Potty Learning vs. Potty Training


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One of the most anxious parenting times for me was when I knew it was time to start potty training my son Jack. Believe me, I was all set to use toys as bribes or anything else it took to motivate him. Despite the horror stories I’d heard, I decided to take a step back and try to have a little more confidence in him and his ability to reason. I know it sounds nuts…but it actually worked.

My friend, parent educator Ellen Faustine-Barnett, has a logical approach to teaching children to use the bathroom that won’t make you tear your hair out.
”It may seem hokey, but in the parenting classes I teach, I’ve shifted from the phrase ‘potty training’ to ‘potty learning,’” Ellen says. “Staying clean and dry by using the potty is a skill for a child to learn on his or her own, not to be bribed or cheered into. Ideally, your child will come to you with a desire to use the potty on their own, but this does not happen magically. You need to demonstrate the skill, talk about it with your child, build their motor skills required to be successful and help them feel confident about their ability to master this process.”

For specific potty-training tips, Parents.com and iVillage offer some great resources and tips. However, experts don’t recommend my anticipated method of bribery with toys or treats.

“When your child is successful at using the potty, emphasize how good they must feel to have done it – keep the focus on them and off of how you feel about it,” Ellen says. “Many children who pee for a reward will do so for a while, but the novelty will wear off and they will start to demand additional rewards or become uninterested in the rewards and quit using the potty. Verbal encouragement is great, but over-the-top praise is counterproductive.”

Jack and I had several long talks about going on the potty and all of a sudden, he said bye-bye to his diapers. When I asked if he wanted a diaper at night he replied, “Why? I don’t wear diapers anymore, Mommy!” and that was that.