I always thought that Mike Rowe should have spent a week with a toddler in potty training when he did the “Dirty Jobs” show. Cleaning out sewers and working on a mealworm farm have nothing over the mess and high emotions of potty training. Potty training can be messy, smelly and at times, thankless work; and, the rewards don’t always come right away. Most parents could use a dose of Mike Rowe humor at some point during potty training.

During potty training, your life revolves around the bathroom. In restaurants and grocery stores, you have to make a mental note of where the nearest bathroom is, so you can be ready for that 2-second warning: “Mom – I have to go to the bathroom. Now!” When that buzzer goes off, you’re like a linebacker running through the aisles, pushing aside blocks trying to make it to the endzone – the public restroom – before time runs out. When you finally make it to the bathroom stall, you’re ferociously ripping at the seat covers or tissue paper to sterilize the seat as much as is possible. Sadly, there’s no touchdown dance. All you get 20 minutes later is, “I tried.” For the potty training parent or caregiver, this exasperating ritual can go on 10 or 15 times a day.

It’s no surprise that potty training oftentimes stretches patience to the brink. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that more abuse occurs during toilet training than during any other developmental step. This speaks to how frustrating the process can be for parents who aren’t prepared for what lies ahead, and for children who just aren’t biologically ready to be potty trained.

As parents, it’s easy for us to be too anxious to move up the potty training calendar. Imagine what you could do with all of that money not spent on diapers! Since potty training is a natural step in the growing process, we want to help our children along to that next stage of growth. Sometimes, well-meaning comments from a neighbor who reminds you that European children are potty trained at age 1 can add more pressure to get the job done now.

Experts advise that potty training shouldn’t begin before your child’s sphincter muscle is developed. For most children, this is around 18-24 months. When your child is staying dryer for hours at a time, expressing discomfort with a wet diaper or curious about the toilet, it may be a good time to start potty training. Usually nighttime control comes after daytime control is firmly established. It’s hard for little ones to wake from their cozy beds to take that long walk to the bathroom. Remember – potty training is a process. Success may be met with setbacks, but every step brings you and your child closer to potty training success.

Think about it from children’s perspective – they have a lot to think about during potty training. They’ve been living happily and carefree in diapers for as long as they can remember, and now all of that is about to change. In potty training, they have to stay tuned in to what their body needs, leave their toys and friends, get to the bathroom in enough time to turn on the light, get undressed and sit on the toilet. Afterward, they have to dress, clean themselves up, turn off the light and try to go back to whatever they were doing before they were interrupted by the urge. Until your child gets accustomed to this routine, he might forget to pay attention to what his body is telling him to do. When the inevitable accidents occur, saying “Oops, you’re wet” is a gentle way to acknowledge the problem without embarrassing your child.

A potty chair or chair ring that fits on the toilet are helpful tools, as is a small stepstool to support your child’s feet. A favorite book or song can help pass the time as your child is waiting for “it.” I’ve only parented girls, but I’ve heard that Cheerios works wonders when training boys. Easy-to-remove clothing can help your child get undressed when his body needs to get clothes off quickly; belts and leotards are trickier for small hands.

If your child refuses to sit on the potty, try again in a month. Incentives might picque your child’s interest in the potty. Some parents create a sticker chart, because children love stickers.

Your child’s physician is a good resource when considering whether your child is ready to begin potty training. A physician can also be a support when successes are met with setbacks. Sometimes, regressions occur when a child is going through other changes in life, such as a new daycare, or suffering from an infection. Don’t assume that your child is just being stubborn if the training doesn’t seem to be progressing as you thought it should. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatricians’ website, healthychildren.org, is brimming with information and resources for potty training.

Keep in mind that every child is different. Even within the same family, siblings will respond differently to potty training. Consistency and patience are key, and remember that accidents will happen. Celebrate the little successes along the way, and your child will be proud of himself or herself, and happy that you are proud too. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dune-brook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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