Is Your Child Running Late . . . on the Potty?

Is Your Child Running Late . . . on the Potty?

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Getting through potty training

Aside from world politics, gun control, and women’s reproductive rights, potty training seems to be one of the most controversial topics on the agenda. Everyone has an opinion, and the entire process can be fraught with stress, insecurity, and judgment, from mean mommies to mothers-in-law to ourselves.

How many of us have felt like a failure when our child is off the “norm”? But the worst element is how our drama affects our children. They know all eyes are on them—and their tushies—and all things in combination can make for one epic fail.

What is a “late potty trainer” anyhow? Truth be told, “potty-training age” is all over the map. Yes, we’ve all heard of that mythical tribe in China that potty trains babies by nine months; but in the land of reality, generally children are potty trained between two and four years old, with the occasional five-year-old sneaking those (thank God) Pull-Ups that look like underpants under his pants.

Let’s be clear that if you suspect your child has a medical issue that is causing her delayed potty training, see your doctor. Urinary tract infections, chronic diarrhea, constipation, lack of coordination with the sphincter muscles, or just a small bladder capacity can all lead to wet pants. Some issues can be outgrown, while others may need medical intervention.

A child who is older than three and who knows how to use the toilet but won’t is considered resistant. This generally comes from some sort of power struggle with the parent. Chill out! Regression, on the other hand, could stem from a major life event such as divorce, a new home, a new baby. . . . Stress can cause your child to revert to old habits, or regressing simply puts the child back at the center of attention. Be patient!

There definitely are issues that could arise from being a late potty trainer: possible disruption of a developing personality, embarrassment, self-confidence issues—plus some preschools require a child to be potty trained.

But before getting too depressed, let’s look at some solutions.

How do I know if my child is ready?

Potty training is a milestone in your child’s development. Every child is different, and preparedness depends on physical, physiological, and psychological states. Your child’s brain needs to be developed enough to receive the “I have to pee” message, and his body needs to be mature enough to be able to “hold it.”

  • Is your child curious about the bathroom? Does she want to watch you go all the time? A child needs to be conscious of others using the toilet. A child likes to mimic behavior, which is why the common preschool sight of little potties lined up in a cute little row, with cute little bottoms atop them, works wonders. It’s also why a second child may potty train faster than the first.
  • Is your child able to sit on a potty chair or climb onto a toilet with a stool or your help?
  • Is your child able to communicate in some way that he needs to go, either by actions, body signals, or telling you “I have to go potty”? Generally, when a child gets ready to pee or poop he will quiet down, squat, and concentrate. (In my house we called it “poo poo face.”)

Why doesn’t my child want to potty train?

Young children and toddlers operate with “toddler reasoning”: something only toddlers can fathom. Their reasons for not wanting to potty train are endless.

Fear of getting flushed. I kind of get this. Your tush is very vulnerable when sitting blindly over a large body of water that makes a huge whooshing noise and takes things away never to be seen again. I still worry about the little white frog that my aunties told me about when I was a child. He would apparently swim up into the toilet bowl when least expected and bite your butt. Thanks, Aunties!

Suggestion: Try having your child flush the toilet for you so she sees it’s not something to fear and can even be fun! Or have your child put a piece of toilet paper into the bowl and flush. This may also call for an independent potty seat, graduating to a toilet-insert potty seat, and then finally trying it for real.

Loneliness. I kind of get this as well. Your child has been the center of your universe for more than two years. Suddenly you leave him alone on this giant white thing with a hole in it. “But Mom! I want you with me all the time!” Toilet time is no different.

Word to the wise: Do not let your child rely on anyone particular to sit with him when he poops. That’s going to start an entirely new set of issues. Provide distractions so you can gradually exit the potty party. There are some potty-themed books your child can look at while on the pot, just like you and your People magazine. And there is always the dreaded electronic game. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

How can I do this without jumping off a bridge?

Don’t jump. Your kids need you. This will not go on for eternity, but know this will test your patience even more than colic. Remember, your child comes first. But make sure she knows she is loved no matter how the process plays out. Stay calm, and try the following:

  • Make the entire endeavor positive and fun. Do not let it become a war of wills because you will lose.
  • Make a schedule. Have your child try to go first thing in the morning, before school, at break, when he gets home, etc.
  • Enlist help. Let her teacher or sitter or grandma know the routine.
  • If there is teasing, communicate with your potty-training team. A teacher should make sure all classmates know teasing is not OK.
  • If your child is not potty trained, do not sign him up for a preschool or activity that requires he already be potty trained. That is setting up you and your child for stress. You can’t force a toddler to train on a deadline.
  • If your child is into it, praise and reward. We did a star chart with my daughter. My son couldn’t care less for stars and prizes.
  • Do not shame! Don’t even think about it!
  • Do not punish! Don’t even think about it!

And if you are a single mom like me, with child number two:

  • Do nothing.

With child number one, I was the überparent: I read every book, took every class, purchased every device. I tried every diaper, Pull-Up, training seat, and technique known to woman. My daughter trained at three.

With child number two, I was an overwrought Solo Mom with two children. I did nothing, zip, zilch, nada. My son trained at three.


Accidents. Don’t get upset. If your child is distressed, calm her and explain that it’s no biggie. Always anticipate and be prepared. Have an arsenal of wipes, diapers, and underpants in your car, your purse, and—if they will fit—your pockets.

Bed-wetting. My son wet the bed until he was seven years old. I wet the bed until I was eight. My mother, until she was 10. Bladder control while sleeping is a natural process and can take longer for some than others.

In general, stop using your night diaper or Pull-Up when you notice your child is continually waking up in the morning with a dry diaper. If he regresses, go back to the diaper and wait it out.

If your child continues to wet the bed and it is interfering with sleepovers and slumber parties, speak to your doctor. He or she also will probably tell you it’s no biggie and to wait it out.

The primary theme you see emerging here is that the best way to potty train any child, early or late, is to remain patient and calm. Potty training is no reflection on you as a parent or your child as the beautiful, magical little munchkin she is. It is just another milestone in your child’s life and your life as a parent . . . and a step closer to college. And I promise, your child will be potty trained by college.

Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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