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Who Says You Have to Potty Train?

Google "potty training" and you'll see a variety of warp-speed recommendations like "Ultimate 3-Day Potty Training," "The 2-Day Potty Training Method" and even "Potty Train Your Child in Less Than 1 Day!" I guess your choice of program depends on how many days you can get off from work.

But when it comes to potty training, I have never understood this "race to underpants" mentality.

Potty training is not something to be imposed on a kid based on adult's time table. Just like you can't force a baby to crawl or walk, you can't make him use the potty if he's not ready. Not with all the charts, stickers and M&M's in the world. Push it and you'll wind up with a frustrated kid, exhausted parents, and a shitload of laundry (pun intended).

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I know a mom—and she's a terrifically loving mom—who tried out a 3-day program that had her two-year-old in tears. The kid was so terrified (i.e. NOT READY) to use the potty that she held her pee all day and didn't know why her belly hurt so badly. I felt terrible for both of them.

Where's the fire? What's the pressure to speed through potty training like it's an Olympic event? Why rush kids out of diapers before they're ready?

Diapers may be annoying sometimes, but they can also be such a blessing, like when you're on a road trip, or at the public park with the skeeviest bathroom ever (and you're secretly wishing that moms could wear diapers too.) We go to a Halloween carnival every year that only offers Porta Potties, and it is so traumatizing to think of my preschooler near such nastiness that I literally don't let her drink anything while we're there. Sometimes I miss diapers!

But every kid is different. And chances are, you have plenty of mom friends whose kids don't use the potty yet either—they just aren't as vocal about it.

I know that parents may be under pressure from daycare centers or preschools to make a certain potty training deadline. This seems irresponsible to me. Institutions that are expert in child development should know better than to force the issue. Best case, there will be tons of accidents. Worse case, lingering shame.

I also think parents fall prey to peer pressure. If a mom in your circle starts bragging that her kid is potty trained, you feel like you'd better catch up. But every kid is different. And chances are, you have plenty of mom friends whose kids don't use the potty yet either—they just aren't as vocal about it.

Ideally, potty learning (a phrase I prefer) happens over time. It starts with letting your toddler watch you do your business (as if you have a choice). You read fun storybooks together about using the potty, and give your child her own potty to test out when the mood strikes. You can even shop for undies.

And then you wait until she's willing and able to try, because starting any earlier is only going to drag the process out and make it harder.

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If you're a parent who swears by one of those high-speed methods, great. Maybe you timed it right and the reward system clicked perfectly with your child's personality. It's not for every kid. I had to wait mine out, but once she was ready, it was obvious to both of us. At that point, the transition was incredibly quick and easy.

There are so many parenting rules and timetables we do have to follow. Potty training doesn't need to be one of them. Let's give our kids a break and save the M&M's for movie night.

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