I just finished Potty Training Boot Camp with my fourth child, this little super toddler. As we were going through the process, I was thinking back to when I potty trained my first child. Wow, we learned a lot during the process so I thought I would share the method we have found to be successful, along with a Free Printable Potty Training Sticker Chart. I had read about several different methods and the signs when a child should be ready, but I wasn’t prepared for the struggle it was for us. In fact, I had to swallow my pride and retreat back to diapers because I made the newbie mistake of trying to potty train my oldest too early.
About 6 months later, my son was showing all signs of being ready, which in my experience include:
1. having the verbal skills to tell me when he or she needs to go,2. actually telling me when he or she needs to go,
3. seeking out a private space to have a bowel movement (BM) in his or her diaper,
4. telling me when his or her diaper is wet or dirty,
5. waking up from a nap and/or bedtime with a dry diaper (at least part of the time),
6. is interested when mommy or daddy, or siblings are using the bathroom,
7. and is physically big enough. They need to be big enough to step on a stool to get on the potty and have long enough arms to learn how to wipe.
Positive Reinforcement and Rewards
As we get started, I explain what their reward is and as each success comes, even if it’s a little dribble, we celebrate big. We make it a big deal to get their sticker and an M&M treat. We announce to the family that they’ve gone to the potty and everyone cheers. We give high fives and fist pumps all around. It’s all about the positive reinforcement. As accidents happen, and they’re going to happen, we don’t make it a big deal, we just say “uh-oh, accidents happen, and that’s ok”. Again, you want to diminish their fear and encourage them to keep trying.
We have a three-day system where our focus changes as their learning progress, and then we end with a fun shopping trip as the final reward. I believe the key to success is leaving them bare-bottomed for three days. I put them in an over-sized t-shirt so their bottom is covered. We have towels for sitting and blankets to cover the carpet for play time. If this is the first you’ve ever heard of this concept, you probably think it sounds as unappealing as I did initially. However, I tried other methods with my first including wearing underwear and pull-ups from the start and we failed big time. There is just something about them being bare-bottomed and getting to see first hand when they have an accident. If you have time to research, I’m sure you can find some concrete psychological evidence why this is effective, but I’ve now trained four kiddos using this method and it has worked for us each time!
I put a basket of favorite books in the bathroom, which include a couple of books about using the potty and I have found them to be very helpful in giving them visuals. Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel (there is a version for boys and girls) and Potty Time with Elmo by Sesame Street is a sound book that has clever songs to go with it. You can see both by visiting the links below and both are eligible for Prime!
Day Two is all about the mechanics, which include flushing the potty, cleaning up after themselves, closing the lid, and washing and drying hands. I want them to learn more independence this day and hope to instill some good habits as well. I continue to set a timer but I move it to 30 minutes for this day as they should be able to make it a little longer. I also continue to interrupt activities so they are reminded that we sometimes have to stop what we are doing to go to the bathroom.
Day Three is about getting out in public and testing what we’ve learned. Usually, by the end of day three, they know the cues of their body well enough to be able to make it to the bathroom successfully without my prompting. Now, there will be accidents over the course of the next week or two, but for the most part, mine have all been able to go to the bathroom on their own by the end of day three. We like to plan a trip to the store so they learn to hold it in the car, they learn to hold it in the store, and they learn how to use a public restroom. Public restrooms can seem a little scary, so you want to prepare them in advance for what they might experience…waiting in line, seeing other people, using a larger potty, loud flushing, etc. As a final reward, we also let them pick out their new underwear.
Potty Seats and Portable Potties
In the past, we have used both potty seats and a portable potty but for us we’ve decided it’s just easier to teach them how to hold themselves up on the toilet for several reasons. First, it was not my favorite thing to have to dump the bowl of a portable potty every time and I was worried we’d have to carry that thing everywhere if they got used to only using it. But if this works for you, do what works! The potty seats are nice and likely more comfortable than a toilet seat. The seat we purchased came with a little attachable hook so it could hang from the side of our toilet at home, which is a great feature so it doesn’t live on the floor and is a cleaner environment if we have guests. But as my son was struggling to have a BM when we were first learning, a wise mama friend told me sometimes it’s good for them to be a little uncomfortable so they will take less time to do their business…and I fully agree, and think you may too. But if you want to go the potty seat route, here are two great options including the Baby Bjorn potty seat I have used that can be hung from the side and the Munchin seat has a built-in stand…both available for Prime!
Pull-ups and Diapers During Sleep Time:
In the past, I’ve read both good and bad about using pull-ups and diapers during nap time and bedtime. For us, we continue using a diaper or pull-up until they are consistently having dry diapers when they wake. I consider my kiddos potty trained when they are sufficiently using the potty while they are awake. My kids have each been different ages when they’ve been able to go through a nap or through the night without protection.
I have to share the brilliant trick our trusted nanny Mollie shared with me. When you are ready to train them to go through sleep time without a diaper, you’ll want to have a waterproof mattress cover over your mattress, a fitted sheet, then put down a large square disposable mattress pad (ours is 3 ft by 2 ft) and another clean fitted sheet. The brilliance of this is if your child has an accident in the middle of the night, you can just stripe the wet sheet, toss the disposable mattress pad, and then the bed is ready for them to get right back to sleep. Let’s just say my mind was blown when she shared this with me…and it makes things so much easier!
So there’s my take on potty training and the good and bad that go along with it. Again, after three days, there will be accidents and you will still want to check with your child continually throughout the day to remind them to stop and use the potty and reinforce what they’ve learned. But hopefully, you’ll find success by applying one or more of these ideas in your home. Feel free to comment with any questions or share any fun tips you have used.
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