Watch my free discipline workshop today for more clarity, connection and cooperation
A place where I discuss all things related to toddlers and motherhood!
As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to two cheeky young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.
Did you know that around 80% of children experience setbacks during the potty training process? There’s a lot of taking a step forward, taking a couple of steps backward, and then taking steps forward throughout the potty training journey. With these setbacks, we want to avoid saying certain phrases while potty training.
So let’s dive in!
We should never say, “It’s okay,” after our toddlers have an accident because really, is it okay? So we don’t want to reinforce the idea that accidents are “Okay.”
Accidents are part of the potty training process because your toddler is learning a new skill and learning is not linear. We don’t start down at the bottom and then shoot our way up to the top. We go through some dips, struggles, and mistakes. That’s part of how we learn. And potty training is no different.
We have to be mindful of our language as parents because language is powerful. And we don’t want to set the stage that accidents are “okay” since we’re working towards learning to put pee and poop in the potty. So how we handle accidents is really important.
What we should focus on is saying what we see without judgment. For example:
Whether you have a small toddler or preschooler, we should always strive to involve them in some way cleaning up their accident.
And it’s not that we’re mad or upset and that we’re doing this in a punitive way. It’s more about cause and effect. If they have an accident, they need to be involved in the cleanup process. So you can say something like…
Every accident is different in terms of what it takes to clean up the accident, but you want to involve your toddler. Your toddler needs to understand they made a mistake, had an accident, and have to be involved in the problem-solving process of cleaning it up – a cause-and-effect lesson for them to learn what happens when they don’t put their pee and poop in the potty.
These phrases apply more to early potty trainers in particular – before they get older and master the skill of listening to their body to go to the bathroom.
At the beginning of potty training, what your toddler needs help with is developing a potty training routine. Before starting potty training, your toddler peed and pooped whenever they felt like it. There was no consequence because they had a diaper and you cleaned up their mess for them.
So when we start the potty training journey, we develop with them a routine around potty training. We can’t expect our toddlers to take the lead on this because they don’t know and are still learning. Your toddler’s job is to sit on the potty and try. Our job is to help them get to the potty in the beginning.
When we ask, “Do you have to go to the potty,” 9 times out of 10, they’re going to say, “No.” And not necessarily because they don’t have to go potty, but because they’re doing something that’s way funner than going potty – like eating a snack or playing with a toy.
It’s a hard skill to stop one thing to do something else and delay gratification. So we have to lead them in this process by saying:
Now if your toddler says, “I don’t have to go potty,” try saying:
We’re not making them sit for minutes on end – a couple of seconds is fine. Then we praise, acknowledge, and encourage their effort.
This goes along with the third phrase. If your toddler is having consistent accidents, avoid trusting them to tell you when they have to go potty.
If your child is showing you they are struggling in potty training, it’s on us as parents to set that routine and to get them on a schedule. Your toddler is showing with their behavior they need more help and guidance. So when an accident happens and you need to reset the routine.
Remember, it’s not about being punitive or forceful. It’s about recognizing when our child needs our help and stepping into our calm, confident leadership role to re-establish a routine that helps prevent accidents.
This phrase (and versions like it) screams comparison and should be avoided. Comparison can also sound like:
Why do we want to avoid this? Because this puts pressure on our toddler. Immediately they register this as a criticism – because it is – and then they start to feel bad about themselves and feel anxious that they’re disappointing us.
In general, it’s very hard to change our behavior when we feel bad about ourselves.
And I understand where these comments come from as parents. It comes from overwhelm, frustration, and confusion. But we want to be mindful not to put our feelings onto our child. We don’t want them to be confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated with themselves.
Operate from this simple principle: If your toddler knew better, they would do better. They don’t want to have accidents, and they certainly don’t want to disappoint us.
What we want to do is to be as encouraging as possible during this potty training journey and not to negate that this is hard – it’s very hard for everybody involved. We’re learning something new and this requires setbacks and accidents. This can be hard to deal with in the moment, especially when we have so many other things on our plate. But we want to be mindful not to compare our child, whether it’s the version of themselves yesterday or to another child.
Yes, it’s completely valid to experience frustration throughout the potty training process but you want to try not to show this to your child. I know this is a lot easier said than done, but I want us to realize that the more impatient and frustrated we get, the harder it is for our children to learn.
When our child registers we are disappointed in them or that we’re angry at them or any negative emotion, they perceive it as a threat. Then their frontal lobe goes offline and now their emotional brain is on – and they’re only thinking about protecting themselves.
So we don’t want to be our child’s threat during this potty training experience because it makes it harder for them to learn. It just continues the cycle. When we think about discipline and behavior – seeing better cooperation in potty training – the two overlap in so many ways. What we’re trying to teach our children is a new skill.
We’re trying to teach our toddlers how to use their words and communicate when they feel angry in potty training. We’re trying to teach our toddlers how to listen to their body and those cues that they have to go potty, then put their pee and poop in the potty. And so like with any skill, it’s very hard for kids to learn when they’re being hijacked by the fight-or-flight stress regions of their brains. All of that higher-order thinking that is required to learn new skills is not available to them when they’re under stress.
Read my blog 8 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with Change, Stress, or Transitions if your toddler is struggling with stress during potty training.
This is not about perfection. This is more of being mindful of the energy we bring while we are on this journey with our child. We want to avoid these phrases while we are guiding and teaching our toddler this new skill.
We also need to be mindful of what we communicate in our nonverbal communication, since it’s not always about what we say. It’s about the energy and mood we are bringing to this process of potty training.
Potty training is a process. But you can do it! I believe in you.
I have a few resources that can help you out with potty training.
Download my FREE potty training checklists to get you started with potty training. It includes a readiness checklist, potty training essentials list, and a checklist to help prepare you mentally for the journey.
If you are struggling with potty training or don’t know how to start, check out Potty Training Bootcamp self-paced online course!
I cover a wide range of topics as it relates to potty training, including how to get ready, how to know when your child is ready for potty training, how to mentally prepare ourselves for potty training, how to do the actual process, how to prepare for setbacks, how to handle accidents, and nighttime potty training.
You can also read my potty training book as another resource to use on your potty training journey.
You’ve got this,
Love this? Don’t lose it! Click below and save to your Pinterest!