Training the tot without traumatizing the parent: Successful potty training tips

Mar 28, 2014, 8:10 PM | Updated: 8:10 pm

Much of motherhood is glorious, uplifting and fun. However, there is one chore which looms over even the most cheerful and talented mothers: Potty training. When my first son was 1-year-old, I delved with excitement into the mission at hand. Unfortunately, the process (which spanned a year and a half) left me older and wiser, and vowing that I would never again train another breathing thing.

The task started pleasantly enough. I read a book about potty training in a day, and made the fateful decision that my child (and I) were intelligent enough for such a feat. After all, I had been successful in other avenues of my life (like graduating from college and learning a foreign language), and I saw no reason I couldn't succeed at potty training a child. I was confident that if I followed every step the book explained, my brilliant toddler would be an amazing success in just 24 hours. However, after days of constant messes, tears and frustration, I didn’t like my son very much, and he didn’t like me at all. I soon gave up.

Two months later, when time had dulled my memory, I attempted the potty training task, again. Yet after several days of tears (mostly mine), and some embarrassing scenes in public, I was once again forced to retreat.

After nearly a year of these painful power struggles, my next-door neighbor, Tina, calmly announced one day that she had started potty training her 2-year-old. I was shocked. Amazingly, she didn't seem stressed out at all!

During the next week, I watched Tina and took mental notes of her method. Then, bravely, I set out again to train my son. I mimicked Tina’s nonchalant attitude, and was amazed that, within a week, my son was trained! It was an exhilarating feeling. Only a mother can appreciate the triumph that comes from having a potty trained child!

Since that grueling initial experience, I have potty trained eight other children —successfully, I might add — and would love to share the tips that I gathered along the way from Tina and other helpful moms.

  • Tip #1: Stay calm. My first mistake was to lose my cool whenever my son had an accident. Displaying negative emotion is detrimental. It leads to power struggles and the child not wanting to comply with this new concept of independence. No matter what the mess, put on a nonchalant face, express your confidence in your child’s ability to master this skill, help him clean up and move on.
  • Tip #2: Keep at it. Once you decide to potty train, don’t look back. Even though there will be accidents along the way, keep going. Starting and stopping the process shows discouragement and gives the child a card to play when he wants you to give up.
  • Tip #3: Trust the tot. Although it’s difficult, trust your child during this time. Once he gets the hang of the process, let him decide when he should go. Aside from times you are leaving the house, simply ask, “Do you need to go?” If he says, “No,” let the subject drop. You’ll be amazed at how he “steps up to the plate” (or potty) when you put the task into his hands.

Following are some potty training steps that have worked for me. Adjust them to your lifestyle.

  • Step #1: Choose your chair. Avoid potties where moms still have to dump once a child goes. Use a seat that sets right on the big toilet. This saves some cleanup, and also lets you leave the child alone to do his job.
  • Step #2: Start young. The older the child, the more independent he is. Children often need to “go” during or after a meal. Watch for signs in your 1-year-old baby, and set him on just before or during a bowel movement. Don’t scare him or make it a power struggle just calmly “catch” his messes in the toilet. Amazingly, you will soon sense when he needs to go, and he will stop dumping in diapers. The few minutes of effort needed to put him on the potty will be well worth the diapers and disasters you save.
  • Step #3: Teach release. Once a child has been messing in the potty for a while, set him on each morning when he wakes up, before and after naps and before baths. Leave for a few minutes, then put his diaper back on and move on with the day. These moments will first be a “catching” series, but eventually he will learn to release on demand — an important step in being independent.
  • Step #4: Take the plunge. When a child is close to 2-years-old, take the plunge and put him in underwear. I use cloth training pants, and only buy one package of special underwear (pull-ups) per child. Stay close to home the first few days, and be prepared for some accidents. Use the special underwear only when you need to leave the house. Eventually, your child will learn two things: first, to hold his urges longer and longer (don’t fret if at first he goes every few minutes); and second, to feel when he must go and release appropriately.
  • Step #5: Perfect independence. Teach him to pull his pants up and down, get on and off, wipe, flush and wash.
  • Step #6: Done with diapers. During the next month or so, you will notice your child waking up with a dry diaper. This is worth a hug and a compliment, and soon he will be waking up dry every day. Without a big fuss, nonchalantly forget to diaper your child one evening and soon he will wake up dry without thinking twice about it.

If your child relapses, stay calm and positive, clean up the mess, and move on. Your confidence will remind him that he can do it. Soon he will be back on track, and you will be VICTORIOUS.

Nettie Francis is the mother of nine children. Her articles on family life and children have appeared in national and international publications. Nettie currently blogs at

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Training the tot without traumatizing the parent: Successful potty training tips