Potty Training with Christine Brown: Episode #158
Kristin and Christine Brown, owner of Bella Luna Family, discuss top potty training tips and infant sleep.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am here today to chat with Christine Brown. Christine owns Bella Luna Family and is a twin mom to almost 8-year-old boys. Welcome, Christine!
Christine: Thank you so much for having me today! I’m excited to be here.
Kristin: So thrilled to chat with you! So I’d love for you to give us a big more about your background. I know you’re a certified child behavior specialist, and how you came to own Bella Luna Family and what your focus is in your business?
Christine: I’ll tell you a little bit about my story. Those twins you mentioned – when they were born, I was actually a high tech marketing manager, which is funny. I worked for Dell for years and years, and then I had my babies. And I joke that they tried to kill me from sleep deprivation when they were six months old, which kind of prompted me to become obsessed with the sleep, first off. That’s my first love. But secondly, just helping moms and families. So when the boys turned three and I was a potty training failure, I actually became a child behavior consultant, and so part of that encompassed potty training. So I learned how to help families with some of the more challenging behaviors that we experience and then also started potty training consultations, helping families kind of with those in addition to sleep.
Kristin: I love it. It makes perfect sense that you would mix both sleep and potty training.
Kristin: Tell us a bit more about your focus in potty training, the ages that you work with, and we’ll get into some tips for our listeners.
Christine: Yeah. So the focus really for me is, there are some things, like from a child sleep perspective, I don’t think can be child-led because they just can’t make the right decisions for themselves. But when it comes to eating and going to the bathroom, I truly believe potty training is child led. We can’t teach a child to do something that they’re developmentally not ready to do. From that perspective, my primarily focus is just on readiness, making sure that the child is ready to be potty trained. I find a lot of families come to me frustrated, and they’ve been trying everything. They’ve read all the books, and they feel guilty and they feel shame, and they feel like it’s never going to work. Yet they’re trying to teach their child to do something that they’re not ready to do. So I help them come up with an action plan of, number one, figuring out when your child is ready, and then number two, once they’re ready, how can you approach this in a child-led perspective.
Kristin: That makes sense. I know with sleep training, there are so many different methods, and every child is so different. I’m guessing that clients can work with you virtually as well as in person. At what point do clients come to you? Is it more toddler stage? Are they trying earlier than that? Or are they trying to get their child into preschool and it’s a requirement, so they want potty training in a week? Like, what are you seeing?
Christine: Yeah, so most families that come to me, either they’ve been – we’ve worked together in the past on sleep or behavior and now it’s time to work on potty training, and they want to be prepared, going into it prepared and approaching it in a way that doesn’t create resistance. Or secondly, parents come to me a lot because they have been trying and trying and trying, and it’s just not working and they’re feeling like they’re beating their heads against the wall and they’re really frustrated. The more frustrated they get, the more frustrated their child becomes, so it just becomes this vicious cycle. I help them break that cycle.
Kristin: That makes sense. I know with my kids being close in age, my daughter was potty-trained, and then my son was born, and she wanted attention, so she regressed and went back into diapers. So I felt like I had to start all over again. Do you see that?
Christine: I see that a lot. And it’s like they want to go back to being the baby, which you can’t blame them. Oftentimes for two or three years, they’re the only child, and then all of a sudden this little person comes and is taking all of mom’s attention. So it’s a really difficult transition, and it’s very normal when that happens that there will be a regression in potty training, so we do see that. But the good part is they really had it, and this is just a regression. It should go back to normal as the child adjusts to having a new little sibling.
Kristin: Yes. And as you’ve mentioned, daytime potty training is so different than overnight and your work with sleep and so on. So at what point would there be a concern with a toddler who’s not potty trained at night?
Christine: Can I tell you a story?
Kristin: Yeah, please!
Christine: My son Nicholas, he was four, and I never rushed it, because again, sleep is so important to us. It’s important to everyone, but in our household, it’s literally one of our family values. So I said that I wasn’t going to rush the nighttime potty training, but he had other ideas. So he said to me, “Mommy, I’m a big boy now. I’m not going to wear pull-ups to bed anymore.” And I was like, oh, boy. All right. I prepared myself, knowing that I was going to be, you know, getting up in the middle of the night, because he was waking up with a soaked pull-up every single morning. So I prepared myself. I pulled out a second set of sheets. I made sure that his mattress pad was down. I laid a – you know the chucks that we use when we’re giving birth? I had one of those, like a bed pad, that I put underneath. So I knew it was going to be a quick change. I prepared myself mentally. I was going to be waking in the night. And lo and behold, midnight, he comes in. “Mommy, I had an accident.” No big deal. Cleaned him up; cleaned the bed. But in the morning, I said, “Hey, bud. So last night, when you got up in the middle of the night, you had a little bit of an accident.” He’s like, yeah. I’m like, “No big deal. We all have accidents. But let me tell you something. I don’t think your body is ready yet. If your body was ready, you wouldn’t be having accidents. I will pinkie promise you that if you can wake up for seven days in a row dry, then we’ll know your body is ready to wear undies at nighttime.” And I said, “Until then, we can’t teach your body to do something that it’s not ready to do. Bud, could I have taught you to walk before you were ready to walk? Nope? All right. So we can’t change our bodies, right? It has to be something that happens when our bodies are ready to do it.” That really resonated with him, and that helped him to kind of put the pause, because I was like, you’re still a big boy. A lot of kids that are still big boys still wear pull-ups at night. We talked about that piece of it. But it really took some of the pressure off for him to feel like he needs to be able to do that right away because honestly, that’s the truth. If our bodies aren’t ready to do something, we’re just – we can’t train it.
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Kristin: And then with twins and potty training, I’m sure there were many challenges. We work with a lot of twin and triplet families at Gold Coast. What was your personal experience with potty training twins? Was it something you did at the same time, or were they paced differently?
Christine: One twin was ready, and I held him off, because I was like, oh, sweet baby, I cannot do one in diapers and one potty training. I was like, I just can’t do this. It’s too much. So I held the first twin off, and then by the time his brother was ready, he had lost all interest in it altogether. So it was a little bit challenging, but I also didn’t know what I know now. So I would wake up every Saturday morning. I was getting a lot of external pressure, and I think people can relate to this. Someone told me, Christine, what’s wrong with you? Why do you not have these kids potty trained? I had both my boys trained by the time they were two. And I was like, there’s something wrong with me. That’s immediately where you go. I’m defective! And then my step-monster showed up at Easter dinner with Easter baskets of supplies and started trying to potty train my boys while I was cooking Easter dinner. So I was getting a lot of external pressure, and I don’t know about you, but when I’m parenting from a place of pressure, I’m not always making intentional choices and showing up as the best version of myself. Every Saturday morning, I was like, oh, today’s the day. I’m going to seize the world. I’m sure all moms can relate to this, right? And then by 10:30, I jokingly would be texting my husband, is it too early for Prosecco, because they had cried; I had cried; there was pee and poop everywhere. It was a literal s-show. And so I – honestly, we had a really tough time, and it went on for much longer than I think it needed to, but that’s because I was pressuring them because I was feeling so pressured, and it’s children’s natural inclination when we’re trying to pressure them to do something that they’re not ready to do to dig their heels in. They’re like, absolutely not. I’m not ready to do this yet, or now I don’t want to do this. So they really pushed back on me, and it was a long process. But it ends happily. They’re not eight and still in pull-ups. But they started at a new daycare, and they had a pool there. And they said to the boyos, you cannot – they were almost potty trained at this point, but they said, you can’t have any accidents two weeks before going in the pool, or you’re not going to be able to swim. And they both love swimming; can’t blame them, and they really had no accidents after that.
Kristin: Yeah, I feel like there’s that motivation. I know with dealing with my daughter and her regression and needing to be dry before going into preschool, that was a good motivator for her to get back into potty training. But it was stressful for us to know that she might have an accident at school and might not be able to continue on there. But it all worked out.
Christine: A lot of parents come to me in that same situation. Their kids really want to start school. They want to go have fun with their friends and learn, but the potty training piece of it can definitely be challenging. But as soon as they kind of relax a little bit and take the pressure off and it’s not such a focus area, I find it comes together much easier.
Kristin: Agreed. Now, Christine, you had mentioned family members trying to use rewards systems, and some people rely on stickers or candy or toys, whatever it might be. What are your thoughts on that?
Christine: I’m not much of a rewards gal because I’m a firm believer in the reward comes from the behavior itself, right, and it comes from the positive reinforcement that comes from parents, like positive encouragement, because that’s intrinsic motivation. They feel good about what they did, and they’re doing something that is rewarding for them. They’ve mastered a new skill. So I’m a firm believer in not doing reward systems because I feel like then you just have to keep sweetening the pot, or I find that they’ll work for a short period of time, and then kids will lose interest. Some kids are hugely motivated by stickers, but others aren’t, and the next thing you know, you’re having to buy the toy Ferrari to get them to try to go to the bathroom. So I’m not a huge fan of them. I don’t find them to be effective in the long term. Sometimes they can work short term, but I don’t use them from a sleep perspective or for potty training or in behavior. So I guess you could say I’m not that into them.
Kristin: Yeah, I never was, as well, but I felt like I needed to communicate, with anything in early parenting, how we approach things to relatives or even babysitters who had different ideas about how to handle or tackle things, whether it’s sleep as you mentioned or feeding and then also definitely potty training.
Christine: Yeah, same. It’s definitely doing things a little differently than the way I was raised, and I think a lot of us are trying to do things differently and more positive than maybe some of us were raised, and so it does feel very foreign, especially to the older generations, some of the ways that we go about approaching things from a more positive standpoint because a lot of the time, the older generations, it was more punitive. Everything was really punitive and punishment-based. Or bribery.
Kristin: Exactly, yes. What are your best tips for our listeners? Many of our Becoming A Mother students and our doula clients are pregnant and have toddlers at home and are trying to simplify things, whether it’s toddler sleep or again, that potty training. So what are your top tips to navigate that during the tail end of pregnancy?
Christine: So let me just make sure that I understand. So how to navigate potty training toward the tail end of pregnancy, or with a second child?
Kristin: Yes. So they have a second child that they want to try to potty train, and they’re currently pregnant, so this is the stage that they’re in, and they’re hoping to again avoid regressions and really get a plan in place to simplify and avoid potentially having two children in diapers.
Christine: Okay. So number one is, I don’t recommend making any major changes two months before or after a baby arrives because oftentimes there’s a lot of big feelings that are happening right before that, and sometimes we wait until the very end to try to fix something, but it can be a lot of change for a little one in a very short period of time, and I do find that it normally makes the process harder. So I usually recommend trying to wait, you know, either two months before if your little one is showing readiness signals or two months after. The second this is, if you decide to embark on it, you want to really truly make sure that your little one is ready and you’re not just trying to be like, oh, I can’t have two in diapers. If your little one is not ready, it’s going to become really challenging, and I think my worst nightmare would be having a newborn baby and trying to navigate being a newborn mom and having a toddler plus potty training at the same time. That sounds like a lot of work to me, and it sounds like a definite recipe for more burnout and some more behavior issues. You want to make sure – and I’m going to share with your audience, I have a potty training readiness checklist that I will share. It can be a really helpful guide to make sure that your little one truly is ready. Some of the top things coming from that, you want to make sure – the biggest thing is that your little one is asking to use the potty. They have to be really wanting to use it. They’re interested in it; they want to use it; they’re interested when you go. You’ve also got to make sure that they’ve got fewer wet diapers; they can stay dry for at least two hours at a time, they can pull their pants down, at least; they can follow simple instructions. Doesn’t mean that they will, but they can. They’re starting to show that they’re uncomfortable by pulling on the diaper or taking it off. Also that they recognize those pee and poop signals, that they’re telling you, or they going and they’re hiding, so you know when they’re doing that, that they actually know that it’s happening before it’s happening. And then another big one is they’re asserting their independence. “I can do this myself.” Those are really the key things that you want to make sure that your little one is doing before you embark on any sort of potty training.
Kristin: That reduces the pressure to have everything be a certain way before baby is born, whether it’s weaning from breastfeeding if you’re currently breastfeeding during pregnancy or the sleep training, and it also sounds like potty training. So giving yourself that time, that if things don’t happen before two months, then wait. Correct?
Christine: Yeah. Or just wait. You can print the checklist out, put it on the fridge, and as things happen, you can mark them off and celebrate internally about it. You’re getting closer. But then once you’re seeing at least the majority of these things are happening, then you know it’s really go time.
Kristin: And then what signs do you recommend a sleep consultant that a child would be ready to transition? You know, obviously, there are different stages, and some sleep consultants don’t begin working with babies until eight weeks or twelve weeks or even further along, depending on their specialty. So what is your advice there?
Christine: From a sleep perspective, it’s never too early to start sleep shaping. For newborns, I believe that you can start that very early. Those early things are just watching wake windows, trying to identify what your little one’s sleepy cues are, making sure that you’ve got an optimized sleep environment. Cool, dark, white noise going. Those are things that you can start doing immediately, but then we really start sleep shaping as soon as babies start smiling at us, which is usually somewhere in the six to eight week time frame, which means that they are starting to be able to make connections and follow cues. That’s when we can really start encouraging more independent sleep, not that they don’t still need a ton of connection time and snuggles, but at that point, we may actually be ready to encourage them to sleep a little more independently so can get some stuff done.
Kristin: Love it. Any final tips for our listeners, Christine?
Christine: Aside from readiness, I think from a nighttime perspective, we want to make sure that your child is waking up dry, and what I did with my son was seven days because then I knew he really had that ability to be able to do it. His body was really ready. For nighttime potty training, I recommend waiting for that, as well.
Kristin: Excellent. How can our listeners find you? I know Bella Luna Family is on a variety of different social media channels. Then, of course, you have your website.
Christine: Yes, across all social channels, you can find us anywhere @bellalunafamily. I have a lot of fun doing reels on Instagram, and we’re on Pinterest and Facebook. All the major platforms.
Kristin: Thank you so much, Christine! I really appreciate your tips. Thank you for sharing your download! Thank you so much.
Christine: You’re so welcome. Thanks for having me on. It was a pleasure!
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