Being that I was a nanny for nearly a decade (and
having been a mother for exactly four years), I've come to think of
myself as a potty-training expert. And as such, I'll impart my
biggest secret: there's no such thing as a potty-training
The only consistent thing I've learned is that
there is no consistency, young children are feral beasts, and -
should you choose to go down this road of bathroom readiness -
you're going to be covered in lots and lots of pee. (A
disproportionate amount to the size and hydration needs of your
child, in fact.) Each kid is painfully, hilariously, exhaustingly
different. What works for one (bribery, sticker charts, excessive
praise) will not work with the incentives required by her sister
(being naked for roughly 13 hours and being allowed to poop
directly into the bathtub).
However, I can share my three tried-and-true potty
training Do Nots:
DO NOT demand that your infant start training on
your schedule. Listen, I know newborns in the '50s, like, came out
ready to be held over toilets and it was a big source of pride
whose kiddo was sans nappies the soonest, but if you're running to
the bathroom with your baby every twenty minute . . . then who's
training who, exactly? I don't like anyone enough to hold them over
a toilet every twenty minutes. Also, this was the generation of
iodine suntanning and children roaming freely in the backseat of
Buicks, so is this method of bathroom elimination still the most
relevant? I think we can all agree that it isn't. (Anecdotally: I
once nannied for a kid whose parents took away his diapers at 18
months and enforced a strict potty schedule. He cheerfully
responded to this tactic by peeing all over the bathroom walls
whenever he spied a toilet. Fun!)
DO NOT do it "on their schedule" or "when they're
ready." Having lived with my preschooler and toddler for enough
years to make them preschool and toddler-aged has taught me a few
things. Namely, that if you leave a timeline up to a little kid,
nothing will ever happen. Turns out, no one ever needs to go to the
bathroom. Or have their diaper changed. Or find that other sock. Go
DO NOT assume that someone else will just do it for
you. Like an older sibling. Or the dog. Or a passing neighbor. The
former only works if you want your younger child to think that
decorating the bathroom mirror with shaving cream is part of the
potty process. I've heard. Plus, big sisters get inspired in the
bathroom, and this "inspiration" yields results such as fancy
haircuts, lipstick tattoos, and the ol' favorite: How Far Into The
Toilet Can You Reach Your Hand? (No one wins that game.)
I realize that this list may have all but negated
the chances of your child being potty-trained in a timely fashion.
These things happen. My [shaky] advice on what you should do? Treat
potty training like guerrilla warfare. Jump in at the slightest
chance of bathroom action and shove 'em on a toilet with a book.
And then back away, hiding behind the couch until you sense that
someone's about to do a naked lap around the kitchen. Talk about
the bathroom process- but not too much. Enough so that your child
has the basic information necessary, but not enough to think you're
actually invested in the outcome.
Yes, I'm advising that you treat your little kid
like the family cat.
But fear not, things will be totally fine. As every
seasoned parent has ever told me, "No one ever went to high school
in a diaper." Kids somehow just figure it out along the way and end
up being completely good, usually slightly earlier than
Except for that one kid whom everyone has a memory
of - the one who could never quite make it to the boys' room. But
I'm sure he still grew up to be a good person.
And isn't that the ultimate goal?
That, and pee-free couches. Good luck.
Keely Flynn is a Chicago playwright, freelance writer, and blogger living with three young children, an extraordinarily tolerant husband, and two cats who just try to make it through the day without being ridden like ponies. Check out her personal blog, lollygagblog.com.
See more of Keely's stories here.
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