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I’ve been reflecting recently on my potty training experiences with my boys. Now, my boys are well past the age of potty training (my youngest is almost 7 already!), but I do hear about potty training quite often from my clients in the Helpdesk. And I’ve been reflecting recently that, while potty training is certainly no picnic for most of us, there really are many ways in which potty training is like sleep training! Specifically, I think I’ve found 6 ways that potty training is very much like sleep training.
1. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Initiative and Bravery
The first step is often the hardest to take. The fear of the unknown and how your baby will respond to sleep training or your toddler to potty training is scary and paralyzes us from moving forward. Truth be told, I loved the idea of being diaper-free, but was not looking forward to potty training. It takes awhile until they are truly independent and it was awhile until we felt “free” when our older son was potty trained. This is similar to how it feels never-ending if your baby doesn’t sleep 11-12 hours at night, consistently, right after you sleep train.
There were many days I remember thinking diapers were a bit easier in those early days. But, it’s a step you know you have to take one day and I knew waiting too long only gets them more set in their ways. This is one reason I recommend sleep training sooner rather than later, when you feel your baby is ready, and before they are pulling up, crawling, etc. We potty trained around 2 1/2 years old with both boys and it was a perfect age for them, maybe a little old for my first, actually.
2. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Confidence
With The 3-Day Potty Training Method (the method we used with both of our boys), you essentially go to underwear, day and night, and never look back. With our first, he was at least waking up dry in the morning, but not our younger. He would even leak his diaper, some days. With our first we were lucky and never had a bed-wetting accident, even at night, but we knew this would probably not be the case this time. And, we were right.
That first night potty training, he wet the bed, but the worst part was he was so awakened and intrigued by us changing the sheets that he was up for 1 1/2 to 2 hours that first night. It was so brutal that the next day we broke one of the method’s “rules” and bought Pull-Ups, the kind that gets cold, to save us from another rough night, but hoped we weren’t undoing the potty training. With the “cold pull-up” he did wake up when he peed in the pull-up, but only did so enough to get out of bed and lay on the floor outside his room (don’t ask me why). We didn’t even know until we went upstairs awhile later and we put underwear on him (my plan was only to use one pull-up a night) and he woke up dry that morning. That was the last day he fully peed the bed since. There was only one other day he started to poop at the end of his nap and that was it. We didn’t have the utmost confidence that he COULD hold it all night, but he really could do it! It really reminded me that you need to have confidence in your baby or toddler’s ability, even though it’s scary and might disrupt your own sleep, temporarily. With sleep training, it’s the same. I can’t tell you how many parents are afraid to take the first step, but then see that just a few days later they have a baby who can sleep!
3. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Realistic Expectations
Most people expect accidents during potty training, so it surprises me when they don’t always expect setbacks with sleep. Whenever you learn a new skill, there will be days you do it well and days you seem to be re-learning for the first time. Practice makes perfect and you need to be realistic that your baby might not sleep well every night, no matter what those books say!
4. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Consistency
People preach and preach that “consistency is key” and it’s 100% true. Consistency can come in different forms. For example, since day and night sleep are handled by two different parts of the brain, you can focus on nights first and then worry about days (or vice versa) and still be “consistent”. I find other ways, in a personalized sleep consultation, to remain consistent.
With both potty training and sleep training, consistency is very important. When sleep training, we had to make sure we put our son down before he was asleep or we’d end up back to where we started. When we were potty training him, he pooped in his underwear ONE time and that turned into a habit that lasted a month. With our younger son, this time, we were much better at consistency and he “got it” a lot faster.
5. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Patience
Patience is an important aspect of both sleep training and potty training, too. It’s very often that a baby will have an off-night or struggle with learning a new skill. With potty training, it’s very common for a toddler to have accident after accident while he learns the sensation to look for before he actually goes. It’s a lot messier, but going straight to underwear helps them learn this sensation faster just like actually falling asleep without a pacifier, breastfeeding, bottle, etc. will help your baby learn to sleep faster than having them try and then you put them to sleep.
6. Sleep Training and Potty Training Require Encouragement
When your baby or toddler is learning something new, it’s a great idea to give them positive reinforcement and cheer through their successes and be understanding during their failures. It’s the same for both sleep training and potty training. Even though you might not believe your baby can understand everything you say, she can very much understand tone of voice and their level of understanding happens sooner than you think. Talk often to your baby and encourage them, so they can gain confidence in themselves. If she is old enough, consider a sticker chart.
The Main Thing: Potty Training and Sleep Training Both Mean Teaching New Skills
Consider this a bonus comparison, and really one of the main take-aways of this article: when you’re potty training, and when you’re sleep training, your teaching your child a new skill. Now, I point this out because I know many people who don’t believe that falling asleep is a skill, and that babies will just naturally learn to fall asleep independently and sleep through the night when they’re ready. I find it interesting that it is “okay” to say you are potty training a child, but if you say you are sleep training, people say something along the lines of, “Your child isn’t a dog you train.” In reality, you are really teaching your child a skill that takes time, patience, and work to learn. Learning to use the potty is a new (and important) skill that every child has to learn; for many of our babies, falling asleep independently without sleep associations is a skill, too. And, just like sleep training, how long it takes to potty train varies by child, where some will get it in a day and others might take months.