Potty training doesn’t have to be scary. With the right advice, it can even be a fun experience for you and your kid! We sit down with Allison Jandu, known as The Potty Training Consultant, for her insight on this integral (though messy) process.
Potty training: the ultimate right of passage for any parent. While human beings are born knowing how to go, the small detail of where to go isn’t quite as innate.
Jandu has provided consulting to countless parents who came to her at all stages of the process. Her course, Ten Day Potty Training Challenge is also a great resource for parents just getting started.
To have all your questions answered (and more), we sit down with Jandu to learn about initiating (and following through) on potty training.
The idea of starting potty training can be overwhelming – and even scary – for many parents. How do we get started with the process?
I love the approach of being prepared in advance and taking the time to educate yourself about potty training. Knowing what to expect gives you the confidence to not only get started, but also to see it through – in spite of any potential tricky times that make you question if you’re doing it right.
This is much better than just winging it and trying to potty train on a whim over a weekend. That’s the point of my community and platform – I want to spread the word about the best practices and techniques that make the process as easy as possible.
I know that potty training isn’t necessarily something that parents look forward to – even though they look forward to the end result of not having to change diapers anymore. But, with the right approach, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.
What’s the best age for parents to start thinking about potty training?
Several research studies have been performed to determine the ideal age for introducing potty training. The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes starting around a child’s second birthday. Canada follows similar guidelines.
Age, however, is not the only factor to consider, as there are many other variables that can affect when to start. Rather than focusing solely on age, I encourage parents to consider their child’s developmental stage and what their family’s current situation looks like.
Starting potty training during a time of other big changes in the household may not be ideal. So, there are other important factors to consider besides age when deciding when to begin potty training.
When we get to the stage where our child is ready for the process, what’s step one?
Preparing your child for potty training is an essential first stage before starting the process itself. Around the age that most parents consider potty training, children are beginning to assert their autonomy and seek more independence, leading to power struggles and meltdowns.
To avoid these struggles, it’s best to help your child prepare in advance. This involves giving them information about what the potty is, what it’s used for, and providing them with some exposure to it without any pressure for them to do or change anything right away.
Simply taking away their diapers and telling them to use the potty can make them defensive because children prefer predictability and routine. By introducing the concept of using the potty through play, reading books, and watching videos, we can help children adapt to the idea in a fun way, which can increase their willingness to try it themselves when the time is right.”
You mentioned power struggles, what’s the best way to deal with these?
When implementing a change like transitioning away from diapers, it can often trigger power struggles because children feel out of control. They believe they are losing control of the situation and want to maintain it to feel safe and secure with what’s happening in their lives. This is understandable.
The best way to avoid power struggles is to strike a fine balance – because, as a parent, you are guiding the process. You don’t want them to call all the shots, but there are ways to reasonably give them control over the situation and follow their lead while guiding them in the right direction.
For instance, offer choices like asking if they want to use the small potty or the regular toilet, or asking which book they want to read when it’s time to sit on the potty. These little ways can help children make decisions about the situation.
Instead of asking, “Do you want to use the potty?” or “Do you not want to use the potty?”, let them decide certain aspects of it. This can significantly reduce power struggles because children feel involved in the process. They feel like they have a level of control and that it’s something you’re doing with them, not to them.
This applies to all of parenting – not just potty training. How do we deal with bad behavior during the process?
It’s a tough topic, because parents can be anxious about any negative associations with potty training. They often worry about undoing the progress they’ve made. But the best thing to do is to stay neutral. This is true for all aspects of parenting – don’t give attention to unwanted behavior. Of course, you want to help your child learn and make better choices, but the more you focus on negative behavior, the more it can encourage the child to do it.
Attention is a child’s reward, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. So instead, try to remain neutral if there’s an accident, and redirect their attention to the good potty behaviors.
Acknowledge every effort towards using the potty, even if it doesn’t result in success. Offer positive attention, such as a sticker or a stamp, to reinforce what you want them to do. This way, you can discourage negative behaviors without making the process negative for your child.
What about rewarding good behavior? This can be a slippery slope, yes?
Yes, there’s a fine line between a bribe and a reward. We should try to avoid bribes as we want children to develop intrinsic motivation. After all, using the potty is a skill they’ll have for life, and we don’t want them to expect a chocolate every time until they go off to college.
Initially, however, children may need external motivation to try something new or inconvenient for them. In such cases, a positive reinforcer, like a piece of candy, sticker, stamp, or matchbox cart, can help.
Each child is unique, and we must identify what motivates them. For one child, a grape could do the trick, while another might need to watch a song on YouTube. So, we should use the rewards that work for our children to encourage good potty behavior.
We should, however, avoid offering rewards before children take action, such as saying, “If you go sit on the potty right now, I’ll give you a chocolate.” That way, they won’t be motivated by the reward alone but will understand the ultimate goal of potty training, which is to listen to their body and use the potty at the appropriate time.
Therefore, we should only reward children after they’ve had success with using the potty, and we should gradually reduce the frequency of rewards so that they don’t expect one every time. Eventually, it should become a habit that they do on their own.
I’m in favor of using rewards, even though it’s a controversial topic. Research shows that external rewards can encourage children to learn new skills and strengthen the parent-child relationship. For the first couple of weeks of potty training, using rewards can be a great way to reinforce good behavior and help children understand what we expect of them.
How do we engage our kids and make potty training fun?
Children learn very well through play. As Mr. Rogers said, “play is the work of a child.” It’s an excellent way to reinforce learning without them feeling like they’re doing any work, but they’re actually learning.
There are many ways to make potty training fun for children, starting with a drink and wet doll. These little plastic baby dolls come with a bottle that you can fill with water and a miniature potty. You can feed the baby water and squeeze its belly to make it pee. It’s a great way for children to learn the mechanics of the body and how it works, which they may have never seen before since they’ve been in diapers their whole life. It gives them more control over the situation because they can potty train the doll themselves. It’s someone going through the same thing at the same time as them, making it more enjoyable.
You don’t necessarily have to buy a special drink and wet doll, you can use any of the toys they already have. Modeling and doing that pretend play is an excellent way to incorporate some fun and still reinforce the learning.
Children love screen time, so there are many apps available, such as those from PBS Kids, which have fun games specifically relating to the potty that can help your child learn. Books are another excellent option since kids are visual learners. A tangible book that they can hold and turn the pages while they’re sitting on the potty, looking at a character using the potty, talking them through the steps, is a really fun way to make the potty fun.
On the lookout for a book like this? Check our Jandu’s “How Do You Poo?”
In addition to this, bringing activities to the potty to do while they’re sitting is huge too.
I like to have a little basket of toys and books specific to the potty so they only get access to those things while they’re sitting on the potty, adding to that motivation and making it enjoyable for them. Making the bathroom a fun environment can also help, such as taking them to the store and letting them choose some new bathroom decor to put in there.
Singing songs while they’re sitting is another great way to make it fun. There are many ways to make it fun and playful while still achieving the goal of potty training. I know many parents dread the process, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
How do we give our children the language to express their needs when it comes to the potty?
The message is really important because communication is crucial before starting the potty training process. If your child has a speech, language or communication delay, it is likely that they will take longer to potty train than an average child. This is because they need to communicate their needs and understand our requests. Therefore, having communication in place beforehand is essential for successful potty training.
To encourage children to recognize when they need to use the potty, it’s best to help them notice their physical cues, instead of being solely responsible for reminding them to go. By observing when they cross their legs, grab themselves, walk around on tiptoe, or become restless, we can guide them to recognize these signals and understand that their body is telling them to go to the potty.
They will begin to understand the connection between their physical feelings and the need to go to the potty. This approach will help build their language and help them understand their body better, so they can let an adult know when they need to go or go on their own. Books are also a great tool to introduce potty training vocabulary from an early age.
Waiting for your child to be fully verbal is not necessary. Kids can use sign language or gestures to communicate their needs, such as saying “I need the potty.” That’s all that’s required to start the process of potty training with them.
You do consulting for parents having troubles with potty training. What are your first steps for getting started with a new client?
We like to understand the background of the situation and the problems the child is experiencing at the moment, but our approach goes much deeper. We ask questions about the child’s personality, such as how they have handled other transitions in their life, whether they were late walkers or talkers, what motivates them, and how their caregivers typically encourage them to do things they don’t want to do.
We also ask about their daily schedule and home life because different schedules and routines can impact the potty training experience for different families. Additionally, we take into account the family’s past attempts with potty training because many parents who reach out to me have already tried before and need further assistance.
That’s why families come to us for a professional plan that takes into account not only the child’s potty training needs but also other factors that may impact the process, such as whether the child sleeps in their own bed at night or goes to daycare. We consider all aspects of the child’s life to create a plan that will work best for their unique situation. As you said, every situation is different, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Any final pieces of advice for those on the potty training journey?
When it comes to potty training, the one thing I always tell parents is not to compare their journey with anyone else’s. It can be an overwhelming topic, and every child’s potty training experience is unique, even between siblings or twins. I encourage parents not to compare their situation to others’, despite the influence of social media.
Remember, your potty training experience doesn’t reflect your ability as a parent. Take a deep breath, seek help and support if needed, and know that your child won’t be in diapers forever.
For a course that will flush all your doubts about potty training, check out the Ten Day Potty Training Challenge. To get even more insight from this expert, be sure to follow Allison Jandu on Instagram. Learn more about The Potty Training Consultant on their website.
Interviews have been condensed for clarity.