By Tikvah Womack
Warning — you are about to read yet another tip for potty-training your child. If it’s not one expert telling you to let your toddler run around with nothing on their bottom, it’s another one saying to be patient and follow your child’s lead — they will tell you when they are ready. So, either you are sitting there with a messy floor or a 5-year old who you fear might never get there. It’s hard to know which way is right.
The statistics for average potty-training age run the gamut, most settling between 18 months on the early end to 3 and a half years old on the later side. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter. People toss around the term “potty-training completion.” What exactly does this mean? Lots of parents try the ‘successful potty training in just five days’ plan, only to grow frustrated on day three when junior has an accident and you have to start all over. Not to mention the times when you think your child has got this down, and they wake up dripping in, well you know.
I like to recommend looking at children as little humans, because that is what they are. If you have ever watched a human being take on a new task you know: things do not happen overnight, or even in 5-7 days. Just about everything is a process, and as adults, once we have gained mastery over our processes, we tend to take the journey for granted, or, in some cases, we forget about the journey all together.
A term I prefer is Potty Independence, which I have come to understand as an ability for your child to use the bathroom completely independent of adults. The skills included in Potty Independence include elimination, wiping, dressing, and handwashing. But if potty training is so hard, how in the world do you get your toddler to potty independence? The answer is patience and frustration elimination. Most people will tell you this is nothing new. The difference, however, is that they don’t follow their own advice. Their child is dry for a week, then there’s an accident which leads to frustration and disappointment for the parent. It’s important to remember that Potty Independence is a full process and in order to master a process, mistakes have to happen to learn, time, awareness, and all the key ingredients you cannot possibly force anyone to master in 5-7 days.
In comparison, consider starting a new routine with an older child. Have you ever asked them to do a task and had to remind them (often over and over again) of all the steps that were involved in that task? Without those reminders, the trash might be taken out with no new trash bag in the trash can, the dishes might not be rinsed before going into the dishwasher, etc.
So, back to potty training, whatever approach you prefer, remember to include patience and frustration elimination on your part. Be mindful that this is not a one and done moment, but it may be a defining one. Some experts feel that someone’s potty-training experience can influence how that person ends up tackling tasks and difficulties in the future. So, don’t take this parenting task lightly. This is the moment to teach your child and yourself the importance of conquering one step at a time. When your child started walking you never expected them to start to run and get the mail. Everything takes time. Be gentle with your child and yourself!
Nadia “Tikvah” Womack, LCPC is a Child and Adolescent Therapist for Jewish Community Services.
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.