, “you’ll need to go pee before bed, like you always do, but then you won’t have a diaper. If you need to go pee in the night just wake me up and I’ll go with you.” She slept the whole night with no pee and ever since then she has been totally diaper free.
The more we tune into our children and follow their timeline the more we are teaching them to tune into the messages that their body is telling them. We are also teaching them that they can trust themselves and their feelings. It’s common for parents to compare their children to other children of the same age and worry that their child is “behind.” But there is SO MUCH peace & joy found it letting go of our expectations and trusting in our child’s unique timing.
So, if you’d like to take a completely child-led approach to the potty, it is really quite simple. You can keep a potty around as well as talk to your little one about panties/underwear. You can talk to them about the potty and if they express interest you can provide opportunities for them to sit on the potty or tell you when they need to go. We want these to be pressure free interactions. Your child will move at their own pace. Some days they may want to use underwear/the potty. Other days they may prefer diapers and that is ok. If they are using panties but don’t tell you they need to use the potty, you can say something like, “using underwear means that you need to tell me if you need to use the toilet. I’m going to put a diaper on you but you can still tell me if you need to use the potty.” Then once they go pee in the potty again you can ask them if they’d prefer underwear or a diaper. This will help learn that underwear does require them to tune into their body and communicate with you (or just go to the potty) so that they can use the potty.
If you’d like to choose a more gentle approach but you are on a timeline, you can still do so without manipulation (ie: if you’re a big girl/boy you’ll use the potty) or rewards (ie: if you go potty, I’ll give you…) While rewards may seem like a good practice they take away the intrinsic value of doing something. With rewards, children will start doing what we want from them, but not because they want to. So, instead of a reward chart or a sticker book you could ask them how they felt going to the bathroom in the toilet. ex: “Wow! You listened to your body and told me when you needed to use the potty. How did that feel?”
You can also include them in picking out their underwear so that they are excited about them. The most important part of this process will be making the potty feel like a safe space. We want to avoid shaming when accidents happen.
Whichever route you take just continue to respect your child and honor their needs!
Happy Potty Learning!
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