How to Make Potty Training Easier

How to Make Potty Training Easier

Is there a way to make potty training easier? Is it always a battle? As parents, we can probably agree this isn’t our favorite stage. It’s frustrating AND there’s a lot of outside pressure to have our children potty trained early. 

The Pressures for Potty Training

    • There’s pressure from daycares or preschools to have kids toilet trained or they won’t move up to the ‘big kid room’
    • There’s pressure from our parents because, as they remember it, you were toilet trained when you were a year old
  • All of your mom friends seem to have their kids out of diapers.

However if you dig a little deeper, chances are the kids who are potty trained early are either (a) still wetting at night, (b) still having accidents or (c) are older and still having accidents.

As a pelvic health physiotherapist AND mom, I would love to shed some light on this topic. First, let me say that I AM NOT criticizing anyone’s parenting decisions about potty training. I’m simply wanting to provide information about, and possibly relieve some of, the pressures (and mom guilt) of potty training.

Firstly, I have to explain about the reflexive system we are born with that controls our bladder.

The Reflexive System & Potty Training

Our bladder is a muscle. When your bladder muscle is comfortable, it is relaxed and your kidneys dump urine into it. Imagine that there are markings on the inside of the bladder, like a measuring cup, that read ¼, ½, ¾ and 1.

When the urine hits the ¼ mark, it sends a message to the brain and says, “I have to pee.”

The brain says, “No, you’re only ¼ full.”

So the bladder keeps filling until it hits ½ full mark and says to the brain. “I have to pee.”

The brain responds again, “No, you’re only ½ full.”

This keeps going until your bladder is nearly full. Then it signals to the brain again and this time the brain agrees, “yes, you need to go empty.”

What happens next involves the pelvic floor. So let me explain a bit about the relationship between the bladder and pelvic floor.

The Bladder & the Pelvic Floor

They’re both muscles working together but they have to do the opposite of what the other is doing. Your bladder has been relaxed while it’s filling, SO your pelvic floor is contracting to make sure you don’t leak.  When you finally get to the toilet, your brain sends a message to your bladder and says, “ok, you can contract now.” When that happens, the pelvic floor and bladder switch roles. The pelvic floor relaxes, the bladder contracts, and out comes your pee.

This is a NORMAL functioning system!

Applying this to Potty Training

The system I just described doesn’t mature until we’re around 3 years old. If you take note, many parents will say their kids didn’t potty train until 3. This is totally normalIf you wait until your child is showing signs of the reflexive system working, you’re more likely to have long-term success with potty training.

When potty training a little one before this system is ready, you may need to schedule times to put them on the potty or bribe them. This may work but think about how these actions will override the kid’s reflexive system. When you teach them to go on demand, you’re teaching the brain that the fill line on the bladder is lower than it is. If they always empty around ½ full, the bladder starts behaving like a “small bladder”. Over time, this could lead to a them peeing many more times in the day than they need. Or they may experience accidents related to the brain, bladder, pelvic floor relationship not working effectively.

Think about how this habit may trickle into later childhood, or even adulthood.

My 6 Tips for Potty Training

  1. Take the pressure off yourself and your child. There’s nothing wrong if they aren’t potty trained by 3 years old.
  2. Show your child the potty and where it is.
  3. Let them watch you going to the bathroom so they see it’s a normal part of your day.
  4. When they show interest, put them on the potty and see what happens.
  5. Watch for signs that they’re getting the urge. This is when their bladder or bowel is nearing full and their brain is ready to take action.
  6. Try to eliminate the ‘just in case’ pees or poops as they’re teaching the bladder and bowel to empty before they near the fill line.

Choose your battles. Taking the pressure off can mean potty training doesn’t have to be one!

Melissa Dessaulles

Melissa is a pelvic health physiotherapist at Wave Physiotherapy in Kelowna, BC. She is an active mom of 2 young kids. Her own experiences with post partum recovery have made her passionate about helping other moms.

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