Potty Training Your Toddler: Lessons from the Field


Did you just get an overwhelming sense of anxiety? Fear? Frustration? Excitement? Did you hear the magical sound of money, not being spent? Or, did you forget about all those hours of potty training your toddler?

Whether you have kids that you trained to use the toilet, cats to use the litter box, dogs to use the tall grass outside, or any other furry creature- potty training is an important and necessary process that I strongly dislike. Potty training toddler, what not to use. Toddler sitting in a box of kitty litter.

If you’re a new parent about to tackle this phase of life, or if you’re a seasoned parent that sailed right through it, what is the typical advice you either give or receive?

I know the first thing I always hear is, “Give your kid a candy.” Well, that good old fashioned reward system is not a sustainable plan. I’ll avoid all the extra parenting theory, but that reward system didn’t work for us. We started with M&Ms, Skittles, Reese’s Minis, you name it, we tried it. It didn’t work.

Then, the next thing I would often hear is, “Set the timer.” I’d set an alarm to remind my daughter when she should try to potty. Just kidding, that reminder was for me NOT them. It felt like puppy training class all over again. The parent is being trained, not the dependent. So, what happens when you set a timer, and your child doesn’t WANT to sit on the potty? Now, what?

One option is to pick your kid up and set them on the potty (kicking and screaming). Or, another option is to let them free and run naked through the house peeing all over everything- they’ll get it, right?

Navigating potty training your toddler is a minefield of anxiety, for me anyway. We went through every possible potty training approach, or what feels like it. We tried techniques like my husband showing my daughter to use a dry erase marker on the toilet lid while she turned around and pretended to potty, to me begging and pleading with her while offering hugs and support. Some days were good, other days were awful.

Then, one day I stepped back to think what if I didn’t know how to poop on the toilet?

How terrifying would it be to learn to use a toilet?! No wonder my earliest childhood memory is after I was toilet trained. Who would want to remember that? Just imagine being a 2-year-old kid sitting on a huge toilet? Heck, I still have to shine a light in there at night- just to make sure nothing is coming up that deep dark hole.

Somewhere after that, and mixed with a bit of peer pressure from her friends at daycare potty training clicked for my daughter. I’m incredibly impressed with my toddler and her communication efforts for when she does need to go, especially in the car on road trips. Potty training toddler, pandemic truck edition.However, I’m perfectly content with her rocking those night time pull-ups. She’ll let me know when she’s ready to night-train.

One of the questions I hear all the time and have even researched myself is: when is your kid ready to potty train?

Well, in my case- my toddler took his clothes off, took his diaper off next to the changing table, and proceeded to take a big poop on the floor. That was my subtle cue he might be ready.

However, I’ve never seen the question asked, when is the parent ready to tackle potty training?

Because let’s be clear. I have another new toddler now. Once again, I wonder if I am ready to attempt round number two of potty training when my firstborn is still wearing night time pull-ups to bed? No. I am not ready. I am content changing diapers. I am content carrying around my big diaper bag. I am content to deal with gross disgusting poop because I am not mentally prepared or patient enough to potty train right now. And this is ok. Potty training your toddler is tough! It’s also not something that you win a prize for doing earlier than your friends.

Believe me, there’s no one size fits all, especially when it comes to potty training your toddler. Every child, every parent, and every family situation is different. The biggest lesson I learned was to listen to my child, not society. I listened to her body language, her cues, her struggles, and tried to find something that worked for her.

Potty training your toddler is definitely not easy, and it requires patience. If you happen to be struggling, just know you’re not alone. I’ll be right there with you since my little guy isn’t giving me an option. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Potty Training Your Toddler: Lessons from the Field

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Kelli Hier Pike
A born and raised Vermonter, Kelli got her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Vermont, then joined the Vermont Air National Guard, where she met her husband. After that, she got her Master’s Degree in Digital Forensic Science from Champlain College. She and her husband and bought a house in the woods with 30+ acres of land to raise their two kids (4 and 2), three dogs, two cats, six chickens, and three guinea hens. Kelli stays home with her kids and pets while running her own wood crafting business, Tabor Ridge Designs, during nap-times. Kelli occasionally writes for her own mom blog, Calm Collected Mom, because we can all dream. She doesn't always think of herself as a writer, but she often has conversations with people over similar life frustrations and wants everyone to know that they're not alone. Life is full of irritations and annoyances, but Kelli thinks that we’ll get through it with a great story to tell afterward!


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