As a professional nanny, as well as a mother and grandmother, I have some advice for those embarking on the important milestone of potty training.
Are you ready for the ‘Big Step’? More importantly, is your CHILD ready? Beginning too soon just causes frustration to the child as well as all the adults in her life. Starting too soon will make the process last a lot longer. Children gain physical control of bladder and bowels at different ages. There is no ‘right’ age– and don’t let anyone convince you that your child ‘should be potty trained already’! Your child is unique, as all children are, and each child reaches readiness at a different rate, even within families. Pay attention to the signs, and be patient. Very few children are physically and emotionally ready before 2 years of age, and even fewer are not potty trained by age 5. Most children fall somewhere in between, with the average being 2 1/2 -3 years of age.
Before we go any further, I want to express the most important tip for successful potty training: NEVER punish a child for an accident. Praise, support and uplifting encouragement will speed the process up, but punishment, belittling, or anger will cause long-term problems. If things are not going well, back off and try again in a few weeks. Be mentally prepared for accidents, and think ahead how you are going to react when (when, not if!) they happen.
Here are some of the signs that your child is ready to ditch the diapers:
- Wakes up dry in the morning, and after naps.
- Can sit still for at least 2 minutes
- Is in a cooperative stage
- Is interested in bathroom behavior- wants to watch you ‘go potty’
- Can follow simple instructions
- Understands consequences- “when I do this, that happens”
If you begin potty training, and it becomes obvious that your child is just not ‘getting it’, or obviously does not want to cooperate, it is a clear signal that he or she is just not ready. Done at the right time, Potty training will happen in a matter of a few days, without mess or fuss. It is worth the wait.
Preparation for Success:
- Start when you know you can be home for as many days as possible. 4-5 days in a row without having to leave the house is ideal, 2 days is the bare minimum. Choose a time when your focus can be on the child most of the time.
- Buy several packages of underwear- and let your little one help pick them out at the store. You will need at least 10 pair, and they will need to be washed several times during the first few days.
- Pull-ups are for nighttime and naps only– no matter what the cute advertisements say, pull-ups are counter productive. Your child needs to feel what is happening, and YOU need to be able to immediately see what is happening. If you are concerned about rugs or other flooring, keep the action in the kitchen or other room with washable flooring. Cover couches if necessary. Remember, this is only going to be for a few days. Using pull-ups can extend potty training for weeks or even longer. Buy a can of rug spot-cleaner, and have paper towels and rags ready.
- Stock up on juices or other healthy drinks that your toddler likes. You are going to be encouraging LOTS of drinking in the mornings and early afternoons, for the first couple of days. The more drinking, the faster the toddler understands.
- Choose small treats that are tempting to your toddler. I have used small jelly beans, sweet cereal, dried strawberries, and yogurt chips, depending on the child and the family preferences. It must be something that is special to the child, not something that is normally available. Alternately, you can use a sticker chart if that is sufficiently motivating.
- Prepare your potty spot. I prefer using a potty chair- it can be brought into whichever rooms you and your child are going to be in during the first couple of days. Expecting a child to run downstairs or across the house and get there without an accident isn’t practical. As soon as you ‘see the pee’, you need to immediately get him onto the potty- that means the potty needs to be close. Don’t worry, you will be able to transition to the bathroom after just a few days. Have books or small toys ready for her to be distracted with while you ask her to sit. I happened to find a potty chair at a garage sale that ‘cheers’ every time liquid hits the bowl. It makes the process even easier, as I can hear and react as soon as there is success- the quicker the reinforcement, the quicker the connection is made for the child.
- If the weather is cool, prepare several sets of leggings: use adult size socks and cut the foot out of each. Slip them on each leg.This gives the child some warmth on the legs without having the problem of having to pull down pants during training. After several days, put on loose pants that are easy to get up and down. Here is a great post from hobomama explaining how to make leggings out of socks.
- Build the excitement! For 2 or 3 days ahead, talk about using the potty, read potty books, and ‘potty train’ a doll or favorite stuffed animal. 3 or 4 times a day, have the doll sit on the potty, slip a little water in the potty and make it a fun game. Give the doll a treat each time…but after the treat is ‘offered’ to the doll, allow the child to enjoy it. The day before you begin, get out the under-pants, put the treats in view (but out of reach!), and show excitement as you explain that tomorrow it will be HER turn.
The big day has arrived!
- As soon as your child wakes up, it’s time to begin. Make a big deal about removing the diaper and putting on the undies. The undies are so much more comfortable! Remove pants and use the leggings if the house is cool.
- Start with the special drinks, and put your child on the potty with a book or small toy every 20 minutes- set the timer! If there is an accident in between times, reassure your child, and put on dry undies without making a fuss about it. Each time there is pee in the potty, make a big deal about it and give a small treat. Remember that it will take time for your child to figure out when the pee is coming, and how to get on the potty. Be patient, reassuring, and positive.
- The idea is to have as many opportunities to practice as possible- make sure your child is drinking frequently throughout the day- the more, the better during the first two days. As the training period ends, go back to a normal drinking schedule, without the special drinks that encouraged him to drink more.
- By the end of the first day, there should have been at least a few times when your child successfully got to the potty before having an accident. If there is no improvement by the end of the second day, or the child is resisting sitting on the potty, it is a sign that the child is not yet ready- try again in two or three weeks. Remember, no matter what YOUR schedule is, if a child is not ready, it is a disservice to everyone to try and force it.
- If you have to leave the house in the first few days, be prepared with a water proof seat cover and spare clothes. Avoid giving drinks for at least an hour before leaving, and while away from the house. Avoid using pull-ups unless absolutely necessary in emergency situations. There will be a few accidents at first, just as each of us did when we learned ourselves. If you follow these steps, the accidents should end soon.
” Once you start venturing outside of the home how do you minimize accidents and get them used to going in other environments?”
Great question! Once the initial training period is over, your child will not need to use the potty as frequently. Before leaving the house, model the behavior you desire- visit the toilet together before leaving. At the beginning, asking if a child needs to ‘go’ is not always successful- he may not recognize the feeling yet. After an hour or so, go into the public restroom with your child and again model what you want your child to do before you put her on the toilet. Hold her so she feels supported and at ease. If you use a removable potty seat at home, bring it with you for the first couple of weeks. Be prepared with your potty treats :). Restrict liquids an hour before leaving the house.
“My child is afraid of public toilets- they are so noisy!”
Those noisy toilets can be a scary thing. This is one problem that you can solve even before starting toilet training. Go into several public toilets and talk with your child about what it is. Flush the toilets together several times and watch the water swirl around until your child is comfortable with the noise and the sights. Your child may have seen you use the toilet many times, but has never understood what you are doing unless you have discussed it- the connection between what is in the diaper and what is in the toilet has not been made yet. Now is the time to flush the contents of a poopy diaper and say “bye-bye, poop!” so she understands what the toilet is for. Fear is eliminated by education, whether we are adults or children.
“What about those automatic flushing toilets that sometimes flush while you are still sitting??”
Bring post-it notes and cover the sensor so that it does not flush unexpectedly.
Do YOU have a question or suggestion? Leave a reply below and I will answer.