Humor Makes Potty Training Easier, Says Science

My daughter decided to potty train at the impossible age of 22 months. Her brother was still very new on the scene at just 1-month-old and, honestly, potty training wasn’t even on my radar. I did my best to avoid the topic for a few days, but she was determined. She wanted out of those diapers as soon as possible. I’ve never spent more time wishing for a magic wand in my life.

Potty training can be a daunting task under the best circumstances, but with an infant attached to me and a 22-month-old toddler leading the charge…it was quite a process. There were accidents. There were near misses. There were many, many trips to sub-par bathrooms at grocery stores. There was laughter…and there were a few tears (mostly mine at the end of the day). It was exhausting in the moment, but the moment really only amounted to about two weeks. The one thing that got us through it was our sense of humor. We did everything we could to laugh our way through it, and it seemed to work.


We all know that toddlers love to laugh, and I’m fairly certain we all prefer laughter to tears, but a team of French scientists recently discovered that using humor also helps toddlers learn new tasks. Published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, the study observed adults using a tool to grab an out of reach toy in front of 18-month-old toddlers. In one group, the adults simply played with the toy. In the other, the adults made the children laugh by throwing the toy on the floor. Data collected by the research team found that the group of children that laughed at the adult antics were better able to repeat the actions of the adults. In short, humor facilitated learning.

It seems as though laughter actually is the best medicine, and that’s good news for potty training parents! Before you let the stress of accidents, long car trips, or night training get the best of you, consider these strategies to add some humor to your potty training routine. You may be amazed by how well it works!

1. Sing a silly song. Teachers often use music to motivate kids, and for good reason. Kids love to sing! Adding a little music to things like clean up time at preschool keeps kids motivated and adds a little fun to the process. Apply this to potty training and you can sing your way through the ups and downs together. I’m not much of a songwriter, but I’ve been known to swap out lyrics to get my kids laughing. Think about their favorite songs and make them into potty songs to keep your kids smiling.

2. Add a silly surprise. It’s amazing what a little food dye can do to lighten the mood. Add some food coloring to your toilet bowls (dye each one a separate color!). This provides choices (“I want the red potty!”) and an element of surprise to an otherwise boring task. Don’t stop there, though. Smiling faces made of shaving cream are both fun and flushable and creating silly looking potty training masks to wear in the bathroom will get your kids laughing. Be creative. Get older kids in on the action. The possibilities are endless.

3. Host a funny face contest. Mirrors are great fun when you’re a toddler. Little kids love looking at themselves in the mirror. They also love trying out new faces. Have a funny face contest after using the potty to up the fun factor. Have your child practice his funniest face ever while he’s on the potty, then race to the mirror and try to make each other laugh while you wash hands.

4. Dance it out. Another thing most toddlers love? Dancing. For the life of me, I can’t remember why I ever bothered with stickers when dancing is the best motivator around. Have your child choreograph a special potty dance to perform together after each attempt and watch the mood shift from stress to silliness.

5. Play dress up. It’s impossible to feel stressed out — or take anything too seriously — when you (and your child) are wearing underpants on your head.

Don’t be afraid to goof off while your toddler works though potty training. Like any milestone, potty training includes emotional shifts. Sometimes they make it on time and celebrate, other times they fall apart when they just don’t make it on time.

When we make the process fun and engaging, we send a positive message to our toddlers. They will learn eventually, but probably not overnight. We might as well have a little fun along the way.

More Parenting Tips from Katie Hurley:

Photo: Getty


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