Potty Training Crash Course
Teaching my child to use the potty instead of a diaper is one of the most daunting tasks I've faced as a mother. But, why? Yes, it's obviously a big deal. But how many adults do you know who never learned to use the toilet? Probably zero. How many lousy parents do you know of? Probably a few, if not many. My point is, you probably won't screw this up. Encouraging, right? Below, I share how I've potty trained two children and some tricks I've learned along the way. This isn't an official "3 day method" or anything else from the internet. It's honestly a mixture of published methods, family tips, and on-the-job learning. Pick what works for your family!
First, I'll say that potty training girls and boys is different, for obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons. Yes, they have different parts. Because of that, the sensation they feel and the muscles they use are different. A boy's "pee parts" (for lack of a better term right here) is in the front of his body, totally separate from his...."poo parts" (should probably come up with better terms for an official blog but oh well). Whereas a girl's parts are right next to each other. This makes things like "feeling the need to go" and "pushing" different for each gender. Next, is that boys tend to be more on-the-go than girls so it can be harder to get them to sit still long enough to try. Boys may be more into running amok than listening to their bodies. Girls are a little more in tune with themselves and aware enough to notice. *no surprise there*
All this being said, the potty training process is generally the same. The fundamentals are the same, with minor tweaks here and there based on gender and individual child. For example, Luke's speech is a little delayed so sometimes it's hard for us to differentiate certain words. His language (what he says) is normal, but how he pronounces it (speech) is still catching up. For this reason, we waited until he was three years old to officially start potty training, giving his speech a little more time to catch up. Communication is key in potty training, so if your little one is a bit behind, give them some grace in the timing of this skill.
Get them comfortable with the idea of a potty. Let them see you use the bathroom casually sometimes. Narrate what's happening, "Mommy puts her peepee in the potty. Then I dry myself with toilet paper, flush the toilet, pull up my pants, and wash my hands! You will do this one day too like a big boy!" They still separate their potty habits from you since you're "big" and they're "little" but explaining this a few times before potty training is good exposure.
Prep them by putting a little potty seat in the bathroom so they get used to the idea of seeing it there. You can even have them sit on it while you use the toilet right next to it. No pressure, just for a fun trial. We usually do this for up to six months before we actually do our potty training crash course weekend. This is just fun practice. If they happen to go, celebrate, praise, high five, maybe even give a small treat. If they don't, just say something casual like, "It's ok, maybe next time!" Wash their hands after to establish that habit. Sitting them on the potty right before bath time every night is a good practice (again, before you're officially potty training).
Give them fun resources like Elmo's Potty Time DVD (careful, some seriously catchy tunes in there), and book like this one or this one. Read and watch these in the months leading up to (and during) potty training for additional exposure.
Teach them the right terms and communication. Using anatomically-correct words for our kids' body parts is so crucial. I know, I know. Earlier I used ridiculous terms like, "pee parts". BUT, using the right words with our children is the smart thing to do. I don't want to get into why, just trust me here. Teach them the words casually. Teach them that these things are private (honestly, that could be a whole other blog). Teach them that these things aren't good or bad, they just are. Chad jokes me for an explanation I gave Audrey when I potty trained her as a single mom. I told her that when she eats, the food goes in her mouth, through her throat, into her tummy, and then out her bottom. This semi-graphic and comical explanation has been really helpful for both Audrey and Luke during potty training, as it gives them a visual for where food goes and why it needs to come out. I taught both of them to tell me when their food or drink was ready to come out and that gave them a little context.
During the actual potty training process, you'll talk more specifically about telling you before they have to go, not after, obviously. That part can take a few days during a crash course but we'll get there soon.
Pick a long weekend when you can focus solely on potty training. There should be no other life-changing events going on. No moving, no new siblings, no major holidays, no temporary house guests. This just complicates things and distracts them (and you) during a time when you both need 100% focus. Choose a long weekend when you can stay home and inside basically all day. Tough, I know. It'll be worth it. The week before your potty training festival, head to the grocery store with your kiddo. Pick up some favorite drinks (we used organic milk, organic chocolate milk, and Honest Kids juice boxes). You'll be hydrating the heck out of them the first couple days to increase the opportunities to use the potty. Also pick up a few packs of undies. Be sure they're not too small so they'll be able to pull them down themselves eventually.
Let them pick out their favorite character undies, ones they'll be excited about. This helps as you say, "Don't go peepee on Buzz Lightyear! That's not nice! Be sure to tell Mommy when you have to pee so we can go pee in the potty, not no Buzz."
Pick up a couple reward options too. We used dark chocolate chips and ice cream with sprinkles for BIG successes. You'll slowly phase out the rewards as they get the hang of it all. I've heard of people getting stickers to add up stickers on a chart for each success. We didn't do this but it sounds like it would work. Be sure you have a mini potty in every major bathroom your kiddo will be in. Pick up anything else that will make your weekend in more tolerable. Mamas may want to grab a bottle of pinot for once the babes go to bed. Flushable wipes is another necessity.
Tell them that when they wake up on Saturday morning, they're going to start wearing big girl/boy undies just like Mommy, Daddy, big bro, aunt, etc. Explain that they'll need to tell you before they go pee or poop that they have to go, and you'll help them sit on the potty and put it in there instead of their undies.
Pre-potty shopping list recap:
》Potty seats (recommend a simple one without fancy sounds or flushing as this is often just a distraction)
》Wine and caffeine (for you, silly)
We set up a big towel on the bathroom floor under the potty. If they make a little mess, you can just swap out the towel instead of doing a massive floor clean up. Also, you'll be sitting on the floor with them quite a bit so sitting on a towel versus the cold tile is preferable. No, I don't sit on the toilet seat because honestly I think that's gross. Put several books in each bathroom as well, You'll be there a while.
Side note: Some people put the potty in the family room. We don't because, A. I find that kind of gross and not realistic, B. We have a 1.5 year old as well who would mess with it, so that's a no go for us. Do what works for your family.
Wake up and get to it! It's Saturday morning - day one of the potty-palooza! Hopefully you stocked up on coffee and patience. When you take off their diaper and get them dressed, remind them of the task of the day, put on their undies, a shirt, and socks. I know many people go naked but we personally think just cotton undies works best. This way, if they start to pee in their undies, the cotton will hold it against them to some degree (feeling yucky) and also run down their leg (feeling extra yucky). They likely won't enjoy this sensation and will tell you immediately, giving you the chance to run them to the potty. They'll need your help pulling down their undies to begin with. Expect to do this the first few days. Another reason we don't just go naked (especially with our boy), is because if he peed, it'd just shoot out onto the rug, not dripping down his leg. This wouldn't be nearly as frustrating or yucky for him as feeling it stick to him in undies. We don't use pull ups because honestly that's just like wearing a diaper. It'll absorb the accident and they may not even really notice. Straight to undies, cold turkey, is what's worked for us. Again, do what's best for your family.
Continually remind them, "Tell mommy when you have to go pee or poop." As you encourage them to drink a lot in the first two days, take them to sit on the potty every 30 minutes or so. If they resist trying, encourage them with a reward (dark chocolate chips worked here) if they just sit and try for a few minutes. When Luke resists, we just sit him down and I dive into a book right away, distracting him.
There are many schools of thought on how long you should sit and try. Some say sit there until they go. Some say only sit for one minute at a time. We take a varied approach based on the last time they went and how much they've had to drink recently. On average, each time we make them try, it's about a five minute sit and try. If they don't go, we just pull the undies back up, wash hands, and say, "Ok, tell mommy when you do have to go. We'll come back and try again in a bit." I've also heard of setting a timer (Alexa, maybe?) and having her be the bearer of bad news, "It's time to use the potty" every 30 minutes or so.
When they DO go, for girls, it's pretty straight forward. For boys, yikes, you'll want to watch out. Hopefully you got a potty with a pee guard up front. Even if you did, that thing is probably aiming right for you, pee guard be damned. You may have to teach your boy to hold it down into the potty when he pees. We had to actually do it for Luke in the beginning, and then gradually show him how to do it himself. Fun times.
Bust out of there! You're likely really getting tired of staying inside and watching your toddler like a hawk by now. On day two and three, once they have a few successes under their belts, take a 30 minute excursion. Go for a walk, a drive, or a quick grocery run. Remind them that they're wearing undies and if they feel the need to pee to try to squeeze and hold it and you'll get them home to the potty soon. Only attempt this outing immediately after they've successfully used the potty so you know you have some time.
Accidents happen! Remind them that accidents happen. Apply ZERO guilt when this happens. Luke had like 8 accidents in a row the first morning. I thought we'd really screwed it up. Then, he finally had some successes. Stick with it. Give them a small reward every time they try by sitting on the potty and every time they tell you they have to go (or have just gone). I know that seems counter intuitive but a reward-based system has been successful for us. Something like, "Hey, good job telling mommy you peed in your undies. Next time, try to tell mommy before you go pee and we can put it in the potty instead." Prepare a bigger reward (we do a small scoop of vanilla ice cream) when they successfully go in the potty. High fives and happy dances are also recommended.
You'll have all sorts of fears running through your head that first day, "Did we do it too early?" , "Did we do it too late?" , "Did I do enough to prepare him/her?" , "What if they're still not potty trained by college?!"
Deep breaths, sis. It'll be ok. Stay consistent. They'll get it.
Keep track. I know you thought you were done keeping track of their peeing and pooping a month or two after you brought them home from the hospital but this fun task is baaaacckk. This just helps you get in tune with their body timing and to better predict when they'll need to go. Tracking that they usually go pee around 7, 10, 2, 4, and 6 will help you to predict when they'll need extra "try time" on the potty. It also serves as a tracker.
Day 1: 5 accidents, 1 successful pee.
Day 2: 3 accidents, 3 successful pees, 1 successful poop.
Day 3: 1 accident, 5 successful pees, 1 successful poop.
You get the idea. Knowing when they'll need to go and what they've done each day will help the process overall so get out that notes app.
Don't push nighttime or naps yet. All the experts say to put them in a diaper for nighttime and naps until they have daytime totally down. This may be weeks or months and that's ok. When you put them in a diaper for their nap or nighttime, tell them, "While you're sleeping, you can pee in your diaper if you need to, or you can call Mommy on the monitor and I'll take you to the potty." Give them the option to get up and use the bathroom if they need to, but don't force it. We kept our kids in their full cribs at this point and transitioned to toddler beds once we did nighttime and nap undies. Another sign they're ready for nighttime and nap undies is when they have consistently woken up with a dry diaper. Keep track of any times they wake up with a dry diaper leading up to the transition too, giving you a cumulative view as to when they're ready for that transition.
Be patient and try to relax. It seems like the biggest deal in the world but it'll honestly be a blip in your parenting lifespan. It's an important milestone and a gigantic accomplishment (for both of you). Don't put too much pressure on yourself or your kiddo. I recommend 3-4 days at least, of completely focused, consistent effort. If there isn't an inch of progress in that time, ask yourself if you truly think they're ready and if your gut tells you to take a break and try again in a month or so, go for it. Just keep in mind that backtracking may make it harder for them to take it seriously the next time.
I know this guide won't apply to everyone. I know some people co-sleep, some don't have their kids bathe every night, some don't want to offer rewards, some will find it harder to take off three days straight, etc. This is just a testimony and guide of what worked for our family to help our babies through this transition as quickly and easily as possible. This is what we did to get our kiddos fully potty trained in about four days (except nap and nighttime, which only took a few weeks longer).
Godspeed, fellow toddler moms. May the potty odds be ever in your favor.