Potty Training Tips from a Pro - part 3: Communication Guide for parents.

Our parenting consultant shares great potty training tips from her doctrine and on-the-job knowledge

Seeking professional potty training tips I went to speak with Alona, an experienced parenting consultant, to get an expert point of view.

In this part of our conversation Alona shares important guidelines for communicating with children about toilet training.

You'll find here the following topics:

  • Using 'rewards' in potty training
  • Encouraging kids to take responsibility on their potty training
  • How to manage potty training resistance, and how to respond "properly"
  • And some insights about setting boundaries

Alona's potty training tips are based on the Adler approach, as well as on her own professional view.

(I’ve edited the conversation to appear in a structured manner ordered by topics.)


Alona Oren:

Family Consultant certified by "Maagalim" Psychology Institute and the Ministry of Education (Israel) * Parenting Facilitator certified by Adler Institute and the Ministry of Education (Israel)

Alona bases her work widely on the Adlerian psychology school (see Adlerian psychology--Wikipedia), and combines other approaches such as behavioral - cognitive psychology and Imago Relationship Therapy.

The information presented in this page is based on a two-hours 'interview' I conducted with Alona on January 2012.

Alona begins: Let’s talk about how we deal with difficulties and resistance in potty training.

First I want to say something about rewards and punishments, because the issue of giving rewards often comes up in potty training tips.

Rewards and Punishments

She emphasizes: We never punish on potty training accidents, toilet refusal, or any behavior related to toilet training.

As a general 'rule' in the Adler approach we avoid punishments, and even more so in the context of toilet training.

The Adler approach doesn’t believe in ‘rewards’ either (materialistic rewards). We use other ways to motivate (we’ll talk about it shortly).

A punishment in Alona’s view is any parental-response that degrades the child or sends a message “I’m disappointment of you”.

In that sense - saying the wrong thing, using a reprimanding tone, or even giving the child a look of disappointment - is a sort of punishment. We need to control our reactions as much as possible, though it can be very hard sometimes.

How should parents respond to potty training resistance?
Here are specific guidelines (Adler approach)

Alona suggests these potty training tips -- sort of "response guidelines" -- for managing potty training resistance, toilet refusal, recurring “accidents” and general setbacks in training:

  • No punishing and no reprimanding.
  • We need to work hard to avoid showing disappointment, i.e. using a disappointed tone, or even a disappointed look.
  • If we're frustrated -- same here: hide it from the child. (that’s what spouses are for)
  • Keep encouraging all the time. Express confidence in our child. Say: “I know you’ll be able to do it when you are ready”. We do it for as long as it takes.
  • The Adler approach emphasizes the value of choice:

    If a child refuses to sit on the toilet and keeps asking for a diaper every time he wants to make poo, the message from the parent should be:

    It’s OK that you’re choosing the diaper right now. When you decide to make poo in the toilet – I know you will succeed”.
  • Understand that the child sees himself through his parents’ eyes: If we inspire confidence and communicate “I know you can do this” – it will gradually sink in. If we express frustration and disappointment, our child will experience himself as such.

These guidelines require us to be self-aware as parents. They also require self-control and the ability to manage our reactions from a conscious place.

Potty Training Tips for motivating and encouraging + what to do instead of offering rewards

Instead of giving a reward for desired behavior, the Adler approach believes in letting the child experience the natural pleasant outcome of his actions.

Alona explains:

Let’s say that the child made poo in the toilet for the first time. How should we respond to his success?

Letting him experience the natural-outcome-of-his-success means showing that we're happy and proud of him. So we clap hands, praise him and express genuine enthusiasm.

We also encourage him to feel proud of himself.

For instance: “I’m so proud of you! Are you proud of yourself? You should be proud! Well done!!”

We can even make a bigger fuss and throw a little party when the child succeeds.

Responding like this, we let the child experience his success in a natural way. It's the alternative for rewarding with prizes.


Alona concludes the issue of rewards/prizes: I look at rewards as external motivation. And I don’t want that for a behavior such as toilet habits, which should be the child’s responsibility on a daily basis.

In a way, when parents give a prize for toilet behavior - the responsibility remains in their hands. Whereas the idea is to hand the responsibility over to the child.

The next section talks about that.

Potty training tips ** Handing-over responsibility

In the above section Alona explained how we can let children experience the natual pleasant result of making pee or poo in the toilet.

Here she explains how we can use it vice versa, when facing potty training resistance and power-struggles from the child:

We can motivate kids to step up and take responsibility for their toileting behavior, by allowing them to experience the natural unpleasant outcome of not being toilet-trained.

Just to be clear -- we’re not talking here about any sort of punishment. (punishments are not part of potty training.)

Allowing kids to experience the unpleasant results of their behavior is really about:

  • Teaching responsibility and handing over the responsibility from me (the parent) - to the child.
  • Motivating the child to "grow" and take charge of his toieting. Helping him realize that soiling and wetting doesn’t pay off.

How do we do that? - We always go for the natural outcome.


Below are some examples.

Important note: The next potty training tips don’t apply to children who’ve just started training.
These tips are relevant in case of continuous behavior, when potty training has been 'stuck' for a while -- Usually related to power-struggles.

Example #1:

We’re at a play date. My son has wetted his pants several times since we got there, and I have no more clean clothes with me.

Instead of worrying that he might feel uncomfortable, or borrowing clothes from the friend's mom -- Alona suggests something different:

Say to him “I’m sorry, but I don’t have another pair of dry underpants with me…”

We do need to be sensitive here: Consider child’s maturity and other parameters, and use our intuition to know when we can make it work.

Be emphatic to the child and don't shame him. Ask him if he wants to stop the playdate and go home to change. And if you do end up going home with him -- don't return to the friend's house on the same day.

(unpleasant outcome..)

Example #2:

In certain scenarios we may decide it makes sense, asking the child to clean up after having a potty training accident.

For instance: if he’s wetted the floor, I could ask him to take a mug and help me clean it up.

Alona gives this story as an interesting example: What happened when a certain mom told her 3-year-old to wash herself up when she makes poo in the diaper -- after she had refused for several months to sit on the toilet.


Insights from these potty training tips:

Why is it important that we respect and keep parental boundaries?

As parents, it’s important that we stand our ground and protect our own personal boundaries.

In Adler approach it is called “kind assertiveness”: I'm standing my ground as a parent, but I do so with kindness and empathy to my child. I'm showing respect to myself, and to my child.

The mom in the story did it well: "I'm respecting your choice to make poo in the diaper, but you're a big girl, and I don't want to clean you up afterwards, it's unpleasant to me".

And she insisted that her daughter shared some of the work.

By respecting and keeping our personal boundaries we gain these advantages:

  1. We maintain our own well-being, which keeps us from getting angry, and from (potentially) lashing out on the kids.
  2. We send a message to the child about responsibility: deal with the results of your behavior.

    Choice and consequences: "I respect your choice to make poo in the diaper, but if you choose to do that then you have to wash yourself up.”


This all goes back to Handing-over responsibility.

More potty training tips -- Appendix: How can we tell the reason behind resistance?

I’m asking Alona: You’ve spoken here a number of times about toilet resistance coming from a place of retaining control, a power-struggle, etc. How can we tell that it’s really about that?

Alona: Many times it has to do with control, but as a mom I would look at the “big picture” and ask myself questions like:

How does my child behave in other aspects?

Is he usually cooperative? Do I see power struggles in other “frontiers”?

It also requires us to be self-aware and examine our parenting style: Do we often use dominant language in our home? Phrases like “You’ll do what I say because I said so”?

(Editor’s comment: The Adler approach believes in cultivating parent-child relationship that is based on cooperation. Alona mentioned before that when the parents often use dominant language, the children are more likely to struggle to retain control, when they can.)

If I see that my child is otherwise mature and usually cooperative, and I suspect his toilet resistance has to do with anxiety, I can try to find out by asking him:

“Why do you think you don’t like to make poo in the toilet?” But keep it an open question. Don’t put words in his mouth.

Ask him if he would like to try a potty, a potty seat or a training-toilet.

Also, see what happens when he’s out of the house: Does he use the toilet in other places?

There can be different things in the background that affect the child’s behavior and his learning process. The main thing we can do as parents is to be aware. Open our eyes to:

  • WHAT we communicate to our child about potty training and “toileting”
  • HOW we communicate about potty training
  • Is there something in our conduct (in toilet training) that gives him reasons to be anxious? Is he worried about disappoint us, etc.
  • Is it possible he’s picked up negative messages from us about toileting? (Like ‘disgusting’, ‘unnatural’? -- doesn’t mean we’ve said it, only that he has somehow absorbed it.)


Other than being aware, Alona recommends:

Don't over-engage in the toilet difficulties or toilet training in general. Keep praising the small successes, but also - make sure the homelife don’t revolve around “toileting”.

Interested in more potty training tips from a pro?

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