Potty Training Tips & Tricks: A Survival Guide
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. This post is all about 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 (for more on that, check out my post here). 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 first hand 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 parentin toolbox so that we have options when it comes to picking a potty training strategy.
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:
- recognizing they need to use the restroom
- pulling pants up and down
- Actually going pee and poop in a toilet
- If using a tiny potty, then dumping contents into the toilet
- 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.
- Pulling at or taking off a wet or poopy diaper
- Hiding to pee or poop
- Going long stretches with a dry diaper (shows bladder control)
- Wakes up from naps or in the morning with a dry diaper
- Interest in others’ use of the potty
- Telling you before, during, or after they’ve gone in their diaper.
- 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. Talk about the importance of washing and get your toddler used to washing hands after they go.
- 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 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, me 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!
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). I know some parents who teach straight on the big toilet and that works for them, but I couldn’t live without the potty chairs. I have a 2-story house and so when training, there is always at least one on each floor.
- 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. There’s a lot in the book. And I don’t know that it really can work for every kid. 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!