Partners and Potty Training: 5 Best Practices


partners and potty training

I always love when I get on the phone with a client and both parents want to be involved in the consult.  We each have different roles, perspectives, and relationships with our child, and each parent can provide unique insight into the potty training process.

I’ve seen many cases of “trying to help” becoming stepping on each other’s toes, increasing pressure, or creating discord.  This can cause household distress, and cause potty training itself to go awry.  With some small adjustments and careful planning, this does not have to be the case.  These tips can apply to spouses, in-laws, nannies – anyone who helps to care for your child, especially in your home.

Here are some simple ways to make potty training with a partner smoother.

  1. Get on the same team.  Have a chat about potty training – why you’re doing it, why now, what it means for the daily schedule, what kinds of expectations to have about messes – you get the idea.  Find out if they have reservations about the process – air them out and agree on a plan to move forward.  While it is *possible* to potty train if your spouse is not on board, it is *so* helpful to have everyone on the same page.  Having this kind of open conversation from the beginning sets the stage for being able to have productive conversations later – if you feel the need to change course, etc.
  2. Have a trade-off plan. Overprompting can have *such* detrimental effects while potty training.  I’ve talked with so many parents frustrated that they *just* prompted their child, when their spouse walks into the room and starts prompting too – then the child feels pressured, and it can just goes downhill from there.  So it’s best to make an agreement: when Parent B enters into the room, assume Parent A has things under control, even if it doesn’t look like it.  Your child might obviously have to pee.  If it’s that obvious, chances are, Parent A has already prompted.  Instead of jumping in, ask how and if you can help, or stand back to observe the situation first. This avoids pressure on the child from overprompting, and avoids conflict between parents in front of the child.  Which brings us to the next point…..
  3. Save your potty training conflicts for later.  If you find yourself not on the same page with your partner, don’t show that disagreement in front of your child.  Wait until after bedtime or when you have some privacy – and always maintain an eye towards finding a constructive solution.  It’s ok to provide a calm, non-judgmental update in front of your child: “Henry pooped on the potty about an hour ago, and he’ll probably have to pee soon.  You might want to keep an eye on that.”  But otherwise, keep disagreements for later.  Show a united front to your child.
  4. Tell them how they can help. Sometimes, helping with potty training means that your partner is not *actually* potty training.  Sometimes, helping means that they take care of other tasks, so that your focus can be clear.  Maybe they could take care of dinner, errands, cleaning, or other tasks.  In some cases, additional adults can even be detrimental to the process.  Imagine being a small child learning a new task in a room full of big adults ALL thinking about your bodily processes.  I have seen just the addition of an extra adult – especially if there’s not consistency in approach – translate into pressure for the child.  If you anticipate this – say, you know your partner will be anxious about potty training - make a plan for 1 adult to be home (or in the room) at a time.  One person can do the bulk of the potty training, or you can trade off, but on-on-one is often best.
  5. Give them a cheat sheet. If you’re not steeped in the day-to-day aspects of potty training, it can be hard to step in and know what is most important to focus on at any given moment.  I will never forget my husband coming home, taking over potty training while I cooked dinner, and turning around to see my daughter running to me for help with the potty – all the way from the other side of the house – not getting to me in time, peeing on our tile floor while running, slipping and bonking her head.  Horrible as it was at the time, it was a small bump in the road.  But it really helped me to see the gaps in what I’d communicated to him (or not) about the process.  To help keep everyone on the same page, it can help to make a quick, written cheat sheet so you don’t forget any important points.  Bonus: If you buy “Oh Crap Potty Training” the book (click image below) or attend one of my classes, you will have a free, block-by-block cheat sheet for easy reference!

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