Updated: Sep 24, 2021
After 43 years of cleaning up potty training mistakes, I have more than a few good suggestions as to what works. But then you can find tons of ideas almost anywhere on the internet.
I'm here today to tell you what doesn't work!
I've seen the same mistakes made by well-meaning parents over and over again
and I can share.
Don't get me wrong I don't think it's a big deal and whether or not you heed my warnings, your kids will probably be potty trained by kindergarten unless there's a developmental reason for a delay.
I could tell you a few funny stories like the time a child's insistance on going "commando" during a pot luck led to a piece of "you know what" falling out of basketball shorts onto my floor!
Or the time a child tried to change his own shorts before nap and I found "evidence" on the bathroom floor while he was sleeping. I wondered why he was walking so slowly when he got up from his nap. Turns out he made the mistake of putting both legs in the same hole during the pants change and slept on his cot like that rather than ask me for help.
But that's enough of that, I know you want the goods! Here are the 4 most common mistakes parents make when potty training as seen through the lens of a toddler teacher with 43 years of experience.
Mistake # 1
Going into pull-ups too soon. Pull-ups work great for the tail end of potty training when you think you could get away with undies but are unsure of the availability and timing aspects of an outing.
My advice is to use the cotton training pants around the house. Be sure to buy them a little big because they shrink. Save the pull-ups and fancy underwear for later and your kids will be much less likely to regress when the initial thrill of it all wears off.
Taking the lazy way out. Instead of teaching their kids to pull their own pants up before potty training begins, some parents find it easier and faster to pull their kids pants up and down for them. Take my advice and start working on this early by asking them to help. Provide the least amount of help they need to get the job done with only a minimal amount of frustration.
Not setting up a clear routine and allowing kids to answer "no" about having to go over and over again until they wait too long and get wet. After the parents clean up the mess and tell them it's ok, they really have no good reason to listen when the parents suggests they try to go.
Remember kids NEVER want to stop playing mainly because they learn so much from their play. When a child gets so involved in what they're doing that they have repeated accidents, I have a plan. I set up a routine where they get only one chance to say they don't have to go. They next time I ask they must chose between a thorough underware or diaper check (in the next room) or trying the potty chair. My goal is to interupt their play either way so they aren't tempted to put it off until it's too late.
Once I get them aside, I talk to the child about whether they're wet or dry and whether they need to try the potty.
Offering too big of a reward too early. When a child is ready to potty train, a smile, a thanks for being helpful, a sticker or a single M&M can work for a reward. When the mind-body connection or the body-brain connections aren't there, there is absolutely nothing you can do that will stick.
I know a family who offered a robot to their child if he got trained before the age of 3 so he could get into a fancy pre-school. Didn't work but by 3.5 he trained himself, no reward neccessary.
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Thanks so much for reading and have a great day!
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.