Potty Training Tips & Tricks: A Survival Guide

Potty Training Tips & Tricks: A Survival Guide

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

I’m not going to sugar-coat here: potty training can be a complete nightmare. But we willingly trudge through this purgatory with the promise of a diaper-free paradise on the other side.

To get through potty training, we want every tool possible at our disposal. Here you can find the best tips and tricks to work through the bumps of potty training and live the diaper-free life. 

Every child is different

It goes without saying that there is no one size fits all approach to potty-training. One of the most important things a parent can understand is that every child and every situation is different and we, as parents, get to forge the path that is best for our child and our family.

Nowhere is this more true than with potty training where you are teaching a child to fundamentally change their behavior. There are a lot of skills to learn in potty training!

In potty training my 3 oldest kids, I saw firsthand how even kids close in age and raised the same all responded differently.

They simply have different personalities!

The best thing we can do to prepare for potty training is learn as much as we can. We want to get as many tools in our parenting toolbox so that we have options when it comes to picking a potty training strategy.

Potty Training Tips & Tricks (free printable chart)

Potty Training Eternal Truths

Though every child is different, there are some guiding truths that will be helpful in every single potty training scenario.

1) You child has to be ready

I cannot overstate this enough. You wanting it more than anything in the world does not count.

As awful as diapers can be, they’re easier and less traumatizing than cleaning up epic poop and pee messes from around your house. It can get ugly very quickly. Trust me on this one. Wait until your child is ready.

Also, if your child seems ready but then resists once you begin potty training, stop and try again later. If things get too frustrating and negative, it could make potty training a near impossible task. 

2) Keep it positive and upbeat

In my experience, kids respond soooo much better to our positive reinforcement and encouragement rather than getting upset and pointing out what they are doing wrong.

If the potty-training process turns negative, things will devolve into “The Potty Training Nightmare Scenario” where literally no one is happy with their life.

Remember, diapers are easier than disgusting messes, heaps of laundry, and lots of tears.  You can always try again a bit later. Diapers are not forever. I promise. 

3) Be Patient

Think about all the things a child has to learn to be fully potty trained:

    1. recognizing they need to use the restroom
    2. pulling pants up and down
    3. Actually going pee and poop in a toilet
    4. If using a tiny potty, then dumping contents into the toilet
    5. Wiping 
    6. Flushing
    7. washing hands

These are A LOT of skills for a little person to master. It’s going to take time and lots and lots of practice.

Are we perfect parents? Nope. We mess up all the time. And no one jumps out and yells at us for our mistakes. We need to be patient with our little friends as they learn all these new skills.

7 Signs They Are Ready to Potty Train

Your child should be showing at least a few of these signs before you venture into potty training.

  1. Pulling at or taking off a wet or poopy diaper
  2. Hiding to pee or poop
  3. Going long stretches with a dry diaper (shows bladder control)
  4. Wakes up from naps or in the morning with a dry diaper
  5. Interest in others’ use of the potty
  6. Telling you before, during, or after they’ve gone in their diaper.
  7. Child follows directions (this is extremely important)

2 Skills to Practice BEFORE You Start Potty Training

To make the potty-training process easier, here are a few skills to practice BEFORE you begin potty training that will help the process go more smoothly. Again, our little sweeties have to learn sooo many skills when learning to potty train. Teaching some early will pay off when the real fun begins.

  • Washing hands together after changing a diaper: You’re already washing your hands after every diaper change. So start doing it together. Explain and show your child that after you pee or poop, you wash your hands. 
  • Pulling pants up and down: Since the goal of potty training is helping your child gain toileting independence, being able to pull pants up and down is a completely necessary skill. But let me tell ya, it is a hard for those little hands to pull underpants up over those cute little bums. Before you even start potty training, you can practice pulling pants up and down by helping your child with hand placement. Help your child place one hand on the back waistband and another on the front to work on pulling pants up.

Your Potty Training Toolkit: 10 Tips & Tricks

 

1) Start with a kick-off session

How do you even start potty training anyways? I’ve found that beginning with a super upbeat, fun “potty training kick-off party” is really helpful for introducing underpants and the potty training routine, all while getting the child excited about the process. Some things you may want to try:

  • Eliminate all distractions: Turn your phone off. If you have other kids, get someone to care for them. Keep it focused and your attention 100% on your little one.
  • Give lots of water, juice, salty snacks: Salty snacks promote thirst, which mean drinking, and later lots of pee. This create opportunities for lots of peeing practice.
  • Small rewards: Have small incentives for when your child follows directions, sits on the potty, practices the new skills, and of course, when they go in the potty. Stickers (see the bottom of the post for a free potty training chart) or small treats work great.
  • Use a doll that can “pee”: This can help model the behavior and you can help your child to teach the doll to go pee in the potty. In my experience, it can be hit or miss mostly due to the difficulty of finding a quality doll that pees.
  • Watch potty training shows and clips to reinforce routine and get the child excited. Here are some of my favorites:
    • Daniel Tiger Goes Potty: Episode 1 of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a cartoon picking up where Mr. Rogers left off) is my favorite. Teaches the process and even has a catchy song that is awesome for getting kids to remember all the steps. If you have Amazon Prime, the episode is available for free!
    • Sesame Street’s Potty Time w/ Elmo

2) Talk about what you are doing in the restroom

Let’s be honest, mama, you’re probably not going to the bathroom alone very often. Make use of your company by explaining what you are doing and the routine (wipe, flush, wash etc). Your child will be familiar with the process and excited to be like mama/daddy!

3) Read Potty Training Children’s Books

This is awesome for getting kids excited and reinforcing the learning principles. My 3rd kid basically potty trained herself after I read her a potty book. Before you get jealous of my little unicorn, just note that she discovered the transcendant joy of fecal smearing shortly thereafter. So I paid the price, rest assured. Here are our favorite Potty Training Children’s Books:

4) Use Incentives

Incentives can be very powerful in motivating kids to learn these new skills. Just make sure your incentives align with your values.

For example, if you don’t like the idea of sugary incentives–which work for many parents–don’t do it if doesn’t fit with your style and values. There is no one right incentive for everyone. 

Treats worked really well for my kids (since they are rare in our house) so I’ve used M&Ms, Skittles, and mini marshmallows for reinforcing good behavior in the beginning. Things like sitting on the potty and waiting, pulling pants up and down, and going in the potty can all earn treats as they master the skills.

I also like to give incentives for reaching big milestones.  We’ll get a $10 toy they want and display it (so it is a constant reminder) until they go like 3 days without accidents or something. 

Feeling successful is often very motivating for kids (and adults too!).

5) Naked time

Sometimes losing the diaper and training pants altogether works really well for some kids. Feeling nothing between their little behind and their environment makes them more motivated to use the potty.

This has worked really well with a couple of my kids (while another would purposely go on the carpet *sigh*).

6) Cold Turkey

Ditching diapers 100% can be a useful strategy for some while others may take a more gradual approach. This approach definitely takes a lot of pateince and positivity.

Many parents who take the cold turkey approach will spend the first couple of days cleaning up repeated messes. But a few days into it, often the child catches on and starts to do really well.

7) Keep the potty handy

I love these little potty chairs.  They’re easy to move around your house so the potty is always handy! Keep the potty in whatever room you are in. 

8) Role models

While you can be an effective model for your children, I and many other parents have found that other children are even more effective potty training role models. If there are potty-trained cousins, friends, or siblings that can model peeing on the potty, use them!

9) Routine

Children’s brains crave routine and patterns. Creating a potty routine that you do over and over and over can be very effective in teaching these principles. If you want to sing a song as you do it, sing a song. Just be consistent.

10) For Boys: Create Target Practice

Potty training boys is a little different (something I’ve admittedly never done). But I have heard over and over that putting Cheerios in the toilet for “target practice” is an easy and effective way to teach boys to aim properly. It may also be a good idea to first teach boys to pee sitting down.

Recommended Potty Training Resources

Remember, there is no one right way to potty train. Depending on your situation, different resources will be more helpful than others. Moral of the story is find what works for you and your child. These are all resources that I have found extremely helpful:

  • Potty Training Chair: A small potty chair with removable bowl is awesome for helping little ones learn to potty train. First off, you can move it to any room you are in for easy access. Also, kids can easily learn to get on and off (which is more of a struggle on the full-sized toilet). 
  • Toilet seat cover: Some parents opt to skip the chair, but use the seat cover to make the big toilet more manageable. We’ve used it as a bridge between the training potty chair and just using the big toilet.
  • 8-10 Training Pants (at least): You will, most likely have a lot of accidents in the beginning of potty training, so it’s important to have a nice stock of good training pants. Consider buying some a bit on the large side so it’s easier for your little one to pull on and off. Some of my favorite training pants:
      • The classic Gerber training pants: We’ve probably bought dozens of these over the course of potty training 3 kids. They’re a solid (and absorbent) choice. The leg holes are bit looser on my kids which has been FABULOUS when teaching them to pull underpants up and down. It makes it easier 
      • Unisex training pants: These have a plastic interior lining and tighter leg holes which I have found to be really great for containing accidents. Plus, my little ones love the animals on the bums. Con: Not as loose as others so I have to help pull on and off.
  • Step stool for toilet: Whether you start on the toilet or with a chair, once your child is on the regular toilet, a step stool will be necessary for your child to get on and off the toilet on their own. We own a few of these.
  • Step stool for sink: Since the ultimate goal is getting them to do it all on their own, they’ll need a stool to reach the sink. I love this one–looks nice, sturdy, and it was really easy to put together.
  • Toilet Training in Less Than a Day: A friend of mine recommended the book after finding success with her son. It’s intense, I won’t lie. However, it is a treasure trove of really awesome info and has completely shaped how I potty trained my kids. It’s full of really awesome strategies and can really help you wrap your head around every single step involved in potty training. 
  • Potty Training Children’s books: These can be so helpful in not only teaching and reinforcing potty training routine, but also getting kids excited about it.

Bottom Line: Stay Strong

All kids are different. Be patient. Be enthusiastic and positive. And don’t be afraid to ditch an approach that doesn’t seem to work and try something else.

Download my free potty training chart and let me know in the comments or at erin (at) theincrementalmama.com how potty training is going for you! Let me know how I can help you and simply be your cheerleader.

Hang in there!

Potty Training Tips & Tricks (free printable chart)

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11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Newborn and Toddler

11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Newborn and Toddler

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Toddler & Newborn Baby

Preparing for a newborn when you already have a toddler makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. Like How will I cope with 2 kids? What do I do when they’re both crying? How can I love a new baby as much as I love my kid? What on earth were we thinking? Trust me, I feel you 100%. But I’m here from the trenches to tell you that not only is it going to be “fine,” it’s going to be amazing. You’ve just got to know what to expect and arm yourself with a few tips on managing a newborn and toddler. 

I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with a toddler and a newborn. My oldest was just 5 months old when I found out I was pregnant again (just remember that for 99.8% birth control efficacy, there is a .2% *raises hand*).

Okay, I was terrified.

And I *may* have cried on and off for the next two weeks as I tried to get my head around what was about to happen. I was barely feeling kind of human again. And then, suddenly, I was in for round two of the complete unknown. In the coming months, I was going to be a mother of a 14 month-old and a newborn.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. There were definitely some rough moments. But while it certainly had its challenges, it was actually pretty dang fantastic. So much that we kept going: Rosie came 2 years later, and Lulu followed 16 months after that. Yes, my oldest was just 4 when my 4th child was born. 

Newborn Baby & Toddler Survival Tips From Mom of 4 Kids 4 And Under

Every Child and Every Situation is Different

First thing to remember is that each child will respond differently to a new baby sibling. My 4 kids ALL have very different personalities and responded very differently based on personality and birth order. Your babies come with their personalities ready to delight and frustrate you. So some strategies may be amazing for one kid and practically useless with another. The goal is to prepare yourself with as many tools in your bag as possible so you are ready with what you’ll need. This is 100% my parenting philosophy with everything. 

11 TIPS TO MANAGING LIFE WITH A NEWBORN AND A TODDLER

BEFORE BIRTH: PREPARING YOUR TODDLER

1) Help your child understand that a baby is coming

You can use pictures, talk about other babies you encounter, or even get a baby doll. Take opportunities to talk about the baby growing in your belly and about having a new baby in the house.

WhIle you may be certain that your child doesn’t understand (which may be true), you never know what is sinking in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blown away by how much my little ones understand. No harm in trying. 

2) Have a gift (from the new baby) for your toddler at the hospital

The first time your child sees you with the new baby can be very upsetting for them. If they immediately get a cool present that you make very clear is from the new baby, this can ease the experience. And its helps them have good feelings associated with the baby. Ideally, the first association they have with the new baby is the excitement (helped by getting some fun gift). An important key is to make sure the kid knows it’s from the baby. Build it up big-time.  

LIFE WITH BABY

3) Focus on your toddler in the first encounter with the new baby at the hospital

Just like with your first, once you are handed your second child, you will not want to let him/her go. Your heart will grow a few sizes and you’ll want to get in your maternal cocoon and just bond. This is perfect and natural. But when dad or grandma comes in your hospital room with your toddler, switch your focus to your toddler as much as you can. Hand the baby off and snuggle your toddler and get out the present from their new baby.

Again, this can be a really jarring experience for your toddler and you want to do everything you can to ease the blow and help them have a happy, loving experience. 

4) Help Your Toddler Feel ownership over the baby

One of your main goals is to make sure that the toddler doesn’t feel “unseated” by the baby and instead feels excited about a new sibling. Involve them in everything you can. Have them feel like they’re helping in diaper changing, feeding, clothing etc. Depending on age and ability, they may not actually be very helpful, but help them to do what they can. This helps them feel big and important and–most importantly–needed by you. It also provides a natural way to teach your toddler the correct way to touch and handle the baby. Example language you can use:

  • “Can you get mama a diaper? Good job! You are such an awesome big sister/brother! What a great helper!”
  • “You are a big girl/boy. Our baby is so little. We need to be soft and gentle with the baby like this [model behavior]. Can you touch the baby nicely? Good job! You are such a great big sister/brother!”

5) Be Patient With Misbehavior

For a lot of children, this can bring a period of real insecurity. The routine and foundation they have known their whole life has totally been upended. When that happens, children often act out in order to get the attention that they desire. This is completely natural. So be as gentle and loving as much as you can. Sometimes it’s going to be really tough. You will be sleep deprived and completely exhausted. But do your best to remember that this can be equally as tough for our little sweeties.

6) Praise Whenever You Can

Build up your little one with lots of praise for when they interact with the baby and for all the “help” they give you and. This will encourage them to continue positive behavior. In the delirium that can come with a newborn, it can be hard to remember. But try to keep it in mind.

7) If both are crying, don’t always rush immediately to the crying baby

Though you are pregnant with number 2, maybe you can’t imagine loving anyone as much as you love your child. I know I did. You may even question if there will be enough love for your 2nd child. Don’t worry, mama. Rest assured that your baby is going to be your new obsession and you will be madly and miraculously in love.

You will rush and jump at every single cry. But there will be times–many times, in fact–when both of your kids are going to need you at the exact same time.

This is the really tough part.

Your instinct may well be to immediately meet the need of your newborn. After all, your newborn is completely helpless. And your toddler is capable of waiting a few minutes while you tend to the baby.

The problem is that your toddler has been #1 since birth and being abruptly unseated is a terribly jarring experience. If suddenly you are always rushing to the baby–if they’re always coming in second–your toddler may very well act out with misbehavior. And, as a result, he/she may even have animosity for the baby. Be aware of the messages you are sending your toddler.

When both are crying, sometimes you should run to your toddler first. You gauge when that is possible and when the baby can wait just a tiny bit. Even if it’s just a quick 10 second snuggle and kiss before you rush to the baby, show your toddler that he/she is important.

Now, I am of the mind that it is impossible to hold a newborn too much. My mom jokes that I never ever set my babies down. I’m 100% all about meeting every single need in the beginning–it’s how to raise confident and content children that don’t needlessly cry. What I’m saying here is your baby can sometimes cry an extra 5 seconds while you show your toddler his/her importance.

8) Don’t Punish Curiosity

Your new baby may be endlessly fascinating to your toddler. Babies are interesting things! While we want to be sure and teach our children correct behavior with the newborn, we want to be careful to not punish mere curiosity.  

I was working in the kitchen, my newborn on the floor in an infant bouncer when I suddenly heard her gasping. I turned to see my 14 month old in top of her. Frantic, I pulled my toddler off immediately and started getting after her for hurting the baby. While the baby simply took a nice big breath and was perfectly content, my tender-hearted little toddler was completely and utterly inconsolable.

She wasn’t trying to hurt her. She was simply curious. As I held her and loved her while she sobbed, I realized that I needed to better gauge her intentions and help guide her obvious curiosity. Her curiosity was a perfect opportunity to teach her appropriate behavior. 

9) Be Gentle With Yourself

The adjustment from 1 kid to 2 can be huge. There is a good chance you will be late everywhere you go. Getting out the door will be tough and may even seem impossible on some days.  Between toddler tantrums and baby diaper blowouts, things are simply going to take longer. Plan for extra time and be gentle with yourself. Lower your expectations and be kind with yourself. 

Seriously, some days just keeping everyone alive will be a major accomplishment. I still feel this way on some days!

10) Ask for Help & Plan Time For Yourself

As much as you adore your kids, you will need an outlet and a reprieve from the 24/7 mothering. Or you may end up wandering the streets in your pajamas and muttering to yourself. You will need some help. In my experience, people are waiting for opportunities to help, but need to be asked.

Get a friend to come over and hold the baby for 30 minutes while your toddler plays so you can get out for a bit. Dad should be ready to make sure you get some self care time everyday. Take a nap, or a bath, go for a walk/run, go to Target by yourself, or do whatever will bring you a bit of peace.

You NEED time for yourself. It’s not selfish. Self-care is a need, not a luxury. Check out my Self-Care Survival Guide here.

11) Take lots and lots of deep breaths

Mama, this stuff is not easy. You will have moments of supreme happiness and overall, it’s awesome. But not always. You only have 2 arms and so much energy. In those crazy moments where everything is going wrong and everyone (including you) is in tears, breathe deeply and remember that this time won’t last very long. 

And when it’s gone, you’re going to miss it.

Take care, friend. And let me know how it goes in the comments or at erin (at) theincrementalmama (dot) com.

Newborn Baby & Toddler Survival Tips From Mom of 4 Kids 4 And Under