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Potty Training: Top Tips From the Baby Whisperer

A Sensible Approach to Toilet Training

About The Book

From the bestselling Baby Whisperer franchise comes a concise and detailed guide to potty training your toddler—available exclusively as an ebook from Atria Books.



I have always been proud of my ability to help parents understand and care for their young children and I feel honoured whenever a family asks me into its life. It’s a very intimate and rewarding experience. Since I published my first two books (now some years ago), I’ve had a series of adventures and surprises that go beyond anything I could have imagined as a girl in Yorkshire.

I’ve traveled around the country and the world and met some of the most wonderful parents and children, who’ve opened their homes and hearts to me. I’ve spoken to thousands more via my Web site, reading and responding to their e-mails and joining them in my chat rooms. I’ve received many letters of thanks and confirmation from moms and dads who have followed my advice. But I’ve also been inundated with requests for help.

Maybe you’re trying to get your baby on a structured routine, as I suggest, but you’re not sure whether the same principles apply to eight-month-olds as to newborns. Maybe you’re confused about why your child isn’t doing what other children are doing. Or maybe you’re faced with a deeply entrenched problem—a feeding difficulty, or a child who isn’t potty trained. Whatever the dilemma, your anguished refrain is almost always the same: “Where do I begin, Tracy? What do I do first?” And then, “Why do some of your strategies seem not to work with my child?”

I’ve been fielding such questions for several years and consulted on some extremely difficult cases. So now, in this book, I want to take your hand, ease your fears, and show you how to empower yourself as a parent. I want to teach you what I’ve learned from a lifetime of baby whispering; I want to teach you how to think like me.

When parents come to me with a particular challenge, to assess what’s really going on in that household and with that baby or toddler, I always ask at least one question, if not a string of them, both about the child and about what parents have done so far in response to their situation. Then I can come up with a proper plan of action.

My goal with this book is to help you understand my thought process and get you in the habit of asking questions for yourself. In time, you, too, will not only be a baby whisperer but an ace problem solver in your own right.

As you read on, however, I want you to remember this important point: a problem is nothing more than an issue that needs to be addressed or a situation calling for a creative solution. Ask the right questions, and you’ll come up with the right answers.

Tuning In

Baby whispering begins by observing, respecting, and communicating with your baby. It means that you see your child for who she really is—her personality and her particular quirks—and you tailor your parenting strategies accordingly.

I’ve been told that I’m one of the few baby experts who takes the child’s point of view. I’ve had new parents look at me like I’m crazy when I introduce myself to their four-day-old baby. And parents of older children positively gape at me when I “translate” the mournful cries of their eight-month-old. I also translate “banguage” (baby language) for parents, because it helps them remember that the little being in their arms, or the toddler tearing around the room, also has feelings and opinions.

How often have I witnessed a scene like this: a mother says to her little boy, “Now Billy, you don’t want Adam’s truck.” Poor little Billy doesn’t talk yet but, if he did, I’d bet he’d say, “Yes I do, Mom. Why else do you think I grabbed it away from Adam in the first place?” But Mom doesn’t listen to him. She either takes the truck out of Billy’s hand or tries to coax him into relinquishing it willingly. “Be a good boy and give it back to him.” Well, at that point, I can almost count the seconds until meltdown! I’m not saying that, just because Billy wants the truck, he should be allowed to bully Adam—far from it. What I am saying is that we need to listen to our children, even when they say things we don’t want to hear.

The same skills that I teach parents of infants—observing body language, listening to cries, slowing down so that you can really figure out what’s going on—those skills are just as important as your baby grows into a toddler and beyond, and as you and your child face new challenges.

Throughout this book, I’ll remind you of some of the techniques I’ve developed to help you tune in and take your time, particularly the acronym E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, and time for You; see Chapter 1).

I know firsthand that parenting is anything but “E.A.S.Y.” It’s particularly hard for new parents to know which end is up, especially sleep-starved new moms, but all parents need help. I’m just trying to give you tools to use when you might not have your wits about you.

I also know that life just gets more complicated as babies become toddlers and as the family grows. My goal is to keep your baby on track and your own life on an even keel—or at least as even as it can be with young children underfoot. In the middle of a tussle with your child or children, it’s easy to forget good advice and lapse into old patterns. I mean, how clearheaded can you be when your baby is screaming at the top of her lungs because her two-year-old brother, in the middle of supposedly learning how to use the toilet, decided that baby sister’s head was as good a place as any to test out his new Magic Marker?

I can’t be in each of your homes, but, if you have my handy little acronym in your head, maybe it will seem like I’m standing next to you, reminding you what to do. So here’s another acronym for your parental bag of tricks: “P.C.”

Be a “P.C.” Parent

I don’t mean politically correct; rather, a P.C. parent is patient and conscious, two qualities that will serve you well no matter how old your child is. Invariably, when I meet parents who are beset by a particular problem, my prescription always involves one, if not both, of these elements. But it’s not just problems that require P.C. parenting; so do everyday interactions. Playtime, a trip to the toilet, being with other children, and a host of other daily occurrences are enhanced by Mom or Dad having a P.C. mind-set.

No parent is P.C. all the time but the more we do it, the more it becomes a natural way of acting. We get better with practice.

Patience: it takes patience to parent well, because it’s a hard, seemingly endless road, one that requires a long-term perspective. Today’s Big Problem—whether it’s encouraging your child to eat more vegetables or to use the potty—becomes a distant memory a month later, but we tend to forget that when we’re living through it. I’ve seen it happen time and again: parents who, in the heat of the moment, take what seems like an easier road, only to find out that “accidental parenting” leads them to a dangerous dead end.

Having a child can be messy and disorderly, too. Therefore, you also need patience (and internal fortitude) to tolerate at least the clutter, spills, and finger marks, let alone the diaper and toilet messes. Parents who don’t will find it harder to get through their child’s firsts. What toddler manages to drink from a real cup without first spilling pints of liquid on the floor? Eventually, only a drizzle slips out the side of his mouth and then finally he gets most of it down, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen without setbacks along the way. Allowing your child to master table skills, to learn how to pour or to wash himself, to let him walk around a living room filled with lots of no-nos—all of these things require parents’ patience.

Parents who lack this important quality can unwittingly create obsessive behaviors even in very young children. Tara, a two-year-old I met in my travels, had obviously learned her lessons well from her ultraneat mother, Cynthia. Walking into this mom’s house, it was hard to tell a toddler lived there. And no wonder. Cynthia hovered constantly and followed her daughter around with a damp cloth, wiping her face, mopping up her spills, putting toys back into the toy box the moment Tara dropped them. Tara was already a chip off the old block; “duhtee” was one of her first words. That might have been cute if it weren’t for the fact that Tara was afraid to venture very far on her own and cried if other kids touched her.

We do our little ones an injustice when we don’t allow them to do what kids do: get a little dirty and get into a little mischief every now and then. A wonderful P.C. mom I met told me she regularly had “Pig Night” with her children, a dinner without utensils. And here’s a surprising irony: when we actually give our kids permission to go wild, they often don’t stray as far as you think they will.

Patience is particularly critical when you’re trying to change bad habits. Naturally, the older the child, the longer it takes. Regardless of age, though, you must accept that change takes time—you can’t rush the process. But I will tell you this: it’s easier to be patient now and to take the time to teach your children and tell them what you expect. After all, who would you rather ask to clean up after himself, a two-year-old or a teenager?

Consciousness: consciousness of who your child is should begin the moment she takes her first breath outside the womb. Always be aware of your child’s perspective. I mean this both figuratively and literally; squat down to your child’s eye level. See what the world looks like from her vantage point. Take a whiff of the air. Imagine what the smells are like to a baby’s sensitive nose. Listen. How loud is the din of the crowd? Might it be a bit much for Baby’s ears?

I’m not saying you should stay away from new places. On the contrary, it’s good to expose children to new sights, sounds, and people. But, if your infant repeatedly cries in unfamiliar settings, as a conscious parent you’ll know that she’s telling you; “It’s too much. Please go slower” or “Try this with me in another month.” Consciousness lets you tune in and, in time, allows you to get to know your child and trust your instincts about her.

Consciousness is also a matter of thinking things through before you do them, and planning ahead. Don’t wait for disaster to strike, especially if you’ve been there before. For instance, if you see that your child and your best friend’s child are constantly at war and the morning always ends in tears, arrange a play date with a different child and, when you want to go out for a chat with your best friend, get a baby-sitter.

Consciousness means paying attention to the things you say and what you do with and to your child—and being consistent. Inconsistencies confuse children. So if one day you say, “No eating in the living room,” and the next night you ignore eating there, your words will eventually mean nothing. He’ll tune you out, and who can blame him?

Finally, consciousness is just that: being awake and being there for your child. I am pained when I see babies’ or very young children’s cries being ignored. Crying is the first language children speak. By turning our backs on them, we’re saying, “You don’t matter.” Eventually, unattended babies stop crying altogether, and they also stop thriving. I’ve seen parents allow children to cry in the name of toughening them up (“I don’t want him to get spoiled” or “A little crying will do him good”). And I’ve seen mothers throw up their hands and say, “Her sister needs me—she’ll just have to wait.” But then she makes the baby wait, and wait and wait. There is no good reason for ignoring a child.

We are our children’s best, and, for the first three years, only, teachers. We owe it to them to be P.C. parents—so that they can develop the best in themselves.

But Why Doesn’t It Work?

“Why doesn’t it work?” is by far one of the most common questions parents ask. Whether a mom is trying to get her seven-month-old to eat solid food, her two-year-old to use the potty or her toddler to stop hitting other kids, I often hear the old “yes, but” response. “Yes, I know you told me it will take time, but….” “Yes, I know you said I have to take him out of the room when he begins to get aggressive, but….”

My baby whispering techniques do work. I’ve used them myself with thousands of babies, and I’ve taught them to parents all over the globe. Granted, I know that some babies are more challenging than others—just like adults. Also, some periods of development, like when your child is teething or about to turn two, can be a bit hard on parents, as are unexpected illnesses (yours or your child’s). But almost any problem can be solved by going back to the basics.

When problems persist, it’s usually because of something the parents have done, or because of their attitude. So, if you’re reading this book because you want to change a bad pattern and restore harmony to your family, and nothing seems to be working—not even my suggestions—really ask yourself if one of the following applies to you.

You’re following your child, rather than establishing a routine. If you’ve read my first book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, you know that I’m a firm believer in a structured routine (see Chapter 1). You start, ideally, from the day you bring your little bundle home from the hospital. Of course, if you didn’t start then, you can also introduce a routine at eight weeks, or three months, or even later. But the older the baby, the more trouble you will have. And that’s when I hear from parents, in a desperate phone call or an e-mail like this:

I’m a first-time mother with Sofia, my 8½-week-old baby. I’m having problems setting a routine for her, as she is so inconsistent. What worries me is her erratic feeding and sleeping patterns. Please advise.

That’s a classic case of following the baby. Little Sofia is not inconsistent—she’s a baby. I’d bet the mother is inconsistent, because she’s following her 8½-week-old daughter. This mom says she’s trying to institute a routine, but she’s really not taking charge. (I talk about what she should do in Chapter 1.) We’re there to guide our children, not to follow them—and maintaining a routine is equally important with older babies and toddlers.

You’ve been doing accidental parenting. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get a toddler to calm down. Often, the “anything” turns into a bad habit that they later have to break—and that’s accidental parenting.

You’re not reading your child’s cues. A mom will call me in desperation: “He used to be on schedule, and now he’s not. How do I get him back on track?” When I hear any version of that phrase—“used to be and now is not”—it means not only that the parents are letting the baby take over but also usually that they’re paying more attention to the clock (or their own needs) than the baby himself. They’re not reading his body language, tuning in to his cries.

You’re not factoring in that young children change constantly. I also hear the “used to be” phrase when parents don’t realize that it’s time to make a shift. A four-month-old who is on a routine designed for his first three months (see Chapter 1) will become cranky. The truth is that the only constant in the job of parenting is change.

You’re looking for an easy fix. The older a child is, the harder it is to break a bad habit caused by accidental parenting, whether it’s waking in the night and demanding a feed or refusing to sit in a high chair for a proper meal. But many parents are looking for magic, expecting instant results. Remember the “P” in P.C.: be patient.

You’re not really committed to change. If you’re trying to solve a problem, you have to want it solved—and have the determination and stamina to see it through to the end. Make a plan and stick with it. Don’t go back to your old way and don’t keep trying different techniques. If you stay with one solution, it will work…. as long as you keep at it. Be persistent. I can’t stress often enough: you have to be as consistent with the new way as you were with the old. Clearly, some children’s temperaments make them more resistant to change than others (see Chapter 2), but almost all balk when we change their routine. Stick with it and don’t keep changing the rules, and your child will get used to the new way.

Parents sometimes delude themselves. They will insist that they’ve been trying a particular technique for two weeks and say that it’s not working. I know that can’t be true, and, sure enough, when I really question them, I find out that, yes, they tried the technique for three or four days, and it worked, but a few days later they didn’t follow through with the original plan. Exasperated, they tried something else instead. The poor child is then confused because they changed the rules on him; he’s also often frightened.

If you’re not going to see something through, don’t do it. If you can’t do it on your own, enlist backup people—your husband, your mother or mother-in-law, a good friend. Otherwise, you’re more likely to give up on a technique, again confusing your child.

You’re trying something that doesn’t work for your family or your personality. When I suggest a structured routine or one of my strategies for breaking a bad pattern, I can usually tell whether it will work better for Mom or Dad—one’s more of a disciplinarian; the other, a softie. Some mothers (or fathers) will tip their hand by saying to me, “I don’t want her to cry.” The fact is, I’m not about forcing a baby to be or do anything, and I don’t believe in allowing babies to cry it out. I don’t believe in banishing toddlers to a solitary time-out, no matter how short the duration. Children need adults’ help, and we have to be there to give it to them and, especially when you’re trying to undo the effects of accidental parenting, it’s hard work. If you’re not comfortable doing a particular technique, either don’t do it or find ways to bolster yourself, by having the stronger parent take over for a bit or by enlisting someone to help.

It ain’t broke—and you don’t really need to fix it. I had an e-mail from the parents of a four-month-old: “My baby is sleeping through the night but he’s only taking 24 ounces. In your book it says he should be taking 32 to 36 ounces. How can I get the extra ounces in him?” How many mothers would give their right arm to have a baby sleeping through the night? Her child might have a smaller-than-average build. If his weight wasn’t a concern to her pediatrician, my advice was to slow down and just observe her son; for now, nothing was wrong.

You have unrealistic expectations. Some parents are unrealistic about what it means to have a child. Often, they’re very successful in their work: good leaders, smart and creative, and they view the transition to parenthood as another major life transition, which it clearly is. But it’s also a very different passage because it brings with it a huge responsibility: caring for another human being. Babies and toddlers can’t be managed with the same efficiency you apply to projects at work; they require care, constant vigilance, and lots of loving time. Even if you have help, you need to know your child, and that takes time and energy. Keep in mind that, whatever stage your child is in right now—good or bad—will pass.

About This Book…. and the Developmental Olympics

I’m not a big fan of age charts and never have been. Babies’ challenges can’t be sorted into neat piles. Of course, it’s true that babies and toddlers generally reach certain milestones at designated times, but there’s usually nothing wrong with those who don’t. Still, in response to readers’ requests for greater clarity and specifics, here I have broken down my advice and tailored various techniques according to age groupings—birth to six weeks, six weeks to four months, four to six months, six to nine months, nine months to a year, one year to two, and two years to three. My intention is to give you a better understanding of how your child thinks and sees the world.

If your child is already nearing his second birthday and you’re considering potty training, you may wonder why I need to include information on his earlier development. Firstly, I hope that some of you may be reading this in advance as following my guidelines early on will help with potty training when you reach that milestone. But, if you haven’t, don’t fear. This early information about routine will help you understand my techniques for potty training and, I hope, make it easier for all involved. I suggest you read that general information in Chapter 1 before going on to the potty-training technique specific to your child’s age in the following chapters.

You’ll notice that the age spans I cover are quite broad. That’s to allow for variations among children. Furthermore, I don’t want my readers to enter into what I call the “developmental Olympics,” comparing one child’s progress or problems with another child’s, or to become anxious if a little boy or girl doesn’t fit a particular age profile. Too many times, I’ve witnessed playgroups composed of mothers who are observing each other’s babies, comparing and wondering. First of all, in the life of a three-month-old, two weeks means a lot—it’s one-sixth of her life! Second, reading age charts in general raise parents’ expectations. Third, children have different strengths and abilities. One might walk later than another, but she also might talk earlier.

I urge you to read all the stages, because earlier problems can persist—it’s not uncommon to see a “two-month-old” concern crop up at five or six months. Besides, your child might be more advanced in a particular area, so it’s a good idea to get a sense of what might lie ahead.

I also believe that there are “prime times”—the best ages to teach a particular skill or to introduce a new element into your child’s life. Particularly as children move into toddlerhood, if you don’t start things at optimal times, you’re likely to have a power struggle on your hands. You’ve got to plan ahead. If you haven’t already made toddler tasks, such as dressing and toilet training, into a game or a pleasant experience, your child is more likely to balk at the new experience.

Where We Go from Here

Throughout this book, I’ve tried to zero in on the most common concerns that parents have and then share with you the kinds of questions I typically ask to find out what’s really going on (when I’ve reprinted e-mails and Web site postings, names and identifying details have been changed). I then suggest a different way of doing things, which will result in a different outcome from the one they’ve been getting. By letting you in on the way I think about babies’ and toddlers’ difficulties and how I come up with a plan, you can become the troubleshooter in your own family.

You can read this book cover to cover, or just look up the problems you’re concerned about and go from there. However, I strongly recommend that you read through Chapter 1, which reviews my basic philosophy of child care. The following chapters then focus in depth on potty training as a specific area of concern.

You might be surprised by some of my suggestions and might not believe they’ll work, but I have lots of examples to demonstrate how successfully they’ve been applied in other families. So why not at least try them with yours?

© 2005 Tracy Hogg

About The Authors

Tracy Hogg devoted her career to helping parents understand and communicate with their babies and young children. A nurse, lactation educator, and newborn consultant, Hogg’s sensible and compassionate philosophy, now translated into more than twenty languages, is known throughout the world.

Photograph by Jennifer Martin

Melinda Blau is an award-winning journalist who has written fifteen books and more than a hundred magazine articles. Since 2000, when she began collaborating with the late Tracy Hogg, Blau has been the “voice” of the bestselling Baby Whisperer books.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 12, 2011)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451650372

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