Lessons From the Potty-Training Trenches

“Don’t worry – no one goes to college in diapers,” my mom kept reassuring me as I moaned to her for the millionth time about the fact that my kid seemed totally uninterested in being potty-trained. Every parent knows this, but sometimes it can feel like it’s never going to happen.

Whenever the subject comes up with another mom, either one who currently has little children or a seasoned mom of older kids who has seen it all, I almost always hear the same thing: “That was one of the hardest things we had to do as parents.”

I’m currently potty-training my second child, so you’d think I’d know what I was doing, since I’ve done this before. But it’s hard, dude. I have two boys – they say boys are more difficult to train than girls. I have no idea. I have plenty of friends with daughters who have struggled with it as well. But I’m pretty sure my younger little boy, who recently turned three, would be happy to just wear a diaper until he gets married.

I foolishly believed that potty-training my second son would be easier because I had been through it already with my oldest. But as we know, every kid is different, and tricks that worked on my first haven’t necessarily worked as well on the second.

However, here are a few things I’ve learned that I hope may help you on your path to a diaper-less future:

Jump in feet first

This method may not work for everyone, but for both kids, we just had to declare one day, “No more diapers!” When both of them had both spent some time on the potty and understood how everything worked, and had used it a number of times, we picked a weekend when we had no plans and declared it a diaper-free zone (except for naps and bedtime). The first day is pretty messy, but I was amazed at how quickly they figured it out once they understood that this was their new normal. From then on, we never went back to diapers except for sleeping. Commitment was important; if they thought that going back to wearing a diaper was an option, I don’t think they would have been as willing to use the potty.

That being said, be prepared to admit defeat if they’re not ready.

This may sound contradictory to my first bit of advice, but I really believe kids aren’t ready until they’re ready. Jump in feet first, but if it’s not clicking within a day or two, it may not be time yet. We had a few false starts with our oldest. I think we started trying to potty-train shortly after he turned two, and it was a disaster. Accidents everywhere, frustration from us, tears from him. We stressed over it briefly, but then shook ourselves and said, “He’s only two – let’s put the diaper on him and try again in a couple of months.” He wasn’t ready until he was three. Because of this, we didn’t even make a real attempt with our second son until after his third birthday, and everything has gone much better. (There’s no prize for potty-training at 18 months! Eventually everyone uses the potty – see aforementioned wisdom from my mother.)

Be prepared to improvise.

Like I said before, what worked for one kid might not work for another. Our oldest child was all about the treats and rewards. The little one liked those, but mostly what motivated him was getting to watch a show or play an iPad game. Our oldest pretty much never wore Pull-ups at night or for naps – he never wet the bed. Our younger one still needs a diaper for naptime and bedtime, and that’s fine. As long as we’re taking steps toward being totally out of diapers, I’m fine if it takes awhile.

Throw out some of the rules, just for a bit.

We allowed way more screen time and way more sweets than we normally do in those early days of potty-training with both kids. Anything to keep their little tushies on the potty long enough. Some people set timers and have their kids sit every 10 or 15 minutes, and we did our best to stick to that. Sometimes, though, they refused to sit. I mean, can you blame them? I would imagine it got pretty monotonous for them – I know it did for the adults! But we found they were much more willing to sit and try with a few m&ms and the chance to play an iPad game or watch their favorite Disney movie (over and over). I banished the guilt – it was only for a few days, and it was what we needed to get over the hump.

Good luck, everyone! And cheers to a future without diapers – we can do it!

Emma is mommy to one-year-old William and wife to Bill. She was born and bred in Baton Rouge, attending Episcopal High School, the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and the LSU Law Center. Married since 2010, she is loving her new life as a mother. She is an attorney but has limited her practice for now so she can stay home with William full-time, and she feels so fortunate to be able to do that. She is learning as she goes, rejoicing in every milestone and happy moment as well as working her way through the challenges that come with parenting. When she gets a chance, she loves reading, writing, and watching movies. She and Bill are both lucky enough to have their families close by and love spending time with them. She looks forward to seeing her little boy grow and eventually expanding her family. Motherhood has been the most fulfilling role of her life.


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