Guess what? You don’t have to potty train your kids

Instead, set up conditions so your child can learn.

child led potty training

The simple truth about toilet training is that if the child is ready, it happens very easily. If not, a power struggle often ensues—and we all know that no one wins a parent-child power struggle. Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will probably never win.

Luckily there isn't really a reason to fight with your child about this. Moving from diapers to being self-sufficient to use the toilet is a natural process. Humans have been doing it for a long time—they all get out of diapers sooner or later.

So you don't actually need to "toilet train" your child. Instead, set up conditions so your child can learn. Your goal is to make it as easy and effortless as possible. Think of this as a process of learning that unfolds over time, like all other learning and mastery.

Here are some pointers for child-led potty learning.


Potty do's

Remember that most kids learn through modeling. Start talking about what you're doing in the bathroom. Let your child watch. Boys will benefit by watching other boys or their father use the toilet. Kids also love to copy other kids, so slightly older cousins or friends who are willing to use the bathroom in front of your toddler can be invaluable in modeling. For boys, you might make a game of it by putting a small bulls-eye in the toilet for them to aim at.

I strongly recommend having a potty in each bathroom of the house. That way, kids can practice sitting whenever they want, including while they keep you company in the bathroom. [Editor's note: This compact potty is one of our faves—it's perfect for moving around the house or taking on-the-go.]

Make it a habit. At first your child will probably need help recognizing the signals that mean it's time to head to the bathroom. If you notice them getting antsy, or starting to squat behind the couch, you'll need to remind them. Every time your child does notice and tells you that they need to use the bathroom, even if they don't make it in time, is an opportunity to admire their progress in the right direction.

After they're used to sitting on the potty clothed, ask them regularly if they wants to sit on it naked. Sometimes they will say yes, and sometimes no. Don't make a big deal of it. Your goal is just for them to get completely comfortable. Read potty books and other books to them while they sit there. Toddlers are busy. You have to make the potty a place they love being if you want them to spend enough time there to let anything come out.

Notice when they give signs that they are about to defecate. Becoming quiet, withdrawing to squat in private—give them language for what's happening: "Are you ready to poop? Do you want to do it in the bathroom?" Humans naturally like privacy when they defecate, and it's fine if your child wants to go off by themselves. Remind them that the bathroom is a great place for poop, that you will help them take off their poopy diaper whenever they are ready. It may take them awhile to begin telling you, but they will begin to learn the concept that when they feel like this, it's time to go into to the bathroom. Eventually, they will probably be pooping in their diaper in the bathroom. Once that's a habit, you can ask if they want to try sitting on the potty to poop, even with their diaper on.

When they do pee or poop in the potty, be sure to celebrate with a special song and dance or parade through the house. But be sure you're celebrating other things, too, like their climb to the top of the play structure, or the sun coming out. Don't make such a big a deal of using the potty that the pressure on your child makes them anxious. they aren't confident yet of their abilities, so don't make them feel like they have to repeat their use of the potty—this should be their choice. Remember to let your child be in control of the process. No pressure.

Be open if they request a toilet seat. Many toddlers squat to poop and prefer a potty that allows them to assume a similar position. They prefer a potty because they are afraid of falling into the big toilet ,or they're afraid of the flush. Some kids, however, will want to get a seat that goes right on the big toilet. If so, be sure their feet rest securely on a stool. Dangling legs tighten rectal muscles and make defecation difficult.

If you're buying a seat to go on the potty, find one they love. Flip seats have a regular toilet seat plus a training seat. Some kids will love a seat that makes music when something is deposited in it. Just google potty training seats and you'll have lots of choices.

Institute regular times when you both use the potty. First thing in the morning, after breakfast, before snack, before and after lunch, etc. Your child doesn't have to go, just to sit with you while you go, and to try himself. Make clear that the rule applies to you, also, so your child doesn't feel singled out. This will help your child's body move onto a schedule, which will be a bit easier for them to manage. Of course, if they ask to go on their own schedule, cheer them on for listening to their own body. Usually, over time, they will ask more and more, gradually taking on the responsibility.

If your child is afraid to use the potty, help them with their fears. Any silly, playful games that get your child giggling about the potty will help them let their anxieties about the potty evaporate. Here's a letter about helping your child with their fear by playing: Toddler with Potty Learning Fears

Watch for constipation. Many children—especially those who don't eat as many vegetables or whole-grains, or who don't get as much exercise—tend toward harder stools. That makes them more likely to put off pooping for as long as possible. This can happen even before a child is out of diapers, but it is especially prevalent once a child is using the potty, because it requires them to stop what they're doing and go to the bathroom.

The more the child gets in the habit of procrastinating, the harder the poo gets and more painful to pass, and the more the child avoids it. The problem with this is, even children who eliminate on a daily basis often build up fecal matter inside their bodies. This can deaden the usual sensitivity of the child to the need to use the toilet, so the child doesn't even know they needs to go. And since it pushes on the bladder, it can also cause pee accidents and even bed wetting. Unfortunately, most parents whose child is in this situation don't even know their child is constipated and don't understand why they're having accidents, until an x-ray reveals the extended rectum. For more info on this issue, I recommend, The M.O.P. Book: A Guide to the Only Proven Way to STOP Bedwetting and Accidents by Dr. Steve Hodges.

Potty don'ts

Don't begin toilet learning under pressure. Wait till you have some time when you can be relaxed and attentive to your child. Many preschools demand that children are toilet trained. That kind of pressure can only be bad for you and your child.

Don't be in a hurry to start. Just encourage your child to sit, fully clothed, on his potty. It builds muscle memory for your child to get on and off the potty, and you want them to feel comfortable sitting there. Make sitting on the toilet festive and fun, well before they even think about peeing in it. For instance, be sure there is a stash of books next to the potty. Sing silly songs or give special cheers each time they get on and off the potty. But never force your child to sit on the potty, or to stay there.

Don't worry about accidents. Don't express any disappointment at "accidents," or you'll make the stakes too high, and your child may rebel or give up. Instead, respond to accidents by shrugging, and saying with a warm smile, "Oh well, accidents are how we learn. Soon you'll get it in the potty every time. Let's go in and try again." Accidents are a step in the right direction, when your child learns from them without getting discouraged. If your child has noticed themselves the accident as soon as it started, but hasn't made it to the bathroom, encourage them, "You noticed as soon as you started to pee! Good for you! Let's go quick to the bathroom in case there's more to come out. Then we'll clean this up together. You noticed yourself when you needed the potty! Next time you'll probably notice sooner and get all the way to the bathroom!"

Be enthusiastic but never pushy. Pushiness complicates potty-learning. Never punish or disapprove of your child when they have an accident, or it will backfire.

Don't make the move into underwear until your child insists. In fact, try to avoid mentioning underwear until your child brings it up. Let it be their idea.

Remember, learning takes time, and you're there for support.

You can set the stage, but your child has to do the work. The MOST important secret for stress-free potty learning is that the child be ready. If you push your child, you may end up with serious issues, from a child with constant accidents, to power struggles, to a child with fecal retention.

Wait until they are ready. Does it really matter when that is? Sooner or later, everyone uses toilets. Handled with good cheer and confidence, they will master it in good time, and the process of toilet learning will be enormously empowering for your child. This is a big step for your son or daughter. Your job is to make it a positive one.

We've got what you need to set the stage for success. Check out these popular favorites from The Motherly Shop.

BABYBJÖRN smart potty

Baby Bjorn smart potty

We love this super portable, easy-to-clean potty chair. Keep one in each bathroom for easy access and bring one along when you're out and about.

$20

Puj easy seat toilet trainer

Puj easy toilet seat trainer

Toilet seat trainers are great for little ones who aren't intimidated by the grown-up potty. This soft, stain-resistant and anti-microbial insert is comfortable on little tushies and makes clean up a breeze. Win win!

$15

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

[This post was originally published November, 2017. It has been updated.]

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When you ask any two mamas to share their experience with breastfeeding, you are bound to get very unique answers. That's because while the act of breastfeeding is both wonderful and natural, it also comes with a learning curve for both mothers and babies.

In some cases, breastfeeding won't be the right path for everyone. But with the right tools, resources and social support systems, we can make progress toward the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to continue breastfeeding through the first year of a child's life. After all, breastfeeding helps nourish infants, protects them against illnesses, develops their immune systems and more. Not to mention that mothers who breastfeed experience reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

With National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this month, it's a great time for mamas (and expectant mamas!) to gather the supplies that will support their feeding journey—whether it looks like exclusively breastfeeding, pumping or combo-feeding.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Designed for regular use, this double electric breast pump allows mamas to customize the cycle and vacuum settings that work for them. The 100% SoftShape™ silicone shields on this pump form-fit to a wide range of breast shapes and sizes—which means more comfortable, more efficient pumping. And every pump comes with two complete Dr. Brown's Options+ bottles, giving you everything you need to go from pumping to feeding.

$159.99

Dr. Brown’s™ Breast Milk Collection Bottles

There's no need to cry over spilled milk—because it won't happen with these storage bottles! Make the pump-to-feeding transition simpler with Dr. Brown's Milk Collection Bottles. The bottles adapt to Dr. Brown's electric pumps to easily fill, seal and transport, and they work with Dr. Brown's bottle and nipple parts when your baby's ready to eat. (Meaning no risky pouring from one bottle to another. 🙌)

$9.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

With an extra-durable design and double zip seal, your breast milk will stay fresh and safe in the fridge or freezer until it's needed. Plus, the bags are easy to freeze flat and then store for up to six months, so your baby can continue drinking breast milk long after you are done nursing.

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump with Options+™ Bottle & Bag

Here's something they don't tell you about breastfeeding ahead of time: While feeding your baby on one side, the other breast may "let down" milk, too. With this one-piece Silicone Breast Pump, you don't have to let those precious drops go to waste. The flexible design makes pouring the milk into a bottle stress-free.

$14.99

Dr. Brown’s® Manual Breast Pump

No outlet in sight? No worries! With this powerful-yet-gentle Manual Breast Pump, you can get relief from engorgement, sneak in some quick midnight pumping or perform a full pumping session without any electricity needed. With Dr. Brown's 100% silicone SoftShape™ Shield, the hand-operated pump is as comfortable as it is easy to use. Complete with Dr. Brown's® Options+™ Anti-Colic Wide-Neck Bottle, a storage travel cap and cleaning brush, consider this the breastfeeding essential for any mama who has places to go.

$29.99

Options+™ Anti-Colic Baby Bottle

With the soft silicone nipple and natural flow design of these bottles, your baby can easily switch between breast and bottle. Clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to the vent, your baby can enjoy a happy tummy after feeding sessions—without as much spit-up, burping or gas! By mimicking the flow and feel of the breast, these bottles help support your breastfeeding experience.

$7.99

This post is sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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7 hacks for simplifying after-school snacks

Prepping delicious and nutritious foods shouldn't take all day.

When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Family Foodies

15 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.


Stomp Racers

As longtime fans of Stomp Rockets, we're pretty excited about their latest launch–Stomp Racers. Honestly, the thrill of sending things flying through the air never gets old. Parents and kids alike can spend hours launching these kid-powered cars which take off via a stompable pad and hose.

$19.99

Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

Tiny thrill-seekers will love this kid-powered coaster which will send them (safely) sailing across the backyard or play space. The durable set comes with a high back coaster car and 10.75 feet of track, providing endless opportunities for developing gross motor skills, balance and learning to take turns. The track is made up of three separate pieces which are easy to assemble and take apart for storage (but we don't think it will be put away too often!)

$139

Secret Agent play set

Plan-Toys-Secret-agent-play-set

This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Stepping Stones

Stepping-stones

Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.

$99.99

Sand play set

B. toys Wagon & Beach Playset - Wavy-Wagon Red

For the littlest ones, it's easy to keep it simple. Take their sand box toys and use them in the bath! This 12-piece set includes a variety of scoops, molds and sifters that can all be stored in sweet little wagon.

$17.95

Sensory play set

kidoozie-sand-and-splash-activity-table

Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$19.95

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Foam pogo stick

Flybar-my-first-foam-pogo-stick

Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.

$16.99

Dumptruck 

green-toys-dump-truck

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.

$22

Hopper ball

Hopper ball

Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.

$14.99

Pull-along ducks

janod-pull-along-wooden-ducks

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$16.99

Rocking chair seesaw

Slidewhizzer-rocking-chair-seesaw

This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.

$79.99

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$79.99

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$24.75

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Even 5 hours of screen time per day is OK for school-aged kids, says new study

Researchers found screen time contributes to stronger peer relationships and had no effect on depression and anxiety. So maybe it isn't as bad as we thought?

MoMo Productions/Getty Images

If you've internalized some parental guilt about your own child's screen time usage, you're not alone. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to significant amounts of screen time in children leads to an increased risk of depression and behavioral issues, poor sleep and obesity, among other outcomes. Knowing all this can mean you're swallowing a big gulp of guilt every time you unlock the iPad or turn on the TV for your kiddo.

But is screen time really that bad? New research says maybe not. A study published in September 2021 of 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds found that even when school-aged kids spend up to 5 hours per day on screens (watching TV, texting or playing video games), it doesn't appear to be that harmful to their mental health.

Researchers found no association between screen usage and depression or anxiety in children at this age.

In fact, kids who had more access to screen time tended to have more friends and stronger peer relationships, most likely thanks to the social nature of video gaming, social media and texting.


The correlations between screen time and children's health

But those big social benefits come with a caveat. The researchers also noted that kids who used screens more frequently were in fact more likely to have attention problems, impacted sleep, poorer academic performance and were more likely to show aggressive behavior.

Without a randomized controlled trial, it's hard to nail down these effects as being caused directly by screens. The study's authors analyzed data from a nationwide study known as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study), the largest long-term study of brain development and children's health in the country. They relied on self-reported levels of screen time from both children and adults (it's funny to note that those reported numbers differed slightly depending on who was asked… ).

It's important to remember that these outcomes are just correlations—not causations. "We can't say screen time causes the symptoms; instead, maybe more aggressive children are given screen devices as an attempt to distract them and calm their behavior," says Katie Paulich, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Also worth noting is that a child's socioeconomic status has a 2.5-times-bigger impact on behavior than screens.

Weighing the benefits with the risks will be up to you as the parent, who knows your child best. And because we live in a digital world, screens are here to stay, meaning parents often have little choice in the matter. It's impossible to say whether recreational screen time is fully "good" or "bad" for kids. It's maybe both.

"When looking at the strength of the correlations, we see only very modest associations," says Paulich. "That is, any association between screen time and the various outcomes, whether good or bad, is so small it's unlikely to be important at a clinical level." It's all just part of the overall picture.

A novel look at screen time in adolescents

The researchers cite a lack of studies examining the relationship between screen time and health outcomes in this specific early-adolescence age group, which is one of the reasons why this study is so groundbreaking. The findings don't apply to younger children—or older adolescents, who may be starting to go through puberty.

Screen time guidelines do exist for toddlers up to older kids, but up to 1.5 hours per day seems unattainable for many young adolescents, who often have their own smartphones and laptops, or at least regular access to one.

Of course, more research is needed, but that's where this study can be helpful. The ABCD study will follow the 12,000 participants for another 10 years, following up with annual check-ins. It'll be interesting to see how the findings change over time: Will depression and anxiety as a result of screen time be more prevalent as kids age? We'll have to wait and see.

The bottom line? Parents should still be the gatekeepers of their child's screen time in terms of access and age-appropriateness, but, "our early research suggests lengthy time on screen is not likely to yield dire consequences," says Paulich.

Children's health

Mom and gorilla bond over their babies at the zoo: ‘It was so beautiful’

The new mothers shared a special moment at a Boston zoo.

Franklin Park Zoo/YouTube

Motherhood knows no bounds.

When Kiki the gorilla spotted a new mom and baby visiting her habitat at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, she immediately took a liking to the pair. Emmelina Austin held her five-week-old son Canyon to the glass so Kiki could get a better look.

The gorilla spent nearly five minutes happily pointing and staring at baby Canyon.


Emmelina's husband captured the sweet moment on his phone, in a video that's now gone viral.

Mother shares unique maternal bond with gorilla (FULL VIDEO) www.youtube.com

Why was Kiki so interested in her tiny visitor? Possibly because Kiki's a new mom herself. Her fifth baby, Pablo, was born in October.

Near the end of the video, Kiki scooped up Pablo and held him close. The new moms held their baby boys to the glass and shared a special moment together: just a couple of mothers, showing off their little ones.

"When I walked into the zoo that day, I never could've imagined that we would have had that experience," Austin told ABC News. "It was so beautiful, and we walked out just over the moon."

We can't get enough of the sweet exchange. There's something special about sharing your little one with the world. Mothers of all ages, races–and it turns out, species–understand.

Our favorite viral mama + kid videos