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What All Those Parenting Books Aren’t Telling You About Potty Training

by Jenna Stewart
Jenna lives in Vermont and is behind the blog Motherhoodwithatwistofocd.com.

There should be a support group for parents struggling with potty-training their little humans. I imagine it would be called Potty Training Anonymous and would consist of frazzled mothers, strung out on caffeine, sitting in a circle drinking boxed wine while sharing war stories about their toddlers’ toilet habits.

My story would go like this:

“Hi, my name is Jenna and my child is almost 4 years old and refuses — yes, refuses — to poop on the potty.”

Yes, you read that right: she is almost 4. The child speaks in full sentences, tests out of her age group in almost every area, but can’t fathom the idea of pooping on the toilet, because that would be weird. No, my sweet, sweet, diaper-wearing child — you pooping under the kitchen table while asking for privacy and milk in the same sentence is weird.

Toddler potty training on the toilet with diaper at feet
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I’ve received a lot of advice on the subject and tried many different strategies, but the truth is that it has been a really long, bumpy road filled with a lot of tears, a lot of poop, sticker charts, and countless bribes and treats.

Nothing thus far has proven successful or had a lasting effect on my very strong-willed poop machine, but I will not give up. I will win this war, a victory that will ensure that my child does not go to kindergarten with Hello Kitty pull-ups sticking out of her jeans.

Although victory is not yet mine, I have learned a few very important things.

Changing table and waste bucket surrounded by used diapers
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1. Toddler poop is grownup poop.

“Smelly” and “disgusting” just don’t cover the grossness that is changing your 3-year-old’s diaper. Start your potty training early and be consistent. Don’t give up until you’ve heard the sweet, sweet words “Mommy! I pooped on the potty.” It will feel like you won a lifetime supply of wine. Enjoy it. Savor it.

Jar full of M&M's
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2. Candy bribes can and should be used for your own stress eating.

Hey, if your kid is eating M&Ms and still pooping in a diaper, you deserve to indulge. Do it. Do it without guilt. Enjoy it. I know I do.

Woman writing down a list of goals on a notepad
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3. A plan is great, but prepare for the possibility of it going off course.

A “potty plan” is kind of like a “birth plan.” You may know how you want it to go, but surprise, the baby is suddenly crowning butt first and you need an emergency C-section. It happens, so does poop, and you can’t always prepare for it. The more you can be patient and go with the flow, the better.

Full diaper bag with burping cloth
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4. Be prepared for all scenarios, especially when venturing out into public with your semi-potty-trained little human.

The horror that is public restrooms is hard to maneuver alone and 100 times more difficult with a toddler. Their curiosity will get the best of them, and they will want to touch everything within reach — and I mean everything. Here is what you will need: Clorox wipes, for obvious reasons); tissues, or when your toddler unrolls the toilet paper into a big pile on the floor; hand sanitizer (yep, clean hands are happy hands); and extra clothes (you will be grateful for the clean shirt when your other one suddenly smells like urine and has questionable stains on it).

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5. Be kind.

This is a huge deal for you, but it is an even bigger deal for your child. It can be frustrating, as there will be days when you want to hide in your closet with a bottle of pinot grigio and a sign on the door saying “Mommy is in time-out.” But it will get better. At least, I still have faith that it will.

I am committed to the process. I am confident that I will not be buying Depends for my 8 year old while stocking up on necessities like eggs, milk, and wine. It will happen, and I can’t wait until it does. Until then, I will keep fighting the good fight, and I know it will be worth the wait.

For more from Jenna Stewart, visit Motherhood with a Twist of OCD and her Facebook page.