My Best Potty Training Advice

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potty training tips

Since several people have requested potty training advice from me over the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d just share my thoughts with you all here. Now, obviously all children are different. What works for some will not work for all. It’s trial and error.

First, let’s talk about what age you should begin potty training. We’ve all heard stories from those mothers who have had their children completely potty trained at 14 months old. My advice: don’t try it. I made this mistake with my first born, Jada. For a year and a half I struggled trying to get her to potty on her own. Finally, when she was three, she got it. Unless your child is amazingly advanced in this department, trying to force him to hurry up and learn will only set you back. If he isn’t ready, no amount of cajoling will make him ready. Seriously, what’s the rush?

When Ty came along I vowed that I would not push him like I did Jada. I realized that he would get it when he was ready. I showed him the potty, I let him see how it was used, I got him used to sitting on it and encouraged him to try to use it. But I didn’t force him to try every thirty minutes. And when he was two years old, he just got it.

My suggestion would be that you at least begin introducing the potty to your child by two years old. Most children are completely potty trained (though you can expect night accidents) at three years old, sometime before their fourth birthday. So, this at least gives you a general time line.

Start introducing them to the act of pottying by making a big deal about it when you (or anyone else in the family) goes. Let your child go with you into the bathroom so that he understands what is happening. When he hears the tinkling in the potty, tell him the words “Pee pee!”, or whatever you’re gonna call it, so that he associates the words with the action. Be enthusiastic about it, so that he knows it’s a good thing to pee-pee in the potty. If you’re working with a little boy, it’s good to let him watch his daddy do this as well, so that he understands how everything works.

Some kids prefer to go in a little miniature potty. My kids hated those. Both of mine were partial to the little potty seat with handles that fits on top of the toilet. Though, once Ty started consistently going on his own, he’d just climb up onto the regular toilet seat, and lean forward with his hands on the tank as he peed. It worked for him. I was always afraid he’d slip and end up in the water, but he never did.

With Jada, I went all out trying to bribe her with potty charts, stickers, and candy rewards. She enjoyed it, but it didn’t hasten her learning. With Titus, I didn’t do any of that. I did reward him with lots of praise, and a silly potty song and dance I’d do with him when he was done. He loved that. Most kids that age thrive on praise alone.

Putting Cheerios in the potty as floating targets can be a fun way toΒ  encourage them to “go”.

Though I’ve heard some recommend the opposite, I would say don’t allow your child to walk around with a sippy cup all day long. Having a full bladder may lead to more accidents if your child isn’t ready to potty that often yet.

What worked the best for Ty was to allow him to run in nothing but a shirt all day long for about a week. I noticed that when I put undies on him, he’d wet them as if they were a pull up. But when he was bare bottomed, he’d stop himself from wetting on the floor and run to the potty. Sure, I had to mop up two or three puddles, but it was hardly anything compared to how much he went in the potty. After he really got good at getting to the bathroom in time, I put his undies back on. When he kept those consistently dry, I put his pants on as well. This all happened over a period of a couple of weeks.

When you are in the midst of potty training, and your child is not good at going on demand, or telling you he has to go before it’s too late, DO NOT put him in big boy undies while going out on the town! It will end in disaster. You will be in the checkout line of the grocery store, with half of your cart’s contents already on the conveyor belt, when he will suddenly announce in sheer desperation, “I gotta go PEE PEE!” And you will be left facing the dilemma of either abandoning your groceries right there and running for the nearest rest room, or having your child wet all over the grocery cart seat. Not fun. Pull ups are okay for outings. Your little one won’t be confused.

When your son is able to tell you, “I need to go potty” in time for you to get him there, and hasn’t had an accident in a while, you can gather your courage and take the next step of putting him in undies out in public. Just be sure to bring a plastic bag with a change of clothes (including socks!) and clean undies for him, just in case. Don’t embarrass him if he has an accident. Just quietly change him, and do your very best not to make him feel bad.

When your child has stayed consistently dry overnight for a week, it’s time to start trying undies at bed time. Explain to your child that he is wearing big boy undies now, and to try not to get them wet. Make sure he goes to the potty right before laying down for bed, and limit drinks two hours before bedtime.

If he is wetting the bed again every night, put him back in a pull up and try again in a month or so. He’ll get it eventually. Night wetting can be the hardest part to learn to control, especially if he sleeps hard.

And the most important thing to remember… Never EVER discipline for potty training accidents. No scolding, no spanking, no rebuking or time-outs. Just quietly clean up the mess, or have him help you wipe it up, and do not make him feel bad for what happened. This isn’t an obedience issue. Now, if he purposely pees on his sister… well, that’s another matter, but I think you get the idea.

Oh yeah, one more thing. When potty training your son, please don’t make this silly mistake!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things. Maybe you experienced Mamas can help me out! What other tips do you have to share with young moms ready to potty train?

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11 thoughts on “My Best Potty Training Advice”

  1. Dawn, I briefly had 3 in diapers for a bit. But mine were 3y10mo, 20mo and newborn. It’s rough, especially if you’re doing cloth and attempting to keep up on that much laundry. If you’re okay with resorting to disposables for a bit to keep your sanity, that’s also a perfectly reasonable option. πŸ˜‰

  2. I’ll tell you this, ignore those nitwits who criticise you for not potty training your kid the second they hit 2. Granted you need to be aware of your child’s need. But that’s jsut it, its your CHILD’S needs, not the nosy neighbor’s or the bossy in-law’s. I caught a lot of flak with both boys’. Our oldest has Asperger’s (though we didn’t know that during potty training) and he was nearly 4 before he got it. We tried a million ways of getting it done, but he just wasn’t ready. The end. When he got it, it was something that happened in the course of a week. From pull ups to dry overnight in undies. He was ready, it was easy.

    With our youngest, he’s JUST potty training now and he’ll be 5 in December *gasp* We worried a lot. We tried when he was 3, it was a novelty to him, but nothing he wanted to really do. And we finally caved to the pressure and did a lot of things we regret. The poor kid still isn’t sure its safe to tell us when he has an accident. No matter how tempting it may be in you frustration, do not attach any negatives to the process. none of that ‘clean yourself up’ stuff (unless you can present it to your child in a way that isn’t negative). We finally just told him it was ok. He was too big for pullups so he had special undies (cloth trainers) that he was to wear always. If he had an accident we went to the bathroom (because that’s where those messes belong) and clean it up. And just let it go. We did also give hima chart with star stickers and small prizes (think those cheap beaded necklaces, and those tiny bottles of bubbles) every 7 or 10 times he goes. But we just emphasised it was his decision. No more fight, no more power struggle. We let him make the choice to use the potty or not. And within 2 days he was doing it. We’re 3 weeks in, and he’s having maybe 1 accident a day. Poop is still hit or miss with him, but he’s trying, its his idea and its no big deal. And he does NOT want to go back to pullups (we used them when we went to the state fair) he wants to use the potty, he wants to wear undies. He’s ready!

  3. Kendra,

    There is one thing I did while potty training that prevented extra clean-up for me, yet still reinforced the process:

    Buy the child some heavyweight underwear, put that on the child, then over the underwear put on a disposable diaper.

    This allowed my child to experience the ‘wet’ when accidents happened.
    This also allowed the diaper to ‘hold’ the mess until I could properly tend to it (i.e. at home, in the grocery store, etc.).

    With our son I started when he was three and a half as he wasn’t interested before then. It took nearly 3 months, but he got it, both urinating and bowel movements, which I thought was just fine.

    Hopefully this may be helpful to someone else…

    • Marla,

      Good advice! That reminds me of what I recently suggested to my sister: That she could put her son in big boy undies, and put a vinyl cloth diaper cover over the undies (like the old rubber pants). This would give the same effect- feeling the wetness without the leakage. Thanks!

  4. I thought I firmly believed in waiting until the child led the potty training. I still do, really, but circumstances are making me question myself.

    We’ve got a 2 year old (33 months) a 1 year old (12 months) and a baby on the way. I just can’t fathom the thought of THREE kids in diapers. We don’t have enough cloth diapers to go around!

    So I may wait until October and have my 2 year old (who uses the potty randomly but is FAR from consistent) try the “every 30 minutes” thing for 3 or 4 days to see if it works.

    I love the dab-dab story. I’d do the same thing! πŸ™‚

  5. I’m stuck waiting until these two are ready ( 29 and 16 months) but with the baby on the way I’m determined to figure out Elimination Communication. In other cultures (especially those where they hand wash diapers!) you bet they don’t wait until three! They learn their baby’s cues and potty them right from the start. That way there isn’t a huge retraining from the initial pattern. I know a mom who did EC and her babies were usually reliable by 12 months and could tell her when they needed to go. Even with partial EC it seems like they understand the concept of the potty earlier.

  6. I wait until my kids are ready. My boys were both 3y10mo when they potty trained themselves. Seriously, after us talking up going pee on the potty and the big boy underwear for months (and they always watch me and hubby in the bathroom – it’s never a solo event here), suddenly a light switch flipped in their cute little heads. Both day trained themselves in 2-4 days, night trained themselves in a few weeks (they still got to wear diapers at night for a bit – mama would rather wash a few diapers than change sheets at 3am). My 2yo girl may be ahead of them, but who knows, still diapers so far.

    I think it’s also related to verbal understanding. My boys were on the slower end of verbal ability development. Until they can understand what the whole thing is about and how to tell me they need to go pee, well, it’s going to be a recipe for disaster. And I save my tenacity for the battles like “no running off from me in the busy parking lot!!!” and such. But, the boys do take after me – my sister and I refused anything to do with potties until 4yo. Back in the days of prefolds, pins, and plastic pants. My poor mother. We were just busy doing other stuff to be bothered with it. πŸ˜‰

  7. You are so right! I have 3 children ages 6,4 and 2. And it was a nightmare with my first until I stopped and at 3 years old she figured it out. I did not make the same mistake with my second who potty trained a few weeks after his 3rd birthday.

  8. This is a good subject to write on. Potty training my first was a nightmare I thought she was ready at 2 1/2 cause she would potty now and then in the potty chair but it turned out badly. I got so frusterated over a period of a few weeks that I put her back in diapers until she was 3 and then it went more smoothly.
    However my 2nd girl is 2 1/2 and goes potty all the time in the big toilet but I am scared to try full on potty training for fear it will be like my first. Maybe I am holding her back and should just try?


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