Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Potty Training Made Easier: Three Steps to Success

The topic of potty training will bring moms out of the woodwork.  Everyone has questions.  Everyone has suggestions. 

Yesterday I shared five inexpensive supplies that I feel are helpful in successful potty training.  Today, I will explain the three steps in this process that we have used with our four children.

Step #1 - Introduction without Pressure

Not long after we put the 1st year birthday gifts away, I would make the trip up the attic stairs to pull down the potty seat.  Now this doesn't mean that we began potty training but we used the seat to introduce the child to using a potty.

Sitting on the potty seat before each bath becomes part of the bathing process.  There is no pressure on the child to actually "go" but with the running water of the bathtub, success sometimes happens.  This also helps build a comfort level with the toilet.  During this time, allow the child to flush the toilet and get over any fear of the sound.

Even though I started this step early on with each of our children, this step can be started whenever needed.  Also, this stage can last as long as needed.  I believe Step #1 is important to making the rest of the process go smoothly.  The key is to use the potty without any pressure of success or fear of accidents.

Step #2 -  Potty Training by a Timer

(For simplicity reasons, I will use he and she intermittently throughout this post.)

When you feel the timing is right, purchase the supplies that you need.  (For knowing when the timing is right, read tomorrow's post.)  You may want to involve your child and allow her to pick out her new underwear.  Don't forget the liquid!  More liquid in means more liquid out! 

Choose a time to begin potty training when you can stay at home (and outside, if possible) for a few days.   This will allow you to focus on the process and not worry about accidents away from home.  Also, make sure that your spouse understands and agrees with the process.  This is very important for consistency.

Once you begin this step and make the switch to underwear, do not go back to diapers.  Starting over will make the potty training process much harder the second time and it teaches your child that you will back down.  (More discussion on this tomorrow.)

On that chosen morning, greet your child in bed and say:
Today is a very special day because today you are going to wear big girl underwear.  No more diapers.  You are a big girl and today you are going to use the potty.  Let's go use the potty now. 
(Your child should be very used to using the potty because of Step #1.  After using the potty say:) 
Every time that you hear the timer beep, I want you to turn it off and run into the bathroom.  If you go potty in the toilet, you will get a _________.  If you go poo-poo (substitute your choice of words), you will get two _________.  Pick out what underwear you want to wear today.  It is very important that you don't get ______ (Dora, Lightening, etc) wet or dirty. 
If possible, dress your child in a short shirt and underwear only.  It makes the pull down/pull up process much easier. 

Begin your day, set the timer for 20 minutes, and push the fluids. 

When the timer beeps, instruct the child to turn it off.  This helps the child step away from whatever activity he is doing and gives him ownership in the process.  Also, the "timer" becomes the authority instead of the parent constantly having to say when it is time to head to the bathroom. 

For the first couple of days, make this time fun.  While sitting on the potty, read your favorite books and play games like "I Spy."  Potty time is some of my favorite memories with my little ones.  We read the same books over and over with sound effects, character voices, and laughter.  The kiddos expanded their vocabularies and looked forward to mommy's one-on-one attention.

If the child is success, reward with a small treat.  Secrets on how to make your child "go" will be shared tomorrow.  Our kids loved to flush the toilet and say "good-bye" to their pee or poo-poo.  (If they didn't go, they didn't get to flush the toilet.)  On unsuccessful attempts, be encouraging and remind the child that she will try again when the timer beeps. 

Each time, help the child lower and raise his underwear.  Help him pull the underwear from the sides and not in front.  Also, establish the habit of washing hands after each bathroom use.

As the child improves, increase the amount of time between bathroom visits.   Twenty minutes to 30 minutes.  45 minutes to 1 hour.  If the child begins to have accidents, lower the time interval again.

For boys, I begin with the child sitting down.  This way he can go pee or poo without having to change positions.  I also like to sit them backward on the potty (without the potty seat).  This seemed to work well with Peanut.  He could see the results (gross, I know) and felt comfortable with how this made the toilet seat feel smaller.  I have to say that the easiest place to train a boy is standing outside at a tree.  One of the perks of living in the country!

If the child needs a diaper at nap time, put the diaper on like underwear.  Very important - no longer have the child lie down for changes.  We call diapers worn at night and for naps "night-night underwear."  My kiddos never struggled with this concept. 

Accidents will happen but accidents are teachable moments.  The child is learning how it feels to have wet underwear and pee run down her leg.  Rewards and praise are teaching the child positive reinforcement for a job well down.  Using the Love and Logic parenting philosophy, I would always express sadness for my children's situation.  "That makes me sad that you had an accident.  I bet you are sad that you have to feel that wet underwear too.  Wet underwear is gross.  Let's clean this up and then get some dry underwear.  You can try again."

The key to Step #2 is to relax.  Unless there is a medical problem, no child has ever gone to college not potty trained.  And in all of the nightmare stories that I have heard, none of these children went to Kindergarten not potty trained.  The child will feed off your anxiety and pressure.  (More on this in our FAPTQ posts)

Step # 3 - Child's Ownership in Potty Use

Train the child to consistently go before specific activities.  For example, always go potty before leaving the house, going to bed, after a meal, and before a specific mid-morning activity.  By this time, the child should have the ability to pull on and off clothes with little assistance.  Once the child is able to stay dry 2-3 hours between potty visits, move from rewards for going potty to rewards for telling you when she needs to go potty. 

For times when you are not at home, the child needs to be comfortable using the potty without her seat.  This is where the backward sitting comes in handy.  The child doesn't feel like she is going to fall in.  This is also a good time to discuss the germ factor of bathrooms.  Practice all of this at home before venturing out.

During this time, I also transition my boys to stand-up peeing.  Hitting a target (Cheerios, piece of toilet paper) in the toilet can help with the aiming issues.  Teach the little man to clean up spills on the toilet seat and floor.  

Step #3 may take a couple of weeks or it may continue for a couple of months before your child uses the potty completely by himself.  Like any other training, be consistent, relax, and success will follow!

The key to Step #3 is to transfer ownership to the child - both success and accidents.  

Tomorrow, answers to your FAPTQ - Frequently Asked Potty Training Questions!

What do you think of these three steps?


  1. Amazingly, the boys (3.5) do really well AWAY from home, but are non concerned about getting wet or dirty at home. Its crazy. Thanks for the reassurance that they won't go to college this way:) Preschool in August...may be another story

  2. I love this advice. We are about to start potty training my 2 y.o. and I think we'll start sitting on the potty before bathtime.

    We don't plan to nighttime train yet, and I read the advice about putting those diapers on standing up like you would underwear. Do you think it would cause confusion if you can't do it standing up? We use cloth diapers so there's no way for me to easily change her standing up and get a good fit.

    1. I think that is very wise do work on day training before night training. For us, with our daughter, they went hand in hand. The boys...it just took time. I don't think it will cause confusion. Children are much smarter than we give them credit. :)


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