Restaurant Potty Training Sabotage

Every Accident is a Learning Opportunity

In my potty training classes, I often state that accidents are learning opportunities. Accidents during potty learning will happen. It’s a guarantee. Early in potty training we don’t get mad and we don’t punish*, we just clean up the mess, learn what we can from the situation, and move on with re-teaching skills or making different decisions the next time a similar situation pops up.

Family Dinner Out

It was a Saturday night, unusually warm for late February in Madison, WI. It was the kind of weather that demands that you walk to the restaurant for dinner instead of drive. And it seemed that everyone else had the same idea because the restaurant was busy, and we had to wait about 20 minutes for a table.

Enter the friendly well-meaning server at the popular local restaurant. Trying to please his customers, he offered menus, stated the specials, and gave our adorable 3-year-old his own cup of water with a plastic lid and straw.

Even though said 3-year-old drinks from a straw all the time with his water bottle, this particular straw was better, more interesting, perhaps the different flow or sucking motion intrigued him. And before we knew it, half of the cup of water was consumed.

This didn’t bother me at the time. In fact, I really didn’t notice how much he drank. After all, my son had been daytime potty trained for 22 months, and nighttime potty trained for 10 months.

Later that Night…

Somewhere around 2am we hear crying from our son’s bedroom. My husband was the lucky one to get out of bed first. You could tell from the conversation and the crying that my son was truly taken by surprise that he had wet his bed for the first time in over 3 months.

My son felt bad that he didn’t make it to the potty in time and started to pee in his bed. When my husband put him on the potty in his bedroom, my son had more pee to come out! So a positive is we know my son caught himself having an accident and then cried out for help.

After a swift change of sheets (yay for water proof cover on the mattress!) and pajama bottoms, my son was tucked back in, and fell asleep rather quickly. His parents, on the other hand, had a much harder time getting back to sleep and felt rather tired in the morning.

Anticipation and Prevention are Essential

This was a good learning experience for me.

Accidents can still happen – First it was a good reminder that even though we’ve had very few potty accidents in the last several months, they can still happen and I can still learn more about this potty learning journey.

Beware of novel liquid containers – Second, we learned that new or interesting water vessels get consumed more quickly. So now when we go into a restaurant, we’re more careful to monitor both how much water is offered to my son and how much of it he drinks. To prevent too much water being offered, I will either pour some into my own glass or quickly drink some before handing it off to my son. This helps my son slow down his drinking. And if he really is thirsty, we can always give him more water.

Offer (or prompt) more – Third, on those special restaurant dinner nights, we offer a few more pottitunities between dinner and bed time to make sure that the bladder is as empty as can be before my son goes to sleep, even though we’ve mostly gotten to the point where my son initiates all potty trips.

Nighttime is disorienting for young kids – Lastly, we were reminded that nighttime is disorienting for kids. They’re still sleepy, it is dark, and they may be confused about whether they have permission (or the ability) to get out of bed by themselves. If there is a night when I’m worried that my son drank too much water, I gently remind him as I’m tucking him in that if he wakes up and needs to pee, he has my permission to turn on a light, use the potty, and get back into bed. We even practice how to adjust the covers so that hopefully he can be fully independent and not wake his parents!

*A quick note about punishment

With older children or children who are farther along in the potty learning process, the parents have to discern whether the “accident” is truly a skill issue or perhaps a behavior issue. There are no rewards or punishments in Gentle Non-Coercive Potty Training. A child acting out could be expressing their emotions through pee or poop accidents since this is something in their life that they can control. If you know for sure that a potty “accident” is a behavior issue, then you should respond to it as you do other behavior issues. I’m not a parenting expert, but I’ve found these resources helpful for working with my child in the midst of huge emotions and impulsive or manipulative behavior without using punishments: and