I’ve talked about potty training a lot on this blog, but often in real time when I was actually in the potty training weeds. I thought it would be helpful to put everything I learned from both kids into one blog post and hopefully help those of you who feel your kids are on the late side of training. Spoiler alert: It’s gonna be okay. And you might even be better off than your friends who started sooner.
When Mazzy was two, friends, family members and complete strangers would always ask me the same question.
“Is she potty trained yet?”
I would tell them, “No. She is not.”
The next question was usually directed to her.
“Don’t you want to use the potty like a BIG GIRL??”
Nope. She did not.
When Mazzy was two, she liked to use the potty… AS A HAT. If she had wanted to use the potty like a big girl, don’t you think she would have been potty trained?
Back when Mazzy was just fifteen months old, she started to tell us when she had to go to the bathroom. I took this as a sign. Of course my daughter would train early— she’s brilliant! Also, having a kid trained before two seemed like the ultimate in parental bragging rights. So, I bought a potty and some potty-related children’s books. I taught her all about the potty process— the sitting, the toilet paper, the flushing. She found it all fascinating.
But never once did she actually pee or poop in the potty.
Basically, she liked to use the bathroom as a lounge where she could hang out pantless and I could read her books. As she got older, she started using the potty as an excuse to put off bedtime.
“Time for bed!”
“I have to potty!”
An hour later, when it was clear nothing was happening in that potty, she’d still expect an unabbreviated bedtime routine.
Back then, I don’t think she ever really understood what we were asking her to do. When she was two and a half, she began to understand, but she still had no interest in using the potty. In fact, the more we pushed, the more she rejected the idea. She stopped telling us when she had to poop and started to hide instead.
Now, some people say the way to potty train is to switch to underwear, go cold turkey, deal with the mess and then come out the other side. I disagree. I think if your kid clearly does not want to be potty trained, they are not ready to be potty trained. Forcing the issue can make it worse.
I witnessed two of my good friends try to put their two-year-olds on some sort of system (one did a reward system and the other did a 3-day crash course) and both failed. The kid with the reward system got angry and rebelled and the kid on the crash course spent a few weeks trained and then started having accidents all over the place. Full disclosure: I also witnessed my sister train both her toddlers easily and successfully, so it can be done, but she has a doctorate in school psychology. I mean, I’m sure you can potty train without a five year degree, but my point is— it’s really not necessary to rush. I opted to wait for my daughter to participate willingly so there was much less of a struggle. And let’s be honest, a lot less to clean up off the floor.
In fact, there are some studies that say training a child before the age of three can be harmful. In an interview with ABC News, Dr. Stephen Hodges said, “A child’s bladder, which continues growing to its standard size until age three, grows stronger and faster when it’s filling and emptying uninhibited. When you train early, you’re interrupting that process.” He thinks that daycare and preschools requiring two-year-olds to be potty trained in order to attend, are being irresponsible.
Still, the more I saw Mazzy’s peers successfully using the potty, the more I questioned my plan to let her take the lead. I began to think she should be ready even though she said she wasn’t ready. Maybe my low pressure attitude was actually laziness? I started to blame myself for her unwillingness to try.
When Mazzy turned three, I decided to start training even though she resisted. After one unsuccessful weekend, she got sick and it seemed unfair to make her do something she didn’t want to do when she already felt miserable.
So I didn’t pressure her and waited. I let the next weekend pass and then the next. No pressure.
A few months later, Mazzy had a week off from school which seemed like the perfect time to try and make potty training stick. More importantly, when I brought it up with her, it was the first time she seemed open to the idea.
She was three and three months.
During that week, we had two to three accidents at home, but within a day or two, Mazzy started to go to the potty without us having to remind her. In fact, when we asked her if she needed to go, she said, “No, I will tell you when I need to go.” Which she did.
When we finally took the risk of venturing out, she had one accident at a friend’s house but then asked to use the potty the next time. The following Monday, we sent her to school in underwear and she used the potty at school all on her own, without any reminders. The teachers reported no accidents whatsoever.
This is the part, where I would usually segue into the AWFUL POTTY TRAINING DISASTER that happened after I got too confident, but oddly enough, it didn’t happen.
Everyone had told us to expect many emergency scenarios when we would have to find a bathroom immediately or else. But we never found ourselves in that situation. She never asked to use the potty while at the playground or while in transit. Mazzy was always able to hold it in until we got to a place where a bathroom was accessible.
I think it all came down to Mazzy finally being old enough to have full control over her bladder. Just like that research study said, your child’s bladder isn’t fully developed until the age of three. Which is, therefore, the age parents should potty train.
Now. When I made this statement a few years ago, people FLIPPED OUT. So let me say this, all kids are different. All parents are different. If you trained your child before she turned three (or even two) and it stuck, good for you. Brag on. But there is nothing wrong with waiting. It doesn’t mean your kid is slow if they aren’t ready. Both my girls are very bright, just stubborn. And both trained a few months after they turned three.
Harlow’s process was a little bit different. She didn’t go from diapers to potty trained overnight like Mazzy. Harlow’s transition to “big girl underwear” was more gradual, but equally child led. After she turned three, she asked to wear pull-ups on some days and diapers on others. Then she wanted to wear underwear at home but pull-ups when she was out and about. She decided that on Fridays she would wear underwear to preschool, which turned into Tuesdays and Fridays and then eventually the whole week. She liked to wear diapers at night and on road trips, until she decided that she did not. She was fully in underwear by the time she turned three and a half. No M&M’s. No charts. No stickers. No schedule. No big prize at the end. I’m not trying to brag; I’m just saying if you wait it out and do it at your kid’s own pace, maybe all the incentives aren’t as necessary.
When Mazzy was a baby, I remember seeing all these parents bringing portable potties to the playground thinking that was potty training. I bought a portable potty back then too. But now I think that’s potty training for kids who really aren’t ready. My kids never had to pop a squat in the playground, because by the time they were potty trained, they could hold it in until we found an actual bathroom. I’m not judging the portable potty parents. I’m just saying— TO EACH THEIR OWN.
So, here’s my advice. If you are contemplating potty training and your child is not yet three, give yourself a break and wait it out. At the end of the game, your child will be just as potty trained as those who started a year ago, except you probably saved yourself a lot of aggravation.