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'My Toddler Potty-Trained Himself'

Photograph by Getty Images

The moment my first son entered toddlerhood, we were eager to step onboard the potty train. OK, I was eager; he was just confused. “Look, honey, a potty! Big boys and girls go potty in here. Isn’t that fun?” He looked at me, looked at the potty and toddled right back to his toys.

“Hmm,” I thought, “I haven’t done enough research. I guess I need a potty plan of action.” So like any new mom, I scoured the Internet, thumbed through every parenting book I owned and bought a few storybooks about kids using the potty. “Now we’re ready,” I thought as I escorted my son back into the bathroom.

He went potty in the bathroom all right … all over the bathroom floor.

Armed with potty-training strategies and an arsenal of bribes, I attempted to explain the logistics and benefits of using the potty. “Mommy, no potty here!” my son commanded. “But I have stickers for when you do!” I exclaimed. He shook his head no waddled his diaper-wearing tush out of sight. Harrumph.

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For months I bribed my son to sit on the plastic potty, and while nature never called while he chilled there flipping through board books, at least he sat. “This is progress,” I told myself, “Any day now it will happen.” Then, on one magical and unexpected day, it actually did.

“Mommy! I went potty!” my son shouted as he excitedly pointed to the bathroom door. I squealed, scooped up my big boy and headed straight into the bathroom. He went potty in the bathroom all right … all over the bathroom floor. Despite my continued efforts to explain the use of the potty, my son insisted on urinating on the bathroom floor like a puppy—an adorable puppy, but a puppy nevertheless.

Frustrated and exhausted, I turned to my pediatrician for help. “Why won’t my son just go potty in the potty?” I begged. “Maybe he’s just not ready,” my pediatrician answered. “He’ll use the potty when he’s ready, and not a moment before. Stop potty-training; he senses your frustration.” What? No way! All my ugly cries and nervous breakdowns were totally about, um, something else. And as for all those potty-training charts and reward systems, those are just Pinterest standard! Despite the fact that I could justify my insistence on potty-training all I wanted, I knew his doctor was right.

So I let go of my need to claim victory over potty-training, and I just stopped. I stopped potty-training.

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A few months later, without pomp or circumstance (or even good reason), my potty-shy toddler decided to answer nature’s call in the toilet. From that day forward, he used the potty because he wanted to. There were no charts, no bribes, no storybooks, and, best of all, no tears.

By the time my second son came along, I had no interest in potty-training whatsoever. Experience had shown me that toddlers lead their own potty train in their own time.

And lead he did. One day, my young son decided to inspect the potty. The next, he tried sitting on it. Months passed. Then one random afternoon he decided to use the toilet, and, just like that, he was potty-trained.

There were no stickers, no bribes—nothing. There was just a kid who, like his brother before him, decided to use the potty one day and every day thereafter.

No amount of bribery or prayer to the porcelain gods will lend itself to a happy potty-training experience before a child is ready. If we simply trust in the readiness of our children and learn to let go of the fear that our children will start high school in diapers without our intervention, we can rest easy knowing that potty-training will happen exactly when it’s meant to.

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