There are few topics talked about more when parents of young children get together, than their child’s potty training, or lack of it. Yet, when I worked in the public schools, all the children in kindergarten were successfully potty trained. There is a lot of debate on when is the right time to begin, or how long it should take, or should you night-time potty train the same time as you train your child to stay dry during the day. Some people believe in using treats, some think that bribery is ineffective overall. If you look in the library or at Amazon.com, I’m sure you can read a whole book about this topic alone. But if you just need some advice to get started, here it is. This has worked for my four children, my grandchild, my nieces and nephews, and many other young children I know.
You cannot train a child before he or she is physically ready to be trained. They need to have developed the muscles to hold back their urine. These same muscles are developed when the child learns to walk, which is why no one potty trains a crawling baby.
More than just physically, though, the child should be emotionally and socially ready. The child needs a level of maturity to want to do things for herself. A child that is this ready will start to say, “I do it!” When your toddler tries to take off or put in his pajamas, tries to climb out of the crib before you lower the side rail, tries to climb into his high chair, or learns to escape his car seat, then he might be ready to take himself to the toilet. Obviously, the child needs to be talking. A child who does not speak much yet beyond simple one word utterances like “mama” and “dada” is not going to be able to say, “I haffa go potty!”
Getting yourself ready
There is some preparation on your part, as well. Decide whether you want to buy a little potty chair, or a small seat that sits on the big toilet and a step stool. This is mostly a matter of personal preference. If there is not a bathroom near the kitchen or the main room you will be in when you are toilet training, then purchasing a small potty chair and keeping it in the kitchen will make this ritual a lot easier. Or if the bathroom just off the kitchen is tiny, and there is not enough room for a separate chair, get the toilet seat insert and step stool.
Soon your child will be out of diapers. While this may be a major relief, there is also a little grieving period to go through. This is a major event that marks the end of an era. Once your little child is out of diapers, he is no longer a baby. In practically no time at all he’ll be walking across that stage to receive his diploma! Well, maybe from kindergarten. But some mothers do delay potty training a lot longer than they need to, and perhaps it is because they aren’t ready to let their little baby grow up.
It is better to potty train in warm weather, so your child can run around the house in training underwear alone, but if you must potty train in the winter, it can be done. For a few days, though, you will want to heat your house above the suggested sixty-eight degrees to possibly seventy-two. You will want to select a time when you have at least three days uninterrupted to devote solely to toilet training. So, Christmas Vacation, when you have shopping, or wrapping, or traveling, or baking to do is not the right time. But if you normally work five days a week with weekends off, and you can get a three day weekend in the middle of the year, great. Pencil “potty train” on the calendar and make sure you have everything ready by then.
- potty chair
- 20 or more thick training pants (not paper!)
- 3 or more changes of sheets for the crib or toddler bed
- bag of tiny treats (like mini M&Ms for baking)
- plenty of juice, milk, popscicles
- spray cleaner and rags for accidents
- games and books for you and your child
Decide right now on the vocabulary that you want your child to use. Many children learn “potty”, but some parents prefer to have their child say “restroom”. Do you want your child saying “I havva go pee” in the restaurant or at church? Do you prefer “poopy” or “number 2”? Defecate is an awfully long word for a little child. Some children learn cute words for their genitals, some use the correct terminology. I had one four year old call it his “winky”. I’d never heard that one before. Some little boys love to say the word “penis” at the most inopportune times. It is kind of a fun word to say. I’ve heard a lot of children using the word “privates” lately. That is nice, because it works for both boys and girls.
Once you know the words you want to use, begin teaching them to your child at diapering and bath times. Talk to him (or her) about how soon he will be a big boy, and he won’t wear diapers any more. He’ll have “big boy” unders, and he’ll use the big boy potty just like you and Daddy. When you wipe his privates, tell him you are wiping his privates. Encourage him to learn these new words and use them.
Potty Training, Day One
This is a special day for your child! You will spend the next three days with him and no one else. You will not go anywhere, you will not talk on the phone, or watch day time television, or have friends over. For three days, you must spend all your time with your child except when he is napping. If you do this, your potty training should not stretch out for four, five, even six months.
Tell your child as he awakes that today is a big day. He is a big boy now, and will not be wearing diapers again. Maybe you start the day with a bath, if he is smelly in the morning. Then make a big show of giving him his brand new training pants. Let him open the packages, or touch them, smell them, chew on them, whatever. Help him put on a pair, and then take his picture. Take lots of pictures of him. If you have a digital camera, print off the picture immediately and post it where he can see it, with a headline like “Tommy is a big boy today”.
Then you show him the potty chair. Show him how to sit on it, and reassure him if he seems fearful. Some children fear falling down inside a big toilet. The little ring insert should help make them more comfortable. Some children are afraid of the loud noise flushing makes. Don’t flush the toilet until the child is off of it, and warn him of the noise about to happen. Let him help you pull the flush.
Get your child to just sit on the potty chair for a second or two, then praise him and give him a mini M&M (or similar tiny treat). Then it is time for breakfast. Serve whatever breakfast you normally would, but make it smaller. Your child needs to have many small snacks and treats and drinks today, so he will have many times to need to urinate. You want to have as many possible practices using the potty chair in the next three days. You do not want him to have a great big potty accident that leaks buckets full all over the floor, and then no more urine for hours! It is much more effective if the child has many opportunities to try to use the potty chair. Serve a lot of juice, only an ounce at a time, all through the day.
Immediately after breakfast, take him to the potty chair. Help him pull down his big boy pants and sit on the chair. If he resists, do not fight with him. You may have to bribe him with the M&M. Tell him he is a big boy now, and big boys use the potty chair. If he sits for even a second, give him the treat. If he actually urinates in the chair, jump up and shout for joy! Hug him, and praise him, and tell him he’s such a big boy and you are so proud of him, and give him TWO M&Ms!
If he sits on the chair, jumps right up and pees on the floor or wets his unders, do not get upset. He will have a lot of accidents over the next few days. Simply say something like, “Uh-oh. Your big boy pants are wet. Lets put on dry ones, and try very hard to keep them dry.” Clean him up, and then you and he will play something for an hour.
Enjoy him today! Yesterday he was still a baby, but today he is a big boy! Play with him. Talk to him. Color with him. Push cars. Read a book. Then, after an hour, offer him an ounce of juice or milk. Then immediately take him to the potty chair again.
This is the routine for the entire day. Every hour, all day long, spend it with him. Take more pictures. Give him juice, milk, or a popscicle. Take him potty. Praise him like crazy. Do not yell or get impatient. Give him tiny treats. At naptime and bedtime you can put two or three pairs of training pants on him at once, but do not put him back in a diaper.
Many parents want to continue using diapers at night, but this may be confusing to the child. He’s a big boy in the day, but a baby at night? No, it is better to stay with the training pants for everything. He will undoubtedly be wet in the morning. Do not scold him. Instead, just tell him that you know he is still learning to go potty on the potty chair, but you know he will soon learn to go potty before he wets the bed. Then clean him, and put him on the potty chair, even if only for a second (longer is better) and give him the treat. Make him want to be a big boy.
Day Two and Three
Day two and Day three continue the same as the first day. The exception should be that he should have a few successes the second day. If you go all three days without a single success, then your child must not be ready quite yet. Put away the training pants, potty chair, and treats, and try again in a few months.
Potty training “number 2” is usually a little easier than the “number 1”. Many children make a gesture to signify they are about to fill their pants. They may get red in the face, or lean forward slightly, or grunt. Then it’s simply a matter of rushing them to the potty chair for the finish. If your child has a lot of discomfort passing solid waste, he needs more fiber in his diet. Switch to 100% whole wheat bread, feed only whole wheat breakfast cereals, and do not peel fruits or vegetables for him, except like bananas and oranges, of course, which have fiber even without eating the peel.
After the third day, many children are potty trained. If you must return to work, then speak with your caregiver about continuing with the training. Share this article with them, so they know how you are training your child and they do not confuse him. If you’re a stay-home mom, but have to resume your other activities, then you just need to repack the diaper bag for your errands. Fill it with training pants, clean jeans, socks, even a shirt or two, and plastic bags for the laundry. And don’t forget to stop what you are doing and take your young child to the potty every hour on the hour. It could be some time before your child recognizes the need to urinate or defecate, and even longer before he realizes it in time to actually make it to the bathroom.
Good luck, and remember, most of all, have fun!