So you are ready to potty train your toddler. Before you do anything I want you to stop and ask yourself this very important question:
Who is wanting to start the potty training? Is it you or your toddler?
If you answered anything other than ‘your toddler’ my best advice to you is to wait. Wait until your toddler shows interest in the potty, is asking to sit on the potty or be like mommy and daddy and use the potty. If I have learned one thing from going through the process and all the conversations I have had with other parents it is this –
If your TODDLER isn’t wanting to be potty trained it ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN!
Can a toddler who has no interest in being potty trained accomplish the feat, sure – there are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part it is going to make your life hell. By now I’m sure you have realized, when your toddler doesn’t want to do something they make your life as difficult as possible to ensure they don’t have to do it. Do you eventually win the battle, of course, but not before suffering some battle scars in the process. Now imagine doing those battles every day, every 30 minutes. It would be miserable; therefore, until your toddler is ready I wouldn’t advise trying to push the potty training.
The other key item I want to throw out there before we get started is this:
Potty training is just as much about training YOU as it is training your TODDLER
I didn’t realize this. Going in I thought Christian would be magically fully trained after the 3 days and would be the one leading the whole charge. This was the naïve thinking of a first time mom who didn’t understand exactly what was going to be happening. I quickly learned that as much as Christian was being potty trained, I was also being potty trained. I was being taught how to learn his cues, his patterns and recognize his tells in order to facilitate a happy potty training experience for everyone. So just be ready to learn and know this is not just about your toddler – it is about your training as well.
If you and your toddler are both ready, what do you do next? Here is the journey Christian I went on to get him potty trained. I will state that I am in NO way a potty training expert. In fact, Christian is the first, and only, toddler I have so far potty trained. So this is not the end all be all of potty training, but it is what worked for us.
Christian started showing interest in the toilet around 22 months, but I was in no way ready to start potty training him. In fact, I find diapers convenient and easy and wasn’t looking to give them up anytime soon. Even though I wasn’t going to start potty training, I still wanted to continue to nourish and encourage Christian’s interest in the toilet.
I was trying to think of a way that I could accomplish this without actually introducing a toilet and decided some fun books would be the best answer. Since Christian loves reading books before nap and bedtime I thought this could be a good way to encourage his interest in the toilet while also giving him some new books to add to our bedtime routine. The Elmo Potty Time book was by far the biggest hit since Christian is obsessed with Elmo. He loved the book so much we read it before every nap and bedtime at his request. He even started pointing out how Elmo was using the toilet, how he sat on the toilet like Elmo, etc. He was excited that he could relate to one of his favorite characters with the whole potty thing.
We read potty related books for those whole two months prior to starting to potty train. The books definitely did the trick because his interest in the toilet never wavered and only continue to grow stronger and stronger until I could no longer put off potty training.
Potty Training Journey:
A week before Christian’s 2nd birthday I knew I had to make a big decision – to start potty training or not. He began asking to sit on the toilet every day and I either needed to start telling him no or dive head first into potty training. I was nervous that if I started telling him no he would start associating the toilet with something bad and then when the time came for us to actually start potty training he would be confused. So he dove in head first at the beginning of the new year.
Here are some items that you will want to get prior to starting potty training:
1. Underwear --> take your toddler shopping and let him/her pick out a couple packs of their favorite underwear.Talk this process up.Now that they are big boy/girl they get to buy special underwear just like mommy / daddy.I would buy a couple packs just so you don’t have to keep running the washing machine non-stop to have a pair of clean undies.
2. Liquids --> you want to push the liquids while you are training because you want your toddler to go potty more than normal.If they are only feeling the urge to go potty every couple hours, this is going to be a really long process.You want them going as frequently as possible; therefore, you will want to give them something to drink that they aren’t used to getting so they drink more – apple juice, Gatorade, etc.
Christian still wasn’t drinking a ton even with the apple juice and Gatorade bribes so a great recommendation I got was to offer Popsicles.
3. Cleaning Supply --> accidents are going to happen.So just make sure you have a good cleaner on hand for when they do.
4. Training Seat --> you will want to make sure you have a good training seat on the toilet that will make your toddler feel comfortable.We preferred the Mayfair Adult Toilet Seat with Built-In Child Potty Training Seat (click HERE to see review).
5. Bribe --> even though Christian was so excited to learn to use the big toilet when the day came he was still super hesitant about it.By the third trip to the potty he decided he was over it.Enter the M&M’s.From then on he would receive 1 M&M for trying and 2 M&M’s if he actually went.He was thrilled and considering he will do almost anything for a piece of chocolate they were the perfect bribe for Christian.
Here is the key to the bribes – it has to be something they WANT! Christian could care less about getting gifts.Trying to get him to open presents on Christmas was near impossible.It just isn’t his thing right now.Know what is his thing though – chocolate.The kid will do just about anything for 1 M&M or a lollipop. So we used this to our advantage.Had I tried to do a chart with stickers that lead up to a prize he would have said “no thanks mom, I’m good.” Throw some chocolate his way and the world is your oyster on getting him to do something. My point of all this is this:
Make sure your KID thinks the bribe is as cool as YOU do
I was a little worried that Christian would always need chocolate in order to go potty, but then decided that could be his future wife's problem :) Good thing for everyone though, Christian no longer ask for M&M's - he decided for himself that he doesn't need them anymore.
We did a modified version of 3-Day Potty Training. I didn’t read any books related to this method but was told the general concept by my sister and then did a little bit of googling before giving it a go. The general concept with this method is that you have the toddler be naked or in just underwear and then set a reminder for every 30-minutes when you ask your toddler if they need to go to the potty.
NOTE - THERE WILL BE ACCIDENTS
There are going to be accidents that occur, especially on day 1 & 2, so you want to make sure that you are doing the training someplace that is easy to clean up. We have hardwoods on the whole first floor so we kept ourselves restricted to the first floor while we were training.
We did day 1 with Christian in only underwear; however, when I do this process with Thomas when he is ready to potty train I will definitely go fully naked. Being naked allows the toddler to see the exact second when he or she has to go potty. They can immediately stop themselves, tell you and you can run to the toilet together. When there are underwear on, it takes a second or two before the underwear become wet enough for the toddler to realize what is happening. Sometimes when they do realize it is too late for them to stop. What I noticed with Christian when he was wearing the underwear, even on the two occasions that day when he told me he had to go potty, once we were in the bathroom with his pants down his underwear were always slightly wet. When we decided to change tactics and go naked on day 2, he saw these small squirts that were happening more clearly and was able to adjust his thinking.
For day 1 I set a timer on my phone for every 30 minutes. When the timer would go off I would look at Christian and ask him if he needed to go potty. His usual response would be “no” so I would then say “OK but make sure you tell mommy when you need to go potty.” He would always say ‘okay’ and then go about playing. Throughout the 30 minutes I would remind Christian to “tell mommy when you need to go potty.”
When accidents happen – and trust me they will happen – don’t get upset at your child, but also remind them that they are supposed to go potty on the toilet and they need to tell you when they need to go. Quickly clean up the mess and get back to it. Try your very hardest to not show your frustration when your kid has the 10th accident. Trust me, I know it’s annoying, BUT you don’t want your child to start having negative associations with the whole potty process.
When Christian would have an accident I would usually say “Uh –oh, are we supposed to go potty here or are we supposed to go potty on the toilet? (Christian would respond ‘toilet’) That is right we are supposed to go potty on the toilet. Remember we have to tell mommy when we need to go potty.” I would always then take him straight to the toilet to try to go some more and then once we were done I would put on a clean pair of underwear, or if naked just clean up his legs and then go clean up the mess and move on to the next 30 minute round.
Be prepared to ask yourself “what the hell am I thinking trying to potty train my child” on multiple occasions on day 1. I felt like he was never going to grasp the concept on more than one occasion throughout the potty training process, but most heavily on day 1. There would be times we would be leaving the potty where he wouldn’t go for him to only go 2 minutes later in his underwear.
Just remember this is a process – it is not a miracle.
I was fully prepared for day 2 to go just as horribly wrong as day 1; however, I was pleasantly surprised when he started getting the hang of it. Did we have an accident on day 2 – yes, yes we did – but we only had 1 full accident and 1 half accident! I was cheating the system a little bit, because even if he told me he didn’t have to go potty, if it had been over an hour I would ask him to still try. Is this why we didn’t have very many accidents on day 2 – most likely yes. Should I have just asked him and waited for him to tell me he had to potty rather than making him try – I don’t know? I didn’t ever really read any books on exactly what the 3-day Potty Training Method required, so I might have been veering off course here but it was working for us.
On day 2 I stopped the 30 minute timers and instead set 1.5 hour timers. Throughout that time I would remind him to tell me when he needed to go potty. If we hit the 1.5 time I would make him go try even if he told me he didn’t have to go. Again, should I have done that – who knows, but it worked for us and if it meant less clean-ups while still training him I am all for it.
I did decide half-way through the day to go full naked as I felt the underwear were prohibiting him from being able to see when he went potty, as I discussed in the day 1 notes above. The one thing I will caution on the naked is be careful what they sit on. Christian got a pretty bad rash on his behind from the naked time and I think he must have sat on something that irritate him. It was no fun for him and I felt terrible for him.
On day 3 we ventured out of the house and put full clothes on. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty terrified of going out in public so we went to one the place where I knew a full-on meltdown from both mom and toddler would be semi-appropriate….. TARGET!
Before leaving the house I made Christian try to go potty. This is a rule that is still in place in our house even today. Before we leave the house, or go to play outside, he has to try to go potty. If he doesn’t go that is OK but he has to at least try. The minute we arrived at Target I quickly rushed us to the bathroom. This was going to be the very first time Christian would use a toilet in public and I was hoping it would go perfectly.
I pulled out his ‘special seat’ (our travel training seat link HERE) and made a HUGE deal about how this was Christian’s special seat and only he got to use it since he was a big boy. I put it on the toilet and then looked at him to gauge his reaction. To say he was overwhelmed would be an understatement. The kid looked terrified! I didn’t want to force anything because I was worried this could scar him from future public toilet use so I did the only thing I could think of:
DOUBLED UP ON THE BRIBES!
That’s right. Bribery – because that is how I roll. I looked at Christian and told him he could have 2 M&M’s for trying and 3 if he actually went. He debated it for quite a while but finally caved. He sat on the toilet and gave it his best shot but nothing happened.
We walked around the store for 30 minutes and tried one more time with still nothing happening so we called it a day and went home. Of course the second we got him he went potty, but I still chalked it up to a win because he didn’t cry while trying to go in public.
Did we have any accidents on day 3? YES we had one later that day, but as I’m going to keep telling you – it’s a process!
During day 3 I continued what I was doing on day 2 for the most part except, I didn’t make him try to go potty unless we hit the 2 hour mark. I noticed that more and more he would either tell me he needed to go OR when I would remind him to let me know he would look at me and say he wanted to go try.
I know what you are thinking – “Wait, isn’t this a 3-day method?” I’m sure some kids are 100% potty trained by day 3 but for me it was a little bit bullshit. Was Christian 75-80% potty trained – YES, but if I stopped working with him I guarantee you he would have fully regressed over the coming weeks or we would have had a lot more accidents and frustrations. So I kept him home from his two days of MDO that week so we could continue working on it together.
You know what, every day he was better and better and he only had 2 accidents that entire week. Both of which were my fault. I forgot to take him before leaving dinner one night and the other time we were at dinner, everything in me told me he had to go but I ignored it and listened to him when he said ‘no.’
He still wasn’t always telling me when he had to go so I thought he was a lot farther behind in the training until I talked to my sister and you guys. What I heard from EVERYONE was this:
Telling you when he has to go potty is an on-going process. Potty training HIM is just as much about potty training YOU.
This is SO IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER! I had to take a step back and realize Christian had just turned 2. This is a new skill and it will continue to take practice. As his mom, it is my job to help him in this journey. So over day 4-10 I really learned his cues. I realized he could consistently go 1.5 – 2.0 hours before needing to go potty. So I would watch out for that. If we started getting close to the 2 hour mark and he still hadn’t gone I would ask him to try and you know what he always went.
I would also encourage him to tell me to go potty so I changed the bribery (again). Now, if he told us when he had to go potty he got 3 M&M’s. If we made him try to go potty, we would ask him to ask us to use the potty so that he got in the habit of doing it.
Almost 2 Month Update (2/25/18):
In about one week it will be 2 months since we started this potty training journey and I can happily say he has been FULLY* potty trained for a month now. He can be surrounded by kids in the middle of the most exciting game of his life and stop to look at me and say he needs to go potty. We have been accident free at home, when out and at MDO. The travel seat and car potty (link HERE and HERE) have both been a game-changer for us and I think is part of what has made this process so easy when out of the house.
Again, I am no potty expert but I hope my journey helps you in some way, shape or form.
* We did not do nap and night time potty training at this time because Christian still sleeps in a crib. After much thought and deliberation, we decided it wasn’t fair to try to potty train him when he wouldn’t be able to get to a potty on his own if he wanted to. If I didn’t hear him or get to him fast enough he would have an accident and it wouldn’t have been his fault. My fear is that I would end up frustrating him and deter the daytime potty training which is what I cared more about. At naps and nighttime we use a pull-up diaper BUT we NEVER say the “diaper” word. We have and still always call it his ‘nighttime underwear.’
Surprisingly, he has started potty training himself at nap time, as he always ask to go potty before getting in his crib and then he has been waking up dry when I go and get him from his nap. I still keep the pull-up on as there are times he wakes up wet and until he is out of the crib and he can go to the bathroom himself I’m not going to bother with it.
1. Poop, poop and more poop --> Pooping is a question that I get asked a bunch from you guys, usually because your child is ‘scared’ to poop on the toilet. Christian is weirdly fascinated with poop to an almost alarming level so he was and still is thrilled to watch himself poop on the toilet. This, however, does not seem to be the typical response to pooping on the toilet. From the majority of people I talk to the pooping was the hardest part of potty training. The best advice I got from someone regarding the fear of the poop is this:
What is something that your toddler LOVES to do that distracts them? Is it watching the iPad, reading a book, a favorite toy, etc. Figure out what it is (for us, it would 110% be the iPad) and use it to your advantage. When you feel like your child probably needs to go poop take them to the toilet and give them the item to play with or watch. Have them sit there for 5, 10, 15 minutes. While they are distracted ask them to try and push every couple minutes. Usually, kids are scared of pooping because it is a weird feeling – like something is falling out of them. So if you can distract them from this sensation it helps with the fear.
Another option is to up the bribe. You know what your kid absolutely loves, try offering that to them if they poop. A lot of times it just takes 1 / 2 / 3 times pooping on the toilet for the fear to go away.
2. The boy & his penis --> I quickly realized I have no idea how the penis truly works or what happens when a boy goes to the bathroom. A lot of people will tell you to have your son face the back of the toilet when learning how to potty train. It allows the pee to actually go down into the toilet. We tried this, but Christian quickly decided he would only face forward. The first time we went with him facing forward I was unaware of a VERY important rule:
HOLD DOWN THE PENIS!!!!
No one told me that I needed to push my son’s penis down in order to not have pee come shooting out all over me. It was the one and only time I ever made that mistake but don’t be like me – hold it down from the very first time. I quickly taught Christian how to hold his own penis down, but just beware if no one is holding it down it is not going to be going into the toilet.
Overall this wasn’t a terrible experience for us which I was fully expecting potty training to be just the absolute worst. It definitely is work in the beginning and the thought that this is a magical 3 day and done process wasn’t exactly the full truth for us, BUT it isn’t something that I am NOT dreading doing all over again with Thomas.
Again, the child needs to be the one who is ready for potty training, not you. It really doesn’t matter how ready you are, if your toddler doesn’t want to do it, it isn’t going to happen. So take the cues from your toddler.
I know as parents there is so much pressure now days to do everything early and ‘first’ and you always feel judged no matter what decision you make in life. You see people on social media whose child is younger than yours and potty trained and you get worried or think your child should be too. Just remember this:
How many older kids do you see walking around in diapers? The answer is NONE because eventually every toddler gets potty trained. Just like everything else in life they will do it on their own timeline.