Okay, first, let me start with a confession. I am uncommonly enthusiastic about potty training. I know, I know…who ever could be? But there’s a few reasons why. First, I know how to do it quickly and painlessly. After lots of training in childhood development, plus even more real life training as a nanny, a teacher and then a daycare owner, I have assisted dozens of families in making their dreams of ditching diapers a tangible reality. I also get super excited to watch my own littles hit this milestone, to stop shelling out hard earned dollars for diapers, and to help other moms see how easy it can be.
But why do we need more info on potty training? Certainly this issue has been covered adequately by now and there aren’t any new methods under the sun. While that is probably true, my hope is to share about the fastest and most effective way to train (and I have seen them all!), along with my favorite tricks to make it a positive experience, and ways to solve common problems that can develop along the way. Now go ahead and read up so you can glean from all my years of messy experiences…and skip half the mess!
Determining Child Readiness
First things first…you need to determine if your tot is ready. Considering there are myriad blogposts on this already, I won’t go into a lot of details. But suffice it to say, there are emotional and physical signs of readiness and you will want to make sure your child is showing them. For now, I will just name the basic questions that may help you decide. Does your child have dry diapers for 2-3 hrs at a time? Does your child seem aware (tells you or hides) when she is peeing or pooping? Is your child able to say a simple word like ‘pee’ or ‘potty’ or gesture to you (sign?) when they need something? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, there’s a good chance you have a child that’s physically ready to potty train! Determining emotional readiness is a bit more complex but here are a few starting questions to help you out. Have there been or are there about to be any major changes in our lives (a big move, a baby coming, divorce or separation)? Has your child been experiencing any unusual mood or behavior changes? Does your child resist being on or near the toilet to ‘try’ going potty? If the answer to these questions is yes, you may want to wait another few months and then consider training.
What You’ll Need
Now, let’s say your child is ready. Then Congratulations, this is going to be fun! You will want to go ahead and take a minute to gear up! If possible, you will want: 1) Lots of easy to pull on and off pants…think sweatpants, joggers, leggings or anything free from buttons and zippers (we visit thrift stores to stock up), 2) Way more toddler underwear than you ever imagined…fun designs or characters a plus (I buy two dozen pairs but you could squeak by with less if you wash more frequently), 3) 2-4 pairs of vinyl or plastic pants (I like these ones http://bit.ly/pottypants1), 4) a child sized potty and/or toilet insert (2 is even better!) Definitely a case could be made for starting with the just the insert but I find that many kids, including mine, tend to be more comfortable starting on a toddler sized potty. That said, I have both for different stages (Here’s what we use at our house: http://bit.ly/realpotty and http://bit.ly/seatwithsteps) 5) some rewards like stickers or small treats (chocolate chips, m&m’s, raisins).
Ready, Set, Go!
You’ve got all your stuff, and you’re ready to get started! Now plan a time when you have at least 3-4 days you can be at home with a clear calendar. If you’re a working mama, is there a holiday or long weekend coming up? If you’re a SAHM can you postpone activities for a few days and hunker down? Trust me when I say that fully focused time upfront will save months of work down the road. Once you’ve found a good time in your schedule, take the opportunity to explain to your child that tomorrow all the diapers are going bye-bye and she will be using the potty (like mom, dad, brother, etc).
Day One Wake up in the morning. Change your last diaper. Remind the child that they will be putting pee and poo in the potty from now on. If using a small potty, move it to your desired location ( I like to keep one on each floor in a visible place but that’s a matter of preference). Next, show them where the potty is. And finally, take the diapers away. Did I really just say that? Yes. I. Did. Take them away! Take them totally away (okay there is a sleep time exception I will discuss later)! But during wake times your child will now be wearing nothing on his or her little bum for the next several days. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Won’t he just pee and poop on the floor? And the answer is, yes. But not a lot. The first day it could be frequent. The second day it should be less, and each sequential day it will decrease even more. I promise it is worth the cleaning up effort!
Your child’s experience seeing and feeling what it’s like to ‘potty’ without a diaper will teach them more quickly then anything else you can do.
So please, no pull ups! They are the devil, I swear! Okay, not really but they don’t allow your child to feel when they are wet and they extend the potty training process for months! And no underwear …yet. Just let your tot be beautifully naked and free! And when an accident happens, simply move him/her to the toilet and say “whoops! pee goes on the potty.” It’s super important not to let frustration show when they’ve had an accident. Accidents are part of learning! If your child becomes afraid of ‘going’ this will lead to worse problems. So do whatever you can to stay calm, and when your child successfully eliminates on the potty, praise him and offer a reward.
In the first couple days of practicing on the potty, try as much as possible to refrain from telling or reminding your child to go to the bathroom. I know this is legitimately hard. But power struggles will often develop when a child feels constantly nagged to go and power struggles are so much more difficult to overcome than cleaning up after a few accidents! Allow yourself to trust that wetness and accidents are the most powerful teachers and they don’t pit you against one another (as long as you keep your cool, that is…which I know you can!)
Now let’s talk briefly about *the nap and sleep exception. This first day, feel free to put a diaper on your child at rest times. But be sure that you and everyone in your home knows to remove it immediately when they wake in the morning! It’s okay to continue night diapering because most kids aged 3 and under are not able to wake up on their own from sleep to use the restroom. You may be able to continue using diapers at rest times without issue in the days to come, or you may need to visit the Problem Solving section at the bottom of this page if you do run into problems (such as a child holding his poop all day for that rest time diaper). Also note, that if you’ve started potty training later (age 3-4) and diapers are dry at wake up times, you may be able to skip nighttime diapers from now on.
Day Two and Three Stay naked and press on! Take these next two days to hunker down and keep practicing. Every successful elimination reinforces this new idea to your toddler. You should notice a few less accidents on day two, and will observe that your tot is more aware when he/she is about to go. On day three, most children (especially age 3 or older) will be successfully using the potty the majority of the time. Children younger than 3 often need a little extra practice but if you are ready to take this on, don’t be afraid. My children were all completely day trained by age 2! If however, you are not seeing any progress at all by day three, your child is likely not ready to potty train. You can wait a few months and start again or if you’re really eager, continue naked training until progress develops.
Day Four It’s time for undies! Make a big deal about how big he/she is when they put their undies on. If you’ve bought ones with characters or designs on them get silly and imitate the voice of the characters. “I’m Spiderman and I really want to stay clean and dry. Please don’t pee or poop on me.” You can employ this tactic a lot in the coming days! And even though you might feel ridiculous, your kid will think it’s great. And the best part about this is that it gives you more ability to do those reminders you’ve been itching to do, because now you’re not the one ‘lecturing’…it’s just Minnie Mouse! You can also employ this with any of your child’s toys i.e. “Dolly says, ‘can you use the potty?’ She wants to see if you can.” Regardless of your prompting, expect an increase in accidents on the first day or two of underwear. The warm snugness of underwear will almost always remind your little one’s brain of the comfort of the diaper and trigger them to respond as if they are wearing one. Typically, once they’ve soiled a few times they start to remember what they’ve been working on the last few days.
Now that your tot is in undies, you may be ready to return to your normal routine. Since your little ones skills are so new, its a good idea to put plastic covers on over underwear whenever you leave the house. It’s also essential to pack extra pants, underwear, wipes and a bag for wet clothing. At first, I pack one pair of clothing for every hour we will be gone and then decrease as time goes in. If you’re going somewhere without bathrooms bring your toddler potty along! This is also super helpful to remember for the next several months if you have a road trip coming up, or just loads of errands you’d like to knock out quickly.
When you arrive at a new destination, be sure to point out the restrooms to your child as soon as you enter. If you’re at a very exciting place (like the zoo or a playground) you may want to keep an eye on the time and if it’s been close to an hour head over for a bathroom break. If you must return to work at this time, be sure to communicate with your childcare provider ahead of time about your needs and expectations concerning potty training. For consistency’s sake, it’s important everyone is on the same page.
Day Five and Beyond
So what’s next in your potty training journey? Well that depends on the child. Some children will master their new skills quickly and be ready to start wearing underwear and pants full time. These children may have occasional accidents, however they are infrequent. Other children may need more naked practice to get the hang of it. If you have to return to work or just back to daily activities that require clothing, try to have the child naked whenever you are at home. If he continues having frequent accidents (more than 3 per day) after two weeks time, check the Problem Solving section of this post. If none of the things mentioned there apply, you may choose to either go back to full time naked training for a few more days, or wait 2-3 months and try training another time. Whatever you do, don’t waver on your decision to use diapers. It’s either all diapers during wake times or no diapers. Inconsistent messages will only confuse the child and cause major setbacks.
If your child has made good progress and you are using a child sized potty, you can begin to wean from that whenever you feel the child is ready. If he shows a lot of resistance, hold off on switching for a bit longer. You can also try weaning from using treats simply by distracting your child immediately after a bathroom break.
Regardless of how perfectly you’ve followed the above methods, unforeseen problems can arise. Don’t get discouraged! They are part of the learning curve! I will try to address a few of the major problems that can cloud your peaceful potty plans below.
Problem #1): Holding Poop – your toddler doesn’t poop until he has a diaper or underwear on
One of the most prevalent issues, and one of the most frustrating, is your toddlers newfound ability to refuse pooping for hours and even days…until they get that rest time diaper or underwear. This can definitely prolong the process for all involved but it doesn’t have to mean going back to diapers. The number one reason that a toddler holds their poop is fear. For years, your child’s poop has been caught by a diaper that’s securely fastened to their bottom. This feeling of the diaper being snug around their waist and bum has sent repeated messages to the brain that this is where its safe to let their poop fall. Now, the feeling of letting it fall into thin air (the space between their bum and the toilet water) is disconcerting.
When I’ve encountered this with the children I’ve been helping train, I’ve had to decipher two things: how committed is the parent to being done with diapers? And how can I make sure that every poop a child does is done while naked? If a parent is really committed, this problem can almost always be overcome. But it isn’t easy and it does take some extra time.
First, the child has to be completely naked for enough days to have several (5-10) bowel movements while diaper free. This means night and rest time diapers have to be taken away as well. This is hard guys, I’m not gonna lie. But the alternative is waiting 6 mos-1year (sometimes more) while a child continues pooping in their underwear … or to give up and go back to diapers.
So here are the choices for handling sleep times diaper free: 1) Wake your child every two-three hours throughout the night to try using the toilet 2) sneak a diaper on your child after they have fallen into a deep sleep (usually about 30-45 min after they initially fall asleep) and remove it before their usual wake time 3) place several layers of bedding or towels on your child’s bed and wake every few hours to check if they are soiled. We have a bunch of waterproof mattress pads like these (http://bit.ly/mattresspadbaby) at our house that make the job a little easier.
Again, after your child has had 5-10 bowel movements (which depending on the length of time your child is able to hold it may take a week or a bit more) while diaper free, he will begin to accept that this is the new way and start feeling comfortable using the potty. If you have been consistent, and followed all other suggestions, and this acceptance still doesn’t come, you can confidently say that your child is not yet ready and try again at a future date (I’d recommend at least 3 months down the road).
Problem #2: Wetness Not Working-your child does well naked, but doesn’t seem to mind wetting her underwear or won’t stop playing to go.
Some children hate being wet more than others, for sure. If yours is one that doesn’t seem to mind, try delaying how long you wait to change her into clean clothes. Don’t leave her wet for an hour by any means, but fifteen minutes should be sufficient time to start feeling some discomfort. Also, if you can, make sure that she isn’t using the plastic underwear so she can feel the wetness on her legs and even socks. You aren’t trying to punish her by any means! Just allowing her brain to absorb the message that this isn’t a desirable way to spend the afternoon.
Additionally, when it’s time to change her clothing, make her do more of the work, even if she protests. If she’s old enough to do it herself, set her in the bathroom and tell her she can come out when she’s removed her wet things. If she still too young to undress independently, make sure she puts an effort into helping take off wet clothing and at least has to touch her soiled items. Touching urine soaked clothing is simply not fun and it’s a rare child who doesn’t mind doing it. Plus, slowing down and having her help will take her away from the play things she wants so badly, thus reinforcing the message.
Problem #3: My child will only use the potty at home
Truthfully, this isn’t a major problem. As long as your child makes it home, that is. If your child is continually having accidents on the way home from daycare or activities because he has refused to use the potty at a new location, that’s a little more challenging, but nothing impossible to solve. First, go ahead and use those reminders by characters and cartoons (or an extra special reward) to be sure he goes before you leave the house. Next, have a toddler potty with you if public bathrooms are scary (heck I think they’re kinda scary). Let him use this until he’s comfortable. Further, if your child regularly attends a daycare, ask if you can bring your potty from home for a while to help him transition. This can help him relax a little more since this is the seat he’s used to. Letting him hold on to a favorite stuffed animal or blankie while he goes is also a way to help him relax. But even if you do nothing, you can almost always be sure that he will outgrow this one on his own with time.
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found this information helpful and that it aids in making your world diaper free! If you have any other issues or questions, drop me a comment! I’d love to help.