Emotional Stages and Ditching the Diapers

Child standing in bathroomPotty training can be a nerve-wracking time for parents and kids alike. It brings up the same questions as other milestones such as walking and talking: Is my child ready? What’s taking so long? Is something wrong? Pediatric specialists have identified several “emotional prime times” that affect children’s likelihood to leave diapers behind.


At 1 or 2 years old, a toddler may want to be “in control” by walking and reaching items without your help. This is an ideal time to begin potty training; however, during this phase, a child may choose to exert bodily control by “holding it,” urinating in inappropriate places, or hiding when he/ she needs to go. Experts advise parents to refrain from rewarding these behaviors with too much attention. Clean up the messes without complaint and wait for a later phase to try the potty again.


A potty-trained child may have occasional setbacks due to stress or fear. Major life changes like a new home, new baby, or divorce can make a child seek to “regain control” by refusing to use the toilet or withholding. Inner stresses, such as fears springing from a rapidly expanding imagination, can have the same effect. Pediatricians recommend caregivers encountering this resistance to ask children what’s upsetting them, talk through their fears, and then relax expectations for a while. With the help of caring adults, they can pass through this stage and return to toilet training when ready.

Desire for Approval

Before they’re even a year old, little ones begin assembling a mental database of actions that win approval and actions that do not, based on their parents’ reactions. If they haven’t been potty-trained by age 3-and-a-half, when body-control issues are resolved, parents can take advantage of their desire for positive reinforcement. Verbal praise, sticker charts, and other forms of encouragement can do the trick.

Social Awareness

If all else fails, toddlers’ desire to be like their peers may be a main motivating factor to stop using diapers. At 18 months, they may be inspired to use the toilet like their older siblings do. By 2-and-a-half or 3 years old, children notice gender differences and focus on mimicking adults of the same sex. Unlike those who are influenced by family members, some children are motivated by potty-trained daycare or preschool playmates using the bathroom. A final resort is to point out casually, but not critically, that most of their classmates aren’t wearing diapers anymore, which may be all it takes for young ones to toilet-train themselves.

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Child Development