Your Kid Will Not Go to College Still in Diapers
I’m going to tell you the only thing you need to know about potty training: your kid will not go to college in a diaper.
Of all the myriad things I read and heard, this was the only one that has been–as far as I can tell–true for every parent and every child. Which leaves A LOT of advice that’s functionally worthless. Here are some of my favorites.
You have to wait until your child is ready.
In the world of potty-training, there’s a school of thought that decouples “ability” and “readiness.” This is basically toddler-led potty training. Wait until your kid decides they want to use the potty! Wait until they start telling you they need to go before they go in their diaper! When they are truly ready, it will be easy!
Sure, there are some magical unicorn children that suddenly have an epiphany and decide it’s time to be done with the diaper and use the potty. Those children are few and far between. You almost certainly don’t have one.
Also, toddlers are intensely fickle creatures. Just because Jenny wants to use the potty today doesn’t mean that she’ll want to do it tomorrow when she’s engrossed in playing, or after her baby brother is born and she sees mom and dad blowing raspberries on his belly during diaper changes, or when she happens to be having one of those days where pooping in her pants just feels right.
Here’s a better question: Are you ready to potty train? Here are some helpful questions that will help you determine your readiness.
Are you pregnant with your next child and dreading having to stock and manage two separate sizes of diapers?
Are you tired of trying to mask your gag reflex every time your toddler drops a giant smelly deuce in their diaper?
Do you have a long weekend that you’re willing to sacrifice to the task of cleaning up an endless amount of pee off your floor? Bonus points if you’re willing to pony up the cash to rent an AirBNB so that your kid can pee all over someone else’s floor! Not joking, I know people who did this.
Are you sick to death of listening to that one insufferable mom in your PEPS group whose kid potty trained at age one / your mother-in-law / the busybody at Costco who keeps saying “I can’t believe they even make diapers this big!” when you’re trying to wrangle two whiny, hungry children and a massive cart in the checkout lane?
If you answered yes to some or all of the above, you’re ready.
You have to potty train before 30 months.
In case you’re not up to the math, 30 months is two and a half years old. Two and a half is not that old. At two and a half, your child is still speaking in such a way that most people cannot understand a word they’re saying. They are still arbitrarily rejecting as inedible foods that they enjoyed three meals a day for the past two weeks. They are throwing meltdown tantrums for inscrutable reasons in the grocery store aisle and doing the limp noodle thing the second you attempt to pick them up.
To be fair, they will still do the latter two of these things at three and a half and probably four and a half. At almost five and a half, my younger one is still a master at the limp noodle move.
The point is, 30 months is still pretty little. You can definitely, 100 percent, do it at or before 30 months. I did it with both of my kids. But if you don’t get to it, I have news: your kid will not go to school in diapers.
Here’s a better threshold: are the right external factors in place to help make your child successful?
Will your childcare facilitate use of the potty? Honestly this is the big one. If you have a kid in daycare, and they tell you that they will take your kid to the potty but that the kid still has to come to school in a pull-up, this is a bad time to potty train. That’s because a pull-up is a diaper that slides on like underwear. It feels like a diaper. It works like a diaper. To your kid, it is a diaper. And darling Leo will happily wait to take a dump until he’s wearing that diaper in school. He might even wait all weekend, resulting in constipation, which will then require prune juice, which will result in a flailing tantrum and stains all over your clothes and his clothes and quite possibly your carpet and furniture. In my case, it fried a laptop.
Are any of your child’s friends potty trained or potty training? Ah, peer pressure. The reason your kid will not go to college in a diaper. Even the most potty-resistant child will eventually look around at all of their little preschool friends sitting on the potty and they will have a potty epiphany and it will happen. No one gets a medal for being first. Trust me, potty training is best played as a team sport.
Are other caregivers on board? If you have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other caregivers in the picture, you also need to get these people on board. To be clear, this isn’t a “wait until Grandma feels ready” situation. It’s a “make sure Grandma is ready” situation. Make sure they have the little potty, the step stool for the sink, and whatever it is that incentivizes your child to, in the immortal words of Daniel Tiger, stop and go right away!
And speaking of incentives.
Don’t reward your child for using the potty.
Oh. Fucking. Please. If ever there was advice for which the word “codswallop” was appropriate, this is it. When you’re on Day 5 of potty training and your kid is still peeing on your floor, there is nothing you won’t do to make it worth their while to make it to the potty. Nothing.
Remember that magical unicorn child I referenced above? Yeah, it’s not your child. It’s the child who miraculously just started using the potty of her own volition with such grace and ease that her parent decided to write a sanctimonious book about how giving them an M&M for each potty trip will scar them for life.
Let me tell you… bribery works. Sticker charts, candy, small plastic toys that make the environmentalist in you die inside and will inevitably destroy your feet in the near future -- all of these things are on the table. Will it motivate your kid to have a movement? Good. Do it.
Chocolate chips were the thing that got my oldest on board with the peeing. Each pee in the potty (not preceded by an accident) got a chocolate chip. I know parents who literally put a bowl of M&M’s or Skittles or chocolate chips in the bathroom so that the reward was visible and handy. If I were smarter, I would have done this myself.
And you know what, if you have to pull out the big guns for the poop, do it. It took a jumbo marshmallow to get our oldest on board the poop-on-the-potty train. She ate a lot of marshmallows when she was learning to poop like a grown up. She’s almost 9 now and hasn’t needed this kind of reward in almost 6 years. She poops on the potty all by herself all the time.
She’s not scarred.
She’s not entitled.
She’s fucking potty trained is what she is. And isn’t that, after all, the goal?
If you’ve read this far, here is the meta point I’m making: there is an entire cottage industry of books and subscription-only blogs and parenting experts who are making gobs of money off of your anxiety about getting your child out of a diaper. I bought some of those books. I read some of those blogs. I worried and obsessed and felt frustrated and hopeless and useless.
As a potty-training parent, you will definitely feel some of those things too. It’s normal. Even when it’s your second (or third, or fourth) rodeo.
So here's your free, no books required, advice: your kid will not go to college in diapers.