Why Potty Training Accidents are a GOOD Thing!

Are you potty training at the moment and despairing of your child’s accidents? Relax! They’re actually a great sign!

No – I haven’t gone insane. Yes, I have got children and yes, I do remember what it’s like to clear up umpteen accidents. Here’s the thing though….accidents are an important part of potty training. In fact, I’d argue, that it’s better for children to have lots of accidents while training, than to sail through the process without any.

potSo, why are accidents important? Because they are an important learning opportunity. They help kids to learn how long they can hold on V when they MUST go to the potty. They help kids to learn to notice their body’s cues – and act on them and they help to motivate them.

There is no denying that children today potty train later than ever before. In my Gentle Potty Training Book/Ready Set Go, I talk about a lot of this delayed age of dryness being due to better knowledge and understanding of the physiology and psychology around potty training, plus the convenience of modern nappies/diapers and more parents in full time employment. They’re not the only reasons though. Nappies/Diapers today are just too damn good! Children rarely feel wetness in them. They don’t know what it feels like to have sopping wet clothes, or see puddles on the floor and they have less of a motivation to stop wearing them because the moisture absorbing abilities of today’s modern inventions are so good.

Potty training accidents are probably the first time that kids today understand what it’s like to be truly wet and the first time that they actually see their pee (and poo in its natural form). How can children really learn to potty train without these experiences?

pottyPotty training is probably the only stage in child development where parents are uncomfortable with accidents and near misses. The only stage of child development where we expect near perfection from the offset. The only stage of development where we quickly proclaim “he obviously isn’t ready, if he was, he wouldn’t be having all these accidents”. We’re far too quick to whip out the diapers/nappies again and put off potty training for another time, further in the future. Imagine if we did the same when children were learning to ride a bike. After two or three falls and scuffed knees, we wipe off the dirt, mop up the tears and say “she’s clearly not ready for this yet, perhaps we’ll try again in six months time”, packing up the bike for another day. Imagine if we took the same approach when weaning onto solids. “he’s smooshed the banana all over the plate and thrown the carrot on the floor, barely anything made it into his mouth. He obviously isn’t ready. We’ll try again in another couple of months”. Or what if we took the same approach when our children were learning to walk “she’s fallen over so many times and made her clothes all dirty. She clearly isn’t ready to walk, we’ll keep her crawling instead for now”. Why the impatience and intolerance for the learning process with potty training?

Our expectations of potty training are unrealistic. We must understand that children are learning and when children learn they make a mess, they test their own abilities, they get the timing wrong and they make mistakes, but these things are all part of the process. Learning means getting things wrong as well as getting things right. That accident your daughter had because she was engrossed in play; it helped her to learn to listen to her body’s cues and go to the potty quicker next time. That accident your son had when he peed in his pants; it helped him to learn that he needs to tell you when he needs to go, before he needs to go next time. This doesn’t mean that they won’t have accidents again, each accident presents its own learning opportunity – and it takes time to learn. When it comes to potty training – think months and years, not days and weeks!

Along with plenty of patience and time, kids need parents who are confident in them, trust in them and give them the opportunity to learn. Kids need parents who accept their accidents, if not welcome them, and most importantly of all – stay consistent with the decision that now is the right time, even if it’s not accident free!

If you want a helping hand with the physiology, psychology and practicalities of potty training, check out my Gentle Potty Training Book in the UK and Australia/NZ, also known as Ready, Set, Go in the USA and Canada (they’re the same book – just different title/cover depending on where you live!).

pottybookGentle Potty CTPB v6b


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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