Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Potty Training: How I Do It

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As discussed in On Becoming Toddlerwise, there is no one right method to potty training. There are lots of ways to do it (see Potty Training: More Than One Right Method). I think it is helpful for parents to hear how other parents do it, because that parent might just have a certain method that you think will work for your child. 

The way I potty train is pretty simple and pretty unceremonious. So long as my child is ready to potty train, however, it is very, very effective. Check it out. Take from it what you think will be effective and tweak things as needed to make it the best for your family.

Start by being ready
You need to be ready for the work involved (yes, it is work) and your child needs to be ready to learn. There are a fair number of people out there who think you absolutely should not start potty training and then stop only to pick it back up a few months (or whatever length of time) later. 

I fully disagree with that. With Brayden and McKenna, we tried potty training initially before the child was ready for it. We tried it, the child wasn't ready, so we stopped. I think it is worse to force a skill the child isn't ready for than to stop and start later when the child isn't ready. For both Brayden and McKenna, when we started a few months later, they both were basically immediately potty trained. I do not think taking a break was of any detriment at all.

Give fair warning 
Tell your child, "[on this day], you will no longer wear diapers. You will wear panties!" Pick an event in the year (birthday, spring, holiday, etc) rather than a date (February 14) because the child doesn't get dates like she gets events. For more on this, see Potty/Poop Training Tip: Give Fair Warning.

Have your supplies
These are the supplies I use:
  • Treats: I use treats as rewards for going potty, going poop, and staying clean and dry.
  • Drinks/Snacks: I have never actually been very effective with pushing the drinks and salty snacks (to encourage drinking), but I think it is a good idea so I am including it here. My children can hold it forever, so if any of them would have guzzled drinks in the day like I encouraged, this would have helped the need to pee come up more often, but they just aren't huge drinkers.
  • Potty chair: We have used the potty seat and the potty chair. Consistently, all three of mine have started out much more comfortable and successful on the potty chair (like this one  Fisher-Price Cheer for Me! Potty). 
  • Underwear: A given
  • Timer
  • Bath towel: for easier cleaning of messes
  • Patience
Get started
When that special date arrives, get your child up and excitedly talk about  how she gets to wear underwear now! Hurray! Put the underwear on her. I typically stop at the underwear. The addition of pants pushes the child into forgetting about the underwear and need to pee in the potty. If you find your child has a hard time not peeing in underwear even with no pants, you can try the bare-bottom approach. I started off potty training one of my children that way and it was very helpful. After a day or two, the child is ready for underwear.

We talk about where we pee (in the potty) and where we don't pee (in our underwear). 

For the first day, I know I will spend the day with my child. There will be no independent play--we will be side by side for the day. We start by sitting on the potty every 15-30 minutes. We sit for 4-10 minutes, and we set the timer for it. The child sits on the potty until A) she goes potty or B) the timer dings. At this point, I am praising for sitting on the potty until the timer dings. Also, the child gets a small treat for being clean and dry when we go to the potty. Do not show disappointment if your child does not potty. That is okay.

When it is time to go to the potty, I say,

"Are you clean and dry? Let's check!" (we check)

If clean and dry, we cheer and get a treat (I like a chocolate chip--some children are motivated by sticker charts). Then I say, "Let's go sit on the potty now." We go sit and set the timer.

If the child pees or poops, we cheer and do another small treat. If not, we say that is okay and will try again next time. 

If the child is not clean and dry, I do not get upset or disappointed. We just change the clothes and move on. My children have wanted to stay clean and dry and are sad enough on their own without feeling like they have disappointed me on top of it. I encourage them, tell them it takes practice, and they can try again. 

We do this all day. When the child is sitting on the couch or some other absorbent surface, I have the child sit on a bath towel folded up. It just helps if there is an accident. 

And I expect accidents. There aren't always accidents the first day, especially if you are really keeping your attention on the child. But there will be accidents at some point during the training process. This is normal. See Potty Training and Accidents:http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/11/potty-training-and-accidents.html

As the day goes on, you will be trying to figure out what best helps your child to pee and poop in the potty, and so will your child. Some children need to be left alone (for those children, I sit right outside the bathroom door where they can't see me). Some like you to sit and read to them. Some like songs. There are lots of different things children can prefer. As the child gets trained, most will be able to pee no matter who is in the room and what you are or are not doing. Poop often remains a private action, however.

Nap Time
What to do about nap time? With Brayden, he just stayed in underwear, but he was 3 when we started. Kaitlyn was young when she first potty trained (herself)--19 months. So our precendent with her was just a diaper. We just did diapers for night and nap, no biggie. With McKenna (2.5 when potty trained), she didn't want to put a diaper on. She wanted panties. We have some super absorbent panties we use  when potty training. I put her in those. She did great the first day, but after a week or so, I figured out she often peed while sleeping. For a while, we did her panties with a plastic swim diaper cover over top, but I eventually got some Clifford Pull-ups and told her they were sleeping panties. She sometimes peed in them, sometimes not.

I also put her little potty in her room on top of a towel. She is allowed to get up and use the potty if she needs, and she calls me after she is done using it. This way she can use the potty when needed, but doesn't spend every 15 minutes of naptime calling out that she needs to go potty only to not go (yes, we had a couple of days of that). 

Day 2
I treat day 2 the same as day one. We spend the day together and we go to the potty often. I usually start potty training on a Friday so Saturday I have my husband home to spend some time with the child during potty training. It just helps you to maintain sanity with a 15 minute break here and there and having reinforcement on your side. 

Continuing on
By Monday, day 4, we can go back to a normal schedule. We can do independent play (we do the same rule about potty as nap time--put the potty in there and call me after you have gone potty. If the child was too young to be trusted with this (like Kaitlyn was), I do a diaper). We go about our day as normal. When we go in public, we wear underwear. I bring an extra pair for the child. We continue to reward for clean and dry, and we also reward for peeing in the potty and pooping in the potty. 

We take the frequency of our potty visits down as I can tell how often the child really needs to go.

This is when accidents will really happen. You are not being a helicopter parent anymore and your child will play and forget about the fact that she is wearing underwear. You will go days accident free and then suddenly have an accident. It is all normal. Expect the accidents. 

Extra helps
With Brayden and Kaitlyn, I didn't use or do anything extra. With McKenna, there were a few things that I added that I think helped her want to go potty and be successful going potty.

First was she saw peers learning to go potty. She was pretty resistant to the idea of going potty even though everyone in the family used the potty. She has no problem being younger than the family. But when she saw both her cousin her age and her best friend her age were potty training, she suddenly got very interested. I didn't tell her or point it out to her, she just observed it.

Second was we read books about using the potty. 

Third was we watched Elmo's Potty Time DVD. It can be painfully slow and boring at parts, and she asked to have it turned off after a while, but she loves Elmo and Elmo spent a lot of time talking about going potty. It seemed to help. 

I hope this gives you an idea of what I do. I think it is pretty simple--though it is tiring for a few days. 

Let me know if you have any questions--but see my list of posts below. I have quite a few on potty training. And please share if you have any tips you have loved for potty training!

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Nikki said...

This post comes at a good time. My son is 2.5 and so we're just starting to think about potty training. Currently he just doesn't want to even sit on the potty, he cries and resists. Is this something I should push through or is this a huge sign he's not ready? He's a very head strong little guy so I wouldn't be surprised if he's just doing it to try and call the shots. Ha ha.

Scott and Jenny said...

My son will be 3 in April, and is almost potty trained now. The hardest part for us was getting him to poop on the potty. He was so terrified of it for some reason. I received some advice to tell him to just sit on the potty and try to toot. The first couple of times he just tooted. When he realized he could toot, and it was almost the same sensation, he began pooping on the potty. Almost within a few days. It was great! He now poops in the potty every time at home.

One questions I have though: is it normal for children to not want to poop in the potty other places besides home? My son goes to an in-home sitter while my husband and I work. Two or three times a week, he will have a poop accident, because he tells the sitter he wants to poop at home, but then cannot hold it until we pick him up. Any advice on how to get him over that hurdle?

A Wee Irish Family said...

How Timely!

We just went to Walmart and bought a potty seat and marshmallows today! We're going to use Elmo as an example tonight, and then start with undies tomorrow! I had forgotten about the "clean and dry" checks! I think that will be really beneficial!

Thanks again for your excellent description! It is so nice to have it all condensed in one place.


Stacy Coleman said...

Both my son and daughter were potty trained at 20 months using this method! We actually started around 18 months, but they weren't ready. We tried again at 19 months with no success. Then at 20 months they got it down! I think the earlier exposure the better. By the way, they are 2.5 years apart. (Re-reading that it almost sounded like twins...)

jolene said...

this was a very helpful and to the point post. thank you. :)

amarige said...

we are well on our way with Mimi 2.5 Now what to do when we travel to town 3x a week with sport for older siblings...do we wear pullups but do use travel potty when not in the supermarket!!! or toilets closeby?

Kristin said...

My ~2.75 yo DD is very nearly potty trained (diaper at night/nap usually dry) and we've only had a few accidents. Thank goodness since the volume of pee that I cleaned up was astounding to me and I wondered how does Val deal with this mess? (knowing you are OCD :) Luckily it was on hard wood floors and easy to clean up, but if she were standing over the rug or sitting on the couch it would have been so much more difficult to clean! I figured on wet clothes but not huge puddles! I'm sure I was waiting too long between trips to the potty too soon in the training that resulted in the large volume. I guess the word "accident" sounds so minor when the actual thing was like "whoa!". I did not make her feel bad about it of course - and she enjoyed watching me clean it up since we are both "cleaners". So, do you put a plastic sheet or something on the bed to protect the mattress?

Ann Marie said...

Thank you for this...it gives me some ideas for our daughter who will turn 3 next month. Right now, she only wants to use the potty chair after dinner before her bath. This has resulted in successful poops since that is the time she typically poops. I made a potty chart and she gets to select a sticker to put in the square each time she goes and also gets a treat (a piece of candy for pee or a piece of chocolate for poop). Half way through each row of the chart is a heart and when she reaches that, she gets a bigger treat. I also have a prize basket (bracelets, necklaces, rings and stickers all from the 97 cent party section at Walmart) so when she completes a row, she can pick a prize. She has lots of pairs of the toddler underwear and I also have the plastic undies to wear over the underwear but she still resists wanting to wear the underwear or try to use the potty during the day. She definitely has to do things her way and in her time so I'm not pressing the issue, but do praise her tremendously when she does go in the potty, to which she responds by jumping up and down, cheering and saying "You're so proud of me!" We also have a 4 month old son who requires a lot of my attention so that's another reason why I haven't been wanting to really push potty training. But again, thanks for the great info and ideas!

Eric and Darcy said...

Hey Val! Thanks for the post as usual. I have been trying to train my boy twins (who will be 3 in May)so this couldn't have come at a great time. One boy will pee in the potty chair but not consistently. The other will hold his urine until I put a diaper on him. Do you have any tips specifically to get a child to pee in the potty?

Mrs. Mordecai said...

Thank you for this great article. I took forever training my first, and my second is coming up too fast. You make it sound like something reasonable and do-able. Thanks.

pr said...

My daughter is almost 2.5. We tried to start a couple months ago, but I decided to wait. I had read that it's not worth trying if they don't want to stay dry/clean. Having a wet/dirty diaper really doesn't bother my daughter (even as an infant it didn't phase her). Does it make sense to wait until a child wants to stay clean?

Melissa M said...

Just wanted to say thanks for this! I'm training my twins this week, and we've done it almost exactly as you do. They had sat on the potty a few times before, but never produced anything before we started on Monday. Now we've just finished Day 3 and they totally get it. Yay!

Plowmanators said...

Nikki, McKenna was like that for a time, and I did not force it. The thing with potty training is the child has a HUGE amount of control over the situation. If he doesn't want to, he doesn't have to, and punishments with potty training are usually a bad idea.

What I did was talk to her a lot about it. "Someday you will get to go potty on the big potty like Daddy does. Won't that be neat!"

And if you suspect he wants to be in control, just act like you don't care when he does it.

Plowmanators said...

Jenny, A lot of kids have issues with learning to poop on the potty. The tooting trick is a really great one! Thanks for sharing that!

I don't have experience with kids consistently somewhere else, however, my kids really don't poop unless they are home. I think it is common for children and adults alike. Children normally need some privacy to poop, so I would see if there is any way for him to get some privacy at the sitter (like some independent playtime). I think he sounds very normal--the trick is to get him comfortable pooping there.

Plowmanators said...

You are all welcome!

Plowmanators said...


Some kids do fine wearing pull-ups at times. McKenna does just fine with the occassional pull up. Most children, however, will regress with pull-ups.

I typically just go all in. We wear underwear at all times. Bring extra underwear and pants in case of accident. I pack a "potty training bag" -- like a diaper bag, but it has extra underwear, pants, wet wipes, treats, etc. so I just have to grab the bag when I go.

You can also get plastic covers like they use for cloth diapers or in pools and put that over the underwear to help contain any accidents.

Plowmanators said...


Luckily, my kids have never had accidents that got to the carpet. Only Brayden ever had an accident that went to the floor, and it was on hard wood.

For beds, we have really nice mattress protectors on the matress that are waterproof. But when first learning, I also put a towel between the sheet and the matress protector just for some extra protection.

Plowmanators said...

Darcy, one idea is the "bare bum approach." This is when you go no underwear. You also want to try to push fluids as much as possible so they really need to go. Then you take them regularly, and you stay with them at all times so you can prevent accidents.

Then be sure to give small rewards for sitting on the potty so they have some positive experience with it.

Whenever I have had a child have a hard time with the pee, bare-bum has worked.

Plowmanators said...

PR, I have heard that and read that. However, both Brayden and Kaitlyn did not mind having wet diapers in the least. McKenna was very bothered by it, but still didn't want to potty train for months. So while it can be one sign of readiness, I don't think it is a necessary sign nor do I think the presence of the sign assures potty training success.

Muldner Family said...

I so need help with this...my son will be 3 in July. We have been potty training on and off for 6 months. He can go on the potty, sometimes can stay dry for two hours sometimes goes every 30 minutes. The problem is he doesn't care if he is wet or poop. He doesn't tell me he has to go so I pretty much am just taking him every 2 hours and sometimes hes wet sometimes not. I am just not sure if he isn't ready, I am not doing something right. My daughter trained at 2 1/2 and it was a breeze he just doesn't seem to care about underwear or diapers he could care less. Any ideas on what I should do to speed this along?? He has to be completely trained by September for school and I am at a loss. I am so stressed probably over analyzing it.

Plowmanators said...

I would try to not think about your deadline--I would guess that is stressing you, which in turn would stress him.

He could be not ready. If you read my posts from years ago, you will see we tried Brayden four months before he turned 3 and it did not work. Then at 3, we tried again (the day he turned three) and it worked great!

You could try bare-bottomed for a few days. I might just be that he needs to click in his brain what the ques mean and bare bottom might help him do that.

You could also stop and then say, "on May 1, we are going to just wear underwear. No more diapers." and then countdown and do it. Remind him often the day is coming.

Kristy Powers said...

Now that we have done the bulk of potty training for two boys, I can say that we had to do bare-bottomed at first for them to have any clue. The underwear was just too similar to diapers, I guess. We also started early with both boys and had to stop and start again later. Just like Valerie said, potty training happened very quickly on the second round which was at almost three years old. That's just our experience; I know other children do things differently. :)

Mama E said...

On day 4 of potty training my 2.5 year old and it's going great. Wanted to tell you the Elmo Potty app is great and has fun songs. My son loves it and always seems to go while we sing the "Waiting on the Potty" song.

Plowmanators said...

Mama E I hadn't even heard of that! McKenna LOVES Elmo so that would have been awesome. I will have to remember potty apps with my next one!

Mrs. Kearns said...

Great post! I'm about to start training my 23 month old in a couple of weeks after her birthday (your fair warning tip!). I get the sense that she's ready, but I have been hesitant. My major concern is her having to go when we're out, not being near a restroom or a clean one. I live in Seattle & our weather has finally turned nice. I feel like I have to take advantage of this short season, so we get out of the house most days. If I start training with a potty chair, how do I get her comfortable going on a regular toilet, let alone one that's a public restroom. Then, at what point to you get rid of the potty chair all together?

j.c. delgaudio said...

Try the towel potty training method.

Nancy Newman said...

My toddler has only just started to show signs that she is interested in the potty. I'm encouraging her to sit on the potty, but I’m getting a lot of pressure from family to take her out of nappies already. potty training in 3 days


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