#1 Be Physical – in this method, we are teaching by physical demonstration and moving your child to the potty, by helping every pee go in the potty. Telling is not enough… physically guiding her is the key in the first phase of potty training.” — Andrea Olson, The Tiny Potty Training Book, The 10 Ways of Being
Using the potty is a social skill that needs to be taught
All babies are born with the skill to pee and poop. There are studies out there that show babies have sphincter control from a very young age (Yueng, 1995). So deciding when to pee or poop is not an issue with any healthy and typically developing child – it’s the where to put the pee and poop and the what to wear while you’re doing it that are skills to be taught.
In our culture, once you reach a certain age, the toilet in the bathroom is the socially acceptable receptacle for pee and poop. Prior to that, parents and caregivers strap these diapers on their babies and tell them, “Here is your toilet. Ignore your instincts to not soil yourself and put your pee and poop here.” We teach them to use the diaper. As newborns, they may cry or get fussy before or while eliminating, but eventually they learn that this is just the way it is and they deal with the discomfort of sitting in their own waste for any given length of time.
Just as we teach infants to use a diaper, we must eventually teach infants or toddlers how to use a potty. Going potty or using the bathroom is a social skill and is different than developmental milestones such as learning to crawl, to sit, to stand, or to walk. It is a conscious decision that we make as parents. Therefore we can’t wait around for kids to learn it on their own. Yes, kids will go through phases where they show interest in sitting on a toilet, because they show interest in everything that we do (and if they show interest, let’s build on it immediately!), but ultimately, we have to teach the kid where to put the pee and poop, and how to get there in time, preferably with no pants on.
Creating a physical association between body function and receptacle
So putting pee and poop into a potty is a social skill that we teach – but how? It starts by creating an association between the body function and the receptacle. Although most parents can tell that their babies and toddlers fully understand what they are saying, even if they don’t have the verbal skills to respond, giving verbal instructions to infants and toddlers is not always the most efficient way to teach skills. Infants and toddlers are very tactile in their learning – think about all of the times your infant or toddler has examined an object, turned it, dropped it, stacked it to figure out how the world works.
So the very first step in creating the association is to move the toddler to the potty as soon as pee or poop starts and simply state, “Pee (or poop) goes in the potty.”
It’s a physical practice for those first few intense days of potty learning where the start of the body function leads to airlifting the toddler to the new socially acceptable receptacle. And the awesome thing about potty learning is that kids really don’t want to pee or poop in their pants. Eventually they will move themselves to the potty on their own as long as we help them create the association, remove any barriers (a big barrier is clothes), and teach the necessary skills in age appropriate ways.
Want to learn more?
A free sample of the book, The Tiny Potty Training Book by Andrea Olson is available (look on the right sidebar just below the picture of the book). You can learn the rest of the “10 Ways of Being for Parents” and get a feeling for how this potty training method works for toddlers from the age of mastering walking to 30+ months old.