Ok, so listen, we are all human, and no one can say that potty training a toddler is easy!There will be bumps along the road. However, to make this journey as seamless as possible, take a look at these top 5 most common mistakes (and how not to make them!) in order to ensure a smooth transition to underwear-hood!

To see me discuss a few of these tips, view my Fox 5 news video on my Media page http://how2helpmychild.com/media/

 1.Not taking into account your child’s individual temperament into the toilet training process. Children vary widely in their temperaments and approach to tasks such as learning new skills. Potty training can be challenging, and can require a great deal of self-monitoring, and persistence on the part of your toddler. Your child’s temperament can dramatically affect what strategies will be effective for successful potty training, while using the wrong ones can head you off track and lead to increased frustration and failure. It’s so important to adapt toilet training to the individual temperament, and learning style of your child.

Here are some examples (by the way, this is not an exhaustive list):

The anxious/cautious child – This child needs lots of time to warm up to the idea, and may benefit from having weeks or months of simply playing with his/her doll on the potty, sitting on the potty with clothes on, or interacting with the potty by personalizing it with stickers or drawings, or reading books and watching videos about potty training. Don’t push this child too soon, or the result can be fear and avoidance!  Give this child lots of choices in terms of type of potty, where to practice, and when she is ready. Don’t push towards novel situations like public restrooms too soon. All in due time!

The active/impulsive child This child may start off with a bang and start earning some stickers fast and furiously!!! But does he have the endurance? The active/impulsive child can mean well,  but he can be easily distracted by other things, and may have difficulty paying attention to his own body cues, especially when playing or engaged in another activity he enjoys. This child needs a timer or parent-led cue to remind them to take frequent breaks to go to the potty, because their heightened activity level and somewhat ‘distractible’ nature can lead them to have multiple accidents when they are actually quite capable of going on the potty. Don’t forget to tell nanny/babysitter, and preschool teacher to do this as well, so your child can be successful in all environments.

The rigid/inflexible child –   This child thrives on routine, consistency, predictability, and control. Try to keep things as consistent as possible to avoid any surprises, and try to make a potty training plan that is specific and routine! If possible, draw a simple visual schedule for everyone to follow – mom, dad, babysitter, grandpa, etc to make sure that everyone is being consistent!!! (See my Fox 5 video for an example!)

2. Making rewards the focus of potty trainingRewards, prizes, and treats are great incentives for kids getting started going on the potty. I highly recommend simple, concrete, visual reinforcers (like stickers, inexpensive prize boxes, or marble jars) to enlist a child’s enthusiasm and let them revel in their pride for their attempts and their progress! However it is important to understand that stickers, treats, and toys are all external motivation. In order to be successful at toilet training your child needs to experience internal motivation.  Internal motivation refers to your child’s feeling of pride, accomplishment, newfound independence, and self-confidence. If we focus too much on external motivation without nurturing the internal side of things,  we can easily get caught in ‘bribing’ our child to get on the potty. (e.g. “Don’t forget,if you go use the potty, you get some candy!), or get caught in making our rewards bigger and better to enlist cooperation!

Internal motivation can be built on by focusing on a positive, enjoyable toilet training process, regardless of the outcome. In other words, encouragement, hugs, and fun-filled sharing of time together (such as sharing songs, books, using puppets to play, or whatever makes your child happy from within!) is a great way to do it!

3.Getting caught in the toddler trap – When everything is going well with your potty training plan, life is good! But what happens when your toddler’s innate desire to assert his independence takes hold! Of course we’re all familiar with the ‘terrible twos’ aren’t we? What made you think potty train would be immune to a few ‘no’s or out-and-out refusals? Toddlers asserting their independence is a normal and natural part of their emotional development, which unfortunately can get in the way of potty training progress So often, midway through potty training, children begin to regress! They either simply refuse to sit on the potty, poop or pee intentionally in places where they shouldn’t (see my blog article about the 4-year-old that told her mom she wants to poop on the floor! http://how2helpmychild.com/tag/toilet-training/). How you react in this moment is critical in moving through this period successfully, and returning to a more positive vibe! Recognize that your toddler’s reaction is normal, and try not to give them too much attention for these behaviors. Ignore them, try not to react, and encourage them with praise and remind them the rewards area available when they are ready to go back to the big kid potty. Doling out too much negative attention (like chasing, arguing, or insisting! )can actually feed this misbehavior, leaving you stuck in a battle of wills and further from your goal of having a positive potty training experience!

4.Parents place too much pressure or importance on prompt potty training. It is not your fault, there are a lot of reasons why parents feel pressure to potty train their children. The most common are – their friends with children the same age are potty trained (there’s nothing wrong with my child, right??), my mom or mother in law said I should (am I being a neglectful parent??) I need to have this one trained before the second arrives (God help me if I have two in diapers), or simply I can’t enroll him in preschool because they won’t allow children who aren’t potty trained (and this is THE best school for him, right??). I totally understand and have been there myself. However, it is important to realize that when we feel pressure or anxiety, our children pick up on this as well, and this can undermine your attempts to potty train. Children can take up to  15months to potty train. And remember only 40 – 60 percent of 36 months old have mastered potty training. .So, relax! Your child will not be in diapers at his high school graduation. Every child is unique, and you need to respect that your child may need to start later, or need more time!

5.Starting to Potty Train before your child is ready.Keep this in mind… the more readiness signs your child displays when you start potty training, the quicker the potty training process tends to go!! Lots of families start toilet training before their child is ready, leading to frustration and exasperation in both the child and the parent! Signs of your child’s potty training readiness include:

  • He  stays dry at naps OR for at least 2 hours
  • He tells you when he is wet or soiled his diaper
  • He understands potty vocabulary and can communicate that he has soiled his diaper and/or needs to go potty.
  • He demonstrates the interest in pleasing you
  • He demonstrates social imitative play. That is, he has a great deal of interest in  watching you or his older siblings use the bathroom, playing/acting out going to the bathroom with his toys, interacting with his potty by sitting on it or pretending to go (NOT simply playing with his toy cars on top of it!), and/or running to a special private place in the house to make a poop.
  • He doesn’t resist when you ask him to sit on the potty!

Good luck, may the force be with you, and feel free to email me with questions or for troubleshooting!

-Dr. Deb