Potty Training Stinks: Here’s the Advice I Wish I’d Had

I thought I was a potty training guru.  My oldest child, a daughter, was fully potty trained after only two weeks, and I hardly did anything.  Little did I know the absolute horror that awaited me when I potty trained my sons!

My middle child was deliriously happy sitting in soiled underwear and basically didn’t care AT ALL about trying to use the potty until he was about 3. It annoyed me, and it frustrated me. However, that paled in comparison to my youngest son, who was extremely stubborn and would make himself sick screaming anytime we went near a potty.  I fully expected him to go to kindergarten wearing diapers.

As a mom who has heard every tip, tried every suggestion, and literally donated my blood, sweat, and tears to the effort, let me share my hard-earned wisdom with those of you in the throes of my most hated phase of motherhood: potty training.The Potty Training Advice I Wish I'd Had Disclaimer: My post is not the “how to potty train your child” post you can find all over the internet. I will not give you the usual advice about reward charts, new toys, and M&Ms. This is for the moms who are struggling. I’m writing for the moms who are ready to pull out their hair. If you’re ready to give up and hire a potty training specialist, I hope this helps you hang on a little longer.  

What I WISH I’d Known When I Was Potty Training My kids:

1. Every Child Really Is Different

It sounds like a cliche, but it really is true.  What worked for your oldest might not work for your second child.  What works for your neighbor won’t work for you.  Just like you and your neighbor have different parenting styles, your children have different learning styles, and different things motivate them.  You aren’t doing something wrong if the old standby ideas aren’t working with this kid.  Open your mind to new ideas and try something else.  I tried potty charts, stickers, picking out a new toy, candy rewards, new favorite character underwear, going without underwear, a little musical potty, a potty seat for the big potty, etc.  You name it, I probably tried it.  

Try all the things. Something will stick.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

If you’re like me, you’ve read every book, article, and maybe even attended a class about toilet training. You’ve tried everything everyone has suggested and he still refuses to sit on the toilet when he needs to go. This is when we as moms need to step back and view potty training from the child’s point of view.  Some kids, like my son, see it as a power struggle. They will go when they feel like going.  They want to be in control. Potty training terrifies other children. The size of the toilet, the sound it makes, and even just the feel of a potty instead of a diaper can be frightening to young children.  Be patient, be consistent, and eventually, it WILL happen. It might not be when YOU want it to happen, but it will happen.

My youngest literally decided one day, at 4 ½, that he wanted to use the potty from now on, and he went from barely being toilet trained to being fully trained, even at night, with not a single accident, just like that. Why? I have no idea.  He just felt like doing it, so he did.  This brings me to the next tip:

3. Nobody’s An Expert

I don’t care if Becky’s three kids all trained themselves in a day. Becky’s not an expert. Becky’s lucky.  Everyone who has potty trained thinks they know everything about it, but the reality is, we’re all just trying our best to get through a horrific parenting stage.  We’re just a little proud we lived through it and can’t resist showing off a little.  (And yes, I realize this is ironic since I am writing a post about it. I’m not an expert either. I’m just a mom who has been there.) So take heart if your kid takes a little longer or is older than everyone else’s kids.

4. Anyone Who Judges You Because Your Kid Isn’t Potty Trained Yet is a Jerk

At first, other moms commiserated with me when I talked about my potty training struggles.  As each month went by and our struggles continued, I started getting rude comments or awkward silences.  Soon I stopped talking about it, and felt very alone and isolated.  I don’t want any other moms to feel that way.  We judge each other for enough reasons already.  Our kids’ desires to use the toilet shouldn’t be one of them.  

This is actually a big pet peeve of mine.  Why do we support and comfort each other in some things but not others? Your kid is walking late? Oh, don’t worry, mine was 18 months before he walked. Your kid is 4 and not potty trained? Oh, you must be doing something wrong. What gives, moms? Let’s be supportive ESPECIALLY in the hard times!

5. Your Kid Doesn’t Hate You

Sometimes I really felt like my boys were doing it on purpose.  The mess, the endless cleanup, the frustration– it all feels personal after a while.  After a particularly grumpy toddler who did NOT want to sit on the potty kicked me in the stomach, I sat back on my knees and thought about how my child felt.  He was probably so confused, frustrated, and angry himself!  My despair and worry about potty training made me forget what a big change this is is for little ones.  It helped me to relax and remember to approach potty training in a way that wasn’t so threatening to him.  Instead of being upset and angry, I taught him to help me clean up messes, gently reminded him where his messes truly belonged, and talked positively about all the things we could do when he learned to use the potty the right way.

It might not have changed his mind about potty training, but it certainly made it more bearable for both of us.

Potty Training Stinks: Here's the Advice I Wish I'd Had

The bottom line is this: potty training is the worst, but you will get through it. One day, there will be no more accidents to clean up, no more ruined underwear to throw away, and no more M&M’s to hand out.  

Eat the candy yourself.  After all that work, you deserve it!

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