Archive for Potty Training

The Unexpected Blessings of Potty Training

A month or so ago, with the birth of my second child fast-approaching, and the idea of changing double the amount of diapers looming in my mind, I decided that it was time. My son, recently turned two, was going to learn to use the potty. No more diapers.

boy potty trainingOf course, I read up on all the methods available, got tons of advice from friends who were successful, then just went for it. The method I had chosen suggested that the first few days of training (or “learning” or whatever you’d like to call it), you really need to watch your kid like a hawk, to pick up on their cues and then follow their cues to get them to the bathroom. So, you clear your schedule for a few days, gather some fun activities to do together, and prepare to basically just give your child some undivided attention for a day or two. Sounds simple enough, right? After all, I have ONE child, I’m able to be home with him during the day, and since he has a tendency to be, well, rascally, I’m used to keeping a keen eye on him most of the time. Or so I thought.

This was the eye-opener for me. This is where I realized how distracted I typically am. As parents, we get so used to multi-tasking that we rarely actually give anything, even our child, our complete attention. I’m not saying this is wrong, or bad, or even less than ideal. It’s often how things have to be so that a household can keep running smoothly (or rather, just run). And frankly, by the end of that first day of watching my son’s every move, playing, snuggling, and loving him up without trying to do anything else, I was fried. Completely and utterly exhausted.

We had made lots of potty-training progress and had had a nice day together, but I was shocked at how difficult it had been for me to put everything else on hold. I found myself having to fight the urge to go wash up a few dishes from breakfast, check my e-mail for just a minute, or make a quick phone call to the doctor’s office. While I was sitting reading my son an endless pile of books, I was running through my to-do list in my head. When we were sitting on the floor playing with blocks, I was sorely tempted to check my Facebook account.

By the end of the day, exhausted and spent, I really started contemplating how all of my usual multi-tasking was affecting me and my family. I’ve never thought of myself as an over-achiever (I’m not), but after a day of solely caring for my child, I realized how much other stuff I usually attempted to cram into my day. Sure, the dishes need to get done eventually, and the living room should be vacuumed and everyone needs to be fed. These are realities. But what I’m talking about is being fully present in each moment during my day. So often, I find myself scattered… doing several things at once and not doing anything to the best of my ability or with as much joy as I should.

Frankly, most of the time, I don’t care if I’m vacuuming my living room to the best of my ability. But I sure do care if I’m giving my family the best and most joyful of my attention. The dishes don’t crave my undivided consideration- my son does. The laundry doesn’t need me to sit down and quietly listen- my husband does. I realized I’ve even got into the habit of praying while I do other things. Which is wonderful in the sense that we can pray at any time, but not so wonderful if that’s the only time I find to pray. My relationship with God needs moments of peace and devoted attention, too. And God has put me in this life to serve and love the people around me.

Paying attention to that responsibility is vital to my feeling of fulfillment in my vocation. Because when I’m doing too much multi-tasking, I feel distracted, lost, and unsatisfied. I can never seem to finish my to-do list, and everything seems like a burden on my limited time. My son seems more demanding and whinier to me. My husband seems less helpful. God seems less responsive to my prayers.

Of course, none of this is the case. My son seems whinier because I’m not giving him the attention that he needs. It’s hard for a two year old to communicate all of his big thoughts and feelings as it is, and when I’m trying to do something else, he can tell that I’m not really trying to understand. The same holds true for my husband. He’s not actually unhelpful, but when I’m constantly trying to do too many things at once, he can’t keep up. He shouldn’t be expected to keep up with the thoughts and plans whizzing through my head at any given moment.

And it’s the same with God. When I am quickly sending up prayers as I run into the grocery store, God is listening… I’m just too distracted to get the reply. I’ve already moved on and failed to listen. God answers prayer and speaks to us constantly, but we have to be paying attention. Our answers may come when we are playing with our children or talking with friends- but I bet you’ll rarely hear those answers if you are not fully present in those moments.

So taking the time to be fully present with my son isn’t only important because my child needs me to be present, but also because God needs me to be fully in that moment as well. When we accept the vocation of parenthood, we have to realize that God is going to speak to us through our duties within the vocation. We need to slow down. Complete our tasks in peace. Give our attention to the people and tasks that really need it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I think we should all just blow off our other responsibilities and sit around on the ground playing endless rounds of knock-down-all-the-blocks with our kids all day. First of all, I’d lose my mind. By the end of the first few days of potty-training and watching my child intently, I was pretty sure I was going to lose it. It’s a lot. Variety is the spice of life. I like doing other tasks throughout my day, and my child needs the independent time to explore on his own, as well. However, my biggest epiphany was that the time I spent with my son needed to be free of all the distractions. When I sit down to read him a book, I don’t want to get up to check something in the oven or look at my phone when I hear that I have a text. It can wait. He deserves my full attention for those few minutes.

And what’s really amazing is how much I learned about my own child, who I spend all day, every day with, just from watching him without distractions for a few days. I noticed the funny little things he does, the way he concentrates on something until he has it figured out, how determined he is to get it right. I noticed the funny face he makes when he sees a bird outside or the eye roll he does when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I was truly amazed at how much I was missing out on (me, a stay-at-home mom!), by constantly doing two or three things at once.

Potty-training, while not exactly a picnic, gave me the opportunity to slow down and remember why I’m doing this whole parenting thing in the first place. It served as a reminder to pay attention and witness the miracle that is my child learning and growing, so proud of his accomplishments, daily becoming the person God intends for him to be. What a gift! A greater gift, even, than not having to change two sets of diapers.

Avoiding Power Struggles with Your Kids

parenting scolding child

Last week I joined Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life to talk about positive ways to deal with power struggles with our kids.  We’ve all been in situations with our kids when we are butting heads with them:  they just asked for candy for the fifth time in the store in as many minutes; they refuse to come to the dinner table; they hide from us at bedtime.

How do we deal with power struggles with our kids without weakening our relationship with them?  Here a few tips for actually strengthening your connection with your kids while addressing problem behavior.


Routines help kids know what to do and when.  Our routines create smooth grooves in the road of family life, and our kids are comforted and secure living in the certainty of those grooves.  This is as true for teens as it is for tiny ones.  However, routines are especially powerful in managing problem behavior in toddlers and preschoolers.  What’s the terrifying trio for little ones? Eating, sleeping, and toileting.  If our power struggles erupt in these areas, we have a problem because we cannot force our children to eat, sleep, or pee.  They are ultimately in control.  We can only encourage their compliance with our expectations through gentle, loving persuasion and by keeping healthy routines and rituals around the trio. 

Eating dinner together every night after a family prayer and over enjoyable conversation is both a routine and a loving ritual that gives our child positive associations about food. Having a comforting bedtime routine (bath, story, prayers) prepares a child for sleep.  Even taking a potty training toddler to the potty on the hour is the kind of routine he needs to experience success.

Clear Expectations

Ensure your children know ahead of time what you expect of them:  Have clear rules around behavior in your home; before an outing remind them of expectations regarding purchasing things, wandering off, or basic manners.  Don’t forget that small children usually need lots of patience and reminders about our rules and expectations.  We also don’t want to set kids up for failure by expecting them to be more mature than they are.  For example, we can expect our teenager to sit politely at Grandma’s dinner table for an hour, but our toddler will probably turn the napkin rings into eye glasses!

Modeling Appropriate Behavior

If a child is having a problem with an inappropriate behavior (hitting, lying, grabbing toys), instead of ignoring the behavior or punishing him for it, we can mentor him in making a better, wiser choice.  For example, if our child is taking another child’s toys, we can say gently “let’s ask Jane if we can play with the blocks when she’s done” and then we can help our child cope with his feeling of frustration and disappointment over having to wait; we can then play with him until it’s his turn.  If we have a hitter, even if the child is very small, we can model “a gentle touch” by physically placing her hand gently on the dog or the other child. 

Kids watch everything we do: How we act is a much more powerful lesson that what we have to say.  If we tell our kids to do one thing, but something different ourselves, they notice.  If we don’t want our kids to hit, yell, gossip, or lie, then we can’t do these things either.  We must model kindness, respect, and love in the way we treat our children and others.

The Peace Place

Many parents know about “time outs” –placing your child in designated area for a specific period of time as punishment for unwanted behavior – but sometimes time outs actually create power struggles in the relationship.  If the problem is disconnection between child and parent, time outs might make the problem worse.  If this is happening in your family, I suggest viewing time outs as cool offs instead.  Especially when children are very young, being isolated away from the family can feel threatening and frightening.

Designate a cool off spot where your child can go to calm down and collect himself.  This space should be very inviting and comfortable – think comfy pillows, stuffed animals, books.  The goal is not to punish the child, but to empower him to gain his composure so that it becomes a habit.  This is your Peace Place:  a special place where kids and parents alike go to find some peace and quiet.

If the problem is a disconnection between our child and ourselves, then we should take the cool off with him.  We can snuggle and read together in the Peace Place until things are calm, and then talk through what happened.


I know it seems bonkers to consider laughing with kids when they’re pressing our buttons, but it often works.  In his book Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen offers several strategies for defusing tense moments with our kids through play or a playful attitude.  If you struggle with bedtime, dinner time, or chore time, make a game out of it.  My husband used to tap his fingers under the table during dinner pretending to be a mouse coming to hunt for my son’s food: “Hurry take a bite! The mouse is coming to eat it!”  My son loved this game and we were able to encourage at least a few extra bites this way!

Just having a playful spirit instead of a grumpy one can defuse a tense situation.  Racing to see who can pick up the Lego the fastest instead of yelling at the kids to get them picked up, trying to put our child’s jacket on his legs when we’re trying to get out the door, even announcing that dinner will be served on the front lawn – these are playful, fun ways to reduce the tension in otherwise difficult situations.  Instead of weakening your relationship with your child through threats and fighting, you are actually strengthening your relationship.

I think the bottom line with all these suggestions is that our goal should be to mentor our child, to view him as a disciple who needs guidance, not a prisoner who needs punishment.  If we try control our child through threats or with physical force it might work in the short term to get them to do what we want, but often at the expense of their trust in us.

For more ideas for maintaining your connection with your kids while addressing problem behavior, see these awesome resources:

Parenting with Grace by Greg and Lisa Popcak

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (see also her books specifically on preschoolers and teens)

Toddlers: Potty Training

Let me say right off the bat that my potty training history is a bit murky.  I don’t think I ever really had a big plan with my first two children.  We just sort of went with the flow (no pun intended).  I would buy a potty chair and let the kids live with it in the bathroom for a while.  I didn’t push it at all.  When they wanted to sit on it, I encouraged them.

When he turned two years old, my oldest son Aidan potty trained in 2 days without an issue.  Claire was nearly potty trained at 2½ when Dominic was born, but then she regressed.  I had a new baby and sleep deprivation to attend to so I didn’t worry about her potty training.  When she was nearly 3 she announced one day that she wasn’t going to wear diapers anymore and she didn’t.  I think she had one accident and that was it.  I’m talking about day training here.  Both Aidan and Claire slept in nighttime pull-ups until they were dry in the morning, then we got rid of them.  They were both about 4 or 5.

I thought Dominic would be like his older siblings, but of course not.  What was I thinking? Dominic liked wearing diapers.  He didn’t see any reason to pee in the toilet if he could just go in his pants.  I mean, his pants were right there.  This is when I started to read what my favorite parenting writers said about the subject.  Attachment advice ranges from “don’t do anything; it’ll eventually happen naturally” to creating a big potty plan complete with games and potty parties.

We got him the potty books and videos, and tried to make a big party out of going to the potty, but he didn’t buy it.  Dr. Sears says in his “Baby Book” that when it comes to potty training, late is better than early.  But then the 3 year mark passed, and still he wasn’t day trained.  Late was getting really late.  Dr. Sears suggests that at this point you can use the “running out of diapers” approach.  You show the child that there are only 10 diapers left, and then you count down as they disappear.  When you get to one diaper, you make sure the child knows that’s it.  So we tried this.  Dominic just went in his pants.

This is when we, I regret to report, resorted to the old reward measures.  Star charts didn’t work.  He liked his diapers more than stars.  We tried giving him a jelly bean every time he used the potty.  Nope.  He looked at me like “That’s it? A jelly bean?”  One reward that did work:  We made a 7-day chart with the first 6 days blank.  The 7th day had a picture of Chuck E. Cheese.  We said if he could go 7 days without an accident we would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.  Each day that he succeeded, we put a smiley face on the chart.  Guess what?  It worked.  For that first week.

I’m honestly not sure how he ever became trained.  I know that as his 4th birthday passed, he was still not trained, but at some point he decided he didn’t like the mess in his pants.  Now he’s a boy of 6 both day and night trained.  (Though he does like to wear his pants backwards).  Don’t ask me how we did it.  I thought he’d be wearing diapers in college.

Given my track record with Dominic, I perhaps have no right to offer potty training advice, except maybe to suggest putting slipcovers on your sofa.  However here’s what wiser folks suggest.

1)      Make sure your toddler is really ready:  Watch for signs of potty readiness.  Is she interested in the potty or what you’re doing there?  Does she tell you when she’s wet or poopy, or does she start taking off her diaper when she’s soiled?

BabyBjorn Potty Chair

2)      Set the stage:  Get a potty chair and some fun books or videos on potty training.  Show your toddler how the potty chair works using a doll.  We had a Baby Alive type doll with Dominic that would pee right into the potty.   After buying all sorts of fancy potty chairs for my older 3, my favorite potty chair is the no-frills one I have for Lydia.  It’s the BabyBjorn potty.  It has a deep seat, a high back, and it’s easy to clean.  Some of our favorite potty books:  The Potty Book for Girls and The Potty Book for Boys by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, My Big Girl Potty and My Big Boy by Joanna Cole, and You Can Go to the Potty by William and Martha Sears.

3)      Help your toddler make the pee to potty connection:  Watch for signs that he needs to go (squatting or sitting in the corner), then ask him “Do you need to go potty?  Let’s go potty!”  Then take him to the potty.  If he produces, make a big fuss about it – dance around and sing songs.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

4)      Dress for success:  Make training easier by dressing her in stretchy pants that she can pull down herself.

Bare bottom training is also an option.  In summer weather, you can bring the potty chair outside and let your toddler run around bare bottomed.  At some point, he’ll produce and he’ll see what happens when he pees or poos.  You can show him that the pee or poo goes in the potty.

Lydia turned 2 in January and she’s nearly potty trained.  She has been interested in the potty chair for many months and she’s recently been going into the bathroom and going potty herself, but still not consistently.  I ask her every few hours if she needs to go potty.  If we have a warm day, I let her go bare bottomed outside and that definitely helps.  No rewards or bribes.  Just lots of encouragement, cheering, and potty celebrations.

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet (