16 - 18 Months

Perspectives on toileting with author of ‘Oh Crap! Potty Training’

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“Pressure on the child is the number one reason potty training backfires.”

Jamie Glowacki, Author of “Oh Crap! Potty Training”

Jessica Rolph is joined by Jamie Glowacki, author of the book: Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right. And don’t we all want to “do it once and do it right”? Despite our best intentions, this is one transition that rarely goes smoothly. But a few ground rules can make a world of difference. Tune in for a little parent training on how to do toilet training.

Key Takeaways:

[1:25] Jamie’s top do’s and don’ts in potty training.

[3:57] Jamie talks about the importance of parents making the decision about when to start potty training.

[7:11] Is there any advantage to starting potty training earlier than 3 years old?

[8:42] Jamie shares what to expect on the road to regular toilet use.

[12:54] A discussion about the tension around poop and how we should be reacting to this bodily function.

[15:30] The ergonomics of pooping — and why you should care!

[16:47] Advice to those parents whose children hold poop until they are in their diapers.

[20:15] Jamie’s policy on rewards and praise while potty training. Spoiler alert: Don’t go there.

[22:53] Jamie shares a piece of final advice to listeners: Potty training is not a measurement of your parenting.

Mentioned in this episode:

Jamie Glowacki’s digital home


Potty training do’s and don’ts

Jessica: What are your top do’s and don’ts when potty training? 

Jamie: My top don’ts, do not ask your child if they have to go for the first, I’d say six months of potty training. And by that, I mean don’t literally ask a question, “Do you have to go?” Number one, you’ll find yourself saying it way too often, “Do you have to go? Do you have to go? Do you have to go? Do you have to go?” and you’re going to bug the child, and pressure on the child is the number one reason potty training backfires. Do not set a time limit. So I know that there’s a thousand three-day potty training. I know your sister, your cousin, your neighbor might have potty-trained their kid in three days, but I can tell you right now that if you take Friday, Saturday and Sunday and expect your child to go back to daycare fully potty-trained, you are going to put an immense amount of pressure on your child, and that’s going to backfire.

Going back to the don’t ask, you will of course, prompt your child, you have to prompt them, but you can prompt with a choice, a challenge or a statement. So a choice would be, “Do you want to use the big potty or the little potty? Do you want to go first? Do you want to go second?” A statement would be, “Come, it’s time to use the potty.” And a challenge, it works really great with your spirited child, is like, “I’ll raise you to the potty, I bet you can’t fill that with pee,” that kind of thing. Don’t set a timeline. And the third one is… My biggest don’t is don’t post on social media that you’re going to start potty training. And it sounds really silly, but one of the reasons potty training has become such a crazy milestone is we are overloaded with information. I literally have a parent who comes to me with a five-year-old and they’re like, “I forgot to potty train, I was so busy researching how to potty train, that two years went by and my kid’s five.” So we have so much information available. We’ve lost our intuition, we’ve lost our way.

And when you post on social media, I can guarantee you’re going to get 65 conflicting responses. I don’t care if you use my book, I don’t care if you use somebody else’s book, but have a plan and then shut down the noise, because you don’t need noise, it will make you doubt yourself, and when you doubt yourself, your child’s going to doubt themselves. So if you have anxiety about this, that is 100% non-verbal communication that is going to be transferred to your child and they will not have a good go of it.

When to start potty training

Jessica: That is so wise. I love hearing that. I think that that is just the state of parenting today with social media, is just… It can be really overwhelming. You’ve talked about really making it a parent decision about when to start potty training. Can you lean into that a little bit more? 

Jamie: Yeah, so here’s the deal. Literally, it would be wonderful… First of all, child-led is a really great concept. And I’m a home schooler, I would define myself as a hippy dippy parent. I am in that realm, attachment parenting. But child-led makes no sense. And I always… I have this analogy in the book which is, if you were to put your child in their car seat in the back seat and say, “Tell mommy how to get to the store,” you would be lost in no time. So to make your life child-led, you’re the adult, you have been on the planet longer, you know things, so you really have to be adult-led in your household. Now, you could be interest-led, and that’s a different topic. The problem with child-led is that… There’s a couple of things with potty training. One is we have become so busy. Never before have two, three, four, five-year-olds been a market, and I know we’re coming off the pandemic, so activities were halted, but kids have activities, parents work outside the home, these things make us extremely busy and we sometimes miss the child’s cues. So almost all children are “ready” between 20 and 30 months. Usually you’ll see some sort of signs between 18 and 24 months, and those things are subtle.

And so I think somehow over the last 10, 20 years, those signs have gotten confusing. So your child wanting to be in the bathroom with you, wanting to play with the toilet paper, wanting to flush, those are the signs, and parents kind of skip right over them or just don’t notice them because life is so busy. So in that sense, I say we look at a timeframe, ‘cause just like with walking, we’re going to follow the child, but within nine months to 16 months is when a kid usually starts to walk or cruise. If your kid gets to 18 months and they’re not walking or cruising, you’re going to be like, “Hmm, maybe I need to sort of push this along a little.” You know what I mean? So I think with potty training, it’s good to have an age range in there.

Potty training 3 year olds

We have a new term that I love, it’s called “threenager”. Your three-year-old is going to go through the same process when they’re 13. It’s going to look a little different, but they realize they’re separate from you and they can be their own person, which is fantastic, developmentally appropriate, it is the age of free will and choice, it is the age of no, it is the age of, “Oh, look, the sky is so blue,” “No, it’s not, it’s pink!” [laughter] It’s contention all around, which is so great, it’s your child’s blossoming personality. Pee and poop are going to be the only thing your child will ever control for the rest of their life. So to lay your pee and poop onto that developmental milestone can be crazy-making. It’s not that your child will struggle to learn, it’s that the power struggles will be huge.

And we have to look at diaper use as a habit. And so it’s better to kick a two-year habit than it is to kick a four-year habit.

Can you start potty training too early?

Jessica: And you occasionally will hear from some parents in our audience that they’re starting potty training and potty learning much earlier. Is there any advantage to starting earlier than they’re showing that natural interest in being with you in the potty, unraveling the toilet paper, like they always want to…

Jamie: Yeah, well, it depends on… I don’t like the term early ‘cause I just feel like that’s ambiguous. I definitely have people who use my book for 16 months. What I tell people is before 20 months, you’re going to probably be dealing with a longer learning curve. So that’s best suited definitely if you don’t have outside caregivers, like if you’re a stay home parent and you have that sort of luxury. Do you know what I mean? If your child’s in daycare or your mom’s watching your child or something like that, it’s going to be more challenging ‘cause that other person might not be onboard. So usually that’s a longer learning curve. I would say potty… You’re over the big hump of potty training in about seven to 10 days. And so I really want to issue with the three-day miss. But when you’re looking at before 20 months, you’re probably looking at more like two weeks before you’re over the big hump. However, at that age, they’re usually super invested in you and pleasing you and “Mommy, I help and do myself,” and that kind of thing, and so you get a lot more cooperation. You can certainly potty train after 30 months, after 36 months, but know that that’s not so much learning. Your child’s well aware of when they pee and poop in 99% of the cases, but you’re going to be dealing with behavior and personality. And so it’s kind of like pick your poison. [chuckle]

Potty training tips

Jessica: Let’s say that you’ve picked up your book but you haven’t read it cover-to-cover yet, what would you give parents just a little taste of what to expect with the information, the content? What to expect about the process? It’s not going to be a blitz three days on average, it’ll take a little longer. Tell me more about what that looks like.

Make a plan

Jamie: You don’t have to read my book cover-to-cover, and you don’t have to read any book cover-to-cover, but have a plan. Just have a plan because it’s going to make you feel better. And so the parents who are the most successful are the ones who aren’t emotionally tied to this. So a lot of times… I’m in the homeschool world and sometimes people homeschool trying to create a super human. If they’re not homeschooling, they’re going to beat the public school system. And sometimes when parents potty train, they approach it like that. And that again, goes back to the social media and putting the highlights, “My kids can be the first to potty train.” So check yourself and just make sure you’re doing it, whatever age you’re doing it, that you feel ready and that you’re not trying to beat anybody, you’re not trying to beat your sister and her kid or anything like that, ‘cause that happens.

Clear your calendar

Clear your calendar. That is the number one thing I tell parents. And you do not have to stay home for a long period of time. You do have to stay home for like two or three days because the very first thing, and this is not me, this is not revolutionary, this is literally every single potty training book method out there, your child has to be bare-bummed. If they’re not bare-bummed, they’re going to pee in their pants, by the time you see the wetness, they will have voided their whole bladder and the learning opportunity is lost.

Be bare-bummed

So they have to be bare-bummed and that first day is a marathon. It is going to be the worst day of your life. It is boring. It is horrible. You can’t look at your phone, you can’t look at anything but your child and their bum and see what’s happening. You want to catch them as soon as they start to dribble, you want to get the potty chair over to them, or you want to get them over to the potty chair. I tell parents, prepare for that, prepare like it’s a marathon. Prepare snacks for you and the child ‘cause you might not want to put them in a high chair, you might want to have a picnic, or you might want to have them kneeling at the table because the bend, locking them into a high chair will create an accident almost assuredly in the first couple of days. You want to not see a binging Netflix, you do not want to have wine the night before, you want to be well-slept ‘cause you’re the teacher and you’re 75% of the process. So if you’re in bad shape, it’s going to go bad. [chuckle]

Roll up your rugs

Jessica: And if you have a chance to roll up your rugs, if you have some rugs you roll up, I totally remember doing that, yeah.

Jamie: Roll up your rugs. A lot of people have an open floor concept now, so containment can be really important for the child. Kids love small spaces ‘cause it feels safe, so containment is good. I mean I don’t know many people who have precious things when they have toddlers in the house, but yeah, roll up your rugs if you can, or the whole design that was like, it’s not meant to have pee all over the place, but there are going to be… There are going to be accidents. And you mentioned this in the intro. I don’t look at the first week of potty training, nothing’s an accident, it’s a learning tool. You’re learning your child’s patterns and you’re learning their signals. So a pattern is every time… Like some kids are camels, and then it’s like college drinking, once they break the seal, they have to pee six times an hour, right? So they can go a really long time, they can go three hours without peeing, but then there’ll be a lot of pee. Some kids can drink 12 ounces of fluid and pee regularly once every hour. So those first couple of days, you’re learning their pattern, because when you leave the house and go to activities, that will give you a better idea, that will give you your foundation of knowledge. Then you want to look at their signals, so their body tell, what’s their tell that they have to pee? 

Understand readiness signs

Some kids are a deer in a headlight. Some kids do the classic tippy toe. Some kids grab their crotch. So that’s their signal and that lets you know, “Oh hey,” and it’s always best to reflect their signal back to them, “Oh hey, look, you’re walking on tippy toes, that means the pee-pee’s coming. Let’s go sit on the potty.” So that kind of thing. My book is arranged in blocks of learning, and each block is very quantifiable. They can pee and poop with prompting without pants, then the next step is to go commando, then the next step is to leave the house, then the next block is to put underpants on them. So that way parents have a real good idea of how to move on, and if something goes wrong, just go back to the last successful block. Just like if you’re building a tower of blocks and it gets knocked over, you go back to the most successful stable part.

Potty training and poop anxiety

Jessica: Can you talk a little bit more about the tension around poop and how we should be reacting? 

Jamie: Yeah, okay. So poop is by far the biggest struggle. It is 90% of my clients, my private… My consulting clients. So poop really runs the gamut. What I tell parents… So is… There’s plenty of kids who do just fine with poop. But what often happens is that first day is just so new. And toddlers aren’t good with change. You know what I mean? So kids take to potty training very quickly, and some kids struggle. So that first day, it’s very, very common to have some… Like performance anxiety. And one of the things is that… Before they used to just be able to poop in private behind the closed doors of the diaper, so to speak. And now we’ve got the potty chair in middle of the room. All eyes on the kid’s butt and so they get a little bit of performance anxiety. It’s very, very common not to have a poop that first day of potty training. And I tell parents, do not stress out. Do not stress out, because the more you get stressed, the non-verbal communication again, it goes right to your kid… Remember your two or three old doesn’t have a massive command of the English language. What they know is your cues. What they know is your non-verbal communication, your vibe. So if you start getting anxious, the anus muscles are super, super sensitive to emotions.

And I tell parents all the time… We’ve all had to poop and go into Target, and there’s people in every stall, and your butt’s like, “Ah no, thank you. I’m not going to open.” You know what I mean? So the kids get very, very sensitive to emotion around poop. So just put on your A game and be super chill about it. And that’s the number one thing you can do. I also think if you get into day two, day three and your child’s still not pooping or looks like they have to poop but they can’t go lean into something like MiraLax or Senna… Even a very small dose just to keep it going. Because what happens is those muscles, those sphincter muscles can get stuck on clench.

And so the longer you go, the more you could be running into trouble. So I tell parents, “Gosh, in the beginning, just lean into a little assist and just get things going and you should be fine.” I see more trouble with kids not being able to poop than poop on the floor. So it’s just a really primal thing. If your child’s struggling to go, make sure you get some privacy, not in the middle of the living room floor. Go in the bathroom maybe, and see if you can close the door for a minute on them. And one thing that really, really helps with kids and poop is… Especially if they’re on the little potty chairs, get behind them and hold them by the hamstrings, under the knees and lift their knees up to their chest, and a lot of times the poop will just shoot right out. So that’s an old Korean grandmother trick.

Ergonomics of pooping

Jessica: I love it. I love it. Ergonomics of pooping. I get it.

Jamie: Yeah, and that’s… The ergonomics. That’s a really good… Good point. So what happens is, remember, your kid usually was either a stander or a squatter to poop. So they’re either in a deep knee bend or they were pooping standing up. And so a lot of times we ask them to sit at a 90 degree angle. So that’s why I really recommend the BABYBJÖRN potty chair because it’s almost got that little dip. You want their knees up by their chest as much as possible. I have a squatty potty, and I always say if my house were on fire, I would grab my squatty potty before my child… ‘Cause it’s such a great tool. So you want their knees up by their chest and not like a 90-degree angle. So if your kid is… Looks like they’re willing to prove and it’s just not coming, try to maybe put some books under their feet or see if you can lift their knees to their chest.

Holding their poop

Jessica: Great advice. Our audience and a lot of parents came back with pain points around children… Their toddlers holding the poop until they were in their diaper, either for a nap or at night time because they were still sleeping with their diaper, and so they were waiting purposefully to have that private moment and poop more safely, if you will, in their diaper. Is this common? And do you have any solutions that you recommend to this? 

Jamie: So there’s a couple of contingencies to this. The first thing is, is it the… Are you just beginning potty training? Are you in the first month or two of potty training, in which case I would not worry about it. It usually shakes out on its own. Pooping is definitely more primal, it’s just a little… 

One of the things I say is that it sounds really gross, but kids when they poop in their diaper that’s next to them. That’s next to their butt, and that’s what they know and feels good. So when they do the free poop, which is just pooping in the potty that poop just goes. And I say this in the book is, we’ve all had that poop that you get off the toilet and you get on the scale, ‘cause you were like, “I’ve had to have lost 8 pounds with that poop.” Well, imagine if you only weigh 36 pounds, it’s a significant portion of your body, so there can be this fear of releasing it in the potty. So they might save it for nap. Now there’s two versions of saving it for nap or night time. One is actually literally saving it. And so we’ll see them walk around on tip toes. They look like they have to poop. Some kids will even mid-morning say, “Oh, it’s time for bed,” ‘cause they want that diaper on. Or they’ll ask for a nap early or something like that. So that’s literally holding it. A lot of kids just automatically adjust their body clock. So the thing I would say is, is the child awake when they’re pooping and then you change it, or are they popping in their sleep? When they’re pooping in their sleep, again, I think you have a little more wiggle room ‘cause that’s unconscious, they’re relaxing, the poop’s just coming.

If they’re holding it and they poop the minute you put the diaper on and you go in and change it and this all happening right before bed, then I think it’s really imperative that you deal with it. The solution to that is night training. And parents are like, “Well… How can I make sure that she’s pooping at night?” One of the things is we have to ascertain is, where does your child lie on the poop anxiety scale. So some kids are literally just waiting for you, the parent to take off the diaper and they’ll say, “Okay, fine, I’ll poop in the potty now.” It’s not a big deal. Other kids once you take away that night and nap diaper their anxiety will actually show and they’ll start withholding. It’s almost like when a child has an anxiety about releasing, we actually do want to see it manifest. We do want to see it escalate so we the parents can walk our child through it. So that’s really important. So a lot of parents get scared when they see that anxiety, and that’s why I do the private consults to help parents walk through it because your child needs to you there while they’re pooping to get through the anxiety.

Jessica: It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for these little people. I want to…

Jamie: It’s amazing though, Jessica. It’s like every other milestone… Some kids struggle with poop, not pee, some kids struggle with pee not poop. So… What I want to tell parents, if your child is struggling, that is no way, shape or form… It’s usually nothing you did… I mean, you might be putting a little bit of pressure on them, but it’s nothing you did, and it’s also not an indicator that they’re not ready. I have five-year-olds who were never quote unquote “ready” and they still have that anxiety. So if your child struggled with poop or if your child is showing anxiety about release, do not be fooled that your child is not quote unquote “ready”, that’s not the case. This is going to… This will be that… Your child at three, four… Whenever you decide to do it. So I think it’s better to do it when they’re littler and not going through that individuation stage.

Potty training and rewards

Jessica: That’s so helpful to hear. I just have one more question, and it’s around rewards and praise. And I know the answer to this question on where you fall on this, but can you share with our listeners your perspective on rewards and praise? 

Jamie: This is a milestone, you guys, just like when your child slept through the night. When they slept through the night, did you scream and… I know you were probably screaming and yelling inside. That, “Oh my God. Thank God you just slept eight hours.” But you didn’t give your child an M&M. You didn’t, “Oh my God you slept… Oh my God you’re the best.” You weren’t… You were, “Oh, yay. Alright let’s move on with our day. You’re well rested.” Same thing with potty training. So I find… Like, look… Guys are really good at this. Like, fist bumps, lower your pitch and just a simple like, excellent. “Hey, you must be really proud of yourself.”

Always, always, always reflect back to the child. Always let your child own this. This is not about you, mom or dad, this is about the child gaining autonomy and self-mastery. So don’t make it about you. Make it about them. Okay. So, “Hey, you must be really proud of yourself. Excellent. Let’s go eat lunch.” That’s all. Very simple. You can reflect back how their body might feel if they drop a ginormous poop. You might say, “Wow, your belly must feel good. When I poop like that I feel really good.” So you can reflect back how their body might feel. I am against rewards for potty training.

By the time parents come to me, they have promised a trip to Disney Land for a singular poop in the potty. And that happens daily. And so that’s how bad it can get. Rewards… If you choose to use rewards, that’s fine. Have an exit strategy. And here’s my caveat, don’t escalate. Yeah. So don’t give for trying, because they’ll manipulate that. I once had a little boy who got two mins for M&M’s for pooping, as a client. And he learned how to meter out his poop into 40 nuggets. So he got 80 M&M’s. And so kids are smart when it comes to rewards. Maybe later when they’re teenagers, you might have to bribe or reward with external circumstances but not at this age. Now, that being said, sometimes we will use rewards if we can’t ascertain, is this behavior or is this a glitch in learning. So a lot of times parents can’t separate that out. And so I say, “Hey, try a reward and you’ll find out real quick if your kid can do it.”

And if they can do it for an M&M then that gives the parents the sort of inner fortitude to be like “Okay, cut it out. You know what to do now.” And so then they can put on that mom or dad voice that I was talking about. I just don’t… I think it’s unnecessary. I think it’s a really unnecessary tool to reward a kid for a normal bodily function.

Potty training advice

Jessica: That makes so much sense to hear that perspective. Any final advice you have for our listeners? You’ve been so informative today.

Jamie: Yes, my closing words are, this is not a measurement of your parenting, don’t make it one. Don’t measure your parenting. Your kid… The hardest thing about potty training is it’s a crystal ball into your kid’s learning curve. This is the first time you are concretely actively the teacher with your child with only one desirable outcome. Okay. And so what happens is if your child struggles, it pings you emotionally and you feel like a failure. It’s not the case. Your kid might struggle. It’s okay to reach out and get help. I have 375 blog posts about potty training. I have 47 YouTube videos. I’m on Instagram. I’m doing a whole series on Instagram IGTV. I have tons of resources. Just reach out and get help. But do not take this on personally. This is not a measurement of your parenting.

Jessica: Well, thank you so much, Jamie, for being with us. It’s been such a pleasure to meet the person behind this famous book. It’s been so great. Thank you.

Jamie: Awesome.

There you have it: Potty training how-to from a woman who has written a best-selling book on the topic! You can find more tips on the Lovevery blog.


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Posted in: 16 - 18 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, Potty, Child Development, Behavior, Parenting

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