When I first learned there was such a thing as potty-training coaches, my daughter was in newborn-sized diapers. The prospect of potties was still far away.
I briefly panicked at the notion that potty training might be difficult—so much that some parents were seemingly outsourcing the effort? In the end, I dismissed potty training coaches as something for posh families only, right alongside au pairs and boarding schools.
After meeting Jessica Bentson, whose demeanor is gentle and earthy, I think differently.
As someone who's sat on the bathroom floor reading the same potty book over and over in an attempt to coax a tiny human into using a tiny toilet, I see the need for expert advice. Every mom knows there's no shortage of advice out there. Just about any stranger on the street has an opinion they're happy to share.
But expert advice is rare and that's why, when I met Bentson, I had so many questions. It turns out members of the Mom.me Writer's Circle had questions, too. We sat down with Bentson and got some insights that have us rethinking our potty training game plans.
What inspires your work?
I have compassion for parents who feel disempowered in the potty-training process. There's a lot of conflicting advice out there that leaves parents feeling overwhelmed and at a loss about how to potty train. I want to support parents and empower them to take action, so they can get their little ones out of diapers quickly and without the struggle.
On your site, you say kids who are at least 18 months old are ready to be potty trained. Plenty of parents struggle with potty training kids who are well above this age, so what do you think goes wrong?
It can get increasingly harder the longer you wait to potty train. Using a potty after years of wearing diapers is a huge change. Children may also have reached that age where they want more independence, so there is more of a power struggle.
Additionally, I think a big part of the struggle comes from parents being advised to wait until their kids are "ready" and, since they are waiting, they don't feel empowered and confident when initiating potty training. When a parent lacks clarity and confidence, the child acts accordingly.
If you could tell a mom approaching potty training one thing, what would it be?
When you are ready, your child is ready.
You teach a method in which parents can potty train their child in 7 to 10 days. Tell us more about it.
As a Go Diaper Free coach, I teach a gentle, non-coercive method based on Andrea Olson's The Tiny Potty Training Book. Firstly, I help parents feel ready. This is the most important part. Then I provide them with a very clear plan. The average potty-training time with this method is 7 to 10 days, but it's not a guarantee. It could take three days or it could take 30 days, depending on your level of commitment and whether you expect it to work or not. Our expectations are the biggest determinant of success or failure … in potty training and in any other endeavor.
The most important aspect of the method I teach is committing to ditch diapers for good.
What do you think of offering rewards (e.g. stickers, candy) when potty training?
I encourage parents to not use rewards in potty training or any other situation. Focus on internal motivation not external motivation. If your child appears to lack internal motivation, try to think of what things could be internally motivating for him … staying clean and dry, being a big boy/girl … You know your kid best.
What's your opinion on the use of pull-ups? Help or hinder potty training?
Pull-ups are definitely a hindrance. They are diapers. Using diapers while potty training is counter-productive. When you decide that you are ready to potty train, tell your child, "You aren't going to use diapers anymore." And mean it.
If a toddler has the ability to vocalize that their diaper needs to be changed, but thus far shows little interest in using the potty, what tips do you have for getting this child ready for potty training?
We make the decision to put our children in diapers, therefore it must be our decision to get them out of diapers. While there are kids who show great interest in using the potty that doesn't mean that you need to wait for your child to show interest. One thing I will mention, though, is the importance of your children seeing you use the toilet. You want your kids to see you so that they have that internal motivation to use the toilet like you do. Let them come with you any time you use the bathroom.
Do you have any tips for the parent of a 3-year-old who does fine all day but holds #2 until they put a diaper on her for bed?
If your child asks to put on a diaper, take a deep breath, then say matter-of-factly, "Your poop goes in the potty now. I know you want to poop in your diaper, but poop goes in the potty now. Let me know when you're ready to go, and I'll help you." It's important to acknowledge how our children feel. Communicate clearly with your child. "I understand that you want to wear your diaper to bed, but we're not going to use diapers any more." You can say this kindly and lovingly.
It's important that you feel ready to say this and that it comes sincerely from you. Don't just take my advice. Wait until you have acknowledged how you feel, that you have sought out support and given yourself the time to fully embrace your decision to ditch the diapers for good. If you are doubting your decision your child will doubt it as well.
Another nighttime question: What can parents do for school-age, chronic bed-wetters who have shown they can stay dry overnight but don't. By the way: bribes only work in the short-term?
Chronic bed-wetting can be deeply frustrating for both parent and child. My advice is to first take time to acknowledge how you feel. Maybe it could help you to journal about your frustrations and get it all out. Then speak with your child and acknowledge your child's frustrations. And then let go. Trust that they are able to hold it and that they will. Trust that your child is capable and they will get there on their own.
Avoid saying anything that will make them feel shame when they wet the bed. There is no need to praise them when they do wake up dry. Receiving praise is an external motivator. Bribes are also an external motivator, and what is important is that your child be internally motivated to stay dry.
Talk to somebody, get support until you can reach the place where you are ready to expect the best.
A question about going out and about: How do you convince a recently potty-trained kid to go to the bathroom before leaving the house? We have a lot of urgent races to public bathrooms and damp undies ...
Kids react negatively to any pressure related to going potty. Simply asking them if they need to go can make them resist. Try to relax and let go and trust that they will tell you when they need to go. Our toddlers are hungry for independence and waiting for us to support them in their independence. I think that many times our children pee in their pants not because they don't know how to control it but because they are trying to communicate to you that they are upset about something. That "something" could be that they desire more independence or privacy.
I also recommend taking a potty with you in the car to avoid racing to a public bathroom. If your child lets you know she needs to go, pull over and use the potty.
Ready to start potty training but need some guidance? You can find quick potty training tips and resources at jessicabentson.com.