The Unexpected Parenting Lesson I Learned from Potty Training

When my older son, H, was almost two years old, a girlfriend of mine came over for a play-date with her almost four-year-old. The boys were playing when my girlfriend’s son announced, “I need my diaper changed!” My girlfriend turned to me and nonchalantly explained that her son “wasn’t quite potty trained” yet. I nodded empathetically while thinking, Geez, he’s almost four, don’t you think you should step it up a notch?

Cut to two years later…

A few days before H’s fourth birthday, I was standing in his bedroom changing his dirty diaper, the contents of which appeared to have come from a grown man, not an almost-four-year-old. Bad visual, I know.

Let me explain.

When H was two-and-a-half, we decided to potty train. After consulting several friends and a couple of “experts,” my husband and I agreed to do a “naked weekend.”

We would stay home all weekend, give H plenty of water, let him run around naked, and bring him to the potty every 15-20 minutes. By the end of the weekend, we were told, he would be potty trained. It sounded easy enough.

Except it wasn’t.

H did not want to be naked, did not want to drink extra water, and had ZERO interest in peeing in the potty let alone sitting on it.

Message received- potty training was not happening.

“Not to worry,” one expert told us. “He’s just not ready.” She’s right, we thought, no big deal. We’ll just wait a couple of months and give it another try.

Besides, even though he was starting preschool in the fall, they didn’t require him to be potty trained. Plus, I’d read that boys aren’t usually ready until they are three. We had plenty of time! I wasn’t concerned.

We waited and tried again. No dice. A few more months went by and we gave it another go. Once again, H refused to go anywhere near the potty and had a massive meltdown when I even mentioned the word underpants.

I was officially getting worried. Even a little panicked. He was three years and nine months now. All of his friends were potty trained. Was there something more going on? Was it sensory-related? What did it mean?

I decided to have a talk with H. Doing an Oscar-worthy acting performance to conceal my anxiety, I calmly and nonchalantly asked him why he didn’t want to go pee pee in the potty. Without hesitating, and with complete confidence, he said, “Mom, I’ll do it when I’m four.”

Oh, I thought. Well, that seems reasonable. The "something more going on" was simply his desire to be in control. Being a control-seeker myself, I decided to let it go and to trust him. “Um, ok,” I responded, “thanks for letting me know.”

There was no more mention of underwear or pee pee in the potty until the day after his fourth birthday when I came downstairs with a pair of underwear in my hands and stated, “H, you’re four now. What do you think?” He looked at the underwear, looked up at me, contemplated for a moment, and then said, “Ok, Mom. I’m ready.”

And that was that. He was pee pee trained that day.

My takeaway? As parents, we have so many expectations of our children- what kinds of things they should be doing, when they should be doing them, and how they should be doing them.

Sometimes our kids have their own expectations that are different from ours, and sometimes we just have to be ok with it. Letting go of our "shoulds" can make life a lot easier.

Oh, and as for number two potty training...well, that’s a whole other post!

It's common for sensory-sensitive kids to have trouble with potty-training. If your child is struggling, click here to schedule a free 30 minute strategy session. I'll walk you through some simple strategies you can use to make it a smoother (no pun intended!) experience.

How did potty training go for your child? Did his/her sensory issues make it challenging? What helped? Leave your comments below, the Sensory Mom Community and I would love to hear from you.


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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.