Everything is a Phase: Toilet Learning

Alternate title: Thank goodness I didn’t have to call the fire department to get the potty seat off my child’s head.

Originally posted on The Adventures of Scuba Jack. Reposted with permission.

There are approximately 8,000,000 books and websites dedicated to helping you “potty train” your child. If you are anxious for your child to start using the toilet independently and have no idea where to begin, you can find an endless supply of strategies, from the 3-Day Method to the Laid Back Mom’s Guide to Potty Training (it’s awesome – Google it!).

Potty training, like infant/toddler sleep, can be an uphill battle, depending on your perspective. In my opinion and experience, it is another one of the few aspects of parenting about which I do NOT need to stress. Most children will be using the toilet independently by the start of kindergarten, and there is not all that much that I, as a parent, can do to speed that process.

Toileting for young children is all about control. They need to feel that they are in charge of their own bodies. If anyone tries to take that control away by pushing toilet learning before a child is ready, the process will typically end up taking much longer. In a battle of wills between a parent and a toddler, the toddler will ALWAYS win.

When Beatrice was around 16 months, I saw a 3-in-1 potty seat (it separates so the seat can be used on top of a regular toilet and the base can be used as a stool) at the local consignment store for $6. It doesn’t seem to be available for purchase anymore, maybe because the only review on the Amazon listing is from a parent who had to call the fire department to cut it off of a child’s head (Wait, was that me??) … but it has been THE BEST.

potty seat

While we did not potty train in a conventional sense, I put the seat in the bathroom and told Beatrice that it was her very own “pee-pee toilet.” From 18-24 months, she went through phases when she would sit on it (and actually go!), phases when she would avoid it like the plague, and plenty of other phases. I avoided praising her or scolding her either way and just remarked from time to time that it must feel nice to put the pee-pee in the toilet rather than in her diaper where it makes everything wet.

Side note: If your child tricks you into putting her down mid-diaper-change by yelling “pee-pee toilet!” just so she can run around naked … or if she takes a defiant spread-legged stance (on wall-to-wall carpeting, mind you!) so that she can strategically pee out the side of her diaper and onto the floor, take heart. It’s just a phase. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Sometime shortly after turning two, Beatrice decided that she would rather wear undies than diapers, so I let her. I packed 5+ changes of clothes in her preschool bag. Some days she needed them all, and some days she did not. There were long stretches when she would have almost no accidents at school and then go through 3 pairs of pants between 5pm and 7pm at home … and long stretches when all the accidents were at school … and long stretches with no accidents. One day last week, after a long accidents-free stretch, she went through 4 outfit changes at school. It’s all part of the learning process.

Even if your child is ready to use the toilet and potty training proceeds without a hitch, regressions and accidents are still common. You might think your child’s potty training is a done deal … until everything falls apart when a little sibling arrives or you move to a new house or your child randomly starts to go through five outfits per day again for no obvious reason (definitely not speaking from experience here, either, ha!).

Just as with sleep, toilet learning is not a linear process. The road to total toileting dominance involves plenty of uneven terrain, outfit changes, and wet sheets. When you think about it as a learning process, rather than as a specific “training” event with a beginning and end, some of that potty training anxiety can dissipate. For this reason, I like to think about it as toilet learning.

Plus, I’m pretty sure I can’t “train” my kid to do anything she doesn’t already want to do, especially when it comes to her body, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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