development parenting self care toddler

Mastering Potty Training: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

Potty training—oh, what a journey! As a parent, I've been bombarded with questions on this tricky topic, and today, I'm here to share some insights, recommendations, and strategies to make the potty training process a tad less daunting. Let's dive right in!

Step One:  Understand Readiness.  Potty training readiness varies among kids, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. You want to be on the look out for readiness signs like pulling at diapers, increased interest in others using the toilet, or attempts to hide when they need to go.  You also want to be on the watch for your child's toileting schedule -- do they seem to go at the same time every day?  This is often a sure indicator that their body is settling into a routine.  Don't worry if they don't, however, as not all kids demonstrate toileting regularity (nor do many adults!).  

One of the first things I ask parents when discussing readiness is whether or not their child is consistently dry in the morning.  If they aren't, their body may not yet be recognizing important cues/sensations associated with toileting.  No worries, they will with time!  If they are not dry in the mornings, another thing you want to consider is their fluid intake. Are they getting water just before bed?  That may play a role in their wet diapers in the morning.  You may want to consider limiting fluids before bedtime to see if they are then dry in the morning.  For example, if they go down for bed at 8 am, cut fluids back to 6 or 7 pm.  You can also try a sit on the toilet (if they are willing) before hopping into bed.  This is actually a great habit to start with early on as it will help prevent overnight accidents in the future.  Remember, readiness is a process!  

Step Two:  Understand the Skills Needed for Potty Training.  This one always surprises parents, but toileting involves a great number of developmental skills and you want to be sure that your child has the skills needed to be successful. Children must comprehend instructions, have essential motor skills, and communicate effectively. Comprehension is crucial for understanding the potty process, while motor skills are necessary for handling tasks like pulling pants up and down, climbing onto a stool, and maintaining balance.  Many little ones who struggle with motor planning or postural insecurity get frightened or overwhelmed during toileting routines.  They must feel safe and secure getting on, sitting and getting off the toilet.  These kiddos often do better on a small, child sized toilet where they can stabilize their bodies placing their feet flat on the ground.

Step Three:  Implementing Strategies.  Now that you have noticed the readiness signs and are sure that your child has the developmental skills needed for potty training, it is time to implement strategies!

  • Early Communication Awareness:  This strategy is for both the readiness stage and ongoing through the process of potty training until your child is successfully using the toilet independently.  You want to start labeling your child's actions such as hiding, doing the 'I gotta pee' dance or touching their diaper.  The goal is to further help them to recognize bodily sensations.  Keep your labeling simple and fun.  Carry the labeling over to your own toileting activities or those of the pet.  Again, we are trying to help build a neural pathway that helps them make the association between their body sensation/actions and using the toilet and REPETITION IS KEY!
  • Normalization within the Household:  You want to build a positive association around toileting.  Have your little one join you when you go.  Let them handle the flushes.  Talk about it AFTER you have gone and how much better you feel.  Get books on the subject.  Incorporate the theme into play with teddy bears and baby dolls.   Point it out in commercials or television shows or when your pet goes.  You are trying to increase their awareness and normalize it as something that everyone does!  
  • Visual Picture Schedules:  For those who struggle with understanding directions, pairing visuals such as a visual picture schedule for the toileting routine can help them better understand and learn the steps needed during the toileting process.  I have a visual picture system that includes a picture schedule available in my Etsy shop.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept and benefits of using visual picture schedules with young kids, check out this video.
  • Nudie Pants Technique:  You are probably familiar with this old school approach where you allow your child to roam with a bare bottom.  The idea behind it is that the increased discomfort of the mess may motivate them to use the potty.  This process can be highly effective with many parents reporting success after only a few days.  As with all strategies, however, you have to find one that is a fit for both you and your child and the likely messes associated with this one may not be something all parents feel comfortable with.  If you are going to do it, I suggest doing it when the weather is warm and investing in a Bissell Green Machine for your carpets!
  • Potty Schedule:  I've known many parents over the years who have used a schedule having their child sit on the toilet once every hour.  If this works for you and your child, go for it.  If, however, your child is fighting this process, back off.  You don't want this process to become a power struggle between you and your child.  While we certainly do want our littles to sit on the toilet frequently during this process, it has to make sense.  If you are going to do a toileting schedule, I'd suggest pairing it with routines.  For example, we sit on the toilet when we get up, then we wash our hands and brush our teeth and then get dressed before we go downstairs each day.  Or we go potty, wash our hands and before sitting at the table for snacks or meals.  When it is incorporated into a daily routine, it becomes more of a habit and less like a chore.  I mean, if you incorporated it into the process of meals and snacks, your little one would likely be sitting on the toilet about every 2-3 hours, right?  A perfect toileting schedule!
  • Potty Party Method:  This is by far my favorite strategy for potty training because it creates a positive association with the process.  We did this with our daughter it she LOVED it!  So the potty party process is a celebration every time the child sits on the toilet -- even if they don't go!  I encourage parents to put together a potty party box with fun items like blowers and hats.  When your child sits on the toilet, pull the box out and celebrate getting everyone to join the party.  We made up a silly little song that we sang as a part of the celebration -- music is a powerful motivator  Our daughter LOVED all the positive attention and actually dragged US to the bathroom so she could sit on the toilet.  Wouldn't it be great if your kid did that?!   To move towards actually GOING on the toilet, we added bubbles to the mix.  If she went on the toilet, the potty party now became a bubble party.  It didn't take long before she was going on the toilet.  As she started using it consistently, we started moving the potty party celebration to AFTER she had gone moving the box out into the living area.  Eventually we just did a bubble party and after a while, we just did high fives.  So, you can do a gradually withdrawal of the positive reinforcer of the potty party so you don't need to be having parties in the toilet when your child is five!  

Common Questions: This or That?  Okay, you've got some strategies that you can try but what about all the different options, i.e., diapers or pull ups, potty seat or potty chair, etc?  Here are my thoughts and experiences with some of the many options available during the potty training experience...

  • Diapers, Pull-Ups, or Cloth Underwear:  I really think it comes down to personal preference.  I personally feel that going right from diapers to cloth underwear offers a tangible experience by providing the 'ick' factor which can aid motivation.  The diaper companies have done such a great job of providing comfort to young children that there really is little motivation for them to want the diapers off.  We went right to training underwear like this.  It gave enough absorption with just the right amount of ick...the ick factor is key.  We added these plastic diaper covers for added measure for nightime and on outings.  
  • Potty Seat or Child-Size Potty:  This one largely depends on the child.  As I mentioned earlier, some kids are just plain scared of the big toilet so you really want to follow their lead.  My preference is always going to be to TRY to start on the big toilet with a safe and sturdy toilet seat insert like this.  I really like the ones with side handles for littles to help balance themselves.  It is also important that they have a stool for their feet for additional postural security like this which can also be used at the sink.  You just want to make sure that your child's feed can reach the top step while seated on the toilet.   
  • Stickers and Bribes:   Okay, in my experiences stickers, charts and bribes don't work in the long run.  While you may see some success short term, your long term goal is for your child to do this action independently on their own because it is just something they need to do.  No rewards.  No fluff.  External rewards do not help build intrinsic motivation to do things.  I have a whole video on this topic that you can watch here.  Now you may be asking 'But Jill, you suggested a visual picture schedule -- isn't that the same thing?'  No, it is not the same thing as a chart or reward system.  Think of a visual picture schedule as a young child's daily planner.  Many of us use planners as adult to map out our day, our to dos, work meetings, chores, etc.  A visual picture schedule is a visual map of your child's day...kind of like a daily planner with events and to dos all in one.  See the difference?  

Tips for Success.  Okay, as we wrap up this post, I want to give you a few tips for success as you navigate potty training with your child...

  • No Pressure or Punishment:  First and most important, keep the process natural, supportive and pressure free.  Remember, young kids are ALWAYS looking for ways to keep control -- the more we push them on things, the more they push back.  Put yourself in their shoes, how would you want someone to support you in learning this skill?  And I think it goes without saying (but I'm going to say it anyhow), there should never be any punishment for accidents!  Accidents are part of the learning process and it's important for your children to understand that.  Compassion, support and coaching are always your most effective approaches.
  • Easy-to-Navigate Clothing:  Be sure to choose clothing that facilitates independence during the potty training process.  Skip the onesies and sassy button up jeans and go for lightweight pants that are easy for your little one to pull up and down with little to no assistance..
  • Choose the Right Time:  Set yourself up for success by initiate potty training during periods where you have the time and energy to be consistent.  If you are feeling stretched thin due to a big project at work or your significant other is going to be heading out of town or working long hours for the next month, you may want to hold off.  Consistency and patience are a key part of successfully potty training your child.  If your well is running empty, it is going to be harder for you to show up the way you need to.  Plan to start when your mindset and energy are ready to give it your best,   You also want to avoid starting the potty training process during significant life changes or events such as the loss of a pet, going on a two week vacation, starting at a new school or a loved one moving away.  These events are hard enough for some kids and throwing potty training in on top of it can be a recipe for disaster.  Do it when their buckets are full so they can be a more willing participant in the process.

Potty training is indeed a challenging phase, but with the right approach and understanding, it can become a smoother journey for both you and your child. Remember, patience, positivity, and a sprinkle of creativity can make this transitional period a success. Happy training!