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Potty Training Tips from a Mom of Nine

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In honor of this hilarious video, How to Potty Train a Toddler in 22 Easy Steps, we present unto you practical advice on potty training from Gretchen, a mom of nine.

I have helped all nine of my children graduate out of diapers and into undies. My first few kids were subjected to all kinds of nonsense, fueled by advice found in parenting manuals. Barrels of tears were cried as accidents mounted. Frustration and angst hung in the air as my main focus in life seemed to be the state of my little one’s innards. It took a long time to learn that bladders don’t know how to read anything, especially parenting manuals. Bladders don’t blow out birthday candles, either, so they aren’t aware they just turned two.

When I began thinking about potty training our fourth child, a thought occurred to me. My three oldest kids had terrible times mastering the numerous skills that need to come together. Kids need physical self-awareness, the ability to anticipate, savvy timing, communication skills, and muscle control. It’s a lot to piece together. If one or more of those elements are missing, all the candy and gold star stickers in the world won’t help. The kindest solution is one thing: Time.

In other words, back off—but be ready.

The potty training experience with our next four kids was profoundly more pleasant and easy-going. Why? Because I didn’t hound them about the potty. I didn’t spend our days with naked toddlers running amuck. When they ran amuck, they were mostly clothed. No peeing dolls were embarrassed, no charts filled with star stickers, no barrels of tiny candies were doled out as reward. Gee, potty training in our house sounds boring. But isn’t that what relieving oneself is, actually? Otherwise, I wouldn’t be typing this post while sitting on the toilet. Just kidding. But seriously, where are my M&Ms and my gold sticker?

My number one bit of potty training advice is this: Wait until your child announces he or she is done with diapers. As in, “I’m not going to wear diapers any more.” When it is the kid’s idea, they take the decision to heart. My first three kids had many accidents and tearful moments regarding the milestone. My next four kids were given these gifts:

~ A stack of clean, ready-to-go undies and the knowledge they belong to your child and can be used whenever they want. Put them in an accessible place.

~ No hounding or stalking their bowels. Reminders are okay. Constant reminders are highly unwelcome. Give them knowledge they can sit on the potty when they wish or feel the urge, but don’t make the bathroom your new living room OR a prison cell.

~ Willingness to steady them on the potty if they are small. Don’t bother with rings or potty chairs because what happens the first time they try to go in a public restroom? Where’s the chair? Where’s the Elmo potty ring? My purse isn’t that big and neither is yours. Most kids don’t care about switching things up, but the last place you want to risk a meltdown is a public toilet when they are desperate to go.

~ No overblown celebrations or promises of toys and candy. You don’t throw ticker tape parades over consuming the food to be digested, so why go overboard when the digested food exits? It’s a fact of life, like respiration or contemplating the cosmos. We clap and call daddy when the first successes occur, but we keep it all in perspective. Pride is very real and deserves to be shared, high fives are given, but frankly, I’m more thrilled about the hand washing part than knowing the poo looked like Ferb. Yes. Yes it does.

~ No overblown sadness or anger when accidents occur. It’s laundry, not a character flaw. Your toddler didn’t embezzle pension money to pay for gambling debts so don’t act like it. You say “uh-oh” and move on.

~ Time. The essential elements of potty training come together around age three. I have two little ones still in diapers. When I think about the future, I don’t have a toilet icon pinned over their heads until around their third birthdays. If it happens earlier, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. I’ll have underwear ready, arms steady, and a promise I won’t make the elimination of bodily waste into something bigger than they—or I—can handle.

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