Unpotty Training: Letting Go to Let Them Go

I totally have that song from Frozen stuck in my head right now. Too bad the movie didn’t come out until after we were done with potty training. It would make a great toilet anthem. Except it would go more like this:

Let it go! Let it go! The poop never bothered me anyway.

Because it didn’t. Neither one of my boys cared if they were wet or dirty or if the pee ran down their legs.

My oldest is nine. So far potty training is by far the most difficult, confounding parenting task I’ve undertaken to date.


I tried so many things with both of my boys. Singing potty chairs. Silent but aesthetically pleasing Swedish potty chairs. Toilet seats. Pull Ups. Underwear. Free-ranging naked through the house. (Them, not me.) Videos of Elmo singing songs about “pee-pee and poo-poo.” (That will make you go insane.) M&Ms. Bribery with cash money. Praise. Discipline. Charts. Stickers. Oh, mercy! The stickers we went through! I could have wallpapered the bathroom. Use of the tablet while on the toilet. (With Wade. That technological advancement came too late for David.)

I read all the books and articles:

Potty Train Your Child in 72 Hours

Potty Train You Child in One Day

Potty Train Your Six Month Old

Potty Training in the Womb

OK. I made up a couple of those, but even the real ones didn’t work in this house.

My First Potty Training Attempt

My oldest was potty trained around 3 1/2, but I started trying when he was barely two. He was resistant for a long time. Once he was dry during the day it was three more years before he stayed dry every night. I panicked about that until I learned it’s normal for boys to have trouble with night wetting up to age 12. The brain makes a chemical that “helps” you “hold it” while you sleep. With boys especially, sometimes the brain doesn’t start developing it until late in the elementary school years.

My Second Potty Training Attempt

When it was Wade’s turn to learn to use the toilet I thought I had it in the bag. I mean, I’d done this once. Surely I could get it all right the second time around. The thing is potty training has very little do with the parents. You can put them on the toilet. You can offer all kinds of encouragement and persuasion, but you can’t actually squeeze it out of them.

Which is why potty training is such a frustrating experience. You don’t really have any control. That and all the gross messes you have to clean up. Add to that the pressure from other moms, relatives and pre-school to have your kid out of diapers as soon as possible, and you have a recipe for sleepless nights and sob sessions while you scrub pee out of the rug for the 27th time that day. (I’m talking about you crying, not your kid.)

Wade was four and half when he was completely potty trained, which was right around this past Christmas. For months he stayed dry during the day, but he refused to poop in the toilet. Why? I don’t know. I asked him repeatedly, but he never gave me an answer. I really thought it was never going to happen. I mean four and half? Isn’t that too old to mess your pants?! I didn’t sign him up for pre-school because of it. I worried that I’d have to send extra pants and underwear to kindergarten with him next fall.

Then Wade finally started using the toilet all the time. Shortly after that he began waking up dry at night. I did a test run with him sleeping in his underwear, and he’s been dry at night since January. He’s only had two accidents in four months, both while he was sick.

My Best Potty Training Advice

So here’s what I’m going to tell you about potty training. You might not like it.

There really is no definitive answer. No sure-fire system. No plan that’s guaranteed to work. For some those 72 hour sessions work. For others they fail.

Here’s what I do know:

1. Let go of all the preconceptions you have about potty training. Go ahead and consult the experts, but don’t live and die by what they say. Every kid is different. What works for Susie and Sam won’t work for Jane and Bob.

2. Your child has to be physically developed enough to control when they use the bathroom. Most kids don’t have enough bladder control until at least 2 1/2.

3. You child has to be mentally developed enough to control when they use the bathroom. They need to be able to communicate with you and understand what you’re asking them to do.

4. Your child has to be emotionally ready to use the toilet. They may exhibit both two and three on this list, but they may not want to use the toilet. It could be fear of the toilet. It could be fear of failure. It could be lack of maturity to take responsibility. You can try to convince them. You might succeed. Or you may have to wait it out. A long time. Longer than you think you should.

5. It’s OK to give potty training a go — (Ha, ha. See what I did there?) and quit if you’re not successful. Try again in a few weeks. No reason to frustrate both of you when you’re not progressing.

6. This is my opinion based on experience, I think Pull Ups are detrimental to potty training. They’re too absorbent and give too much security. The kids don’t feel wet and yucky, and they don’t have to worry about leaking when they’re wearing them. Cloth training pants or just putting them in underwear when you’re at home is better. For both my boys we didn’t make any progress until I took the Pull Ups away. I did put Pull Ups on them when we left the house and at night.

7. Sometimes it is a discipline problem. I’ve read lots of things that say not to punish a child for having accidents. That’s mostly true, but there are exceptions. When children are very young, when they’re just starting out, of course accidents are excusable. And after they’re potty trained the occasional accident still happens. No biggie.

But my boys are stubborn. With both of them it got to the point that I knew they knew when they needed to use the toilet. They weren’t scared. They just didn’t want to, because I wanted them to do it. It was a control thing.

If it gets to that point with your child, you’ll know. You’re their mom. You can tell when they can’t do it and when they won’t do it. For both boys we finally had to introduce consequences, and when we did suddenly they were potty-trained and accident free. I want to repeat this isn’t always the case. Discipline should not be used unless you’ve tried everything else, you’re sure they’re physically, mentally and emotionally capable and you know they’re just being defiant.

8. As I mentioned earlier they may be dry during the day long before they’re dry during the night. If you’re worried about night-wetting, consult your pediatrician. But basically it’s normal. Put them in training pants when they sleep or kid’s disposable underwear if they’ve aged out of Pull Ups.

9. Don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. Especially if it’s working. So what if you’re bribing them? They’ll thank you when they go to college without wearing Depends.

10. Don’t let the age your child uses the toilet define how good a parent you are. You’re friend is not Mom of the Year because her kid was potty trained at 18 months. You’re not a loser because your kid barely made it in time to go to kindergarten.

11. Don’t listen to the critics. I don’t care if your BFF, Sister, Mom, Mother-in-law or elderly lady in the church nursery thinks it’s shameful that little Tommy is still wearing a diaper. It’s your kid, and if you don’t think it’s a problem, it’s not.

That’s a long diatribe on potty training, huh? You’re probably kind of mad you read this whole thing, and I didn’t give you the secret to successful potty training. Well, at least you don’t have Elsa singing Let it Go stuck in your head. Oh, you do now?


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One Response to Unpotty Training: Letting Go to Let Them Go

  1. Yes! Letting go to let them go, I love that! My oldest was a bed wetter for what seemed like forever because he pretty much was just too lazy to get up in the night to go. And he didn’t care that he slept in his own urine. Ugh. But finally we just stopped stressing about it, taught him how to change his sheets and put the dirty ones away and it stopped. . . YAY! I guess now he can hold it a lot better because he still doesn’t get up to pee, but he doesn’t have accidents anymore.

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