Autonomy And Potty Training

Autonomy and potty training are practically synonymous. According to Webster, autonomy is simply defined as independence and freedom. Children CRAVE autonomy…as witnessed by the never-ending “I do it myself!” But occasionally, I have a client with what I call “The Fantasy Kid”. This child is stuck in the zone of mom’s-got-this.

Often, it’s not clear what exactly is going on but this child seems to not want to actively take part in potty training. They’re okay if you prompt them and bring them and help them with their clothes. They just never seem to take it on fully as their own. This is almost never active resistance and your child will not articulate this with words.


We moms are the biggest enablers known to man…not because we don’t want our children to move forward. But mostly because it just doesn’t occur to us to do something different. I’ve been dressing Pascal since day one. It never occurred to me to let him pick out his clothes and dress himself until one day at preschool; I happened to look around and see most of the kids had on really effed up outfits. My first thought was: how could so many moms not have had their coffee today? Then I realized: Oooo. These kids were dressing themselves. Got it.


Both while potty training and in general, you want to foster your child’s independence. When you give them control of certain things you are more likely to avoid power struggles over all.  But most importantly, your child is also going to have a ton of pride in self mastery and will naturally want to take on more. Here’s a few ways you can help move their autonomy and thus, self esteem along.

  • Getting dressed: you don’t want to leave this completely up to your child or you may have fights you didn’t ask for. But you can lay out 2 choices and let them choose. If your child doesn’t want to do this by himself, you can help things along: “You take off your clothes and I will help you put the clean clothes on.” or “Here. Let me help you with your shirt, you do your pants.”
  • Tool box: outfit your child with a real tool, tool box. You can find miniature REAL tools at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  Have your child help you do some fixing with a real tool. This is amazing for building self pride and eye-hand coordination.
  • Regular chore: Have a very regular chore your child must do. Something more than a vague “pick up your toys.”  Clearing their own dish after a meal and putting it in the sink is perfect. It will not only make your child feel important; it will give him a place in the family. And he will naturally shine.
  • Gardening: again, with real gardening tools. Children love digging and growing things. When you give them real tools to do so, they step up to the task with more reverence and care.
  • Supervised knife use: This is my magic bullet for the kid who’s stuck a little in the “mom’s-got-this” zone. Carefully supervise your child using a real knife on real food. Be sure to tell them this is sharp and they need to be careful and you will help them. For most kids, an almost eerie calm comes over them. THEY LOVE THIS. It’s almost a right of passage. They are being allowed in the big kid zone and they know it.  It’s usually a glowing moment for them. Obviously, if your child is not in the right mood and can not be calm while doing this: don’t do it.

All of these things are meant to activate autonomy. None are a quick fix for any problem. Just a reminder to help move you and your child along the freedom trail. The beauty in all of these is they all require a bit of trust on your part. And I find when we bump up our trust a bit, the kids usually step up.