Potty Training 101

I’ve been asked about potty taining in my parenting classes, my counseling center, and on my facebook fan page. Potty training is a developmental task that moms either approach with confidence and gusto, or total fear. The fear is of causing trauma or shame regarding normal bodily functions, or perhaps fearing the many messy (disgusting) accidents. I’ll do my best to address the fears, offer some real word tips, and give you a plan for tackling potty training head on.

First, remember these rules of thumb.

  1. Do NOT use pull ups

This only confuses kids because it’s similar to a diaper which allows them to have accidents without wetting their pants. “But…I don’t want them to wet their pants?” Well, you do when you’re potty training because how else will they know what it feels like. It’s wet, cold, and uncomfortable.

2. Keep several changes of clothes for the child (and for you) on hand

You never know if you might be holding your child when they “forget” to tell you they need to go and it’s not all over you. Be it wet or solid, you’ll wish you had a stash of clothes because it won’t happen at the house. It’ll happen on your way to a birthday party or business lunch, lol.

3. Remember, they will fail

When they were learning to talk you couldn’t hear anything but gaga-goo-goo. When they were learning to sleep, they fell asleep in their soup, but rarely in their crib. When they were learning to walk, they bumped into walls, and fell over backwards. You never shamed them for these actions because you knew there was a learning process taking place. You were there with empathy, love, and patience. Utilize those same skills for potty training.



When do we start?

This is a matter of parental preference. Some camps believe the earlier you start, the easier it is, but other camps say to wait until they show signs of readiness. Signs of readiness may be:

  • Following you into the bathroom and watching curiously
  • Walking to a corner and crouching/hiding while they poop
  • Saying words like pee, potty, poo
  • Can sit quietly 1-2 minutes
  • Has regular bowel movements and urinating habits

Around 15-18 months I suggest the following methods to introduce the idea:

Potty training stories

You can make your own books about the potty using photos of your house restrooms, Target bathrooms, little gym, etc. inluding all the potties they are familar with. There’s great potty stories online or at the bookstore too if you’re not feeling creative.

Baby Signing Time

Youtube offers videos by babySigningTime on potty specific language. Watch these videos with your child, practice the signs and use the signs. When you need to go, use the signs. Same goes for your spouse. Use the signs for wet, potty, poopoo, etc when changing baby’s diaper.

Let your child In

Allow your child in the bathroom with you from time to time. “I feel tight right here (point to your bladder area). I need to go potty. I don’t want wet pants. Follow me”. While you’re using the restroom, talk things through. “I sit on the potty and relax my body. It feels good to potty in the toilet….” When they see you enjoying this, being clean, feeling relaxed, they’ll soon learn to follow suit.


18-24m It’s Go Time!

Once you feel your child is ready, choose a weekend or a few days when you’re able to commit full time and energy to potty training. No, you don’t have to be hermits, but don’t choose a time when you’re traveling or have several back to back obligations.

Take your child to the store, prior to beginning training, to choose underwear they like and tell them it’s time to start using the potty!

Day 1:

When your child wakes up in the morning, they’ll be wet. This is zero hour. Change them and put them in underwear. Make a big deal about the underwear.

Go about your daily routine, but have an alarm set for yourself (real, or hypothetical) and place your child over the potty every 20-30 minutes.

If they tinkle or poop in the potty, they get a happy dance or mini celebration and an M&M or small candy they enjoy.

If your child typically poops right after a meal, keep that in mind and don’t take them off the potty until they pooped. Be prepared to be in there awhile with favorite storybooks, playdoh, or other quiet activities they can do while they’re waiting. Pooping in the potty means a BIG time celebration. In fact, call mommy or daddy at work, facetime grandma, and any other person that’s special to them when this happens.

Keep a log of their patterns.

Day 2:

Repeat the same routine as day 1, but try to stretch potty times to every 30 minutes.


Day 3:

Similar to day 1 and 2, but try to stretch to stretch potty time further. Most kids that are eating and drinking throughout the day can’t go much longer than 45 minutes to an hour (or 1.5 hour at the very most) before needing a potty break.

Naps might require a diaper or a wet mat until your child is fully trained, but have them go potty right before a nap and right after.

Remember to stay positive, stay excited, and demonstrate patience and understanding. Also, once you’ve decided to start, there’s no going back! That’s just too damn confusing for kids. “Am I ready or not, mom, make up your mind!”

Good luck!

That Girl

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