Just Do Nothing: My Potty Training Secrets Revealed


The first week in January, my family rang in a new year. The second week, the baby learned to crawl. The third, our preschooler potty trained herself. Last weekend, the baby started walking. Then school went to remote learning again. To say that 2021 has begun with a bang is an understatement.

All of my children’s recent milestones and literal leaps away from infant-hood have me reflecting. What strikes me the most is how my 3 ½ year old potty trained herself.

Yes, you read that right. My toddler potty trained herself.

toddler sitting on a child's potty seat in a tiled room

I’m sure you want to know my potty training secrets. Unfortunately, there are none.

My husband and I tried every method out there to get our child to use the toilet. There was the “let her run naked” method, the reward system, the M&Ms and sticker charts, the promise of new toys, and the “bye-bye diapers” party. We read books and watched so many Cocomelon and Daniel Tiger videos I now have them memorized. We made up our own family potty song. We made social stories and a visual schedule.

None of it worked, and only served to make our daughter angry. I finally stopped about six months ago when I asked myself a very important question: why was I in such a hurry to make potty training happen?

I was in a rush, and I was rushing her, because I was under the impression that we were “behind.” Though I am not sure what “behind” even means.

I finally washed my hands clean of the situation and let the toilet training gods take the wheel. It was clear my kiddo wasn’t ready for this change. We let go of our attempt to stay in control and made the choice to give our daughter the space to come to potty training when she was ready. Whether that was tomorrow or years from now, it would hopefully happen eventually.

At her three-year check-up with the pediatrician, I voiced my concerns about toilet training. The doctor reassured me and said that our new approach of “encouragement and exploration” but not pushing it was the best course of action. The pediatrician also shared with me that any child who is toilet trained by kindergarten is considered “normal,” and two-years-old was actually on the early end of the range of time when children learn to use the toilet.

This news surprised me. I was in such disbelief that of course, I searched the internet for more information. Because how could my pediatrician, who I know and trust, possibly be correct? Seemingly everyone I knew had their kids using the toilet right at two years old, some even before. Clearly, we were late and needed to catch up.

Wrong! The internet agreed with our pediatrician. We weren’t actually behind.

So, we put the potty away. We said goodbye to the potty training secrets of others and tried something less conventional. Each day, we asked our daughter if she’d like to try, and every day she said no. There were days when the mere mention of the toilet or underwear would send her into a tantrum. For us, the emotional stress she was showing made it clear that she was not ready for the toilet yet.

And then, on a random Saturday in January, I asked my daughter the same question I had for months.

Do you want to use the potty today, or wear pull-ups?

Without skipping a beat, my daughter pulled down her pants and declared she was ready to use the toilet.

And then she did.

No fuss, no tears, no arguing or tantrums. Just a wide, bright smile and lots of raucous celebration surrounding her step toward independence. It’s been a month since that day, and she continues to be successful in her bathroom endeavors, without only a single accident.

There was no magic. Sorry friends, I don’t have any potty training secrets or tips for you.

I didn’t use a specific method or employ a certain bribe. She came to toilet use on her own, in her time, much like she has every other major milestone. Why had I thought that using the bathroom would be any different?

I have been thinking a lot about this recently, and I have come to a conclusion. While the more reliable sources on the Internet said what we were experiencing was perfectly normal, social media kept throwing signs that we were behind, the way it always does. Now that many people are posting more and more about their lives, there seems to be some mad dash to be the first one to level up to the next milestone. Social media has created a “keeping up with the Joneses” in a far more permeating and global sense.

Woman's hands next to a cup of coffee holding a cell phone

It’s impossible to look at social media and not compare ourselves to everyone else. When I realized I was comparing my children to everyone else’s, I took a break for a while. I unfollowed accounts that made me feel bad about myself and worried about my child, who was healthy and thriving.

Personally, I largely like social media. When I am conscious about my consumption of it and can interact with it in a healthy way, it gives me a connection to others, especially during social distancing and isolation. The friends I have met online have been my lifeline through many of life’s challenges, particularly during the pandemic.

However, while social media has many benefits, I see now that it has skewed parent expectations of what is “normal” in a dangerous way.

It puts us in a continual cycle of comparison. It creates such a panic to get to the next milestone that we forget to sit back and let our kids be the age that they are. We forget to sit back and appreciate what we have in front of us now too.

So, if you want to know my potty training secret, it’s to do nothing. Sit back, enjoy your child, and let them come to it when they are ready, not when the Internet tells you it’s time.

Just Do Nothing: My Potty Training Secrets Revealed


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