If there was one thing that could derail my Mom-esteem faster than a Marvel profit, it was potty training.
I loathed potty training.
- Chasing half-naked kids around the house, trying to keep them to hardwood areas only.
- Researching potty training tips, but then having to “improvise” when NOTHING went the way it was supposed to.
- The crushing defeat of finding underwear poo-presents next to an open drawer of clean underwear.
I remember sobbing my eyes out, sitting next to my child in the bathroom, a trail of rabbit pellets scattered from the dining room to the empty tot toilet on the bathroom floor.
WHY IS THIS SO FLIPPIN’ HARD!
Last week I attended a potty training seminar that left me bitter and angry.
Bitter and angry that no one has come up with a time machine that would let me take this information back to that utterly defeated Heather sobbing over the bathroom tiles.
Well, as a way of soothing my rage, I thought I’d write this article about what I learned instead. This way,
if when someone does invent the time machine, I can just read my own words from the future! #HiFutureHeather!
Potty Training Tip #1:
Don’t Start Too Early
There can be a lot of pressure to start your potty training too early.
- Maybe it’s economics—diapers are too expensive and you want to save money!
- Maybe it’s hassle—you already have four kids and you are DONE with diapers!
- Maybe it’s peer pressure—there are (supposedly) four potty trained kids in you moms group, and you feel ashamed your kid is still in pull-ups.
For whatever reason, you are feeling the heat about Captain Anti-Underpants over there, and your temper is starting to simmer. Before the boil-over, let’s make sure you’re not expecting something unrealistic. Time to break out the Big Book of Child Development!
Who’s Being Potty Trained Here?
Let me reveal a little secret. Children do not master the ability to control their bladders until age two. They also don’t learn to have bowel control until after two.
This means that when you hear people bragging on Facebook about potty training their 8-month-old daughter or 14-month-old son, they are not actually talking about potty training. They are talking about following a strict potty schedule.
Their child is just as oblivious to the toilet as usual. It’s they who have been trained. Trained to make sure they take their child to the restroom at very specific times.
Perhaps, somewhere, there’s a baby genius who can be actually potty trained before the age of two, but it is most likely not going to be yours. So take a deep breath. Your situation is snuggly tucked away inside Normalpersonland.
Potty Training Tip #2:
Have the Right Expectations
I have a sticky note on my desk that says…
Unexplored expectations are resentments waiting to happen.
Sure, I wrote that is a reminder in parenting my fifteen-year-old daughter…but it just as easily can be applied to potty training your toddler! (And honestly, aren’t teenagers just Toddlers 2.0?) So let’s go over the expectations you should have in regards to potty training.
Stage One: 24-30 Months
This is the stage where all your potty training hopes and dreams start soaring. Your toddler is actually excited about potty training! She picked out her themed underwear and actually sat on the potty. Shoot, she may have actually been successful!
Then, practically overnight, it all stops.
He seems to lose interest. She starts having more accidents. There’s screaming. Tears. Tantrums. Some of those were even from your toddler. Defeated and exhausted, you pick up another package of pull-ups and decide to try again in few more months.
This is normal. (Please read that sentence again.)
There is a rhythm to potty training, and according to experts in pediatric pee and poop, this first stage is part of finding that rhythm.
This is not a reflection of poor parenting. (Please read that sentence again.)
You should expect this stage. (And I use “expect” on purpose, because now that you’ve been educated, it’s no longer unexplored! It’s fact!) Let it happen. Put those pull-ups back on with a smile, because you know that in a short amount of time it’s going to be time for STAGE TWO, and that’s where the real training happens. 🙂
Okay, so since Mighty Moms receives millions of visitors every year, I probably need to offer a disclaimer here and head off the emails. Some babies may actually smash both stages together and potty train early. If that’s you, awesome! If it ISN’T you, though, that’s okay. It’s not a reflection on you. It’s biology and neuroscience.
Stage Two: 33-38 Months
This stage can be easy to miss because unlike the previous stage, your child is actually not interested in potty training at all. As bizarre as it sounds, that’s actually a strong indicator that it’s TIME.
Remember, in Stage One the brain was all gung-ho and ready to go, and the body was sort of ready, but then peetered out after a while. In Stage Two, the body is ready, but the brain has already moved on to more exciting developmental tasks. It checked off that potty box, and is ready to start jumping and throwing things! (Potty training is so three months ago…)
This is where you come in, Parent! You will look for these signals from his body and then know that even if his brain has moved on, it’s time for his body to catch up!
- He actually doesn’t seem interested in potty training. (See previous paragraph.)
- His pants are dry for 4 hours.
- He is physically able to pull his pants up and down by himself.
- When you use potty terms (poop, pee, toilet, wiping, etc.) he knows what you’re talking about.
If those things are all checked off, it’s time to get started!
Potty Training Tip #3:
Have the Right Potty
This is actually a really important tip! The best “potty” body position (as shown by the pooping unicorn) is the “C” shape, not the “L” shape. The “C” shape lines up the colon correctly, and makes pooping as easy as possible. The knees should be either level or slightly elevated above the belly button, not dangling down below the waist.
In order to help your child get the proper “C” shape, you’ll need a potty that’s either sitting on the floor, or has a foot-stool attached and sits on the regular toilet. You should also look for a potty that has handles. This will help her balance as she learns how to properly push for bowl movements.
Toddler Potty Training: The Right Seat
As you’re potty shopping, keep your child’s personality in mind. A shy, more reserved child, may find climbing the stairs to the “big” toilet scary and do better sitting on the floor. On the other hand, for a bolder, more adventurous child, climbing the “mountain” may encourage him to use it more frequently!
When do you move him to the big toilet if you’re using a potty seat on the ground? When he’s consistently used the floor potty for two weeks.
Potty Training Tip #4:
Talk Up Potty Weekend
Since your toddler is probably not excited about potty training (and if he is, read tip #2 to make sure he’s in Stage 2!), it makes sense that you will have to build up the eagerness on your own.
Firstly, start by checking your schedule and selecting an entire weekend (or three consecutive days) to dedicate to potty training.
These three days will spent entirely inside at home. No traveling away from the house for any reason. No church. No visits to grandma’s. No backyard adventures. It’s actually really important that you stay inside for all three days. (Even if it’s nice outside!)
Once you’ve selected your weekend, start talking about it with your toddler, tying it to another event he can easily remember.
- “After the fireworks next month we are going to start on the potty!”
- “After your Star Wars birthday party we are going to start on the potty!”
- “After we get back from seeing Aunt Jenny in Florida we are going to start on the potty!”
Then try to mention it frequently through out the week. Every time you mention the other event, tag a Potty Training Weekend reminder on behind. This way he knows something exciting is coming!
How to Avoid Going Stir Crazy
I hear you. Three days stuck inside with my toddler? ARE YOU CRAZY??
Nope. Completely sane. (I’ve been tested.)
Don’t start the weekend on a wing and a prayer. Plan ahead. Get activities to do together. Library materials to use. Videos to watch. Games to play. Here are a few items to inspire you!
Toddler Potty Training Crafts & Games
Toddler Potty Training Books
Potty Training Tip #5:
Cure Any Constipation
You do NOT want to start potty training while your child is struggling with constipation. Not only is it harder for him to go (pun totally intended), it can backfire and make him afraid to go. This turns into a vicious cycle of chronic constipation.
Also, if you’re trying to do nighttime potty training (more on this in Tip #9), a rectum full of poo can use up valuable bladder space, making it more difficult for him to sleep without wetting the bed.
Here are my top 3 tips for keeping those bowels moving.
Constipation Cure #1: Add More Roughage
The first easy thing you can do is add more fruits and veggies into his diet. The more fiber in his system, the better it will run! Ditch the apple juice and offer apple slices instead. Sneak in some veggies into that brownie mix or try some of these other clever Ninja Mom ideas!
Constipation Cure #2: Offer Goat’s Milk Formula
My next suggestion is to add a glass of goat’s milk formula at lunch. Studies have shown (like this one) that kids can struggle to break down cow’s milk curd in the tummy, leading to constipation.
Goat’s milk has a much softer curd in the stomach, with lots of little holes for enzymes to slip and start breaking down the pieces. It’s like comparing a baseball (regular cow’s milk) with a wiffle ball (goat’s milk).
Of course, I wouldn’t just give him straight-up goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is naturally heavy on proteins, which can be hard on your little one’s kidneys. Instead, I would recommend using this goat’s milk formula. It’s been specially modified to lower the protein count, with a bunch of other really good-for-toddler nutrients added back in Get a free sample of goat’s milk formula.
Constipation Cure #3: Track His Water Consumption
Your toddler needs to drink a LOT of fluids every day to keep the intestines healthy.
- Less than 30 lbs: 32 to 40 oz. per day
- 31 – 41 lbs: 40 to 48 oz. per day
- 42 – 63 lbs: 48 to 57 oz per day
The best way to track this is to have a sippy cup that is dedicated to only water and then mark down a tally for each time during the day you fill it up. (Perhaps offer a special treat at the end of the day if he’s reached all the tallies he needs.)
Here are some “special” water bottles to encourage him to drink more. It’s amazing how powerful having a “special” water bottle just for him can motivate more drinking!
Toddler Potty Training: Hydration Tools
If you forget to jot down the refills, keep an eye on his urine. If it’s dark yellow with a strong odor, he’s dehydrated. Encourage him to earn another 10 minutes on the tablet if he can drink that entire water bottle before Dad gets home!
Potty Training Tip #6:
Teach the Potty Process
As you get him excited about the Big Potty Weekend on the horizon, start practicing how the potty process works. This way, when the weekend arrives, he’ll know exactly what to do and what order to do it.
- Sitting (Yes, even the boys! Start them sitting, then move to standing once they have been successfully potty trained for a few months.)
I would go through the “Potty Process” several times a week (once a day if you can swing it), to help her get a firm understanding of what this behavior looks like, without the pressure of actually going into the potty.
The Potty Process: A Perfect 3-Minute Sit
Since you’ve got your correct potty delivered from Amazon, it’s time to start to teach her how to sit and use her sphincter muscles correctly. Yes, you’re going to teach her how to push.
- Sit her on the potty, fully clothed at first, then eventually bare-bottomed.
- Set a timer for 3 minutes.
- Play some games! Set out some of the items below in a “Potty Activity Basket” to help her practice the push.
Excellent Teaching Aids for Pushing
When she gets bored with these activities, introduce a game called “Thar’ She Blows!”
Ask your toddler to blow towards you and then, very dramatically, pretend to get blown completely out of the bathroom, struggling to re-enter because she’s blowing so hard! (Your toddler will find this HILARIOUS.)
The Potty Process: Wiping Skilz
Now that he’s got the push down pat, it’s time to work on his wiping skills. Teach him to reach behind and wipe from front to back. This way any excess feces doesn’t get wiped into his genitalia.
I would recommend using flushable wet wipes at first to help make sure he is wiping until there’s no more “residue” on the wipe. (An easy thing for him to remember!) Naturally, though, you’ll want to oversee this process until he can be trusted not to take 5,000 “wipes” to get the job done. 🙂
The Potty Process: Washing Like a Pro
After wiping, make sure you have a bathroom step stool so he can finish the potty process with a hand scrub. (I like this non-slip version. It’s amazing how far water can splash in the kids’ bathroom!)
Take him through how to turn on the correct taps to avoid boiling-lava-hot water, using the soap, rinsing it clean, and then drying with an appropriate hand towel. I know this seems simple to you, but he’s just learning and the more specific you teach these tiny steps, the better hygiene he will have in the future!
BTW, if you haven’t adjusted the temperature on your hot water heater yet, this is the time to make sure that happens! To avoid burns, the Mayo clinic suggests setting your hot water heater to below 120°F (48.9°C).
The Potty Process: Rewarding Good Habits!
Now, before you actually start potty training, is a good time to introduce a few rewards for completing the Potty Process. Let her put a sticker or a check mark beside each stage of the potty process, or receive a small piece of candy or bonus playtime for completing all the steps!
I would encourage you to use little rewards to help her learn the potty process, before rewarding her for actually using the potty. This way, when you want her to concentrate on the ALERT her body is sending her that she needs to go sit on the toilet, she won’t also have to remember all the potty process steps. Those will be already established as habits!
Toddler Potty Training: Reward Charts
Potty Training Tip #7:
Plan “The Weekend”
You’ve been talking about it for weeks. He’s been practicing the Potty Process and seems to have a good grasp of the rhythm. The calendar has been circled and the three-day “weekend” has finally arrived.
This is it.
We’re going to tackle peeing AND pooping in the toilet this weekend. Yes, both. Why? Because we don’t want him to think he pees in the potty, but poops only when he has pants or a diaper on!
Okay, let’s break down the Potty Plan for each day.
Your Potty Plan for Day One
Get your child ready for the day…only leave off the pants and diaper. It’s commando time!
Why is that important? Because you want her to start learning the ALERT feeling. Either that there is about to be urine running down her leg, or that there is poop wanting to be pushed out. Both of those sensations are easier to recognize when there aren’t other distracting fabrics on her bottom half.
If you’re in a carpeted area, lay down an expensive vinyl tablecloth (vinyl doesn’t tear as easily) and tape it down with painter’s tape for any accidents. If you want to sit on the couch, just use a twin mattress waterproof cover on the cushions.
Now that she’s prancing around as free as a bird, it’s time to set your phone’s timer to go off every 30 minutes. That’s how often, on this first day, you’re going to wait before hopping, skipping, sliding, etc. to the bathroom to practice the Potty Process. (Actually, that would be an easy incentive to help her get there… What animal should we be to the potty next?).
After you go through your Perfect 3-Minute Sit, head back over to your special box of activities and books until the next timer. (See why I encouraged you to purchase some special exciting new toys?)
What about naps and bedtime? Wait until the VERY last second before a nap or bedtime to let him slip on a pull-up, making sure he just sat on the potty. Then be sure to take it off as soon as he wakes up.
Your Potty Plan for Day Two
The Plan for Day two is to follow the same pattern of Day One, only this time, after lunch, set the timer to 45 minutes. I would also recommend having another “new” bag of toys (perhaps items you removed a few weeks ago and he’s forgotten all about) to keep him occupied.
Your Potty Plan for Day Three
When Day Three comes, it’s time to put on a pair of NEW underwear, and loose-fitting pants that he can easily pull up and down (no buttons!). The timer will stay at 45 minutes, but this time he can practice pulling his pants and underwear up and down each time.
Potty Training Tip #8:
I’ll be straight with you. This isn’t going to be a particularly fun weekend for you. (So pick some good after-bedtime rewards!) Remember, though, a few tough days now will shave off months of frustration later on.
STAY STRONG for the entire weekend. When your child asks you for a diaper to go poop, say NO and encourage them to blow the kazoo as hard as he can on the toilet instead.
That said, if everyone is screaming and in tears on Day Three, it’s okay to shelve this process for a few more months.
Potty Training Tip #9:
Take Days and Nights Separately
All the experts agree it’s best to treat potty training during the day and at night as separate events. Typically, they suggest starting overnight training after your child has gone 6 months in the potty during the day and is (for the most part) successfully potty trained and has dry diapers 4 out of 7 mornings.
- If the morning diaper is heavy and warm, that means that he just urinated right before he woke up. This is a good sign! He was able to last most of the night!
- If the morning diaper is heavy and cold, that means he urinated earlier in the evening. He needs a few more months in a Pull-Up.
How to Do Nighttime Toddler Potty Training
As you get ready to do some nighttime potty training, keep these things in mind:
- Layer the bedsheets for quick 2-am changes: bed pad, sheet, bed pad, sheet. This way you can strip off the first two layers, and get him right back to bed.
- No liquids after 6pm (bedtime should be around 7pm). If she’s not going to bed at 7pm, or isn’t sleeping through the night, let Amy or I help you create an effective sleep plan for better sleeping.
- She needs to be in a toddler bed and out of the crib. (Again, if you’re struggling with this transition, we can help.)
- Put her to bed naked from the waist down. This is because you want her to instantly feel the ALERT if she starts to urinate.
Remind her to come and get you when she needs to go to the bathroom. Many parents will set their timer for 11pm for a potty check, which may be okay if you have a really heavy sleeper, but in the beginning try not to do this. It trains you to get her up for the bathroom, instead of helping her learn to naturally awake and get you.
Be prepared to be woken in the middle of the night for potty trips so you can make sure the process is done correctly and you can tuck her back into bed. This won’t be forever! It’s just temporary!
Potty Training Tip #10:
Give Yourself Permission to Try Again Later
Your child’s success at potty training is not a sign of your success at parenting.
Every child is different, so it’s unfair to hang your mom-esteem on those tiny shoulders. If things go well, celebrate with your child! If things don’t go well, set your mind to be encouraging (not shameful, which will make it harder in the future), and try again in a few months.
Doctors don’t get concerned about potty training until your child is over 4 years old. If your child is over 4, you still shouldn’t panic! Just make an appointment to talk it over with your doctor, checking for constipation and other medical factors that could be a factor.
Hopefully these ten potty training tips demonstrate that this is a process. The more you think of it that way, the easiest it will be to avoid unrealistic expectations and unnecessary frustration.
Good news, though! We’ve established the correct expectations, so you can check off Potty Training Tip #1 and head straight to Tip #2—which stage of potty training is your tiny tot in?
See? You’re already making progress!
Have You Read These Yet?
- Boy Mom Alert: 7 Potty Training Mistakes to Avoid
- Toddler Constipation Relief Doesn’t Have to be So Hard
- This is How to Courageously Overcome Your Child’s Night Terrors
- How Do You Get Your Toddler Eating Healthy Food? Like This.
- How to Survive (and Actually Enjoy) the Toddler Years
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Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at MightyMoms.club and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She’s a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, has been a featured parenting expert writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, Cafe Mom, and others. If it’s 2am and you’re desperate to read SOMETHING, check out her deepest darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn’t be allowed to blog.