The Main Event – Let the Potty Training Commence!
In Part I of our series on potty training, we discussed how to tell if your child is potty-ready, and how to reinforce bathroom habits before you begin to toilet train. You’ve been gearing up for months now, and your child is finally demonstrating all the signs that he is ready to go. So how can you make the process easier for your child – and yourself? Here are some simple tips and tricks to encourage your child to use the potty and minimize risk of accidents.
1. Practice Reinforcement: When your child is first starting out, you need to get him to connect the dots that the potty is where the magic happens. This may mean keeping a potty in your living room or kitchen and putting your child on the potty every 10 minutes to start. Get a great potty that can move around the house easily, and that he’ll love to use – I highly recommend this Summer Infant potty. It may be dumb luck that the first few times he happens to be on the potty, he uses it, but if you keep reinforcing the habit, he’ll eventually catch on.
2. Bribe Them: Many parents are fans of keeping M&Ms or Hershey kisses near the potty for a quick post-potty reward. An advance warning – this may work at first, but once my son caught on that he was getting a sweet every time he used the potty, his trips to the bathroom got closer and closer together, and he “held back” when he went so he could go again shortly thereafter. On the bright side, even if your toddler is learning yet another way to manipulate you, he’s also learning to manipulate his bladder – a great way to physically reinforce bladder control.
3. Praise Them: Heap it on every time your child uses the potty with success. We had a very enthusiastic potty dance for successful trips. Our praise was so over-the-top that it eventually began to embarrass our son, and he asked us to stop. But in my house, we are firm believers that embarrassing your children should start at a young age.
4. Target Practice: Everyone knows that boys love shooting things and boys love their penises. So why not combine the two? There is nothing your son will love more than shooting floating Cheerios in the potty with his pee. *Also great for getting your son to learn how to avoid peeing on the toilet seat.
5. Reward Chart: Many parents swear by this method of training, whereby you use a potty training chart and stickersto document successful potty trips. Some charts allow for the child to receive a
bribe prize after 10 trips. I did not use this method, but that’s because I am pretty lazy and this seems like a lot of work.
6. Read: As you started doing before the official training, keep it up with the toilet books. Reading is fundamental and a great way for kids to pass time on the potty while they’re waiting for things to start moving. Just ask my husband.
7. Ditch the Diapers, Embrace the Undies: This trick is one-part bribery, one-part positive-reinforcement, and one-part parental bravery. Toss out the diapers for good, and get your child some big kid underpants that he’ll be chomping at the bit to wear. There will be accidents, and there will be clean-up involved, but many experts say that you will seriously hinder efforts to potty train if you let them back into diapers.
8. Teamwork and Peer Pressure: It takes a village to raise a child. Turns out it also takes a village to potty train one. If your child is in daycare, lucky you! When your child spends the vast majority of waking hours with a caregiver, then that means that the vast majority of potty training work will inevitably fall to that caregiver. Plus, watching their friends use the potty with success is just the right kind of peer pressure to spark serious interest in the potty. Just make sure to work with your child’s caregivers to be consistent. You don’t want to undo the work they have done, or vice versa!
9. Ask Them: I think when my son was being potty trained I so dreaded the clean-up and prospect of an accident at a really inconvenient time, I literally asked him about every three minutes if he had to use the potty. Perhaps I made him a bit neurotic (or was he already neurotic and that’s why I was asking so often?), but toddlers are notorious for getting easily distracted. I like to think that my frequent asking made him think about the toilet more.
10. Have Patience: A virtue in life, and a necessity when potty training. Look, I know you’re desperate to be done with the diapers and are sick of the diaper changing. But pushing a child out of diapers before he is ready will do nothing but frustrate you and make the process longer and more painful than it needs to be. Children are incredibly perceptive and manipulative, and the last thing you want is a child who no longer has accidents, but very intentional happenstances.
11. Laugh: You will need to have a sense of humor when your child, who has been peeing on the potty like a champ but refusing to poop, poops the second you get her in a diaper for naptime.
12. It’s Okay To Wait: We feel a lot of pressure to have our children potty trained by a certain time, especially when your child’s peers all seem to be trained. It’s important to remember that all children are different, as are the circumstances conducive to promoting success for each child. Forget what a pain the training actually is – the extra clothes you’ll need to tote around, the bathroom contingency plans you’ll need to have to go on any outing, the messes you’ll inevitably have to clean up… You may have specific issues that are going to throw a wrench in training. New babies, moves, changes in child care, preschool fears, etc. can all seriously affect your child’s emotional readiness. Think before you train. If you are not ready to take it on, don’t feel bad. It’s okay to wait (a little while, anyway).
13. Go Commando: This is a very popular method often done in conjunction with a potty “boot camp” whereby parents commit to three days of complete devotion to potty training – and also agree to lose diapers and underwear for good. We actually did the boot camp at our house with mixed success. Which leads to the next tip…
14. Take a Time Out: Pay attention to what your child is telling you. When my son was 27 months old, we experimented with potty boot camp, and after three days, my son was an expert at peeing in the potty, but absolutely terrified of pooping. We went diaper-free for a few weeks, but every #2 was a traumatic experience – he would cry, shake, refuse, and physically force himself to hold it in to painful effect. What my son was trying to tell me was that while he was physically ready (he had complete below the belt muscle control), he was clearly not there emotionally. We decided to take a break from the training and put him back in diapers. And five months later when we revisited the issue, he was ready, and went from diapers to no diapers (not even for naps or overnight) within a few days. Potty training was a cinch the second time around – when he was fully ready.
Bonus Tip – No Pictures, Please: This one is just a matter of common decency. When your child finally takes that amazing poop on the potty you’ve been waiting for, please don’t post the picture on Facebook after. You’re friends can thank me later for this one.
Potty training your child will be one of the most frustrating, messy, hilarious but ultimately liberating experiences of your life. Just remember, many experts suggest that every child has a trained by date hardwired, so if you start too early, you may be met with a lot of resistance. Pay close attention to the signs that your child is getting potty-ready. And remember when you are cleaning up your fifth accident of the day, no one goes to high school still wearing diapers. You will get there – with some hard work, a lot of mess, a few laughs and a lot of patience.