A Zen Approach to Potty Training
A Zen Approach to Potty Training
January 25, 2017

A Zen Approach to Potty Training

A Zen Approach to Potty Training.
Potty training can be a tense time for parents and kids, but it doesn’t have to be all stress and mess. Here’s your guide to approaching potty training with a sense of fun, so you and your kid can stay smiling. A Zen Approach to Potty Training

We recommend a zen approach to potty training: succeed by trying less hard. Don’t get stressed out about potty training because your little bundle of joy will absorb that stress and reflect it back to you. What’s the secret to zen potty training? Have fun with it. Take the upbeat Tigger or the mellow Winnie the Pooh as your model: don’t be the anxious Rabbit who needs all their vegetables to be exactly in a row. Say to yourself, “I’m ready for my next big adventure.”

So when does the adventure begin?

Number crunchers tell us children are ready to begin potty training between 18 and 30 months, and by three years old, 98% of kids are potty trained. The average age for being completely potty trained is 29 months for girls and 31 months for boys. Yes, that’s right–not only do girls learn to read earlier, they learn to pee in the potty earlier as well. (Inherent biological differences, or do girls just receive more cultural pressure to be self-disciplined? Harumph. Let’s leave that argument for another day.)

The Mayo Clinic emphasizes, “Potty-training success hinges on physical and emotional readiness, not a specific age.” A professor of pediatrics adds, “Sometimes it happens at 18 months, sometimes it doesn’t happen until close to age 4, but no healthy child will go into kindergarten in diapers. As with other things, like eating, walking, talking, and making friends, kids do things on their timetable, not ours!” (Thank you prof, for that cheery reminder of parental powerlessness. We SO appreciate it).

Here are your signs of physical and emotional readiness:

Physical Readiness:

  • Does your child stay dry for periods of two hours or more?
  • Is your child able to pull their pants up and down?
  • Can your child easily sit down on a potty chair and get up again?
  • Can they climb up a step stool to the big potty?

Emotional Readiness:

  • Is your child showing interest and curiosity in underwear or toilets?
  • Are they complaining about dirty diapers and finding them unpleasant?
  • Are they able to follow basic directions?
  • Does your child let you know when they need to go?

Avoid starting potty training during transitional or stressful times like a move or a divorce. One adventure at a time, people.

Build up suspense for the adventure

This is key. If you play your cards right, you can totally have your child begging for the day that potty training begins. The trick is to build up the suspense and excitement, by using these amazing psychological manipulations, um, parenting strategies.

  1. On your child’s first birthday, start talking about how excited you are to potty train them but explain, “You’re still too young, sorry. Maybe when you’re two.”
  2. A couple months before training starts, ceremoniously invite your kid to pick out their big kid present: a child toilet or seat. Oh, the joy!
  3. When the marvelous potty arrives at your humble home, make it feel welcome with a “potty party” where it is garbed and adorned by your child in dinosaur and princess stickers.
  4. Leave the decorated potty chair in all its glory lying around conspicuously. Don’t tell your child to do anything yet, but simply let the two of them get to know each other.
  5. Start a pre-potty training boot camp, where you drill yourself in crucial skills like pulling pants up and down, or flushing the toilet. (Very important: when the toilet flushes, say “Floosh! Whoosh! Floosh! Whoosh!”)
  6. When you see your child sitting on the potty, ramble up with their favorite game or book so that they associate potty-sitting with fun times.
  7. Role model like a champ. Let your child watch how you use the potty (dramatic narration a bonus).

Every potty knight needs their noble steed

The question is only what steed to choose. A child-sized potty, adorable and cute, just like a wee winsome pony? Or you could get a child potty seat for the adult potty, if you think your child is ready for that challenge. Remember that potty seats will need to be paired with step stools (because no one can release their bowels easily without planting their feet).

This is one of the most price-friendly options out there, making it easier on you if you have multiple kids who insist on having their own potty. Parents like it because it’s easy to clean and impossible for toddlers to put together backwards. It’s light enough for a toddler to carry themselves, and the perfect height for your tot to plant their feet squarely on the ground.

Summer Infant Lil' Loo Potty


This is actually a two-in-one bargain, since the seat can be used both on the child potty and the adult potty. The crowning feature of this potty is: “When the child flushes the potty, the tank water feature lights up and pretend water twirls around to a real flushing sound and cheerful yay.” If anything, parents complain that this potty is SO FUN it makes their kids TOO obsessed with going to the bathroom. As well as making a sound when flushed, it also makes a congratulatory sound when you pee (electrode sensors at the bottom of the bowl detect your tinkle). One downside: it can be annoying if you forget to turn it off at night, as it sometimes goes off unexpectedly.

Fisher-Price Learn-to-Flush Potty


This award-winning design is three things in one: a potty seat, a child potty, and a step stool. It’s made of very sturdy and comfortable plastic, is easy to clean, and is totally skid-proof. We definitely recommend this elegant three-in-one choice; unless your kid is on the young side for potty training. (For the youngest tots, the child potty can be a little bit on the big side.)

Ubbi 3-in-1 Potty or Toilet Trainer and Step Stool


Next up: Seats. If you want a child seat for the adult potty, check and see if you have a round or an elongated toilet, and make sure you buy a match. (Sometimes you can still use a seat that’s a mismatch, but it tends to be a bit awkward and leave a gap.)

This product (ten inches long and eight inches wide) is a great value for folks with elongated style toilet seats. The handles on the side will help your child feel much more secure and stable when they use it, and the contouring is designed to hold the child in place. Pair it with a good step stool that allows them to firmly plant their feet.

Munchkin Sturdy Potty Seat


This product (designed for round toilets) is nice and soft and cushy to sit on. You don’t have to buy a separate step stool, because it comes with one. It’s light enough that your tot will be able to take it on and off the toilet themselves, which will give them a greater sense of autonomy. The handles add to the sense of safety.

Mommy's Helper Contoured Cushie Step Up


How to support your child on their potty quest

Research shows it’s important to give your child a feeling of active participation, control and independence in potty training. If you’re too bossy, you risk dissension in the ranks. As the poem goes, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Your child is the captain of their pee and the master of their bowels–or you hope they will be.

The AAP’s full recommendations for toilet training are available, but here are our cliff notes for the supportive parent:

  1. Practice sitting on the potty fully clothed.
  2. Next, try sitting on the potty with pants and diapers off.
  3. Demonstrate what the potty is for by emptying a soiled diaper into the potty.
  4. Take note of the times of your child’s bowel movements and try to develop the habit of regular potty-sitting around bowel movement times.
  5. Once things are going well, try going diaperless for short periods of time and encouraging your kid to use the potty independently.
  6. Praise and reward them for tries and successes (but not so extravagantly that they become afraid of not succeeding). The Mayo Clinic says, “Be positive even if a trip to the toilet isn’t successful.”
  7. If things aren’t going well, don’t take it personally. Simply take some time off and try again.

How long will this quest take?

An average time frame for success in toilet training is three to six months, although it’s common for children to continue having problems with bed-wetting until they are five or six. Depending on the child, potty training might take up to ten months. However, some parents say they managed to potty-train their child in a single weekend (show-offs).

This book is a bestseller, and some parents swear by it, although it doesn’t work for all children. The title is a bit of an exaggeration: you get the idea across in a single day, but it takes longer to become accident-free.

Toilet Training in Less Than a Day


Toilet Training In Less Than a Day is actually pretty different from the official toilet-training method recommended by the AAP (not to imply any criticism). The AAP method is based on the Brazelton Method, a much slower method which can take place over a period of months. (Dr. Brazelton was a paid spokesperson for Pampers diapers: did he have an ulterior motive for recommending slow potty training? Or is it spurious for us to impugn his honor?)

If you’re interested in something that’s slower than a day but faster than a few months, this might be a good book to check out.

The classic masterpiece Oh Crap! Potty Training outlines a toilet training process which is a bit faster than the traditional Brazelton method. Parents like the book because it explains how to respect your toddler’s dignity, and how to get your daycare provider on board with your chosen potty training method.

Oh Crap! Potty Training


What if your child doesn’t WANT to go on your potty training adventure?

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” – Bilbo Baggins, from The Hobbit

If, like the Hobbit, your child doesn’t have much use for adventures, remember your zen. Don’t rush your child. It’s totally okay to wait a couple months if you can avoid the dreaded “power struggle” between you and your child. Empathy helps; remember that children love the familiar. What is normal for you might be intimidating for them.

Believe it or not, some children are actually afraid of the toilet. Think about it: it’s big, it’s hard, it’s cold, and it sucks things up NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN. When you put it that way, the toilet is a monster! If your child regards the toilet with frightened awe, try to de-mystify the beast by explaining its inner mechanical workings. Or, if you prefer a less scientific approach, some parents have comforted their children by explaining that the poop doesn’t die–it just goes away to “have a poo party under the house.”

Some kids will master number one easily and then draw the line at number two. This behavior is referred to clinically as “stool toileting refusal.” It can even escalate to painful levels as they hold back the poop and get really constipated. A study found that when parents talk about poop positively, kids get over stool toileting refusal more easily. Also, sometimes kids have strange reasons for the things they do. Asking enough questions to understand their mindset and address their core objections can be helpful.

Hand washing is a vital part of this adventure

Many parents have a “hand washing song” to make sure their kids wash their hands for long enough. Here are five hand washing songs your child will love. Getting soap your kids like (sparkly, scented, colorful, foaming, or fun shapes) can also be very motivational. It helps moms, too.

Other creative ideas from parents to incentivize hand washing:

  1. Tell your kid that the soap is ACTUALLY ALIEN SLIME!
  2. Make very animated noises and say things like “SCRUBSCRUBSCRUBBAAAAA”
  3. Enlist them into an army of germ fighters!
  4. Cheer “bye bye germs” as water goes down the drain.

Picking the right armor for your potty knight

Some parents transition directly from diapers to underwear and that tends to be the cheapest option. However, with regular underwear, accidents can be very messy. Training pants/underwear basically acts as a happy medium between diapers and underpants. You have three choices: disposable training pants, waterproof cloth trainers, and absorbent, non-waterproof cloth trainers. Our favorite choices in each category:

Whenever you want the ease of disposables without the environmental guilt, Honest Company is the perfect option. Their all-natural, eco-friendly products avoid chemicals, so they’re very easy on your little one’s skin. They also have easy tear-away sides to make disposal more convenient.

Disposable training pants pack (19-25 pairs, depending on size)


An organic cotton inner layer and a waterproof outer layer make these comfy for your child while ensuring they can hold in any blowout. Comes in a variety of fun designs (including the sea creatures pictured here). Bonus: These versatile training pants can also be used as swim diapers or diaper covers.

Charlie Banana Training Pant (Waterproof)


These Gerber training pants have a thick absorbent middle layer and are made of soft cotton. They won’t prevent all the mess, but they save you from having to clean up an entire puddle. They’re very comfortable, and they’re perfect for a parent who is transitioning away from diapers.

Gerber Dinosaur 3-Pack Training Pant (Absorbent, Non-waterproof)


It can be good to sleep in training pants or with a protective mattress cover. Keep extra underwear and outfits handy in your diaper bag in case of accidents!

Celebrate your mighty victories

Celebration is the keystone of successful potty training! When your child graduates from training pants to underwear, reward them with a special pair of patterned underwear of their choice. Or go on a special outing! We even heard the suggestion to give an underwear party with a special “Happy Underwear Day to you” song.

Cue triumphal music! Your own adventure is ready to begin.

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