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Potty Training and Parent Pie

A lot of parents express that they’re at their wits’ end with potty training. They say they have tried everything from rewards and charts, to stickers, bribes and positive reinforcement, and NOTHING has worked!

This is a difficult situation, and not unusual, especially for boys. A child can be well into the potty training process, then for one reason or another, a new baby comes along, or something completely different happens, and potty training either stops, or begins having set backs.

It’s normal for a child to regress a bit when a major life event happens. It’s common when a new baby arrives for an older child to begin having accidents or to wish to return to baby status by being in diapers again.

Most of the time the reason why this happens lies in the way the child has interpreted things through his immature reasoning. When that happens, I suggest parents begin by looking at the situation through the eyes of a child. Parents begin potty training when they sense their child is ready and able to potty train. Success happens partly because the child is enjoying the praise and love his parents send him when he’s successful. This praise is a subconscious emotional pay-off that works to support his success with potty training, until it gets misinterpreted when baby #2 comes along.

What is “Parent Pie”?

When a second baby arrives an older child may begin having more potty accidents than his potty successes. Parents see that as failing at potty training. The truth is the potty training hasn’t failed, the child’s focus has just shifted.

The child used to get a pay off from the praise associated with his potty training successes, and now when issues crop up, he (most likely) begins getting his pay off from the comments made about his lack of success.

There’s a good reason why this happens; I called it Parent Pie. To a child, the amount of positive attention and emotional energy a parent gives feels like a fabulous snack that he loves and craves, it’s like getting a slice of a delicious “Parent Pie.” The problem is, due to his immature reasoning, he also perceives getting negative attention as a slice of Parent Pie too; it’s just a smaller slice.

Think about how you handle things when you’re disappointed that your child has had an accident? You stop what you’re doing, look him in the eyes, and lower your voice to show him you mean business. In other words, you completely focus on him, and he eats it up. That’s a lot of Parent Pie!

He knows, because he experiences it everyday, that his lack of success on the potty keeps mom occupied with him. His immature reasoning incorrectly has him concluding that mom is choosing him over the baby.

This is not something that only occurs with sibling rivalry or potty training. Parent Pie can happen with any issue since it’s all about your child’s effort to get more of your focused attention.

The Potty Training Solution

Potty training becomes a success when a child makes the connection between a full bladder, the need to stop playing so he can go potty, and the fact that this is his responsibility, not his parent’s.

In order for that to happen, a parent needs to stop being in charge of the toileting like they did when he was in diapers. As soon as you know that your child has the basic knowledge and experience to go potty, let go. Become uninterested. Adopt the attitude that he’ll go potty when he goes potty. Stop any negative comments so the child isn’t gaining Parent Pie through negative attention. Don’t mention accidents, don’t give lectures, make no comments, nothing. Just silently help him change or clean up, or if he’s old enough, let him do it himself.

Boundaries When Wet

Of course you can set boundaries about being wet. You can say, “You can’t sit on my sofa when you’re wet, pull up a chair.” Or, “I can’t give you a hug because you’re wet, but I can give you an air hug.” You’re not punishing him for being wet; you’re just giving him boundaries because he’s wet.

A Sneaky Tip

Consider loading him up with water, juice and popsicles to fill his bladder so he gets the opportunity to be successful as often as possible. And since rewards haven’t worked up to this point, don’t give him rewards when he succeeds, or you’ll be setting him up to believe the normal things you’re supposed to do in life all come with rewards, and they don’t!

I’m not saying you should ignore him when he has an accident; I’m simply suggesting that you become aware of your words in order to watch the amount of negative attention your child is digesting with his Parent Pie.

Sharon Silver is the author of ‘Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be,‘ and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10. Find her on Twitter and Facebook. This article originated on Circle of Moms

Photo Credit: Tom Morris

29 Responses to “Potty Training and Parent Pie”

  1. Donna

    So many great points..I feel that one of most important things with potty training is consistency. If you take a "sometimes" approach, it will take so much longer to potty train. Also, when one technique doesn't work, keep trying and don't show your frustration.

  2. Adele

    Children having "accidents" is sometimes an attempt to garner parental attention. When they receive the attention, they are getting exactly what they are looking for. Not good. In these cases, it is best to just accept it happened and move on, so the children don't use it as a tool to get attention.

  3. Cathy D

    Great suggestions and advice! I found with my second child (very strong-willed), it was easiest to let her go at her own pace. Some days she would be all about the potty and very proud of herself for going! Other days (most days), she didn’t want me to even mention it to her! As much as I didn’t like buying diapers, I also didn’t like being in the grocery store line with a wet child! So, like I said, I let her pace herself. I gave her lots of positive reinforcement and encouragment along the way but followed her lead. Suddenly, almost overnight, there has been little to no need for diapers and only one or two “accidents” (which usually involved #2 and she’s still trying to get used to that one, I think!) 🙂

  4. Tari Lawson

    This article didn't sit right with me. I think like any strategy, it will work for some but not all. I potty trained two boys and did so very differently each time based on the child. I think it is important to take cues from your child and not force them to train on your schedule. I know with both boys, we started training but then realized that they were not really ready and stopped. When we started again months later they were ready and trained very quickly. If you find yourself fighting with your child, then give it a break and just stop, take some time off, regroup and try again later. There is not right or wrong age to become a potty user.

  5. Katharine D

    I agree- you can only train when they are physically ready to train and that is different for every child. People put WAY too much pressure on kids these days to conform to a set time when they are supposed to be doing something, relax and enjoy the ride because it really will all go by so fast. And don't set them up to fail, I can't tell you how many times I have seen boys dressed in pants with a zipper and button and belt. Pull on easy up and down pant are a MUST for potty training. Finally I will say that ditching the pull-up training pants for the coveted dinosaur underwear motivated my boys more than anything I could say or do. Once they had the underwear of their dreams on they wanted nothing more than to keep them clean and dry.

  6. Jenny Lloyd

    Wonderful advice that I am going to put to work! We are in the midst of potty training and have tried EVERYTHING, excpet what is mentioned above. Knowing my son's personality I feel this might work.

  7. Amanda Adams

    Am a month in to potty training my boy he is 17 month and seems to be catching on for the peeing part. Since he is too small to pull down his pants we will let him run around with out a diaper( we dont have much carpet or rugs) he will stop and go pee about 90% of the time but he only has about a 2% success rate with the pooping. so he will go some where squant down and poop. How do we stop this?

  8. Kerry

    My son potty trained late (almost 3) because we were both lazy, but boy once he was ready, he just got it! We did the naked from the waist down road and it only took him two days to catch on that his pee and poop had to go in the toilet!


    My oldest wasn't "fully" potty-trained until he was 3.5. He knew what to do, but he would get SO involved in playing that he just wouldn't stop to go on the potty. Once he was ready, though – TRULY ready, he did really well.
    My little one is 2.5….she doesn't have a whole lot of interest in potty training just yet. Funny that I'm reading this today – I just bought a pack of pull-ups to try out with her. I was going to entice her with some special big-girl underwear as the end prize…..we'll see how she does with the pull-ups for now. Trying to remember not to push too hard. Thanks for the great tips!

  10. Sharon

    I agree with Tari Lawson. Always, Always, Always, in-all-ways, follow your child's lead.
    If you're able to potty train at 17 months, go ahead.
    If you need to wait till 3, then do that.
    IMHO there is no "late" to potty train past the age of 3.5.
    Boys ABSOLUTELY take longer than girls.
    The key to potty training is to take clues from your child. If you're frustrated and angry, and your child doesn't seem to care, take a break for a while.
    The only thing I CAN promise about potty training is they won't be wearing a diaper when they enter middle school!!!

  11. ashley rexrode

    i am potty training my 26 month old daughter right now and this is very helpful thanks!!!

  12. Alena Bejenarou

    These are great pieces of advice! We are getting closer to it and I really agree to just mostly relax and let the child lead the way, guiding him slightly. I love the advice about not punishing him but slightly setting boundaries- GREAT! Definitely will try that!
    Thank you so much!j

    Alena Bejenarou

  13. Mary Dailey

    We all know each child is different when it comes to potty training. When they are kind of hit or miss, try getting some training panties and for some reason they don't want to mess up those cute panties and start telling you they need to go. It really works!

  14. Carolyn Gates

    Thank you for a great article, my 3 1/2 year old refuses to use either potty, very frustrating, along with everyone's questions on why he isn't using the big boy potty, I tell them to ask him.

  15. Veronica Garrett

    These are very beneficial tips. Most parents need help with potty training. These tips would help parents instead of trying to potty train on their own.

  16. Jacklyn Stogden

    My wife and i got excited when Raymond managed to finish off his homework through the ideas he got from your own blog. It’s not at all simplistic to just find yourself freely giving techniques that the rest may have been trying to sell. We know we now have the blog owner to be grateful to because of that. These explanations you’ve made, the easy website menu, the friendships you can aid to promote – it’s got all exceptional, and it’s really aiding our son and the family imagine that that idea is thrilling, and that is quite mandatory. Thank you for everything!

  17. Kammy W.

    I'm going to get eaten' alive with my comments here, but hear me out. I think my success proves my point by the way, both my boys (now 3 and 5) potty trained at 26 months old. My oldest was trained in 2 days, and my 2nd was trained in 5 days. Accident free. We have turned this into such a psychological issue. It's not. Pee and poop in the toilet. It's what we're going to do now. Yes, we showered praise on them, they got a treat EVERY time they went, and we completely got RID OF DIAPERS. no pull ups, nothing. It's big boy underwear from here on out. Putting a diaper back on them sends a confusing message. If they pee in their pants, let them know it is NOT OKAY. I even gave them a little swat. Have they been scarred for life? No. I was trained the same way. I also asked both my boys the other day if they remember any of it and guess what, shock upon shock, they didn't. Neither one of them ever wore a pull up in their little life, and the only one who ever has had an accident is my 3 year old, but maybe only 2 in the last year. If you want to read the article I have on my blog from Dr. Rosemond, I think it explains how we over analyze these teaching moments, I urge you to read it!

  18. Victoria

    I've had such pressure from family to potty train my son. I refuse to yell at him or make him feel bad. But others are making me feel like a bad mom. Sometimes I don't know what else to do because rewards haven't been working, like mentioned in the article. I'm going to take the advice to just let go. I really think it's the best thing to do for my son and myself. Thank you for this!


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