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Mama Drama: Potty Power

Dear Mama Drama:

My question is about potty-training. We would like to start our daughter, who will be 3 next month, in a 3-yr-old preschool program that requires she be potty-trained. She was doing really well, then regressed to going in her diaper when the newness of the potty wore off. So, we’ve started only letting her wear a diaper during naps and night-time. Unfortunately, wetting herself over and over again hasn’t changed her behavior. Even telling her that she can’t start preschool (which she’s excited to go to) until she uses the potty isn’t working. Nor does peer pressure. Should we back off and put her back in pull-ups or keep her in panties and wait this out?

Thanks for your help!

~Mama with Diaper Drama

(Some additional background information from this mom is that her husband will be returning to work soon after two years at home with significant health issues.)

(photo credit)

Dear Diaper Drama:

Potty training can be a tricky issue. Children often show an interest in potty training at an early age. However, they need to be ready physically, cognitively, and emotionally in order to be successful. While some children are potty trained before the age of three, many are not fully independent until the age of four. Additionally, regression during potty training is also common.

It is important to determine if you daughter is really ready to toilet independently. Potty Training Concepts has a great article describing what it takes for a child to be successful. I recommend taking a look and seeing if your daughter meets all of the criteria. If she doesn’t, take a break. Support her when she expresses an interest and model for her by making a big deal of the signals your body gives when you have to go to the bathroom such as, “Oh my, I feel pressure in my belly. I need to go potty.” When potty training, many experts also recommend using cloth training pants instead of pull-ups as they don’t feel like diapers but do absorb more than regular underwear.

If she meets all the criteria for being able to potty train successfully, then you may want to look at other issues that may be interfering with her wanting to potty independently. You mentioned starting preschool soon as well as Daddy going back to work. While both of those are positive and exciting changes, they can also be scary and anxiety provoking. Exploring how your daughter feels about these changes and explaining very concretely how her days will look can help to alleviate some of her worries. Making a story about her daily schedule is a fun and age appropriate way to explain changes.

Lots of changes, or the anticipation, of them can be overwhelming. Children (and adults as well) may try to manage their anxiety by trying to control whatever they can. For a two year old, using the toilet is one of the few things they have complete control over. Preschool, Daddy going to work, and using the toilet may just be too much right now.

While many children can be independent with toileting at the age of three, pressure to do so from childcare providers raises concerns about their willingness to honor the developmental needs of each child. Developmental milestones are presented in a range of time as all children are different. Take a close look to make sure it really is the right place for your daughter.