If you ask parents–especially moms–about the first big challenges of parenting, many will answer breastfeeding and potty training. For some, both of these events happen easily and naturally without complication or strife; for many others they represent frustration, exhaustion, stress and even depression. How did moms manage for centuries without benefit of guidebooks or internet discussion forums? Patience, strategy and–perhaps most important–communication. Pediatricians, psychologists and other early childhood professionals who have spent decades studying babies and young children agree that it’s important to establish structure and stick with it. Force and punishment won’t get you anywhere; as with adults, it creates resistance and fails to establish motivation or desire.
When I was growing up, we had a high chair with a built-in potty–basically a “double seat” with a top that could be removed after a meal, and there it was: a removable pot that could be emptied with an ease. Why they stopped making these is a mystery to me, because we were potty-trained at 8-9 months, and, according to my mom, this chair was a big factor.
What works today? In order to compile a useful checklist, we’ve asked five moms from around the world–each with two or more children–to share their knowledge and experience. The questions we asked:
- As a first-time mom, where did you look for help and advice? Who influenced and/or inspired you the most?
- As a second-time mom, did you reach for the same tricks or did you try something new?
- What did you find to be the biggest challenge and how did it vary from one child to the other?
- Did you have a strategy or did you just “go with the flow?”
- At what age were your kids fully potty-trained, meaning overnight too?
- What would be your personal advice to other moms who don’t know where to begin? Anything else you want to share?
Jessica (USA, mom of a boy and girl)
1. I was 21 and had never been around young kids when I had my first. I had no pregnant friends or friends with children. I was also raised by my father and my only female family member I could go to for advice was my elderly grandmother. She had old school advice for potty training like let him run around naked all day and “we didn’t have diapers in my day.” She babysat for me and helped me a lot with potty training. I did some internet research on potty training as well, and just kind of went with my instincts as well.
A lot of my parenting was trial and error and picking up advice from people I met along the way. I joined playgroups and eventually met other moms that I compared notes with. I got most of my information for pregnancy and the first year from reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting and What To Expect In The First Year. Those books were always a go to! When it came to potty training I would say I got most of my inspiration from my babysitter at the time. She had three young children and watched mine three nights a week while I worked. My son was peeing on the toilet by age 2 but for about the first 6 months he would only sit to pee. Her and her husband worked with him and got him standing. That was very hard for me to do since he did not have a male role model in his life at that point. She was very good with schedules, feeding, time management, naps, etc. She helped me a lot by providing a stable environment for him to finish potty training. She had three kids and I only had one and she rocked it. I was very inspired by her and very grateful that she was able to help me potty train him when I worked so much.
2. As a second time mom I didn’t read any books. Being a woman and having a girl the second time, I just taught her everything I do. Wipe front to back, etc. She was completely potty trained (pee and poo) by 20 months. She learned quickly and I didn’t really have to “bribe” her with anything. I just told her that’s what big girls do and she did it as soon as she was able to understand the concept. I was amazed and she was great for a few months. As soon as she started pre school she began to poop in her pants every single time. She later developed a two-year ongoing problem with constipation and is still at 4 1/2 occasionally pooping in her pants because it feels better. I have tried everything from stickers to toys, and nothing works because she is in so much pain when she poops she would rather do it in her pants or on the floor in whatever position is comfortable to her. It’s been a very rough two years.
3. I worked 12 hour shifts when my son was potty training and I had him at three different sitters a week in the initial months of potty training. It was a rough time and to potty train you need consistency. This was definitely a challenge for both him and I. Whenever I made progress on my days off he would regress when he was with his sitters. So he potty trained later than my daughter because of that. I worked a lot less when my daughter was potty training and had her at one sitter’s house. It was much more easy to train her.
4. I never have strategies with raising my kids really. I ignore people that have told me that a child must learn this or that by whatever age or people who say you must do things a certain way when it comes to raising kids. My son was potty trained fully by 3 1/2 and I had people tell me that was too late. I just went with the flow and eventually he got it. With my daughter I was the same way. I let her run around naked a lot more because she seemed to be easier to train that way, but for the most part I had the strategy to have no strategy. I didn’t want to pressure them.
5. My son was fully potty trained by 3 1/2 and never had an accident since. Not one! My daughter still soaks diapers overnight at age 4 1/2. I’ve tried limiting her fluids, peeing in the middle of the night, etc. She’s a very heavy sleeper. I have a feeling this will go on a while. She was potty trained by 20 months initially but then regressed with her poopoos when problems with constipation started.
6. I carry a potty with me everywhere I go. I leave it in my trunk. There is nothing worse than potty training a child and having to search for a bathroom. Rewards work with some kids but not with all. Find what works to inspire your child. Sometimes they need someone other than their mom or dad to influence them. So enlist others to encourage potty training.