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Potty Training Advice from a Medical Expert

You guys, potty training my oldest was TERRIBLE. So bad that I have been dreading it with my second basically from the time she was born. 

So just to underscore how different these two sisters are, our little one started waking up dry and showing interest in potty training just before her 2nd birthday. Let me repeat… this is not how things went with our oldest. I was hesitantly open to starting her potty training because she was open to it but I definitely wasn’t interested in pushing her. 

To ease my nerves and to help out everyone reading this who’s in the same boat, I consulted the experts.

I sat down for some advice with Pediatric Certified Nurse Practitioner Jenna Brand who specializes in Urology at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. 

Potty training is developmental.

Right off the bat, Jenna emphasized that like walking and talking, using the toilet is a developmental milestone. Kids have to be ready and there is a big age range where it is developmentally appropriate. She said so much has to happen cognitively with the brain and bladder signals. It just so happens that my two kids were on both ends of that range. Jenna acknowledged that there’s a lot of pressure to get your toddler potty trained… from daycare, from yourself and seeing other toddlers the same age who are farther along.

She also stressed that pushing your child to potty train on your schedule or when you decide it’s time probably won’t have the desired effects. I can personally say this was true for me. 

It’s not about staying dry.

This was the most surprising thing Jenna said. And for my mom brain that is always thinking about possible messes and how to avoid them, probably the hardest to accept. Jenna recommends maintaining a consistent schedule to train the bladder muscles to fill up and eliminate. She said focusing on staying dry encourages kids to hold it in and can cause bigger problems. 

So instead of saying “do you need to go” try “it’s time to go” every hour and a half to two hours. She said the bladder just won’t fill up in less time than that. As we’ve gotten more serious about potty training our little one, we’ve been doing this and the accidents are really minimal and everyone is happier. 

What about pull-ups?

Jenna isn’t a big fan of using training pants during the day. She thinks they send mixed messages: “You have to pee in the potty UNLESS you have one this thing that’s kind of like a diaper,” etc. I can see how this would be confusing to a little kid. She said as parents you have to stay consistent. For me, that means using public toilets and taking them more often than I would like. Like the five times we went while waiting for the pediatrician last week. (Insert eye roll). 

Jenna did say that staying dry overnight is a totally different thing and isn’t worried about until kids are 7 or older. So training pants or diapers overnight or during naps are fine.

So when is it time to seek help?

Patience from the parents is the main message I received when sitting down with Pediatric NP Jenna Brand. She said that for a typically developing child, they expect them to master potty training during the day sometime before age 5. If that’s not the case, start to talk to your doctor about other issues that may be interfering like constipation or a UTI. 

Of course, I always say to trust your gut. It can’t hurt to ask your practitioner if something doesn’t feel right to you! 

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