Potty Power

Jul 11, 2013

If there’s one thing I know about parents of toddlers, it’s this:  They would give their signed Michael Jordan basketball if their child would pee in the toilet.

Parents who’ve faithfully changed diapers for months run out of patience for this task which becomes more heinous by the week.  Changing the stinky diaper of a thirty-five pound toddler begins to feel just plain wrong.

They plaster a smile on their faces and buy a potty chair and a stash of Superman or Cinderella underwear.  They point to the sticker chart or jar of M & Ms and promise rewards if only the child will produce in the potty.

As the days wear on and hope for success dims, bribery escalates to promises of bicycles and ponies.  The toddler smiles back and says, “No thanks, Dad.  I use my diaper.”

Parents tear out their hair, wondering if third graders are allowed to wear diapers to school.

All of this is predictable.  Because if there’s one thing I know about toddlers, it’s this:  They’re determined to be in charge of their own bodies.

In toddlerhood, children discover their own autonomy.  And nothing will ever be the same.

It’s a heady feeling when they realize their power to make decisions.  So when their desire for independence is at its peak, along come their parents to tell them what to do with this most personal of bodily functions.  Sometimes toilet training goes smoothly. But if toddlers sense any pressure about it, they’re likely to push back.

So the war is waged, even when parent and child really want the same thing—for the child to grow up.  They just have different ideas about what that means.  Toddlers’ greatest goal is to be big, and gaining toilet mastery is part of that. But their need for autonomy trips them up if they feel pressure. 

Instead, parents can help kids get the skills they need to be ready, like managing their own clothes and noticing when they have to go.  Low-key toilet training respects toddlers’ need to be in control of their own bodies and may avoid the potty war.