Potty training can be tough but it doesn't have to be! I am happy to say that I have successfully potty trained my oldest son. Since the process is fresh in my mind and we had a really positive experience, I thought it would be helpful to share what worked for us.
Like many aspects of parenting, I don't believe there is only one way. Every mama and child is different. I do believe, however, that proper prep before inviting active participation from your child will set you up for the most success, regardless of the method you choose. Beyond prep, I am also sharing all of my tips for gentle yet effective potty training.
Prep Work Makes The Dream Work
(The Dream of a Potty Trained Child That Is)
When and how to start are two questions I think all of us mamas have when starting to potty train. So let’s start with when. Your child is likely ready when they become curious about the bathroom, ask questions about it, or even ask to sit on the toilet. They should also have enough verbal skills to be able to tell you when they need to go.
It is also equally important for you to feel ready to teach the process. For us, Luke was ready before I was. It took me a little while to organize an approach and that was ok. It's important for both of you to feel ready so the process can be as smooth as possible.
As far as how to start, I recommend reading Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding The Right Approach For Your Child. Starting with this book is a great place to gain insight into the process and identify which approach is right for your child.
While reading (I aimed for 15-20 min nightly before bed), continue preparations by talking about the bathroom with them. When you have to go, tell your child. Invite them to go with you and talk about what you are doing.
If they are in the extra curious "why" phase of toddlerhood, explain a simple rundown of why we need to use the bathroom. I think it is helpful for kiddos to understand that drinking water and eating food will cause them to need to use the restroom. For us, Luke enjoyed learning about this aspect and it helped him to “listen” to his body.
Helpful Potty Training Introduction & Reinforcement
As I was getting closer to begin actively potty training, I decided to strengthen my son’s interest in using the toilet by watching episodes of Daniel Tiger that dealt with potty training. I chose a few books as well. These include:
- Daniel Tiger Season 2 Episode 1
Prince Wednesday Goes to The Potty/ Daniel Goes To The Potty
- Daniel Tiger Season 10 Episode 4
Daniel Doesn’t Want to Go Potty/Daniel Sits on The Potty
*These episodes have catchy songs that I sang to Luke which helped him remember to use the potty. If you are new to my blog you will soon find that I am a BIG Daniel Tiger fan. This show seriously helps me navigate so many aspects of toddlerhood.
The books I chose have sound and are great for keeping your kiddos interest, which can be helpful when you need them to sit on the toilet a little longer.
We frequently referred to these “tools” throughout the potty training process as a way to remind and reinforce the idea in a fun way. Even though he is now potty trained, he still enjoys them.
As you are taking your time to figure out an approach and introducing the idea of using the potty to your child, you will also want to make sure you have the necessary supplies on hand before beginning.
Stock Your Supplies
(Spoiler It’s more than just TP)
I recommend getting all of the following that way you are prepared to deal with any potential hiccups in the process.
- Potty Training Seat With Step Stool Ladder
- Step Stool (for sink)
- Faucet Extender
- Travel Potty Seat (I was hesitant at first but it's really nice to have. You can use it around the house if getting them to the bathroom is an issue, when they are outside, or on the go.)
- Travel Potty Liners (Makes the travel potty clean up so much easier!)
- Wipes (Again for the travel potty)
- Cleaning supplies for messes
- Potty books
- *Potty chart if you choose to use it
- (More about these last two in a minute.)
A Note About Pull-Ups
I believe as helpful as Pull-Ups can be, they can also be equally unhelpful. Pull-Ups are diapers. Other than the ability to pull them on there is no difference. So, why would your child treat them any differently? If you tell your child to eliminate their waste in a new way (toilet) but provide the old way (diaper/pull up) they are going to choose what they are used to and what they don’t have to think about. In my humble opinion, I think Pull-Ups lengthen the potty training process and can create a lot of confusion for your little one.
You might be wondering why they are on my list of supplies then. There are two reasons for this. In the early, early days of potty training when your goal is to introduce the concept and stoke their curiosity, Pull-Ups can be very convenient. These are the days when your goal is not to transition them to underwear but instead attempt a few tries at the potty.
When you and your child are ready to jump into active potty training, ditch the Pull-ups and opt for underwear. Yes, accidents will undoubtedly happen but every accident they can feel and you can see is an opportunity for a better understanding of potty training. The second reason why they are on my list is for nap and nighttime use before your child learns to control their bladder while sleeping. (This by the way happens naturally!)
The last thing you may want to consider as you are gearing up for potty training is incentives. Giving thought to this ahead of time will make the goals you set in place clearer to you and your child.
For us, we used a variety of incentives, the first being a potty chart. However, the “incentive” of getting to put a sticker up on his chart was not something that resonated with Luke but, it did for me. It helped me keep track of our progress and I even noted how many times I had asked him that particular day (it was a learning curve for me to remember to consistently ask). As our potty training progressed, and we found our rhythm together, I ditched the chart. But initially, it was immensely helpful for me.
I also played around with various incentives and changed it up according to what I thought would resonate best with him on that particular day. Sometimes it was a chocolate chip, other times it was going to the park, or getting a little extra TV time.
I found that changing up the reward and the reward increments were really helpful until I didn't need them anymore. However, there was one incentive I used every single time and that is praise. My son loves to hear, "good job!" or "I'm proud of you" and it really helped him to be proud of himself and take pride in potty training.
Transitioning from Prep Work to Active Work
Now that you’ve established that you and your child are ready, figured out a method, and purchased supplies, it’s time to start the transition from prepping to active training. As you do this, try to stay home for the first two weeks. Keep your schedule extremely predictable and always have an accessible potty close by.
At this point, you just have to take a deep breath and jump in. Put them in underwear and explain that you will be teaching them how to use the potty like a big kid. If you've prepped properly, the idea shouldn't be completely foreign to them. Clarify that the underwear they are wearing will not hold pee and poop like they are used to. Explain to them how their body may feel when they need to use the restroom i.e. a full feeling in the bottom of their belly etc.
Help them connect and listen to their body. In the early days of our potty training, I would frequently ask Luke if he was listening to his body and remind him that his body will give him cues that he needs to go to the bathroom and what those cues are.
Have this same conversation frequently throughout the day and continue to do so every day until you see the connections taking place for your child. Even then, start the day with this same verbiage to reinforce the idea until it becomes a common thought for your child.
During this time, when I needed to use the bathroom I would announce it to my son saying something like, "My lower belly feels full and I'm getting wiggly. I better listen to what my body is trying to tell me. I think it's time for Mommy to go potty. Would you like to come with me?" Modeling the whole process whenever I needed to go was a low-stress way to teach my son and reinforce what I wanted him to do.
Keep A Low Stress Mindset
The entire potty training process is a huge transition so be sure to keep your expectations very low. Don't expect anything on the first day. If your kiddo gets to the toilet a few times that is a success. If your child doesn't get to the toilet at all but you explain to them what you would like to accomplish over the next few weeks or months, that is a success!
Low standards and a lot of patience is the way to go. This way, any progress is positive and you don’t get upset or put too much pressure on the situation. It is important to remember that you are new at teaching the process. There may be times where an accident could have been avoided but you forgot to read their cues or ask. Both of you will make mistakes and that is ok. Give yourself and your child a lot of grace during this time.
The First Accident
The first accident is inevitable. It is also a positive step in potty training. It is the first time that your child can really grasp the idea that their underwear is not going to hold their waste. Potty training is just that, training. Expect accidents. Prepare for them and make sure you have what you need on hand to clean them up.
How you handle the first accident is important. Stay positive and encouraging. Take them to the restroom after the accident to see if they still need to go. Then, get them changed and involve them in the process of cleaning up the accident. This is not a form of punishment, (kiddos should never be punished for potty accidents) it is simply a way to help them see cause and effect. It also helps them to remain active in all aspects of the potty training process.
Let them know that it's okay to make mistakes while they are learning and talk about what might help them get to the potty sooner next time. Just remember to keep it very casual and comforting. The key to treating accidents is to take away as much intimidation and mental blocks as possible and provide comfort and resources for them to be successful.
Potty training success comes in many forms. It is not simply having zero accidents. This time is a huge transition so don’t expect your child will get the concept down perfectly after a few days or even a few weeks. Even if they do, regressions are likely. If you hit a roadblock in the process, it’s okay. An accident or even a whole bunch of accidents don’t spell failure.
There are all kinds of milestones to celebrate to keep you and your child’s mentality strong and the momentum going in a positive direction. Some of them include (in no particular order):
- Getting pee in the potty
- Going multiple times a day in the potty
- Getting them to stop playing to go to the potty
- Your child telling you when they need to go
- Pooping in the potty
- Naptime dryness
- Overnight dryness
- Dryness on the go
- Telling others (like Grandma etc) they need to potty
Look for little successes when you are feeling stuck. It is also okay to pause and reset for a few days. Luke and I had to do this very thing. My little guy is such a perfectionist and was getting so upset with himself when he wasn't "getting it". After a short 2-3 day break, we both had a stronger mentality to start again.
If you practice patience, don't expect too much, and keep a consistent schedule, your child will get the hang of it. It's okay if some successes come and go. You won't be a perfect teacher and your child won't be a perfect student but that doesn't mean you won't achieve the goal of a potty trained child. Take it day-by-day and even success by success if needed. Good luck Mama! You and your little one can do this.
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