Episode 023: A Child Therapist’s Guide to Potty Training

If you are getting ready to potty train or have tried and haven’t had success, you’ll want to listen to this episode.   Mike Fitch, CMHC has been a child therapist for a decade and in this episode he dispels some myths and teaches the do’s and don’ts of potty training your tougher-to-train child.

I have a toddler that I’m getting ready to potty train and this episode couldn’t have come at a better time.  I feel much more equipped to tackle the dreaded task.

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Mike Fitch, CMHC

Here’s Mike’s favorite “do’s” and “don’ts” of potty training

DON’T be worried if your child isn’t potty-trained at age two!

I love to answer this question for parents because some parents brag that their kids were all potty-trained by age 18 months.  As if they are better parents than you because your four-year old still wears diapers!

It is absolutely common and normal for a child not to be potty-trained until age five.  We really don’t start to get concerned as therapists about a child still wearing diapers/pull ups until they are about six years old.

If you have a child that’s over six and they still aren’t potty-trained, it would be a good idea to seek out professional help at that point.

Quite honestly, the majority of children don’t potty train until they’re between three to five years old!

I even have some clients that have kids who still have some accidents at night and they’re eight years old.  I tell those clients not to worry unless it’s a really consistent issue. It isn’t uncommon to have night-time wetting through age twelve.  It’s just part of the process of aging and some kids have a ability to catch on really quickly and other kids just struggle with it longer.

DO watch for signs of readiness

In order for a child to potty train they need to show signs of readiness in a few different areas:

 

  1. Physiological readiness-Is the child’s BODY ready to potty train.  A child could have a lot of desire to potty train but if they don’t have the muscle control or the attention span, they might have issues.

    Some signs of physiological readiness are:

    1. Your child can stay dry all through the night
    2. Your child is aware of when they are going potty
    3. Your child can concentrate for a period of time
    4. Your child can sit on the toilet with some assistance 
  2. Psychological readiness– Your child may have the physical ability to go pottty in the toilet but they may not be mentally ready to potty train.  For some kids, they want to be in charge of when they potty train. For other kids, they have anxiety around toilets. If you’re not seeing signs of psychological readiness, you may want to wait.

    Some signs of psychological readiness are:

    1. Your child starts to talk about going potty
    2. Your child expresses interest in wearing underwear
    3. Your child wants to watch other use the toilet
    4. Your child says they’re ready to earn the prize you’ve promised them for when they potty train

Note: if you have a child that is afraid of big toilets, try getting a small training toilet that might be less intimidating.

If you have a child that wants to be in charge of when they potty train, try to find something that would really motivate them to train.  Sometimes all it takes is the right bribe. Which leads us to our next “do”.

DO try to find a reward system that works for your child

This one can be kinda fun and kinda tricky.  So let me give you my top tips for reward systems.

Tip #1 Start small

I see parents jump to huge treats and huge bribes in an attempt to potty train their child.  I recommend starting really small.

Have the child help pick out the new underwear.  Give high fives when they go potty instead of giving treats.  Be really excited about the potty training process and show that enthusiasm to your child.  For some kids, this is honestly all they need.

If the small rewards don’t work, bump it up a little, but only a little.  I see some parents get frustrated to they’ll keep increasing the bribe. Pretty soon the child is expecting a huge prize every time they go potty.  This can be expensive for the parents and set unrealistic expectations in the child.

Tip #2 Be consistent

If you choose to do sticker charts, tiny treats, high fives, whatever…be consistent.  Consistently give the incentive everytime and keep the incentive the same for a period of time.  You may need to switch incentives later based on your child, but don’t switch until you’ve given it a real chance.

Tip #3 Personalize the incentives to your child

You know your child and might have some ideas on what will motivate them.  Think about the things they love. Use those things as incentives. If you’re child love ponies, find some pony stickers or a pony prize.

For one child, she really wanted an umbrella!  So here parents had an umbrella waiting for her as an incentive for potty-training.

Be willing to try a few things until you find what works best for your child.

DO stay positive

I always laugh to myself when I tell parents this because I know how hard it is!  I have a daughter with cerebral palsy and potty training was an issue all the way into her teen years.  Her mom and I felt very frustrated many times.

However, if you let your frustration show or you start getting mad at your child, it WILL make things worse.  If you start making them feel bad about their accidents or get into a huge power struggle with them, they will not potty train.

Try not to shame them or belittle them for their mistakes.  If you find that you can’t stay positive, stop trying to potty train and try again later when there is more readiness on the child’s part.

DON’T push it

One of the top tips most therapists have is that if potty training becomes a power struggle, STOP and try again later.  The more you push, the worse it’s going to get. There is nothing wrong with taking a break until your child is showing more signs of readiness.

This is especially important to remember as parents of strong-willed kids.  This is one power struggle that you cannot win, they hold all the cards.  It’s better to let the child lead if they are strong-willed.

DON’T get physical

I see parents that are losing their patience and becoming so frustrated, that they start punishing their child physically for having an accident.  If the child is not ready to potty train, it doesn’t matter how often you push, manipulate or motivate. Please do not resort to trying to motivate through physical punishment.  This does so much more harm than good. So no spanking, cold showers, etc. when your kids have accidents.

It would be better to keep your child a diapers a little longer than to deal with the damaging effects of physical punishment.

DON’T shame a child

I know I touched on this a little bit before, but it’s so important, it’s worth mentioning again.  Please do not ever shame your child. Not for mistakes with potty training, not for anything. Shaming a child, making them feel like they aren’t good enough, can have so many negative and long-lasting effects.

Shaming a child never helps them feel better or behave better in the long run.

DON’T worry if you see some regression

It is very common to see a child regress and have accidents.  They can regress if there’s something new going on in their lives, if they’re sick, if you go out of town.  Just reuse good potty training techniques to see if you can’t get them back to where they were before.

If you feel that the regression is due to a major life event, you may want to seek professional help.

DON’T feel like a your child’s not potty training is a sign that you’re a bad parent

A lot of times, potty training has nothing to do with a parent.  You could be practically perfect in every way and still have a child that isn’t ready to potty train until they are older.  That doesn’t make you a bad parent, that doesn’t make your child a bad kid. It just means that some kids are ready earlier than others, that’s it.

Don’t let those other moms on the playground get you down.

Society would like to say that you’re a great parent if your child is hitting milestones before the other kids.  I want to tell you, that in my experience, a good parent is the one who believes in their child and helps their child no matter how hard things get.

A good parent is the one who believes in their child and helps their child no matter how hard things get.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR POTTY TRAINING?  WHAT HAS WORKED FOR THOSE YOU KNOW?

Happy Parenting!

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