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Published on July 15, 2013

Teddy bear sitting on child's potty chair in bathroom

It’s Potty Training Time: Things to Keep in Mind Before You Begin

Potty training is a skill all typical children will achieve. With some kids, potty training is a breeze, while other kids will take their parents and caregivers for a wild ride before they reach this goal.

Potty training can be a stressful time, but you can make it a little easier by understanding the developmental skills your child needs to be successful.

What Skills Does a Child Need to be Successful?

  • Maturation: The child needs to be physically ready. That means the muscles that control bowel and urinary function are developed. The child also needs to be intellectually ready to understand the concept of going to the bathroom. And the child needs to have enough language in place to be able to tell someone that he or she has to go.
  • Motivation: The child should have at least some interest in using the toilet. There should be enough emotional development in place to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and to want to please others. The child should be interested in imitating others.
  • Experience: When a child learns to walk, we allow plenty of time and opportunity to practice. We know that the child will fall down many times before perfecting this skill. Potty training is no different. The child will need lots of time to practice all the aspects of this new skill, and accidents will be a normal part of the process.

Why Do You Want to Potty Train Your Child?

We have asked many parents this question. We wondered why, in our culture, we don’t just wait until kids are old enough to figure it out for themselves. Here are the most common answers:

  • Diapers are expensive!
  • Another baby is on the way and parents don’t want two kids in diapers.
  • Life will be “easier” when you don’t have to change diapers.
  • Grandma or someone else is putting pressure on parents to potty train.
  • The child can’t move up to the next daycare class, can’t attend preschool, kindergarten, dance lessons, etc., if he or she is not potty trained.

The History of Potty Training

Potty training in the past was not such a nice affair for children. In the Victorian era, the late 1800s to early 1900s, bodily functions were “taboo” and were not talked about or even acknowledged. Because of that, parents tried to potty train as quickly as possible and often used negative methods. Potty chairs from this era often had straps or even locks to keep a child sitting in the chair until they “went.” Punishment for accidents was common.

These negative methods continued for several decades, but much of the motivation was the fact that mothers were washing diapers by hand or in old wringer wash machines and hanging them on the clothesline. Quite a chore!

In the 1950s and 1960s, potty training was often associated with intelligence. If a child was 18-months-old and not potty trained, parents worried that there might be something “wrong” with their child.

In the 1970s, child development research gave us some better information about children at this stage. We now know that development is different for all children, and that we don’t need to punish or pressure them when it comes to potty training.

While You are in the Middle of Potty Training Your Child, Remember…

  • It may seem like everyone not currently potty training a child thinks he or she is an expert.
  • Readiness is no indication of IQ.
  • The fact that your three-year-old is not potty trained will not affect your mother-in-law’s status in her women’s club.
  • You are not alone–seven million parents are in the same boat you are in right now.
  • Don’t take it personally. Your child’s readiness and progress is not a reflection on your parenting skills.

It Will Happen!

  • Years from now, the only person who will remember or care how old your child was when they were trained will be you (well, maybe Grandma, too).
  • We absolutely guarantee that your child’s college application will NOT ask how old he or she was when potty training was achieved.
  • Someday, you will have trouble remembering how you did it.

In our next blog on potty training, we will talk about signs of readiness and give you some practical tips.

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