Keep Calm and Potty On
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Like most things in parenting, potty training is not a one-size-fits-all situation. As the parent of two sons, one with special needs, and one who is typically developing, I had no choice but to approach potty training in a different manner with each child. However this consideration should not be unique to parents of differently abled children. Tailoring your potty training approach to the child you are potty training is the best path to success.

Each child has a learning style, and a personality that should be factored into the method you choose for potty training. If your child thrives on structure, then timed visits to the potty may be the best choice. If your child has an older sibling and wants to be a “big girl” then capitalizing on this fascination and getting the older sibling to model and help with the process could work like a charm.

siblings playing

The truth is there is no magic bullet to potty training. Only parents and children, working together to achieve an important milestone that at times, seems out of reach. But we have developed some key points that will help you understand the process and reduce frustration for all.  We call them the P's of Potty Training.    


1. The most important thing to remember is that potty training is a process. It takes time. A truly potty trained child is a child that uses the bathroom on their own without your knowledge, and handles all the additional skills by themselves.

child hand washing

A truly potty trained child is one that does not announce that they need to go to the potty, and doesn't announce what they did while they were there. A truly potty trained child can use bathrooms in any setting without issue, and that includes those self-flushing toilets in public restrooms.  Trust us, this all takes much longer than 3 days.  

2. Potty training requires patience. Patience from you the parent is critical. You need to be patient enough to give your child the time and space they need to learn. You will need to have the patience to clean up accidents. We are not huge fans of the “make them clean it up” camp because that implies that toilet learners are deliberately defying you.

boy sad shame

There is enough shame connected to a potty accident without heaping on  additional angst. Children know that they have upset you with a potty accident and they are disappointed in themselves too. The best way to respond to accidents is with a simple "next time we will try to get it into the potty, " and move on.  We have to allow these accidents to occur and view them as learning opportunities. After all, you have to fall off a bike several times before you learn to ride.

3. Every child should receive praise for their efforts. Toddlers thrive on attention and praise.

Give your child praise

Be sure to praise the process of trying as much as you celebrate the main event. Even if the accomplishment was simply sitting on the potty for 2 minutes. This way little ones will learn to replicate all the steps needed to get to actual elimination on the potty!

4. Toilet use is a learned skill made up of a set of complex tasks that must all intertwine just right for success. There is navigating to the bathroom, undressing, sitting, releasing and relaxing the right muscles to eliminate, taking the right amount of toilet paper, wiping to the point of cleanliness, discarding the toilet paper in the right place, flushing, re-dressing, washing hands, drying hands.  Phew, that is a lot!  And none of this will even happen if a child does not first recognize the urge to eliminate in the first place. As adults, so far removed from the process, we aren't always aware of how difficult this can be. So give your kids a lot of grace, and view each accident as an opportunity to practice getting it right the next time.

potty training

5. There should be no pressure on your little one to potty train. Potty training on a deadline rarely ends well. In fact it is a surefire way for both you and your child to become frazzled and eventually disappointed. At the same time, potty training because a relative gasped, “he’s still in diapers?”,  or a friend bragged that their child “potty trained themselves” will also cause you unnecessary pressure and anxiety which will transfer directly to your child.

6. Finally, using punishment as a learning device teaches a child only to perform out of fear and does not provide for a child's true understanding of what is expected of them.  

Potty training is a milestone that no parent can avoid.  Even if you "get daycare to do it" or send your little to Grandma's for a week. No matter what you do, there will  be potty moments that are your sole responsibility (tiny airplane bathroom anyone?). If you approach potty training with an open mind, you will find that the intense amount of time you spend with your child will teach you a lot about their learning style and personality.  You will discover how they process new information, and how they respond to failure vs. success. You will learn what motivates your child and what rewards make their hearts sing.  You will also learn what kind of parent you are, and how to set realistic expectations. 


The American Academy of Pediatrics states that it can take up to 12 weeks for a child to grasp potty training. Keep this more realistic timeframe in mind and maintain a positive attitude. Be sure your child is truly ready to potty train by revisiting our blog post How Will I Know When to Start Potty Training.  If you have a parenting partner, make sure they are involved, using the same language and techniques as you. And tag team each other if patience is failing. And finally, remember to believe in your child. With consistency and dedication, she will learn to use the potty.

Keep Calm and Potty On

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