Potty Training – the Sooner the Better, Right?

pottybearIn this age of fast, fast, do-it-now, we moms have come to see potty training as a competitive sport. You know what I mean. You’re hanging out at the park or Gymboree or the Wednesday play group and the subject comes up. It goes something like this:

Gloating mom: We went to Target yesterday and bought Jade ‘big-girl underwear’! It was the cutest thing — I asked her if she wanted them and she said yes! I’m so excited. I can see the end of those frantic midnight trips to the store ’cause we’re out of diapers — coming soon.

You (feeling deflated and embarrassed): Wow, that’s amazing! I don’t think my Emma is there yet. She doesn’t even seem to notice when her diaper is wet or poopy. I’m starting to think I’ll have to send her to kindergarten in Huggies!

Jade and Emma are exactly the same age … just short of 22 months. Both moms have that magic age, 2 years old, lodged in their heads as the ultimate deadline for toilet training. Jade’s mom is bursting with pride. You’re feeling like a total failure.

Well, it’s time we blew the cover on early toilet training. It’s just not practical to attempt potty training before your child has physiologic muscular control over her bladder and bowels. This happens sometime after 18 months, and often isn’t complete ’til 30 months or later. It’s a developmental question, just like when she got her first tooth or when she grew a full head of hair. But there ARE some signals she’ll give when she’s getting ready.

Bowel movements become predictable and on schedule.

They DON’T occur at night.

The diaper stays dry for stretches more than 2 hours, or after a nap.

Facial expressions tell you when she’s urinating or passing stool.

She tells you when her diaper is dirty and asks to be changed.

SHE tells YOU she wants to use the potty or wear ‘big girl underpants’.

She’s interested when family members use the bathroom.

She’s able to follow simple directions.

The key to happy, successful potty training is letting your child take the lead. One day, when she’s ready, it’ll click and she won’t want to wear those bulky baby diapers anymore. When that day comes, you’ll know. Until then, choose another sport.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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