As a parent, part of you is probably really looking forward to potty training (no more diapers!), while another part of you is likely dreading potty training (accidents! messes! oh my!).
How can you make this important part of your child's life go as smoothly as possible (for everyone involved)? Here are some potty training tips and strategies.
Step 1: Decide if Your Child is Ready for Potty Training
If your child isn't really ready for potty training (regardless of whether or not you're ready for potty training), there's not much use in trying.
In general, children are ready for potty training around 24 months, though some take much longer to get the knack, even up to 3 1/2 years old. On the other hand, some are ready earlier than others, as early as 18 months.
There are a few ways your child will show signs of readiness to move forward. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Can your child physically walk to the toilet, remove their clothing and sit on the toilet without assistance?
- Does your child know when they need to go, and do they announce it (either vocally or otherwise)?
- Do they usually need to go at the same times every day, more or less?
- Does your child need a diaper change fewer than every two hours?
- Has your child shown interest in potty training? (Whether that's by talking about, showing dislike for their diapers, showing interest in their family member's bathroom habits, etc.)
If you answered yes to 3 out of 5 of these questions, you're probably good to start pursuing potty training.
Are there ever any times when I might want to put off potty training?
Yes! Potty training is not a good idea if you expect your child is or will soon be going through stress. Stress can make it harder for them to navigate their body's functions and increase the likelihood of accidents.
Stressful situations during which you might want to put off potty training include periods of time with a lot of travel, during a move or during general family disturbances (from a divorce to a loved one's death to even a birth/adoption). In these cases, it's better to wait and have potty training success than create a series of unfortunate incidents that makes everyone miserable.
Step 2: Buy the Right Gear
You're going to need an assortment of gear to make all this toilet training business work.
You'll need a potty chair first, which is simply a kid-sized toilet. Often plastic, colorful and — let's admit it — none too fun to clean out for Mom or Dad, potty chairs get your child used to the idea of going only when they're sitting on a toilet.
They also help them become comfortable and excited about using a toilet, more so than your plain, white, porcelain throne might. Invite your child to help shop for their potty chair to get them even more invested in the process.
If you don't want to go with a potty chair and would rather start your child out on a regular toilet, at least consider a seat reducer. Seat reducers sit atop your normal toilet seat but diminish the size, so it's more kid-friendly (ie, your child isn't going to slip off the potty seat while you're not looking if they lose their balance!).
If you go with the standard toilet and the seat reducer from the beginning, you may also need to buy a potty step stool to help them climb up to their throne. You may also need a potty stool to help them reach the bathroom sink, too, after they're done. Or just opt for a seat reducer with some steps attached.
You'll want to buy some "big kid" underwear, even if you don't think your child is ready for them
just yet. The big kid underwear, featuring one of their favorite characters (let them pick this out in the store, too), will be a motivator and help your child more easily get on board with the process. After all, they won't want to ruin their cool, new underpants with an accident.
Go ahead and buy some training pants or pull-ups to use as well. Training pants are the middle ground between diapers and regular underwear and will be more forgiving early on when your child is more likely to have an accident.
Of course, clean up is an important part of potty training. You want to teach your little one proper wiping techniques (i.e., sanitary methods, wiping from front to back for girls, versus back to front, etc.). Sometimes, that's easier and faster with flushable wipes rather than standard toilet paper.
Wipes can also ensure that your child isn't using an exorbitant amount of toilet paper. Along these lines, get some kid-friendly soap (again, think bright colors and fun characters) to encourage your child to always wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
For more encouragement and motivation for your child, you may also want to pick (or print out) some sort of progress chart. This can also be something you make on your own, with a little graph-building in Excel and some fun stickers. Just note — this grid is not for you. It's a chart to make your child feel better about their accomplishments, not so you can track and criticize.
If you find that your child doesn't take to potty training immediately (and most won't!), you may also want to pick up some accident-friendly sheets and/or mattress covers for nighttime use, as well as some extra clothes for quick changes when out and about.
Step 3: Introducing the Concept
Remember: using the toilet and the entire concept of using the bathroom, diaper or no, is completely foreign to your child. Sure, they may do it all day, every day, but they're not up on all the bathroom lingo or the various do's and don'ts. So, go slow and introduce the concept of potty time in a friendly, very patient manner.
First, you've got to teach them about the language, which isn't as straightforward as you think. Choose positive language to use around the subject of potty training, versus any language that may make your child think of using the bathroom as a dirty or shameful process (which will only lead them to attempt not doing it, which of course results in accidents).
Make language around potty training normal and approved in your home, and nothing to whisper about.
Talk to your child about the process, how to do it and how to know when to do it, frequently. Let them accompany you into the restroom (if they don't do so already) and talk about what's happening.
Step 4: Give It a Try
Once the concept is introduced, let your child give it a try (but don't force it). Let them sit on the toilet or their potty chair, either clothed or unclothed, whatever makes them feel the most comfortable.
Once they've become comfortable with sitting on the toilet, encourage them to use it. If you notice your child uses the bathroom at certain times every day (upon waking, after meals, after drinking a lot of liquids, etc.), try to time these sit-down sessions around those times of day. If you see your child showing visible signs of needing to use the bathroom, encourage them to sit on the toilet or potty chair at those times.
To make these instances easier, some parents recommend clothing your child in easy-to-remove pants, without difficult clasps, zippers or buttons, or to allow your child some totally naked time throughout the day for even easier use.
Another tip: don't ask your child if they have to use the bathroom. Instead, gently encourage them, with verbiage such as, "Why don't you try to go to the bathroom?" or "Maybe it's time to go to the potty. Want to show me how it's done?"
Step 5: The Follow-Up
How you respond to your child's successful use (or not-so-successful use) of the toilet matters a great deal.
If your child successfully uses the restroom, give them a reward, whether that be a sticker on their progress chart or extra television time. You don't want the reward to be so big that it loses its effect. You want to save the big reward (a new toy, etc.) as the final recognition of finally mastering the concept.
If your child goes to the restroom but doesn't produce anything, still give them praise and positive reinforcement. They made an effort, after all, which is a big deal.
If your child fails, though? And has an accident? Don't treat it like a failure. There'll be lots of accidents, potty-related or otherwise, in your child's life. Don't discourage them, punish them or even show disappointment. Be understanding, patient and kind.
Related: How to Avoid Snowplow Parenting
Other Important Factors to Consider When Potty Training
There are a few other factors you should consider when potty training.
Make sure everyone is following the same process.
If you're not the only caregiver in your child's life, make sure that everyone — grandparents, daycare provider, older siblings, etc. — follows the same potty-training process. You don't want one person to come through with their own methods and ruin all your hard work. If you've found a specific method that works best for you and your child, ask everyone to please follow the same.
Talk to other parents.
While it's important to know that each child learns differently and that there is no magic formula for a perfect potty-training experience, there is wisdom to be had from other parents. So call your grandma, mom, aunts and other family members who can offer some tried and true advice. Women have been potty training babies for hundreds of years.
Tidbits of knowledge have likely made their way down through your family, too.
Remember that your child is not like other children.
Your child will not potty train the same as your best friend's child, your sibling's child or even your other children. Even if sitting on the toilet every half-hour might have worked for Susan's kid next door, each child embarks on this journey differently. If you need to regroup and try different methods once you realize things aren't working, don't sweat it.
Also, don't pressure yourself into a one-size-fits-all potty training method. Sure, 3-day potty training works for some, and you may want to give it a try, but it won't work for everyone. So don't feel like it needs to work for you. If you decide to go this route, Molaka Reese with Paint the World with You recommends to clear the distractions and set aside 3 days of uninterrupted time. "Give every ounce of your attention to your child during these three days and bring your patience."
Boys and girls are different.
If you've potty-trained one of the two before, and now you're on to the other gender, you'll notice some differences. Boys often have a greater learning curve. That's why some parents choose to teach their boys to use the bathroom completely sitting down first. Then, once they're successfully potty trained, they move on to learning the whole process of peeing standing up.
Regression isn't abnormal.
You may totally get the potty training down. Things may be going well… Then your child regresses. It's no big deal. See if there's a problem you can address (external stressors can cause a regression) and, if not, start back at the beginning.
Don't cut back on fluids.
If you think that cutting back on fluids will help your child avoid accidents, don't fall for that temptation. Not only is cutting fluids unhealthy and not quite fair to your child, but it's also ineffective. You want to give your child as many opportunities to succeed as possible (meaning, as many chances to use the toilet successfully as possible), and they'll need their fluids in order to do that. (But don't up the fluids either; just stick with whatever's normal.)
Having Problems with Potty Training?
There are a few common problems that can pop up with potty training.
For example, your child may get the hang of going Number 1 before they feel comfortable going Number 2. As such, they might ask for a diaper for any bowel movements. Don't give in. Instead, make the pooping process as easy and as comfortable as possible for your child. Books, songs and games can help your child take their mind off their poo. These tricks are also great for children who get nervous in public restrooms.
Additionally, you may have started your child too early. If your child isn't getting the hang of potty training after a few weeks or a month of hard, consistent work, you may want to step back, return to diapers and revisit the process a little later. (However, if your child is more than four years old and still can't get the hang of potty training, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician.)
Keep Some Perspective
Finally, don't take yourself or your child too seriously. Alice Anderson with Mommy to Mom helps keep struggling parents focused, "Potty training requires a lot of patience, and you're not going to get very far if your child isn't interested. Make the experience positive and fun using things like rewards so they will want to try."
If you aren't having fun, your child probably isn't either. And remember, even the hardest child to train stops using diapers eventually. So find ways to laugh and enjoy the process together rather than see it as a battle.
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