Potty training. What a topic! First off, the name is all wrong. More appropriate would be “bathroom boot camp” or “parent training.”
Why you should listen to me on this subject: I have one beautiful potty-trained 2 1/2 year old.
Why you should definitely not listen to me on this subject: I have a sample size of one and I once put a small potty in the bathtub (that was filled with water) because hey, after a while, you’re willing to try anything. Oh and did I mention, it took me a year? I could have grown a whole other child in that time frame!
Nonetheless, I am happy to share what I learned in this adventure!
Tips for Potty Training Your Child
Tip 1: Ignore your mom, friend, or, in my case, best friend when they tell you they potty trained their child at 17 months. If you listen to them, then, as a new parent with a high opinion of yourself and your skills, you might actually start trying to train your own 17 month old! On the one hand 17 month olds are still babies; on the other, they are smart enough to try to escape using a key at the front door! See Exhibit A to the left. There is definitely something to the saying that “a child will potty train when he’s ready!” Your child might be ready at a young age, so it doesn’t hurt to put them on the potty, but don’t be afraid to abandon ship if it’s not clicking. In fact, if the child doesn’t have success early on and you push too hard, it can actually end up taking longer to potty train them.
Tip 2: Make the potty the new cool thing! Buy a book about the potty, make your child more aware of your own bathroom habits (especially the parent of the same sex), and figure out what kind of affirmation you want to give for peeing or pooping in the potty. We just got REALLY excited after peeing but pooping was such a big hurdle that we bought poop presents. (Yes, presents plural because when the first present is earned in February and no more poop has landed in the potty in late-March, it’s time to re-incentivize.)
Tip 3: Let your child nurture his inner exhibitionist. We found that letting Jack run around naked made him much more aware of when he needed to pee. From about his 2nd birthday on, if he was naked, he would always remember to do his peeing in the toilet. Before he mastered the big potty, it was helpful to have a “little potty” easily accessible.
Tip 4: Remember that it is not socially acceptable to be naked at the grocery store (school, park, etc.) We made the mistake of overly embracing the nudist approach to potty training. This meant that Jack had no accidents when allowed to run around pantless, but he had many accidents when wearing diapers (even cloth potty training ones). Getting your child to be aware of when they are peeing or need to pee is great, but then you have to figure out how to get them to remember this when the clothes go back on.
Tip 5: Be creative with potty sitting. We let Jack straddle the potty (forward or backward depending on his mood) and this made the big potty more manageable for us.
Tip 6: At some point, ditch the diapers. Jack’s nursery school required him to wear pull-ups until he was truly potty trained. This was a big stumbling block for us because the pull-up felt just like a diaper, so he treated it like one. We made much bigger gains when we consistently put him in cloth big boy pants.
Tip 7: Get buy-in. A young child can’t practice potty training in the evenings only. If your child isn’t with you all day, you have to have buy-in from his or her caregiver. What worked for us was having Jack go to the potty frequently (at first every 45 minutes, then gradually at longer intervals) to help him learn this new habit.
Tip 8: Give up…for a while. Getting Jack to pee came pretty easily pre-2nd birthday. Getting Jack to consistently pee in the potty took more effort and we ditched these efforts around the time we moved to our new house last December (right around the time he turned 2). We made another wholehearted effort in February with a potty party. This idea came from Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day, the one book I read (can you blame me with that title?!?) This got Jack pretty much potty trained. Oh, except when it came time for him to poop. By April, we were losing hope and started slacking our efforts. I picked them up again late May because I really wanted him potty trained before baby Cora arrived.
Tip 9: Have another baby. Cora arrived in mid-June and by the end of the month Jack was fully potty trained (at 2 1/2 years). On the one hand, our experience has me completely buying in to the idea that a child isn’t going to train until he or she is ready. This past spring, Jack was fully cognizant of his need to pee and poop and would tell us that the reason he was NOT pooping in the toilet was because “I don’t want to.” I think it freaked him out a little, and it wasn’t until a full day of pooping in the potty where it clicked for him that this wasn’t a scary thing. But on the other hand, we definitely did lay a lot of groundwork by talking about the potty and getting him used to using it at young age.
In summary, I’d say, try when you are ready and your child seems ready. If your child isn’t into it after a week or so, don’t be afraid to back off and try again later. You can put a huge amount of energy and emotion into potty training, or, just a little; the determining factor will most likely be how ready your child is (physiologically and emotionally) to take this step.