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Potty Training 101 – S2 E14

Let’s face it, potty training can be a messy and difficult process. When is the right time to start? How can you help your child avoid accidents? And what should you do if your little one just won’t go? This episode answers those questions and more.

Host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez visits with Erica Desper, the founder of Confident Parenting. Erica is a potty training expert who shares her tips to make the potty training process easier for everyone.

Podcast Resources:
Guest: Erica Desper
Five Things to Consider Before Potty Training
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. She is married, has two young children, and loves reading (anything except parenting books!) and watching movies and TV. She loves to spend time with her kids (when they aren’t driving her crazy) and celebrating all of their little, and big, accomplishments. Jessica has been in the field of family and child development for over 20 years, working towards normalizing the hard work of parenting and making it easier to ask the hard questions.

host Guest: Erica Desper is the founder of Confident Parenting and a potty training expert who shares her tips to make the potty training process easier for everyone.


[00:00:00] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. On this podcast, we cover everything you need to know about raising children from infancy to age five. From breastfeeding and safe sleep,

[00:00:24] to tummy time and nutrition, get the parenting tips you need right here.[00:00:30]

[00:00:34] We’re so glad you’re here for another episode of The Parenting Brief. Today we tackle one of the biggest challenges when parenting young children, and that is potty training. It’s not a very glamorous topic, but that’s how parenting goes. Knowing when or even how to start potty training is tricky, especially for new parents.

[00:00:54] Do you keep using pull-ups while your child potty trains? And what’s the difference between using a potty seat versus the [00:01:00] actual toilet? Our guest has answers to those questions and some tips on how to navigate this process up next.

[00:01:11] Here with us today is Erica Desper, Founder of Confident Parenting and a potty training expert. Thank you, Erica, for joining us today.

[00:01:20] Erica Desper: Thank you for having me.

[00:01:22] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So potty training can seem like a very daunting task and not even seem, it really is a very daunting task. So before we [00:01:30] get into how to start, let’s talk about when to start.

[00:01:35] What age is a good time to start potty training?

[00:01:38] Erica Desper: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that there is an exact age. It does vary significantly from child to child. We’ve had children as young as 18 months that were really ready and capable and interested, and we certainly get our fair share of older children, four and five year olds that don’t really seem ready or interested, and we’ve been [00:02:00] able to, you know, support them at any age.

[00:02:02] So first of all, I wouldn’t want parents to be so stressed about finding the ideal window. That said, there is often a window of opportunity in the range of 20 to 30 months where kiddos are in a lull from other developmental milestones like learning to walk and the language explosion, and there’s just not too much else going on.

[00:02:23] Plus, they’re still of an age where they’re interested in copying mom and dad and aiming to please them, see a big [00:02:30] smile on their face, versus when children head into three years and beyond, they go through a process of individualization, which means that they wanna assert their free will, which can often lead to power struggles.

[00:02:42] So my overarching suggestion for parents is try to capture your child when they’re looking to imitate, willing to please, and before they start taking pleasure in pushing all your buttons all the time.

[00:02:55] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: You know, I think that for some parents, and I know for myself that, [00:03:00] I also needed to be ready. What does that look like for the parent to be ready?

[00:03:05] What is really, that commitment or effort or consistency, what is really needed for the parent to be ready to also start that?

[00:03:15] Erica Desper: I would say ready for a parent looks like knowing that they have some time coming up where nothing major’s going on, and that they kind of have set their expectations. Accidents really are part of the learning process in the very [00:03:30] beginning.

[00:03:30] We’re taking a child from a state of I just went and I can do it whenever and wherever and I don’t need any warning and I don’t need to stop what I’m doing I don’t need to travel to another location. After taking them from, I just went to I’m going right now and then to I’m about to go. So until they get to that I’m about to go stage,

[00:03:51] we may have some, you know, if we’re gonna use the right words and get graphic here, some pee, some poop everywhere. And that can be very intimidating for [00:04:00] parents. Some of us have a harder time handling the mess and the cleanup, and that’s understandable. So I think ready looks like just kind of telling yourself accidents are part of the process.

[00:04:10] They will help my child learn how to not have those accidents going forward. And so I just need to be ready to kind of deal with that and you know, have on hand what you need.

[00:04:21] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: There are so many tools out there that parents may be looking at, whether those are little potty [00:04:30] seats or apps or books or songs or whatever the case may be, but specifically in the number and options available of tiny toilets. Is it an important, as parents are preparing and starting this process with their child to have one of those potty training chairs, or does it make more sense, or it does it matter if they’re utilizing the toilet for that training process?

[00:04:56] Erica Desper: Generally speaking for neurotypical children, [00:05:00] we do want to offer a potty chair for several reasons. If we go back to what we were touching on earlier that we’re taking them from a place of, I don’t need to know when I’m gonna go, I don’t have to think about it or pay attention to my body. I don’t have to stop the activity I’m engaged in and I don’t have to travel to another location. That’s a pretty sweet deal that they have set up and they know that.

[00:05:22] So unless they’re super excited about the potty training process, and especially for those kids who couldn’t care less, we are going to want to [00:05:30] make this process not seem like a hassle. As soon as they realize, like, wait a minute, now I have to do the opposite of that. I do have to pay attention to my body.

[00:05:38] I do have to act on those sensations. I do have to stop what I’m doing. I do have to travel to another location, and on top of all of that, I have to sit and I have to wait. That is not a fair trade. So one of the best reasons to offer a potty seat is that A, we cut down on travel time. If they don’t have a lot of warning in the very beginning, we could be [00:06:00] talking about seconds, then they don’t necessarily have time to get from the play area to the bathroom that’s right next door. To us as adults it’s very close. To a little person, it may not feel so close when they’re initially learning.

[00:06:13] And then B, we cut down on the hassle factor. In a two or three or four year old brain that has fear of missing out or FOMO, as we often love to call it, going to a different room could mean your sibling knocks down your block tower, takes your toy, you miss something on TV, [00:06:30] so a lot of kids are willing to hold as long as they possibly can, and then it turns into a true accident, not like, I just let it out because I wanted to, but like I couldn’t hold it anymore and I still wasn’t willing to go to the other room. And then also just size is the third factor. Toilets are not made for little people unless they happen to be, you know, in a program, maybe a school program where they have little people sized toilets. So we want them to be as independent as soon as they can and as comfortably positioned from the get-go.

[00:06:59] [00:07:00] Particularly for kids that struggle to move poop through their body, the positioning is gonna be key. So we’d either want them on a potty seat that places their knees higher than their hips, or if they do wanna use the toilet from the beginning or you want them to, which is an option for some kids, I would then recommend at least an insert that makes the hole smaller, but more ideally, one of those ladder insert contraptions, so they can just walk up, turn around, sit down.

[00:07:26] It does take a little more time in terms of seconds, but it can [00:07:30] be done. We really don’t want them to have to use their hands on either side of a toilet seat to stabilize themselves from falling into the hole because when you stabilize yourself in that way, you’re clenching the same muscles that need to relax to release.

[00:07:45] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Is there anything else, any other advice, information to give to parents?

[00:07:50] Erica Desper: There’s a couple other things I would encourage parents to ask themselves when they’re considering readiness or capableness. One is, is their child well rested? We have a [00:08:00] lot of parents come to us where the kids are struggling with potty, and when we put our sleep coach hats on, it turns out their sleep schedule’s all over the place.

[00:08:08] They’re not getting nearly enough sleep, and it’s just really hard to cope with a process that can have some stress involved. It’s really hard to cope with anything new that requires learning and accepting change when you’re overtired. So we always use the Snickers analogy like you’re not yourself when you’re hungry, right?

[00:08:26] Well, you’re not yourself when you’re tired and neither is your little [00:08:30] child. So if there’s anything that can be done to improve sleep before embarking on the process, even if it means going a little past what might be the perfect age window, I would do that first, and then I would also notice if your child can communicate their needs.

[00:08:45] That’s one of the most important factors for getting through this process. Can they tell you if they’re hungry or thirsty or tired? It does not have to be verbal. It could be some other way that they let you know, but they’re gonna need to be able to [00:09:00] communicate that they need to go. So communication is key, and kids with speech delays can do that too.

[00:09:07] And then their ability to remember multiple steps in order. For example, can you say to your child, go in the kitchen, get the cup off the table and bring it to Mommy? That’s not a very big deal, but that’s three things they have to hold in their mind, which is kind of like, feel the feeling, sit on the place, do the thing, right?

[00:09:29] So that’s a [00:09:30] really important skill to have. Another way you can look for that is, you know, can they recite the ABCs or Twinkle Twinkle, but again, that’s for our verbal kids and not everybody’s gonna be quite there yet. So just some way that you can show that they can learn by repetition and hold steps in their mind.

[00:09:47] The last thing I would keep in mind is do they go and retreat to a private place to poop? This is not a hard and fast rule that a child that’s doing this is ready. Some kids actually do it because they’re [00:10:00] constipated, so it can mean a couple things, but this is a normal natural progression that they realize that socially this is a private process, so they hide.

[00:10:09] And so that’s sometimes a great time to say like, yeah, it is, let’s put it in a certain place and you know, with a door and things like that, so that can be another thing that we’re noticing, I would say, in combination with those other factors to know that they may be in the right place.

[00:10:24] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Well, wonderful. Thank you so much for all of this information and all of this advice.[00:10:30]

[00:10:30] Erica Desper: You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me.

[00:10:40] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: If you’re interested in learning more, check out our episode show notes for helpful links. While you’re there, click the follow button. That way, you’ll be the first to know when our next episode goes live. And if you’ve learned something new today, be sure to share the episode with the parents in your life.

[00:10:54] Until next time, this is Jessica.

[00:10:57] You’ve got this.[00:11:00]

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