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Have We Seriously Overcomplicated Potty Training?

Crouched in the pouring rain and wearing a ridiculous oversized witch’s hat, I raced to pull down my daughter’s costume.

The family Halloween event we’d arrived at had yet to open, but when a toddler needs to go, it needs to be NOW.

Welcome to the hilarious and horrendous world of potty training. It’s a world where finding yourself hiding behind a car in fancy dress to facilitate a pee in a parking lot becomes unremarkable. And this is one arena of parenting where being a runner is a distinct advantage.

Expectation vs Reality

It’s fair to say most parents don’t consider the rite of passage that is potty training when they start a family. But when you get to the so-called “right age” to begin, it can become an all-consuming affair.

Moms who merrily manage constant deadlines at work can soon be reduced to a quivering wreck by a weekend diaper-free. I speak from experience. There’s nothing to get the adrenaline pumping like racing across the local farm with a toddler thrown over your shoulder, desperately trying to get a poop into a toilet, not on your shirt.

The pressure to successfully ditch the diapers, and fast, can feel immense. Especially when it comes from well-meaning relatives reminding you that “you were dry by the age of 18 months.” Some daycare facilities require children to be potty trained, making it even more of a race against time.

There’s plenty of shame attached to the issue — and a pervading sense of parental failure when you don’t crack it in one neat go.

Information Overload

In 2023 there is a quagmire of conflicting information online about the best potty training approaches.
Should you follow the three-day method, stay in the house for a week, go commando, or start with panties?

Don’t forget to remain calm during accidents and let them choose their own potty at the store. Do use rewards, but not for too long. Remind them every 45 minutes that it’s time to go, but also let them tell you when their body is ready. It’s an absolute minefield of mixed messages for parents to navigate; no wonder potty training feels like an overwhelming, stressful process.

Wine bar owner and mom Virginia Myers, formerly of Noe Valley in San Francisco, agrees. “We first tried when Heath was about two, in the summer. There’s a lot of pressure to read up and buy all the kit but we decided to see if we could do it without too much research,” she says. “I remember traipsing around with the potty under the stroller and just having so much stuff with me. One day he ended up pooping his pants and it was such a mess. I flung him over my shoulder, had a potty in one hand, a stroller full of crap in the other, and was trying to race up a hill. I remember thinking ‘What am I doing?! This is clearly not working.”

The family took a break and found their second attempt a breeze.

Virginia added: “It was parents older than us who said just to leave it for a bit when the modern advice seems to be to carry on no matter what. The next time we tried, he understood what it was all about, and it happened really quickly.”

Several other parents said potty training was simple enough — once their child had taken an interest. Then it was a case of whipping off the diapers and nailing it over a weekend.

My own first attempt with my daughter failed miserably due to high expectations on my side, and a lack of interest on hers. We called time out on it after a waterfall of pee gushed all over the kitchen floor for the fifth time in one day.

Ditching Diapers Costs Dollars

There is a whole industry out there catering to families who may also be struggling with the issue — and not just for the endless mopping up. Conduct a quick online search and there are hundreds of potty training books, sticker reward charts, and bespoke pants around.

For $885 on Amazon, you can buy a boys’ hanging wall urinal with a target to aim at. For $599, there’s a miniature pink “my size potty.”

These days, parents can even call in the experts. Potty training consultants offer specialist advice to families when the process is just not happening — and they are a big hit on TikTok and Instagram.

Allison Jandu is the founder of Maryland-based Potty Training Consultant, which has worked with more than 6,000 families. She says parents seek help due to unique circumstances, for support with children with special needs, and when families have been unsuccessful.

She said: “It’s appropriate to seek expert advice whenever you think you need it! It can save everyone involved a lot of unnecessary stress if you get that evidence-based guidance from the beginning instead of experimenting with different methods that may or may not work. I’ve noticed a lot of parents struggling with specific issues that weren’t as much of a documented problem in generations past — things like pooping on the potty or staying dry overnight.”

Allison has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram; I became one after desperately turning to social media for tips. Her posts offer reasons why children may struggle — for example, improved diaper technology, which means children aren’t as bothered by the feeling of being wet.

She added: “Parents hear horror stories of the struggles others have had potty training and it adds stress and anxiety about starting. But parents shouldn’t go in thinking the worst. Potty training is actually a great opportunity to bond with your child and can even be an enjoyable experience!”

Not everyone can afford a consultant, which costs between $100 and $1,000 on a one-to-one basis. There are self-guided courses at around $50.

Regardless, Allison says there are some classic signs of readiness all parents should wait for. They include children being able to communicate their needs, understand simple directions, and have good gross motor skills.

She added: “Children usually develop reasonable bowel and bladder control between 18 and 24 months. So when you notice your child being able to stay dry for an hour or more, as well as having predictable bowel movements to a certain extent, that would be a good indicator they are ready to start potty training. Without waiting for these particular things to become well-established, potty training can prove to be quite the challenge.”

It’s not fair, she points out, to expect a child to learn something they aren’t yet capable of.

If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep On Going

Back to the Halloween party.

That was actually the beginning of the end for our potty training journey: completed on the second attempt, with just a good stack of Disney princess pants. Barring a couple of notable accidents — including a poonami mysteriously found on the carpet — she’s now flush with success. Until we start the night time training next year.

So if you are fighting through the trenches of potty training right now, have faith. They’ll get there in the end.

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