Every mom’s dream is to teach her child to potty train quickly and with no mess. Instead, lots of us find that it becomes the absolute worst job in toddler parenthood, with tantrums and crying (from baby AND mama). It almost makes some mamas never want to give up diapers, no matter the expense.

Lynn Ell Tilker, potty training coach extraordinaire and creator of BottomZz Up potty training system, talked to us about the process. She offers practical tips that will change the potty training experience from “Ugh, no” to “That was easy!”

Why do so many parents hate potty training? Why is it so difficult to teach kids to potty train?

I don’t think it’s as difficult as people make it out to be. Over time, though, it’s developed a stigma. I think it’s human nature to talk about the stress of potty training, and from that, it’s gotten a bad rap. That just causes new parents to postpone potty training because they’ve learned to dread it. I always tell people, “You can make of it what you want! Just because you’ve never potty trained a child doesn’t mean you can’t do it.” You CAN do it, and you can make it a good experience.

As a coach, what’s your philosophy on potty training?

You have to follow your potty training plan 24/7. Your whole family needs to be on board, as well as anyone who takes care of your child, like a nanny or daycare center. You need to be consistent and follow through at home and away from home. If you are potty training a certain way at home, and your child isn’t with you for part of the day, then your child’s care giver must do the same thing. Kids thrive on consistency. This philosophy is not a Magic 8 Ball. You have to put in the work. Remember that using the bathroom is not an innate behavior. We have to teach them, and they’ll learn.

How do you know when the best time to potty train is?

Your child will give you cues. Some of the cues to look for: when your child follows you into the bathroom, tears off his diaper, talks about using the potty, talks about you using the potty, tells you they’ve just gone in their diaper, or listens intently when you talk about it.

How can I encourage my child?

You may want to promise your child that you’ll get them a special toy when they use the potty. Take them to the store to pick it out, bring it home, and let them see their reward. That way, it’s always there, and they know they will get it as soon as they use the potty.

Tell them that they’re a big boy or big girl, and make the process all about them, because it really IS all about them. It’s really important to remember that potty training is not about you. It’s not about your child using the potty because you’d like them to start preschool, or that you’re tired of changing diapers. It has to be done on their time, when they’re ready. It’s all about empowering your child, once they’re ready.

Also, you shouldn’t add any extra steps to potty training. I tell my clients to make it as simple as possible. Don’t buy a child’s potty that you place on the ground, and then after they use that successfully, move them to the toilet. All you’ve done is increase the time it takes for them to learn to use the potty. Instead, use a step stool and a removable potty seat, and let them use the “adult” toilet.

Why aren’t all kids ready at the same time?

Remember, it’s not a competition. And it’s not about gender. It’s hard to hear that the toddler next door is potty trained at 24 months, but you have to let go of that. This is truly about your child’s personal development. If you want to be proactive, you can start talking about using the potty when they’re around 18-19 months, but it won’t happen until your child is ready. The time table is up to them.

How long should it take to potty train?

I hesitate to put a time on it. It depends on the child, the situation at home, the health of everyone involved, and if you are completely consistent. I’d say the average child could take about three weeks to potty train.

Why do kids have setbacks?

There are many reasons. Emotional issues in the house, a new baby joins the household, you’re moving, or something stressful is going on. Kids absorb their parents’ emotional state. Trying to potty train while something else is happening that is upsetting you or your child will set your child further and further back.

How should parents treat the whole process?

Parents should think of this as one of the biggest milestones in their child’s maturation. It’s their last step to being independent as a toddler. They’ll be self-sufficient (as self-sufficient as a toddler can be), and now it’s one less thing for you to do and one better thing for them to handle. You should treat it as a fun, happy time, because they’re becoming independent. If you keep it happy and consistent, you’ll see a much more engaged child.

Make potty training a priority. You need to reward every effort, because you’re providing positive reinforcement. If you give them negative reinforcement, you’ll see negative behavior. When you’re working with your child, remember that there are no guarantees. Be consistent and treat this as a happy time.