There are so many parts of parenthood that are intimidating. From the newborn stage until they become parents themselves, having a child is literally like having your own heart walking around outside your body. It can be so hard.
But one of the things that instilled fear in my heart since I pushed our first child out was POTTY TRAINING. Just thinking about having to go through it made me shiver with panic inside and every time I saw an older child getting potty training, and saw the stress on their mother’s face, I would silently thank the Lord that we weren’t there yet.
And then… it happened. The dreadful day came where my son no longer fit into diapers and it had to be done. We procrastinated for so long. But we had no choice. And while the journey was NOT fun by any means, I feel like I finally have some advice to offer after hours and hours of frustration, tantrums, posting on mom facebook groups for help, calling my mother, and venting to my mom friends.
WE DID IT! Finally, finally, finally,
And while I know that every child is different, every experience is different, and every journey will be frustrating no matter how perfectly you do it, here are some tips that I heard from other moms that made our time just a little bit easier.
Introduce the concept early
While I am not a proponent of early potty training, I do think it is beneficial to introduce the concept of going on the toilet as young as you can! As soon as my son noticed that we were going on the toilet and he wasn’t, we talked about it frankly. I let him watch us go on the potty sometimes and I showed him how we wipe, flush and wash our hands.
We bought lots of potty books that encourage kids to go and talk about how to do it. Some of his favorite TV shows have episodes about going potty and this fascinated him. I bought the potty seat when he was 18 months old and I let him sit on it just to experience it and get comfortable. It took over a month before he peed for the first time on it, but it did happen eventually! I never pushed it or forced him too, I just wanted him to get used to how it felt to sit on the toilet.
Help them get relaxed
If you’ve ever struggled to go #2 on a vacation, in a hotel, or in a new home or toilet, then you can understand this. It’s hard to go when you are being rushed, if someone else is in the bathroom with you, or sometimes even if your brain is distracted. As adults we like to have everything in perfect condition to go potty, so we cannot possibly expect a toddler who is already scared about this new transition to get relaxed enough unless we help them.
Part of achieving this relaxation is the above point: getting them used to the potty before expecting them to actually be potty trained. You can’t just introduce the potty and the entire concept and then get mad at them when they aren’t fully potty trained in 3 days. I think the “3 day method” truly works (it did for us) WHEN THEY ARE READY AND COMFORTABLE. If you try too early, or when your child is scared or intimidated, it may “work” but you may have to deal with tantrums and fear in your child (not to mention lots of messes and a lot of work for you).
Another part of the relaxation is figuring out what your child needs to relax. How do they usually go #2 in their diaper? I have heard lots of moms suggest books or TV for potty time, but my child never poops while reading books or watching TV. He always plays quietly while he squats. At first we tried books, TV, songs, etc. and nothing worked. Finally we had success when I let him bring his toys into the bathroom and play with some of them on the stool while he squatted on the kid sized potty chair. I wasn’t thrilled about the toys being in the bathroom, but I WAS thrilled that he finally relaxed enough to go. It was worth it to have a successful transition.
Get a child-sized potty
I personally was 100% against this. I thought it was gross to have to wash out a little pan of poo, we have a small bathroom as it is, and I just didn’t want to have a little plastic potty sitting on my bathroom floor. And to be honest, I still hate it. I think it’s annoying that it takes up room in our potty.
But, truthfully, I regret not getting one earlier. We worked on going #2 in the potty for around a year before it finally happened. And guess when we were successful? About 2 hours after I relented and purchased a little plastic potty for our bathroom.
We started out with one of these potty seats. I got a little suction cup hanger to hang it off the side of the toilet and we really did like this. It was simple to use and clean, my child liked being on the big potty like us, and it was nice to store it on the side of the toilet so it didn’t take up much room. We bought one of these portable seats to use in the store and at other people’s houses. I recommend both of these potty seats because they are easy to use and are comfortable for little butts!
But, neither of them did the trick to get him to relax enough to go #2. We got this potty chair because it was the cheapest option we could pick up at a moment’s notice and it is really easy to clean. I liked all the more modern and fancier looking potties, but they were just too pricy for us. It was definitely worth it because it made him more comfortable being close to the ground and he was able to even go pee more quickly. It was worth the hassle of cleaning out the little bin every time he was done.
Don’t Rush Your Child
We have made a total of 4 attempts at potty training. Once at 20 months (I didn’t have high hopes, we just figured we would try for the heck of it), once at 24 months, once at 2.5 years and finally had success right before his 3rd birthday.
After our failure at 24 months, I was lamenting to another mother who has 3 kids. She said that with their first child, they tried early like we did, and it was frustrating because she had to do everything. She was constantly reminding her child to go, dealing with accidents, and had to help with everything. And even with all the effort, they went back to diapers because she just wasn’t ready. This was our experience as well.
She said her best advice was to just WAIT until they are ready. Because, eventually they will be! They will see their friends doing it, they will be uncomfortable in their diapers, they will not like being wet. The time will come when they have a desire to go.
My plan was to wait until my son actually WANTED to do it, but we had to do it with a little bit of coercion because he literally grew out of diapers and we had another baby coming, so I told him he had no choice and needed to be a big boy.
But, my friend was right. When we tried at 2.5 years, my son wailed when we put the underwear on him. He just wanted his diaper. He wanted to be comfortable and poop and pee in the way he liked to… in his diaper. I didn’t want to force him, so I didn’t push the issue.
After a few months, he started crying if he peed even a little in his diaper. He wanted a new one and wanted to be dry. He would even cry in his bed if he peed and wanted to be dry before he fell asleep. The largest size of diaper stopped fitting right about then and I just knew it was time to try. While he didn’t exactly express desire to be “big”, he did express desire to be dry and for us that was enough.
My friend was right that there were SO many benefits to waiting until my son was ready. Once we finally pulled the plug on the diapers this time, we had one accident and he instantly figured it out. He knows how to hold his pee and poop in, he desires to be dry and to be a big boy, and he knows how to use the potty. All it took was 3 days for us and we were done, with minimal effort from me. It was so much easier than it was even 6 months ago. I highly recommend waiting until your child is totally ready, whether that’s 2 or 3.5!
Don’t feel guilty for using bribery
Although we definitely didn’t do perfectly, I don’t think it’s okay to discipline your child for having accidents. Potty training is rough on everyone. You shouldn’t tell your child they are naughty for pooping/peeing in their pants… after all, it’s all they have known for the past 2 years or so! Going from that being expected to all of the sudden “bad” is confusing for kids. Do your best to not act as if they are naughty.
However, the opposite tactic seems to work well and I highly recommend it! Instead of disciplining for them having accidents, use over the top bribery for success! Let their accidents be natural consequences, but have super exciting things for when they succeed. Whether that’s a sticker chart that ends with a prize or special trip when it’s full, or special treats every time they go, or a special toy if they stay dry for a certain amount of time, it’s all worth it and helps so much. Getting excited with your kids is one of the best ways to help. If they feel celebrated and special, they will want to do it again!
Make your kid feel safe
Just like with any other part of life, kids act up when they don’t feel safe. When life changes, they feel out of control. One of the best ways to help kids succeed in potty training is to help them feel safe and in control.
Let them pick their underwear each day. Let them tell you when they need to go. Set up “natural” consequences when they decide to go in their pants (maybe they have to clean up their mess, or they get something small taken away.) Simply letting them choose whether to make the mess on the floor or stay dry and go in the potty is a natural consequence in and of itself.
Overall, do you best not to be forceful with them or discipline them for having accidents. We noticed that when we let our own tempers out as parents (and it’s hard not to…. potty training a toddler is STRESSFUL!) we would see setbacks in his success. Honestly, it took a lot of prayer on my part as a mom. I had to pray for miraculous patience. When I felt like my anger was rising I would take a moment away from my child and try to remind myself that he was probably feeling overwhelmed and frustrated as well and that I needed to help him feel safe so that he could succeed.
It’s definitely one of the hardest things to do, but I wonder if it isn’t why so many families struggle with potty training. It can be so difficult as parents to keep our tempers in check when we are overwhelmed and frustrated, and our kids become overwhelmed and frustrated in return. But we are the adults. We have to reign our feelings in and be patient and loving, even if we don’t feel like it, so that our kids can see that we love them and are championing them in the process.