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Potty Training: The Ultimate Challenge in Mindful Parenting


Last Friday morning my nearly-three year old announced that she was done with diapers. She wanted to wear underwear, preferably of the Hello Kitty variety, thankyouverymuch. Fortunately, we had a few pairs in her dresser drawer that had been left untouched for almost a year, so off we went.

Let’s just say the weekend was messy. Very messy.

After we put the girls to bed the other night, it occurred to me that potty training is the ultimate challenge in mindfulness. I spent most of the weekend wanting to be anywhere other than where I was; during one particularly nasty accident, I literally left my poor husband to deal with it while I ran to the grocery store.

Potty training is all about getting past where we are now and moving on to the next stage of life. While there are certainly moments of joy in the middle of all of it (YAY! You pooped on the potty!), most of it is offensive to almost all of our senses. The thought of staying in the moment, of paying attention to what we see or feel or smell, is quite frankly, disgusting.  In addition, we all have thoughts about how it should proceed. They shouldn’t have poop accidents. They should figure out how to pee on the potty within three days. They should be dry overnight within a month.

Rarely does it happen the way we want it to, and we end up feeling frustrated or defeated, anxious and worried that our kid is never going to figure this out, or at least not according to our schedule.

Despite how hard it is, mindfulness is precisely what is needed for successful potty training. We need to pay careful attention to our children and the signs they might be giving us that they need to go to the bathroom. (My little girl tends to get very quiet with a sort of far-away look in her eyes when she’s about to pee. The signs that she’s about to poop are, well, much more obvious.) We need to take a breath and respond with kindness towards our children when they have accidents, even though we may feel like we will go completely insane if we have to clean up one more puddle of pee.

It’s not easy to stay mindful during potty training, but gratitude can help. It’s really hard to feel grateful when I’m cleaning up a poop accident in the middle of Panera (welcome to my weekend), but I’ve been trying to stay focused on how lucky we are, regardless of the mess. My daughter is interested in potty training, she’s making progress (however slowly), she is healthy and her body is functioning well, and I have the resources to keep her clean (clean underwear, lots of wipes, washing machine and dryer, our own bathtub and plenty of hot water).

Even though potty training is all about getting through and moving on, many parents have learned the hard way that pushing our children at any stage of the process tends to make it harder or derail it completely. The trick (which I have yet to master, but I’m working on every day!) is to hold our potty training goals lightly; yes, we want them to be out of diapers and consistently using the toilet as soon as possible, but this—whatever this is—is where we are now. Eventually we’ll get to where we’re going, but the process might be a little more pleasant for everyone if we can just accept where we are right now.

Even if it is really stinky.

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Potty Training: The Ultimate Challenge in Mindful Parenting

Carla Naumburg

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is writer, speaker, and clinical social worker. She is currently working on her third book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t at Your Kids (Workman, forthcoming). You can read more about her work at

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APA Reference
Naumburg, C. (2013). Potty Training: The Ultimate Challenge in Mindful Parenting. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2013
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