From Diapers to Potty: The Emotional Side of Potty Training

From Diapers to Potty: The Emotional Side of Potty Training

For young children, moving from diapers to the potty is a big step. It’s also a big step for parents, as it is an opportunity to assist your toddler in one of her first experiences of independence! Potty learning can be a time of frustration if your child is not ready physically or emotionally. Once you and your pediatrician are sure your child is demonstrating signs of physical readiness, it’s important to consider the emotional side of potty training as well.

Often parents feel pressured to ensure their toddler or preschooler is out of diapers and pull-ups by a certain age, which can create stress for everyone involved. Children should never be pressured to hurry up and develop — that’s like standing over your garden seedlings and shouting at them, “Come on now! Grow!” It’s not going to make them grow faster, and it won’t make you feel better either.

I remember how eager I was to help both of my sons use the potty and transition out of diapers. In the end, no matter what tips, tricks or bribes I tried, it wasn’t until they were ready to move on from diapers that we were fully transitioned to the potty and big-boy underwear. Now, with hind-sight and years of professional experience in early childhood development, I can lend some advice to spare you and your child unneeded frustration.

Here are some tips to ensure that this important transition doesn’t evoke unnecessary emotional turmoil!

  1. Keep calm. The calmer YOU are, the less stressful this process will be for your child. Do your own relaxation rituals and take deep breaths. 
  2. Be patient. Has your child been through major changes recently like a move? Parents separating or divorcing? A new sibling? A surgery or medical trauma? If so, build in some time and space to allow your child to recover, understanding he may regress as he seeks reassurance that he is in a secure place.
  3. Be your child’s emotion coach. Learn to reflect your little one’s feelings with empathy. Check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, PhD., for more on how you can be your child’s emotion coach.
  4. Inspire and encourage. Make potty time fun with special books to read about using the potty. Introduce a fun new hand soap for after potty time. Respond with joy when your child chooses to use the potty. And never shame, scold or show frustration toward your child if she has an accident or chooses to go in her diaper or pull-up.
  5. Put it in perspective. Your child will not still be in diapers when he goes to college. I promise the day will come when your child is READY and never looks back at diapers. It may seem like an eternity now, but it will happen. And it will be long before college!

Remember, this is a rite of passage that every human being goes through when they are transitioning from babyhood to big-kid-land. It is an opportunity to help your child feel secure in his bond with you while taking a giant step toward his newly forming independence. Be calm, encouraging and patient so that negative emotions don’t even come into play.



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