Potty training a 3-year-old is everything but my usual subject matter, but this is an excellent example that demonstrates the importance communication plays in our lives.
If this is your first time here reading my blog, let me tell you that potty training, and potty training a 3-year-old, is not what I usually deal with. I’m a coach, a communication specialist, a relationship specialist, and I mostly deal with people older than 3 🙂
However, all too often, I meet people who’s life’s ruined for this period that we call potty training. I also see, time and again, how reframing this period and what to do during potty training, can significantly improve the process and the parenting relationship during and after, and therefore – here you have it!
How I Potty-Trained My 3-Year-Old In One Week
Ok, let’s be honest here (I’m a fan of radical honesty) – we’re talking about one week hands-on; before this week – there were two months of communication.
When Ilay’s 3rd birthday was approaching, we bought a ton of underwear (with graphics we knew he’d like – this is super important!), a new box to put them in, and put the box in a visible place.
He explored his new underwear and was super excited about Speedy McQueen, the dinosaurs, Super Wings, and all other heroes he found there; God knows I forgot them all by now 🙂
“These are underwear, my love,” I told him. “Whenever you are ready to start using the toilet just let me know, and we’ll say bye-bye to the diaper and start wearing all these cool underwear!”
We kept this conversation going for a month until he was 2/11 months old. We then switched to a different conversation.
“In one month you will be three years old, we will celebrate your birthday, and all your friends and family will come, and we’ll have so much fun! You’ll get so many presents, and we’ll dance, and I’ll make your favorite cake! Then we will come home, and we will FINALLY take off the diaper as you’ll be a BIG BOY! Wow!!!”
Why Two Months of Talking?
So let’s talk about what happens during potty training, but first – let’s talk about what happens in the first two years of a child’s life – wearing a diaper.
Kids are attuned to their needs and feelings; they are attuned to their bodies and their bodily sensations in ways that we, adults, have long forgotten.
Unfortunately, this world systematically teaches us to neglect our ques, and wearing diapers is a good example. Kids who wear diapers have no idea what peeing means – they never learned how to control these muscles, how peeing feels, how needing to pee feels, how holding it feels – they are oblivious to this entire system, and the prolonged use of diapers is to “blame” for this.
When we talk about potty training, we talk about introducing our children to their bodies and to how they work – for the very first time. This is a system they must learn, and learning takes time.
Remember the last time you wanted to get fit? Or when you wanted a particular area of your body to look a certain way, and you had to work hard for it? How long did it take?
This is not a perfect example, but it’s good enough because we, adults, can relate to it.
Communication is Much More Than Talking
When we begin talking to kids about using the potty, about noticing their bodies, they start thinking and processing what we talk about. This is the reason for which one week of hands-on potty training began with two months of conceptual and psychological preparation. Surprises are not a suitable method for learning. Usually.
During these two months, you can expect a growing interest in underwear, a higher sensitivity to wet or dirty diapers, and repeating requests to change to a clean diaper (even when there’s nothing there). These are all wonderful signs of your little one getting closer and closer to understanding how their body works 🙂
During these two months try and have your little one run around naked as much as possible! This is the reason for which potty training goes best if planned for summertime.
Kids naturally, don’t love, well, dirt. They might seem as if they don’t care, but they don’t enjoy peeing and pooping on the floor; it’s a part of the process. Remember that as long as all their stuff were concealed in their diapers – they had no idea what it looked like! And they never gave the feeling of letting go of it a mere thought. They didn’t have to.
And you? Stick to the Facts
“Pee goes in the toilet, honey! Next time let me know when you are ready, and we’ll go together”. That’s it. No guilt, no shame, no fear. All these will only hurt your little one, will prolong the process, and have the potential of creating a plethora of issues later on in life.
State the facts, and nothing but the facts. “You peed on the floor. Pee goes in the toilet. You’ll make it next time. I trust you.”
Parents often tell me that during these months their little ones will ask to transition to underwear full time and that it will come for them. It might, and it might not. It doesn’t matter 🙂
As long as you keep this conversation going for two months, every single day (and I mean it – every single day), your little one will be ready for the date that you set.
Note how I tied it to a happy event – a birthday! If this won’t work for you, declare a party, something celebratory, that’s loads of fun and presents, and attach the final “bye-bye diaper” to it.
Saying Farewell and Bye-Bye Diapers
The night before the designated date, remind your little one that tomorrow is the big day! Tell them that they’ve been practicing long enough, they know how to do it, you trust they can, and no matter what – you are there to support them. Absolutely no matter what happens.
Prepare yourself for cleaning, a few days of a lot of cleaning, and breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.
Each time your little one misses, state the facts. “You peed on the floor. Pee belongs in the toilet. Next time you’ll make it! I trust you”. And wipe it off. Simple, after the fact, no judgmental reactions.
Each day there will be more and more pee in the toilet.
Expect something to flip on the third day 🙂 Extra resistance, some defiance, deliberate pee on the floor, running away from the toilet, swimming in pee on the floor.
It happens to EVERYONE. Don’t react any differently than you did previously did. Don’t get upset, don’t yell, don’t judge.
This is a matter of control.
Autonomy and Control
Or should I say: the biggest mistake parents make when potty training their kids?
Remember how we said that potty training is about learning how to control muscles our little ones didn’t previously know existed?
So now they know, but they are toddlers, and autonomy is their most significant need. Our little ones need to prove to themselves and you, too, that they have control over what’s going on. This also means that they can swim in their pee. Yea – I’m not joking.
If you make this into an issue – it will persist.
And Now to the Biggest Mistake Parents Make When Potty Training
Do you know how everywhere they say to ask them every 20 minutes if they have to go? To drag them to the toilet as soon as they wake up? To force them to the bathroom before bedtime?
This is something parents do when they don’t know what to do. There’s no need in this. If we’re all about teaching the little ones how to get to know and control their bodies – we can’t be the ones continually telling them how to do it. We are not them. We don’t know.
This is a weak attempt to control the situation that usually prolongs this process and prevents our toddlers from learning the process themselves.
Another huge mistake? Rewards. This is a mistake as big as punishments as it works on the same mechanism — no sweets or presents for learning how to do something that there’s no way around learning. Don’t do it to yourselves or your little ones – don’t create an unhealthy relationship with food.
Let go, mom and dad. Just let go.
Trust them that they don’t like wearing wet and dirty clothes. Trust them to communicate with you the way that you’ve communicated with them. This is what mindful parenting is all about.
Trust them to have the ability to learn. And if we’re talking about trust – follow this link and download my free eBook: 52 Trust and Confidence Affirmations for Kids – these will definitely come in handy during the process of potty training.
Within one week all pee will be in the toilet. I promise you.
And What About #2?
This will take longer. But if you follow the same idea of factual responses, modeling, and trust – it will be fast and painless.
No matter what happens – it isn’t a big deal (unless you make it into one) and you will all laugh about it in a few years.
Just remember this each time that you don’t feel like cleaning whatever happened.
A Recap: How I Potty Trained My 3-Year-Old in One Week
- Decide on a date at least two months ahead of time
- Buy tons of cool underwear
- Place underwear in a visible place and show little one where they are and what they are suitable for.
- Talk about it DAILY for one month; state the date, connect it to a happy event.
- One month into talking, start removing little one’s diaper during the day and letting them run around and play naked. This is the critical part of the process where the actual learning begins.
- On the set date, declare that today is the day and breathe. Accept anything that happens. Nothing is against you; everything is a process and a learning curve.
- Expect a shift on day 3.
- Factual communication throughout the entire process. No rewards, no punishments, no force. No shame, guilt, or yelling.
If preparation is done correctly, i.e., the two months of healthy communication before the actual removal of the diaper – potty training won’t even be a struggle.
When we treat our children with respect, meet their emotional needs, and don’t intervene with their inner motivations and internal mechanisms – everything is easy.
Like I said in the opening statement of this article, potty training is not my primary subject matter, but it is a wonderful test-case to see how healthy communication affects relationships and desired shifts within them.
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