Stress-Free Potty Training

A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child

 Stress-Free Potty Training

Authors: Sara Au, Peter L. Stavinoha
Pub Date: October 2015
Print Edition: $14.95
Print ISBN: 9780814436660
Page Count: 224
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814436677

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Introduction and Philosophy

If someone came to you one day and said you couldn’t use a toilet anymore,

that you had to use this newfangled thing that was nearly as big as

you are and made loud, scary noises! You’d probably be a little confused

and intimidated.

Does this perspective give you some idea of what your child is

about to experience? Good! That’s what this book is all about: Helping

parents view things from a child’s point of view. Potty training should be

stress free for parents, and (as much as possible) for kids, too! Stressing

about this major milestone will only harm the process, bog it down, and

eventually, derail it. So, in keeping it stress free, you are doing what’s best

for your son or daughter.

You—being the conscientious parent that you are—want to go about

potty training in a careful, thoughtful way that considers your child’s individual

needs. You know this is a big step and you want to make it as

easy and comfortable for your “baby” as possible. You’ve probably heard

horror stories from other parents and want to avoid getting into those

kinds of situations yourself. In short, you want to do right by your child.

Our Philosophy

Our methods are not tricks we guarantee will work in a prescribed

amount of time. Nor do we give you step-by-step directions that if followed

result in absolute certain success. Parents do not control this process,

nor do we really control any process with our children. That might

sound shocking, but get used to the idea that you are not really in charge

here. Our philosophy is that as parents we can manage and influence the

training, but that children themselves control it. They have their own natural

pace at which they will learn to use the toilet. Through thoughtful

planning and effective communication with your unique child, you are

setting the stage for your child to own the process and be successful at it.

If you’re like many parents, you may feel overwhelmed at the

thought of starting to potty train. Unlike riding a bike, you probably have

no memories of learning bathroom skills as a child, so how can you teach

them to your son or daughter? To boot, others (maybe your mother- or

sister-in-law, or that oh-so-helpful neighbor . . .) are often watching over

your shoulder, which can leave you anxious and unsure in your abilities

to handle this fundamental parenting task.

You’re not sure about the hype of those train-in-one-day programs,

but on the other hand, can’t imagine doing nothing until your child decides

to do train on his own. After all, he has no trouble walking around

in a wet or dirty diaper for hours. What all this tells you, is that you can’t

start by planning on the exact amount of time it is going to take to train!

(Talk about setting yourself up for failure.) Every child potty trains differently;

besides, even those one-day methods take a great deal more days

in preparation.

We believe toileting proficiency is one of the most important skills

you’ll teach your child, fundamental to personal hygiene, health, even

social relationships for the rest of his/her life. Being comfortable with

one’s own body starts with this first foray into being responsible for oneself.

So, you don’t want to rush in headlong without a thoughtful plan. We

recognize, of course, that you don’t want to dilly dally either. You want

to instruct your child in the most insightful, caring way possible, and to

do that you must take his or her individual personality into account.

But where to begin? You don’t want to miss your window of opportunity

with your toddler, but you don’t want to force the issue too

early and short-circuit the whole process either.

Welcome to the real world of parenting, where there’s no magical

solution to any tough issue, just advice from experts and veteran parents,

a multitude of proven strategies and tons of moral support, and of course,

your own instincts and knowledge of your child—the most important


In fact, you already have the knowledge you need to help your toddler

potty train; you just may need to be pointed in the right direction.

You know your child best. You know everything about him. You know

his likes and dislikes, what motivates him most, and the signs he’s reached

his breaking point. For example:

You know if you get him up and out the door before 9 a.m. he’ll be

in a great mood all morning, but if you dally and miss the window of

opportunity, he’ll become cranky an hour before his regular naptime.

You know it takes her a good 15 minutes to warm up to anyone besides

you and your spouse, even her beloved grandparents.

You know how to say “no” in many different ways, because if you just

came out and said it flatly, he’d double his efforts to do whatever is off


You know she’ll be climbing on top of your childless friend’s brandnew

glass coffee table before your visit is over.

You know he’ll copy anything his 5-year-old cousin does.

You already know this and much more about your child. You’re the

expert. Believe it or not, these are the keys to unlock that potty-training


Our Approach

What Stress-Free Potty Training does is channel that knowledge and helps

you figure out what kind of approach will work best. Dr. Pete Stavinoha,

a dad and pediatric neuropsychologist, will give you a peek inside your

child’s mind and help you potty train based on his or her individual personality.

Sara Au, a mom and parenting writer, has culled together experiences

from other parents across the country who are either in the midst

of or have recently finished potty training their children.

We know your child is unique, special, and already has his or her

own individual personality. The kinds of attempts that may have worked

for your sister (or sister-in-law!), your neighbors or your friends, make

you shake your head in defeat because you know those things won’t

work for your child. And you know what? You’re probably right! Children

don’t all respond alike, especially when it comes to something as

personal as potty training. What prods one child in the direction of the

bathroom could just as often cause another to run screaming in the other


Child psychiatrists Drs. Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas are frequently

credited with bringing to bear modern views of temperament

in children. Over the past fifty years, researchers have identified a number

of characteristics that describe how children interact with the people and

world around them. Whereas scientists are not in complete agreement

about what to call the individual traits that make up temperament, developmental

psychologists tend to agree that temperament consists of a

group of brain-based, inborn characteristics that guide a person’s reaction

to the world and provide a basis for the development of personality. So,

two children with two different temperaments may respond very differently

in the very same situation—each is responding to stimuli in part

according to their unique temperament.

In digesting the science of temperament for this book, we have

grounded our temperament types according to several common traits

identified by researchers over the years. We’ve tried to break these down

into commonsense temperament types that every parent will be able to

recognize. Dr. Pete created five typical categories—Goal-Oriented,

Sensory-Oriented, Internalizing, Impulsive, and Strong-Willed—and advises

specific ways your child will best receive potty-training lessons.

Keep in mind, most people have characteristics of a number of temperaments,

so don’t be surprised if your child shows strong elements of two

or even three temperament types. This is actually pretty common and, in

fact, helpful because it will mean you will have more strategies at your


We start with a short quiz to help you figure out where you are

with your child and your particular situation. We’ve left lots of room for

your notes in this section, as potty training is a very fluid (no pun intended)

process. Next, we outline a number of Universal Strategies you

can implement and steps you can take regardless of your child’s personality.

Some of these are very subtle changes; many involve changing your

own behavior.

From there, we take you through the five different personality types

and help you determine where to start with your child. Please remember,

however, that these personality types are generalizations, and your child

may not fall squarely in one camp or another. It may be that he or she

exhibits the hallmarks of more than one type. Or, you may even see some

other personality traits, latent until now, come to the surface during this

profound change of life. For example, a child who is normally very laid

back might decide to exercise her right to keep tight control over her own

bodily functions when you try to potty train her. Often, this would be a

sign she’s not ready to toilet train, but sometimes it stems from an underlying

strong will that as yet hadn’t had a reason to show itself. In this case,

while you’d originally have placed her in the Goal-Directed category,

you’d now want to place her in the Strong-Willed category, and the approaches

to potty training vary a great deal between the two. Since we

know you are the expert here, we leave it up to you to decide which steps

may resonate more fully with your individual child. We’d like you to read

through the entire book before making a decision of how to begin.

After reading this book, many of you may set about potty training

in a very different way than you’d ever have expected. Some of you may

have to double back and reassess the category or categories into which

your child falls. But all of you will gain some insight into your child’s


Throughout this book, segments called “Potty Talk” will offer ideas

for specific dialogues to use with your child. We provide these because

a parent’s words, tone, and attitude convey strong messages to a child in

training These suggested dialogues are just that—suggestions. Use them

if you like them, change them to fit your own children—both in terms

of their age and understanding of words—and make them fit your own

situation. These dialogue examples should just get you started.

What’s New in the Second Edition

Stress-Free Potty Training was first published in 2008 and became an immediate

success. It has now sold more than 35,000 copies. While the act

of potty training a child hasn’t changed over the years, many new approaches

to it are being taken today. This revised, updated, and expanded

Second Edition reflects these approaches and adds concepts and information

that our readers have told us they would like to see.

For example, one of the most common questions from parents was

about children who show lots of interest in potty training early, only to

lose interest the moment the parent becomes invested in the process. In

response, Chapter 2 includes a new section on this frustrating problem. In

Chapter 3, you will find new material on using apps and websites to help

in training your child. This section also includes a discussion of the dangers

of disseminating potty-training photos and videos through social media.

Major changes to this edition are also reflected in a reorganization

and update of Chapter 3, “Apply Universal Strategies,” with four new

approaches offered: keeping perspective, communicating clearly, giving

good directions, and acting like a coach. Further, Chapter 9 has been

renamed and completely overhauled, now dealing with the various types

of interruptions to potty training—illness, vacation, moving a new baby,

divorce—that can negatively affect a child, and offering tips on how to

handle these issues.

A completely new Chapter 10, “Overcoming Challenges and Obstacles,”

has been added to this edition as well. The chapter examines

some of the most common types of problems parents and children face,

such as refusal, withholding, and delays in skill acquisition—that can negatively

impact the child and family. An especially insidious hurdle explored

in this discussion is constipation. as Dr. Pete takes you through its

psychological, as well as possible medical causes, and ways you can help

your child overcome them. Finally, the chapter includes information

about sensory issues that can complicate the way children learn how to

go on the toilet.

A Few Important Notes

No one can force another human being to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.

If your child offers fierce resistance to any of our suggested tactics,

back off immediately. You may need to reevaluate his or her readiness,

personality type, or any outside concerns. Or perhaps you’ll just need to

try another of our suggested approaches. Remember, your role is to influence

and manage potty training, but you cannot control it.

To avoid sounding repetitive or wordy, we switch up our pronoun

use from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph. In the sections

where we discuss information specific to boys or girls, we’ll clearly spell

that out for you.

There are an infinite number of factors affecting your child’s interest,

or non-interest, in toileting. (For example, one child was so set on

imitating his dad peeing into a urinal that his mom had to first break him

of the urge to spray the bathroom wall before she could get him to pee

into the toilet.) We attempt to address as many as possible in this book, but

by no means have we imagined every possible scenario. Take the advice

in this book as a guideline, use what you like, and leave what you don’t.

Relax, you are potty training the stress-free way! We promise your

child will not go off to college in diapers. She or he will learn how to go

to the bathroom in a socially acceptable way. With careful, thoughtful

help from you—the most important person in his/her life—they will get

through this transitional period of life with flying colors!

Let’s get started!

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