Guest Post: Five Things I Learned From Potty Training

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My friend, Susan, from Write Out of Chaos wrote a post on potty training the other day and has been kind enough to let me share it here.

I know Susan personally and I consider her a “go-to” mommy. I would pretty much do anything she told me to do when it comes to parenting. She is an amazing mama, very well researched and extremely thorough. In other words… it’s definitely worth at least reading what she has to say on the subject!

We’re not anywhere near potty training yet but I know it will be here sooner than I know.  I will be keeping this in my back pocket… or more accurately, Pinterest.

On to the post…

We chose to end the summer with potty training Levi.  As a teacher of eighth graders for thirteen years, I’ve learned that often, when teaching someone else, the teacher is often doing much of the learning.  The same was true as we taught Levi to use the potty on his own.


We use the Three Day Potty Training method.  I’m pretty sure that the basic tenets of this method are similar to others (but we have only used this method, so I can’t speak to other methods).


Having taught middle school for so long, I’ve gone through periods of feeling jaded and disappointed, frustrated and flat-out angry.  Potty training gave me a reminder that there are some things I’ve forgotten about what it really means to teach with love.  So far this year, I’ve been trying to implement those strategies in my own classroom.


1. Jump in!
In this method, you choose a day and go straight to undies – no net!  Upon starting potty training, there are no diapers, only underwear!  Kids have to learn what it is like when they pee (or poo) in their new situation – clothes with no diaper!


The same is true for when you teach others.  You have to prepare them for the real deal!  In addition to helping them learn the concept with your help, you have to give them a real-life type situation to try – with no safety net!   For most teachers, this means giving the students a test or a real chance at the task with no help.  Sometimes they need to feel the failure to see that they need to learn to get better.


Fully potty trained and picking pumpkins!

2. Focus on the kid for success: LISTEN!

One of the most important parts of this method is paying attention to the potty trainee.  There are no distractions, no phone, no e-mail, no work, no chores.  Your sole focus is on the trainee and watching and listening for signs that he or she needs to potty. Ultimately, you want to get to the point of anticipating their need to potty and get them to the potty in time to actually do the deed on the potty (showing them where they are supposed to go).

In any teaching situation you have to go in with no distractions and be really present with your students.  You have to be watching them to see when they are showing signs of being ready to learn the next thing.  And you need to be ready with that next thing!

3. Be Encouraging, Not Angry!
Given the fact that kids are jumping in with no diaper and are just learning the concept of going pee in the potty and not in their pants, there will be MANY accidents.  Many.  Many.  Many. Accidents.  It will be SO frustrating.  You will be frustrated with yourself and with your kid.  But if you get angry, the trainee gets scared, and doesn’t want to participate in the pottying.  Or at least not in the way you want them to.  They get discouraged, you get discouraged and no one can learn in that situation.


Anger in teaching never works.  If you feel like you are just a disappointment to your teacher, that often leads to anger, not a willingness to try harder.  Anger on both sides often leads to resistance to something new.  This is where patience, which is so hard to find, really pays off.  If you can give your student a kind or encouraging word instead of expressing your frustration, they can sense that you really believe in them.  This is my MOST challenging lesson to learn.  The person you are working with doesn’t know what has happened in the rest of your day and they may not care.  But if you are going to help that student be successful, you have to dig deep to find a way to be positive.  If it gets too frustrating, change it up.  Take a break, go outside or give a chance to do something creative and fun.


4. Trust that it will happen
With Levi, I was SO frustrated.  I couldn’t believe that this method worked for Ana given how terribly it was going with Levi.  Thankfully, we had a surprise visit from a friend who remembered this method much more than I did.  She reminded me that I was skipping over some important parts.  What I needed was to go back and review the basics.  Was I focusing on him?  Was I really listening? Was I being encouraging? It turned out I wasn’t really focusing on him.  As a result, he wasn’t getting the support and assistance he needed to learn.  Once I started to focus on him and remind him to tell me he had to potty, things started to work!  I needed to be consistent, be repetitive, and include all of the basics necessary for learning.  I hadn’t been doing that.


People naturally want to learn.  We have to trust that. Learners of all kinds want to be challenged and rise to the occasion.  It means that you have to pick a learning target that is attainable, but also that you see the learner in them.  The don’t want to fail and they may not want to ask for help, but your job is to see where they are and figure out what the next step is.  When you are consistent with this, you have to trust that the process will work and that at some point, it will “click.”


5. Don’t Give Up
With potty training, consistency is key.  You have to repeat, encourage, remind, repeat, stay focused for three days (and beyond).  Even when it’s tough, you have to stick with it.  It gets confusing for kids when you go back and forth between diapers and underwear.  Commit to teaching them, go for it and stick with it.  You’re teaching them what it mean to be persistent with your actions – which is so much stronger than your words.


There are so many situations where you may be an unintentional teacher: our friendships, your marriage, parenting, or helping someone else learn something.  If you are committed to helping and if the learner is also committed, you can’t give up!  You may need to take a step back and regain our perspective, but go back to it and show that person that you are committed to them and their learning.  It may mean that you go back time and again with different strategies, but don’t give up!


Working with Levi in this situation really gave me the chance to learn what it means to teach with love.  I certainly haven’t mastered it, but I’m definitely trying to keep it in mind as the school year progresses!
Read about Susan’s 2015 writing challenge and check out more of her posts. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

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