Potty training is a big step forward for both you and your little one. If approached well, you can make great strides in a couple of weeks (or less!). In addition to potty training my own children, I have helped toilet train hundreds of children as the Director and Owner of Discovery World. Over the last 30 years, I have learned what works and what usually does not, and I am happy to be able to share what I’ve learned with you!
Start When Your Child is Ready
It’s critical that you set your child up for success by starting when they are ready. Starting too early can cause them anxiety as they see your frustration and aren’t able to do what you want of them. Children under the age of 18 months are usually not physiologically able to control their bladders and bowels. Each child develops at a different pace. Most children are ready between 2 and 3 years old; however, some may be ready sooner, while others may need more time. No matter when your child starts or how long it takes for them to learn, it’s important that you don’t correlate success to their intelligence. Be patient and loving, and you will be rewarded.
You may be wondering “how do I know if my child is ready for potty training?”
Some great signs include:
- Your child can stay dry for a couple of hours without wetting their diaper
- Your child is interested in using the toilet
- Your child lets you know when they are going to the bathroom or if they need to go to the bathroom
- Your child pulls at their wet diaper
- Your child pulls up and down their pants by themselves
First and foremost, though, your child must be able to hold their bladder for two hours. If they can’t, their bladder muscles likely aren’t developed enough to begin potty training.
You are Most Likely to Succeed if You Prepare Ahead of Time
For your little one to be able to use the toilet on their own, they must be able to pull on and off their pants by themselves. Before you begin potty training, it’s a good idea to practice this with them, so they don’t have to learn something else while your rushing to get them onto the toilet. Additionally, if you can start to teach them in the months leading up to potty training to tell you whether they are wet/dry and if they feel like they need to go to the bathroom before they do, you will have a much easier time during the actual training process.
You should also make sure you can dedicate enough time to potty training before you start. Find a 2 to 3-week window where you don’t have any trips, parties, or other substantial commitments. In the week before you begin, try to get your child excited about toilet training the following week. A great way to do get them excited is to take them shopping to buy fun underwear that they will look forward to wearing. You can also start a countdown with them to further build their anticipation. If they go into potty training excited and wanting to succeed, they are more likely to do so.
Be Patient and Diligent when Potty Training
When potty training, you should incorporate toilet breaks into your schedule every couple hours. You should also take them immediately to the toilet whenever they wake up from sleeping or if they tell you they need to go to the bathroom. It is also a good idea to take them to the bathroom prior to naps of 2 hours or less. If longer than 2 hours, consider using a diaper until they are ready to stay dry during the night.
Staying diligent will help them understand the transition. I have heard others recommend only potty training for a few hours a day. It’s best not to do that because it will confuse your child.
I have also found it is best to go straight into underwear instead of staying with diapers or using Pull-Ups during this transition. Pull-Ups feel almost the same as diapers and are both still relatively comfortable when peed in. Underwear, on the other hand, will be more uncomfortable for them when wet and will help emphasize the importance of using the toilet. If you are concerned about leaks or accidents getting on their clothes or your furniture, you can find plastic overgarments that go over their underwear to contain it.
Whether you use a portable potty to train them or teach them to use the real toilet with a reducer is entirely up to you. Freestanding potties may be more accessible for them at first, but they are also much more of a hassle to keep clean.
If your little one has a hard time going when you get to the bathroom, be patient. When your child has finished peeing or pooping, your task isn’t complete yet. It’s best to teach them proper hygiene from the beginning. Make sure they have thoroughly wiped themselves. It may be tempting to do that for them, but again, be patient and teach them. Being able to clean themselves is just as important as being able to use the toilet. Once they’ve finished, take them over to the sink and teach them to wash their hands. Getting them to count to 20 while washing their hands can help both their language and math skills and instill in them good washing habits.
Tips for Potty Training Boys
Don’t worry about teaching your boy to pee standing up at first. It may be easiest to begin on a comfortable toilet seat. If you elect to go for a freestanding potty, make sure to get one without a urine guard, which can protect against splashes but may also hurt their private parts.
If and when you start to train your boy to pee standing up, it’s best to make a game out of it. You can find toilet lights that create a target in the water. He’ll have more fun aiming and will hopefully make a lot less of a mess.
Tips for Potty Training Girls
It’s essential to teach your daughter how to wipe correctly. Explain that she needs to wipe from front to back, especially if she has pooped to avoid getting an infection. If she has a hard time picking up the idea, it may be best to teach her to pat the area dry after she pees instead of wiping. In the months after training her to use the bathroom on her own, please pay attention to whether she suddenly needs to urinate frequently or complains of pain when she pees. These may be a sign of a bladder infection.
Reward Success But Don’t Punish Accidents
Rewarding your child’s successes by paying attention to their efforts and accomplishments is essential. Your child wants to make you happy, just as you want to make them happy. Whether you elect to give them treats or not, you should always instill within them with as sense of pride in their accomplishments. Avoid praise like, “Good girl,” because your child is always “good,” regardless of their success; you don’t want to equate success with self worth. Instead, using phrases like, “Good work!” and “Great job!”, along with questions that get them to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings, such as “Are you proud of yourself?”, are generally more appropriate and effective.
I find that it is usually best to pay attention to their efforts and successes, and teach them to do the same, before trying treats; this teaches them to work towards things they are proud of accomplishing. If, however, they aren’t motivated by praise alone, treats can be an effective motivator. Don’t go overboard though. Your child doesn’t need a whole bag of M&Ms or an entire sheet of stickers each time they pee. Stick with small rewards, such as a single M&M or a single sticker.
Your child will inevitably have some accidents, both during and after training. Don’t punish them. They are trying their best to learn and grow. Stick to your plan, be patient, and you will both succeed.
If you feel your child is having accidents for attention, teach them how to change their clothing and place soiled clothing in a bag. Then when the accident occurs, simply tell them, “It’s okay. Go change yourself.” This will reduce the attention that your child receives from you, while, at the same time, it accomplishes what needs to be done and teaches natural consequences.
If your little one resists using the potty or toilet and isn’t making any improvements after a couple of weeks, it’s likely that you started the process too early, and your child isn’t quite ready yet. Try again in a couple of months.
Nighttime Potty Training May Come Later
While two year olds may be physically able to hold their bladders for a couple of hours during the day, it is much more difficult, if not impossible, for them to stay dry all night. If your child takes to potty training at an early age, it is still a good idea to use disposable training pants and waterproof mattress covers at night until they are older and have more bladder control. Most children will be able to stay dry at night between the ages of 5 and 7.