Potty And Play, Both Take Patience

Hi Janet,

I’ve been meaning to drop you a line for it seems like forever now to pick your brain about a few things. I so miss having access to that brain of yours on a weekly basis!

First, any ideas on getting a boy to sit on the potty to go pee, in prep for actually pooping in it? Obviously, we’re still in the very casual mode of potty training and Thomas does like to stand and pee in it most days, at least once, but he has zero interest in sitting. Any suggestions for gentle encouragement of sitting?

Next, still having a hard time getting him to play by himself much, he just doesn’t seem interested or he doesn’t have enough attention span to stay at one thing for very long. Any ideas most welcome!

I hope all is well. We miss you and RIE class still!

-Miranda

Hi Miranda,

I miss seeing you and Thomas [2½], too!

As I’ve said in class, I suggest going really easy on the potty stuff. He knows what to do, and the best thing you can do is be patient…even tell him (in the most nonchalant way), “I know when you are ready to try pooping on the potty, you’ll sit and push and do it,” and really believe that. Believe in him. It will pay off.

In regard to playing, I would let go of that situation also. Relax and allow him to have the teensiest attention span ever and maybe even some discomfort and “boredom”.

What happens when he’s done playing? That matters a lot. If he has the option of you entertaining him or playing with him he is going to choose that.  So do less. Don’t entertain him or try to coax him to play something. Let him be “in-between”. Acknowledge, “You don’t know what to do now and that’s okay. That happens to all of us sometimes. I know you’ll think of something eventually.” Or, “You can sit here with me, if you like. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit together.”

I seriously believe that if you let go of any worrying, sense of urgency, or even wishing about him going potty, playing more, or anything else that is in his control (and needs to be), he’ll feel the emotional “space” to start to shift his behavior. And we can’t just pretend. We have to let go for real. Toddlers can be sensitive, perceptive and tricky that way. They have the healthy (and developmentally appropriate) inclination to resist pressure and crave autonomy. So, when we truly back off and mean it, it usually frees them up to do all the things they are capable of doing.

Please let me know how it goes…

All the best,
Janet

(Photo by Manish Bansal on Flickr)

31 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Thanks Janet! Just the advice I needed right now… Have been itching for my 2.5 yo to be trained (he can “perform”on the potty but still refuses to tell me when he needs to go) and I guess he senses that I am too keen… 🙂

    1. Julie, thank for checking in! Yes, emotional readiness for using the toilet is usually the last and biggest hurdle and if we stay relaxed and totally uninvested, it can make a big difference.

  2. I totally agree Janet. We just potty trained my daughter, well 6 weeks ago and when I say just, it has been a natural, all on her terms development. No stickers or rewards, it was just a part of life.

    She is 28 mths now and we bought a potty when she was 18 mths, to just have around in the house, get used to it, sit and read in it if she wanted. It was just there. Eventually she started to want to be naked all the time and slowly she got used to running there to pee. Once we she got that down we just went for it with no diaper when we were out, although we would still ask her what she wanted “underwear or diaper” and she always said underwear. Couple of accidents and things are still in a learning curve, but she gets it.

    I still carry around a diaper because at times she has asked for it, for whatever reason, so I put one on. I believe although its a step of independence which she seems ready for (choosing underwear over diaper), its also a HUGE vulnerable time for her, so I have to follow her request for a diaper because its possibly an emotional need that can’t be expressed.

    1. Natalia, I really appreciate your sensitivity around your daughter’s toilet learning, your understanding that this is “a HUGE vulnerable time for her” and your williness to offer her a diaper whenever she wishes. This investment of trust and belief in your daughter will pay off for years to come!

  3. I’m so glad to read about the potty here. While I agree that most potty learning should be without pressure, I also found that boundaries in this area were important to us.

    My son was potty-trained before he was two (he’s now 2 1/2), but while my family visited over the holidays, I put him back in diapers. My father wanted to go on long car trips and I worried they would forget to take him to the bathroom. I thought we’d be able to go back to no diapers after they left, but I was wrong.

    I tried to get him out of the diapers, but he wanted to wear them, and then would take them off as soon as he was wet or dirty — sometimes removing a dirty diaper before I had a chance to get to him, and going through at least 10 barely-wet diapers a day. Finally I just had to tell him he was done with diapers.

    I gave him a couple of days to process it, but when the day came, he didn’t get any more diapers. It was rough at first (for me — I only have so much patience after endless puddles, and we went through *a lot* of paper towels), but now he’s in control of his functions again, including nighttime and naps.

    It’s hard to tell him no more diapers sometimes, especially because his younger brother still uses them, but I see it as empowering him. We don’t fight about it, and I’ve been very conscious not to make it a control issue.

    But when it came to a point where I knew he was capable, setting that boundary for him to use the toilet instead of diapers helped all of us move forward.

    1. Suchada, Thank you for sharing your potty journey 🙂 and I loved noticing that we’re blogging on the same topic today! Read more of Suchada’s story here: http://www.mamaeve.com/index.php/caring-for-baby-a-toddler/diapers-a-potty-training/the-potty-update/

      It sounds like you’re dealing with the issue with a lot of respect and keeping your son’s need for autonomy in mind. Children often “regress” during changes, transitions, or periods of even the most minor stress. Your path is a little unusual (with some back and forth), and it sounds like your son was giving you mixed messages, so it makes sense that you wanted to establish a boundary.

      I do think we have to be really sensitive and careful, though, because what “works” for one child can cause problems for another. I have known children who became stuck in a pattern of resistance for years because the potty issue was pushed, just a tiny bit. And I have known some very sensitive and bright children who seemed to feel pressured by being left naked. They panicked when they had to “go”, even outside, and didn’t have a diaper on. They needed the comfort of the diaper, but couldn’t express that need. This led to persistent constipation and a prolonged need for diapers, etc.

      So, I believe that the safest general rule is to stop worrying about it and let it happen. Then toilet training becomes what I believe it is…a stage of development like learning to walk, rather than a parent/toddler dance that can sometimes become fraught with emotion. That mentality worked with my 3 very different children, who chose to start using the potty at different ages. The first one took me by surprise when she initiated using the potty at 18 months. The other two were around 2 or 2 1/2 when they began and fully night trained a year or so later. The whole process was a non-issue. In fact, I can barely remember any of the details.

      1. Thank you for this article, my child will be almost 3 during the summer, has a great sense of autonomy, we still working on it, I offer the potty throughout the day. When I use the bathroom I ask most of the time for her company.

        Sometimes I feel the social pressure but then I remember when I used to potty train children with autism all it took was patience, love and understanding they were developmentally ready in all aspects.

        Correct me if I am wrong (I love learning, especially from you have to admit it) but I think that my child should fully participate on this process.

        1. Yes, fully participating is the entire point! Then our child gets to own this big accomplishment. Sounds like you know everything you need to know: “…all it took was patience, love and understanding they were developmentally ready in all aspects”. Thanks for sharing.

    2. This is a fascinating discussion, Janet. I’m so curious about the differences between potty training and sleep . . . because to me many of concerns I’m hearing about potty training earlier sound very similar to the concerns I hear about working with a child to get them to sleep on their own. How do we as adults decide which bodily functions are ones that are suitable for us to set boundaries on, and support a child through their struggles, and which ones we should wait for the child to initiate on their own?

      I hope this doesn’t come across as argumentative — it’s actually something I’ve wondered about before . . . and I’m so glad you have a safe forum where we can discuss different ideas.

      1. Suchada, please don’t worry about sounding argumentative. I’m thrilled that you would bring this up — so glad you feel safe to. And if we all agreed on every detail, it would get a little dull around here!

        The first difference between potty training and sleep issues that comes to my mind is that falling asleep independently is a skill children are able to learn easily in infancy. They are born able. The struggles usually come as a result of the environment we create: a too stimulating and undpredictable day, or whatever habits we’ve created for the baby at bedtime and then decide we want to change. Yes, there are babies who seem to need to cry a little before they fall asleep from the beginning and that is VERY hard for parents to handle (myself included), and I know that many parents believe we shouldn’t let them. But generally, the struggles are a result of a less than perfect environment for unassisted sleep, not an inability on the child’s part.

        Toilet readiness is much more complicated. As I explain in my toilet training post, there are three areas of developmental readiness that the child needs. When those are in place, toilet learning is pretty much effortless. 1) The child needs physical readiness…control of all the muscles involved and a large enough bladder to retain fluid, etc. 2) He needs cognitive readiness…needs to understand how to use the toilet, and be fully aware of what is expected, and 3) Emotional readiness…which is the one I have seen children have difficulties with when they feel nudged. Some children feel that the contents of their diapers are part of them, things they don’t want to flush down a toilet. Plus they have to hold something in and control it, rather than doing what feels natural. It’s a big change. And all this happens during a time when a child struggles with a new sense of his will vs. ours (toddlerhood!). Even if the toddler is otherwise “ready,” he is conflicted. But if it’s his OWN idea, it’s much easier for him to accept. And the bonus is that he can completely own the accomplishment and feel proud rather than compliant.

      2. What jumped out at me about your response is “that falling asleep independently is a skill children are able to learn easily in infancy. They are born able. The struggles usually come as a result of the environment we create” . . . which is exactly what followers of natural infant hygiene, EC, and most early potty training believe: that children are born able to control their bodily functions. When we put babies in diapers, we teach them to eliminate in them, and then we have to un-teach that later, and that’s when the three areas of development you mention become very important.

        But if children are exposed to toilet behavior from their earliest days (like watching their parents, which I know isn’t something RIE encourages, or watching their siblings), and are given opportunities to eliminate in appropriate places at regular times (like after naps, before and after meals, and first thing in the morning), they are often able keep awareness of their functions and become “ready” at an earlier age.

        I think the biggest difference between earlier toilet awareness with natural infant hygiene/EC and traditional potty training is that the emphasis is on teaching communication about when the child needs to “let go” rather than on asking them to “hold it in”.

        1. Suchada, I’m so glad you brought up EC, because I was wondering whether EC would translate into children reaching these developmental stages earlier and therefore self-initiating toilet learning earlier… And if that is the case, then I would still say what Magda Gerber always said, “When they are ready, they do it.” EC would, I imagine, give one all the more reason to believe in trusting the child to show us what they are developmentally ready to do, rather than urging them on and potentially turning toilet learning into a struggle.

  4. Great post, Janet! I totally agree with you that parents have to give children space with potty training. The whole objective with potty training is about autonomy and that means letting them have that emotional space you talk about. I think there are ways to offer support and boundaries that work for different children, but ultimately the one piece of advice I offer parents is just as you said, to let the children own it, even when that means giving them room to make their own mistakes.

    1. Thanks, Amanda! Glad you agree, and I don’t want to sound closed-minded about support and boundaries… I’ve just seen a parent’s well-intentioned “agenda” create problems. And, looking at the bigger picture…most adults we know are potty trained, but many lack self-confidence or emotional stability. I see no reason to hurry!

  5. I am glad that EC has been brought up, I have been wandering what is your view on it, you actually have to place the baby on the toilet when they are not able to do it themselves but on the other hand you listen to their need to eliminate, I didn’t practice that but often wonder if it would have been a better route than now waiting for an almost 3 year old to be diaper free.

  6. I completely agree that we must believe that our children are totally capable to use a potty/toilet. What I think sends mixed messages, though, is giving the child the option of a diaper sometimes. I think children, especially around age 2-3, are pretty black and white in many ways. Encouraging your child to use the potty and wear underwear, but then putting them in a diaper sometimes is really confusing. So am I big kid or not? I’m only a big kid sometimes? I imagine to a 2 year old, those sometimes seem kind of arbitrary. They may make sense for us as adults (out of the house, when they’re tired, when they have to poop).. but when your two is just looks like, “when mommy thinks I’m big enough, which isn’t always.” I think when it comes to potty training, our children deserve the dignity and resect that is afforded to them when we say, “here’s a new skill, here’s how we do it, and here’s how I’m going to consistently support you in it until you can do it on your own.” I also think that the diaper industry has convinced parents that their children need to be in diapers longer than they do. Up until my generation, kids were out of diapers by 2. Now parents are waiting until the child is 3+ to even consider it. Meantime, Pampers is raking in the dough.

    Having said all of this, I know each child is different and each family has to do what works for them. Some kids are really going to take longer to “get it” because that’s just their learning curve. But I think we do our children a disservice when in every way we encourage their growth and development (expressing their feelings, independent play and discovery) but in the meantime make them continue to go to the bathroom in their pants because we treat them like they can’t do it (which is a self-fulfilling prophecy).

    I hope this hasn’t come off as judgmental or “holier than thou.” My intention is to add my opinion to the discussion – I know we’re all doing the best we can for our children!

    1. Katheryn, I respectfully disagree with your take on toilet learning. You believe this is up to the parent. I believe wholeheartedly that it is (and must be) up to the child. When children are ready, they do it. They don’t need encouragement to wear underwear…or to go to the potty. They just need us to follow their lead. This is the way to ensure that toilet learning happens without the child (or the parent) experiencing the slightest amount of stress or resistance.

      When using the toilet comes totally from the child it is effortless. I have been through this with 3 children and there has never been any effort on my part besides making a potty available to them when they choose to use it and cleaning up the occasional accident. If parents can trust and let go, their children can let go. We don’t need to pay for classes or coaches! This will happen when we stay out of the way, but parents must first realize how powerful they are and let go of their agendas.

  7. I am not sure how to handle my son’s potty learning. At 2 I showed him the potty and he was very interested and pooped and peed in it. He even ran to it when it was time to pee and expressed displeasure over wetting his pants. I didn’t feel like pushing it so I left it up to him and continued to use pullups. A few months later he became resistant and refused to use the potty completely. He also refused to bathe, brush his teeth etc. he wanted to be in control and all of sudden seemed very stubborn, I let it go until 3 when we tried again and he had no interest (we overcame the bathing phobia thank god). His little brother was born so we gave a break for 6 months. At about 3.5 we got out a sticker chart and he was totally trained for a month, dry at bed time as well. Then I mistakenly said, oh wow you’re such a big boy you won’t ever have to wear diapers again! He became distressed and went back to wetting and messing his pants and demanding a diaper. He’s now 4 and is still in pullups. Sometimes he pees in the potty in the morning and sometimes he holds his urine from the night before until he gets to school and floods his pullup and wets his clothes. He tells me that he likes diapers and doesn’t want to ever poop on the potty and that pooping in a pullup or underwear is “fine for me and easy” I really feel that if I had been more proactive at 2 we might have avoided this. His preschool teacher thinks he might not be trained until 5 or 6 since he is physically but not emotionally ready. I need to find some patience and just let him be I guess and hope he one day sees a benefit to being diaper free.

    1. Momof2, first and foremost, don’t beat yourself up! This is not your fault or your son’s. This is just his process for learning this – it’s weird and intimidating and not what he’s used to. On top of that, it’s developmentally appropriate for a 3 yo to want to find his own way as much as he can… he’s realizing he’s his own person, and testing the boundaries of what that means. I strongly suggest you check out http://www.ohcrappottytraining.com. Jamie has a lot of experience potting training older kids who haven’t mastered potty training (and moms who are at their whit’s end!)

    2. Momof2, I understand your worry. if I were you, I would back off completely and trust your son.. Children in their twos have a strong need for autonomy and resistance is normal and expected. That is why even the slightest coercion around toilet learning can backfire. Have you read this article by pediatric urologist Steven Hodges? “Holding” can be problematic… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-hodges-md/potty-training_b_1424826.html

      Your son sounds especially sensitive and you seem to understand that…but when you say he “refused” to use the potty, that suggests that he was asked to use the potty. Even the most gentle “asking” can be perceived as pressure for children as sensitive as your son. He knows a mile away when his parents have an agenda for him.

      The birth of a new baby born is a VERY common time for the older child to regress with toilet learning. As I mentioned to the parent in this post, patience and acceptance is the key, in my opinion. Hang in there!

  8. wish i knew about you when i was doing potty with my son. it was a long messy process but he eventually got it. it was definitely the emotional/control piece, and still is. he has now taken the battle to wiping… it is so HARD to let go and be nonchalant! i’m so tired of cleaning skid marks out of his underwear, lol. but working on it…

  9. Hi Janet,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and have gotten a ton of helpful information from it- thank you, thank you, thank you!

    It looks like I may have prematurely introduced my 2 1/2 year old to toilet training. I made a little potty available (and started reading him the book “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz) at about 18 months. He showed interest and went before bathtime every night for about a month and then lost interest, so I let it go.

    Now he recently showed signs of noticing when he peed in his diaper so I said we would go to the store and buy some “big boy” underwear and start using the toilet.
    This is where I seem to have made it my agenda instead of waiting for him to ask. I guess my biggest fear was that since he’s still pretty non-verbal that he wouldn’t tell me without me asking.

    His body seems ready as he’ll go on cue when I tell him it’s time and ask him which toilet he would like to use (no BM in the toilet yet though) and loves wearing his underwear, but he’s definitely not asking to go on his own.

    Now in the last day or two he has started resisting using the toilet. I also make it a requirement to wash hands after using the toilet (which he can do on his own) and he has recently been refusing that as well, so I wonder if that has been playing into the situation at all. It’s like using the toilet is fine or washing his hands is fine, but having to do both is just too much work and he’d rather have his diaper changed…

    So is the gist at this point to stop asking him if he wants to wear a diaper or underwear and put him in diapers until he asks for underwear or the potty? He does ask for the underwear (“I want raaaaar!” as they are pirate underwear) but doesn’t want to do the process of using the toilet in order to use the underwear…after reading all of these posts I am still needing some clarity from your perspective if you wouldn’t mind…

    All my best,
    Amanda

  10. Hi!!
    My 15 month old son will not play independently at all. He always needs to be standing up holding on to me. I have tried everything including putting him in a PAC & play and telling him I will be back in a few minutes. I check on him every minute so he knows I am still around. Nothing is working and I am at wits end:( he follows me into the bathroom and taking showers is the worst. I am at the point that I can’t get anything done and on top of that he wakes every 1/2 hour at night. I will take any advice anyone has to offer. His play room is also our tv room so I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving him in there for to long. I would really love advice on how to get him to play independently so he would not be hanging on me all the time:) thanks

  11. Hi Janet,

    I read your blog, listen to your podcasts and I have your toddler discipline book, however, I still can’t figure out the best way to handle my son when he protests being left in his gated playroom. I like you’re idea of just letting him be and finding something to do, so I tried that this morning, hoping he’d eventually play with his toys and entertain himself. Instead he was taking dishes out of the dishwasher as I was trying to load it, getting into the trash, and climbing on the dog. So to the playroom we went. I told him I needed to keep him safe while I got some things done.. I acknowledged that he didn’t want to be in there, but I’d come back as soon as I was done. Our playroom is right off the kitchen, where he can see me, I thought it would be a good space because I am right there and he won’t feel left alone. He. Was. Miserable. The entire time. It was about 30 minutes and he never did anything but stand at the gate and scream and cry, he had himself so worked up he was gagging and needed a nap earlier than usual. I kept acknowledging his upset and reassuring him I’d let him out as soon as I was done, but I must be missing something. It can’t be good to let him be this upset? One thing I can say, he’s seeing his playroom as a punishment now. He certainly doesn’t eventually give in and start playing like some of your other posts on independent play suggest. Today may have not been ideal because we started out not in the playroom and had to move there, but he acts pretty much the same even if I put him in there to begin with. Please help! This is only 1 of a host of issues we are dealing with at the moment (new sister is 6 months old and boy has that transition been fun). I have also tried putting him in his bedroom, out of sight, but he acts much the same. Am I really supposed to just let him get this worked up? I’ve also tried staying with him to acknowledge his feelings and wait for him to calm down before I leave, but he doesn’t get really upset until I actually leave and when I come back, he’s better. Any advice would be helpful. Thanks!

    1. Hi Tiffany! It sounds like what might be missing is you being clear, comfortable and confident in your decision. When you say “reassuring him”, that can mean you are projecting your own uncomfortable or guilty feelings. A routine to the day will be of great help to him in letting go of you. It also sounds like he needs the opportunity to share feelings about this shift to a sibling and is “using” this as a time to do that with you. So, I would perceive this situation positively and be 100% clear and comfortable with your choice.. OR, not attempt this at all. It’s really up to you.

  12. Hi Janet,

    Thank you for this… I wish I’d known about you with my first child!!! She is now nearly 5 and still asking for a nappy for her poos. She withholds until we are home and has never gone at school. I’m trying to let go and give her control after I’m sure she felt a forced agenda from us when starting the training just before three as she is emotionally very sensitive and clearly not emotionally ready. If I respectfully ask her to try on the loo first she becomes upset and says it’s done back inside… (hence total back off and now she is nearly 5)how can I give her back the control and let her know she’s got this?
    Her younger brother 2.5 trained himself and there was no agenda and stress as we have learnt from our mistakes… he tries to help
    encourage his sister too.
    Thank you so much for your insight, I love your posts , they are so helpful!

  13. Hi Janet! I love your site and all of your resources! The question I have about this approach is: what do you do when they are approaching a hard limit around potty training ( like the child needs to be trained to go to a certain school) and they haven’t gotten it on their own yet? My daughter has been intermittently using the potty since she was 18 months old, but at 2 1/2 (+) she is stlll learning & not trained. There was a period of time where she was doing great and even in undies but… we added a new baby to the family right around the time she turned 2. Between new baby and our unintentional potty pushing ( asking her to go, giving rewards etc.) she regressed. Then I read some of your articles, and realized we had erred and should back off. We now offer the potty twice a day at home ( she goes regularly at school but rarely at home) and try our hardest to make it a neutral offer- fine if she goes, fine if not. And of course she is free to go on her own any time. (Sometimes when an older potty trained friend is visiting she’ll go in and use the bathroom on her own, ) This is all fine except… she starts a new school in 4 months ( she will be just 3 at that point) and the children need to be potty trained to attend. I realize 4 months is a long way away in toddler time but I’m having trouble letting go and trusting she will get it in time. I trust she will get it! But trusting it will happen by September 1st is harder… advice? Thank you!

  14. What’s your take, anyone, on schools that require potty training? I want to send my son to preschool in the fall for half day and he’s required to be trained to be in the 3-6 room, he’ll be 3 in June, and if he’s not then he goes to the toddler room. I feel like they are not supporting his emotional development all bc what? Teachers at this school don’t want to change diapers? How should my conversation go with the school when I demand my child be in an age appropriate class regardless of where he chooses to do his business?

  15. I have boy/girl twins who turned 2 in January. They have had their potties sitting in the bathroom since November. They have gone on their potties off and on since they received them. Recently, my daughter is showing more signs of readiness. She wants to go without a diaper and has tried peeing on the “big toilet” as well as her little toilet. She occasionally pees on the carpet and floor in different rooms in our house. If I can catch her part way, I will pick her up and carry her to the potty and say “Pee goes in the potty or in your diaper”. She is starting to think it is funny to pee other places and it has sparked her brother to occasionally do so. They are at the age where they will strip down and want to play naked. I am at a loss here. Any words of wisdom for this scenario would be greatly appreciated.

  16. Thanks for the post. I try every day to follow your guidelines but sometimes it’s so difficult. My daughter will turn 3 in 4 months. For the last 3 months we have been working on her potty training. At the beginning it looked like she’s ready and the first days were great. But afterwards we had many back and forths. I tried to follow your advice and gave her diapers when she asked for that. But I also wanted to succeed too much and I know I put too much pressure on her: asking her too often is she wants to use a potty or saying that I’m sad because she wet her underwear… I’m pretty sure it’s my fault that I messed that.

    And I have a huge concern now. Because I could and would like to take a break and use only diapers. But she attends a day care and there she has only underwear and no accidents at all… And when I said the caregivers that I will probably go back to diapers, they didn’t uderstand the reason why. She uses toilett, she remembers about this, undresses herself. For the last 3 months she had only one accident and only because her trousers were too tight and she couldn’t put them down on time.

    And I don’t get it at all, as well 🙂 What I’m doing wrong that it’s not working at home and it’s working at day care centre. And is right to give her diapers at home and no diapers at day care? Or is it too confusing for her? I’m very confused, as well.

    Anybody had a similar experience?

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