This post from our very own Dr. Heather Wittenberg first appeared on her blog, Baby Shrink.
For our first baby, we approached potty training like a task to be accomplished. A skill to be learned. One more thing to check off the list for that day. Pee and poop — in the potty. How difficult could that be?
Well, pretty difficult. While our daughter was perfectly normal, OUR expectations were totally out of whack. Pooping in the potty was a breeze. But peeing in the potty was something she couldn’t be bothered for. Too many butterflies to chase, too many bugs rescue. She was BUSY, people!
Rewards — stickers, tiny candies, TV time — all helped, but only temporarily. When she peed in the potty, she was doing it for US — and the candy. She wasn’t doing it for HER. We caused ourselves lots of unnecessary aggravation trying new techniques, stressing, and worrying about it. Then one day, she was ready. Just like THAT — she decided she liked the potty better than the diaper.
That’s where a lot of potty training advice goes off-track. It doesn’t take one crucial fact into account: Potty training isn’t about learning the rules to make Mommy and Daddy happy. Instead, it’s about harnessing your toddler’s natural, in-born drive to master his or her own body. Think of it: Babies spend all their time trying to gain mastery over their flailing, unruly little bodies. Once they can talk, walk, and run, they feel an unbounded sense of exhilaration — I can move this body where I want! I can make things happen in the world! Potty training is part of that drive to master their little bodies. And the reward is in the accomplishment itself. I’m not totally against potty-training rewards, but I do think it’s important to understand that the sticker or candy should be a minor part of the potty-training picture.
But progress must be at THEIR pace. Your toddler doesn’t wear a watch, nor own a calendar. Your toddler doesn’t care if the cutoff for preschool entrance is coming soon — potty training can’t be forced. Chasing butterflies and rescuing bugs truly are more important to them — until they’re not.
So what’s a parent to do? As always, check with the pediatrician, but if everything’s OK, mellow out. Adopt a Zen attitude. Breathe deeply. Calm your mind, Grasshoppah. Wax on, wax off. Encourage, but stay one step behind your little potty trainee. It will happen.
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert