A Little Friendly Potty Motivation
How to Use Peers for Potty Training Success
6/2/2008 | by
By Teri Brown
Potty training motivation can come from the most unlikely places: a grandma with a sweet treat, the desire to be like an older sibling or a tempting pair of underwear. But perhaps nothing is as unexpected as when a peer inspires a child to use the potty. My son was almost 3 when he noticed his friend’s potty chair. It excited him that someone else was trying to go potty like a “big boy.” This was just the spark he needed to get inspired, and by the end of the month, he and his friend were both potty trained!
According to Clair Bainer, co-director of the Association of Children’s Services, the only National Association for the Education of Young Children accredited child care center in Oakland, Calif., this type of motivation isn’t unusual.
“Children are always watching each other and learning from each other,” Bainer says. “It is quite common for one child in a nursery school group to learn to use the potty and for the other to notice and want to copy. Having the power to put your pee in a pot is, after all, a pretty interesting trick.”
Bainer is quick to point out that if a child is really not ready developmentally – that is, having no awareness and could care less if he is wet or dry – he probably is not going to be too interested no matter who he is watching.
“The natural progression of child development usually brings children to a heightened interest in their peers around the age of 2 1/2 to 3 years,” Bainer says. “That is why this can be a particularly easy age for children in groups to learn to use the potty. Once a few children are using the toilet, the blooming social drive within the child causes him to want to do what the others are doing and his physical development is likely to be ready to manage the muscles involved as well.”
Using the Peer Advantage
Bainer says children imitate each other of their own free will. Kids are so intuitive that the easiest method for using peers as motivators is to simply put them in the same area where there is toileting going on. You don’t even have to suggest that they watch or notice – the child will notice!
While potty training, children are usually interested in all things that have to do with the potty. It’s a focus for them. Seeing others who are trying to do the same thing can be a great motivator. If your child is in daycare or preschool, this is often easy to do as many children are in the process of potty training. If your child has a friend the same age, consider mentioning the potty you see in the bathroom when you wash their hands for snack. Letting your child know they aren’t alone in this new venture can make all the difference in the world.
Proceed with Caution
Bainer says this form of motivation must be used carefully.
“There is a very fine line between commenting on another child’s accomplishment and making negative comparisons between children,” Bainer says. “The parent, most of all, needs to remember that the process must belong to the child.”
It’s important that positive peer imitation doesn’t become negative peer pressure. Negative peer pressure is something they can get from friends who have already been potty trained. It comes in the form of name calling, such as “baby,” when a child has an accident. While parents can’t prevent all negative peer pressure in their children’s lives, they can make sure they don’t contribute to it by making unfair comparisons, such as, “Jimmy is going to the potty in his potty chair like a big boy, why can’t you?”
Dr. Linda Sonna is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Taos, N.M. She says that the way parents use peer imitation is very important.
“Saying, ‘Oh, you’re using the potty like Johnny does!’ builds on a child’s desire to be like his peers,” Dr. Sonna says. “But negative comparisons can tear your child down, no matter how they are meant or said.”
Dr. Sonna notes that if your child does have a special friend who is also potty training, it may give your child a sense of pride and accomplishment to let your child call their friend after a potty training success.
“The trick is to avoid peer pressure and peer comparisons, which can be problematic, and build on their innate desire for peer imitation,” says Dr. Sonna. “By creating opportunities for peer imitation, you are doing something positive for your child’s potty training success.”
Do’s and Don’ts of Using Peer Motivation in Potty Training
- Do create opportunities for peer imitation. Play groups, preschools and play dates with other children who are potty training are all good occasions for peer imitation.
- Don’t compare your child with others who are already potty trained.
- Do make the most of your child noticing a potty chair in someone else’s bathroom. Mentioning the potty chair in a positive manner, such as, “Oh, Sally is potty training, too!” lets your child know they are not alone.
- Do let your child call a friend when they have potty training success. This helps reinforce their sense of accomplishment.