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Parents ask how to get a child to potty train. It’s easy: You don’t.


A recent online chat with our advice columnist, Meghan Leahy, drew about a dozen questions related to potty training. Parents were worried that their child was regressing (asking for a diaper), that they weren’t offering the right incentives, that their child was refusing to use the potty on purpose or that their child wouldn’t be ready for day cares that don’t allow diapers. Instead of answering them individually, she posted a general response. Here is an edited excerpt.

Potty training is a nightmare, and there are about 400 questions about how to get your kid to poop in a potty.

Easy! You don’t.


You cannot force another human to use the toilet, sleep or eat. Not without social services getting into it.

So. Please:

  1. Seek the good counsel of your pediatrician if you think something is afoot. There are bowel problems, etc., that contribute to issues with using the toilet.
  2. Remember that working bowels require that a human be relaxed (which is why we get constipated when we are traveling). Little kids will often play with their favorite toy or game quietly and then poof, go behind the chair for some privacy. Totally normal.
  3. The opposite of relaxation is getting in someone’s face and constantly asking if they need to poop and telling them to please go sit on the potty. This actually makes humans paranoid. Paranoia = constipation.
  4. Recognize that many of the timelines we place on our children (pooping in the potty) are not in line with their development. We are adhering to the insurance needs of day cares, preschools and camps (you need to pay more insurance to change diapers in a school setting, hence many schools don’t want to pay and expect children to be potty trained). It’s a head shaker and yet another example of how institutions do not respect the development of children and instead expect you to buy books and hire experts to push and rush your kids. It’s complete insanity, and it makes me see red.
  5. Your mantra must be: This child will eventually poop in the potty. Practically everyone gets there. Practically everyone gets there. So, come on. Take your foot off the gas, go to Costco, buy the diapers (you didn’t have kids to save money) and stop worrying about this.
  6. Keep a smiling and calm face with your child. The more your child sees you not freaking out, the more your child will relax, and the more poop moves out on its own.
  7. Recognize you make things worse with too many plans, charts, strategies and rewards.

Good luck.

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