I did a lot of research about potty training last year. Here is what I found from many books I read. Tons of great stuff, check this out if you're just getting started:
So, here is what I know about potty training:
1. It's different for every kid. I know so many mothers who say their first potty trained at age 3, second kid at age 20 months, third kid at age 4. It varies even in your own family. So of course then what another mom does may or may not work for you.
2. Can't force it until the child and her body is ready. There are developmental and physical stages kids' bodies go through. No matter how many stickers you give them, if they are not verbally able to explain what they need to do with going to the potty or physically able to hold their pee longer than 10 minutes, they aren't ready.
3. Don't initiate unless you're ready to follow through. I know many parents who start this process on their own timetable, not their child's. I know there are good reasons for that, baby coming, good vacation week at home so you have the time to spend, good season (summer), etc. I totally get it. However, it's just like that first time you feed your child solids... you get all excited... and then a week into it you're like, oh man, we have to remember to feed you the same time every day and go buy food for you or make it! It's the same with potty training. You can't just do it when you are ready and then drop it. It takes TONS of patience, dedication and most of all time. So make sure you are ready if you are the one initiating. The end goal of no more diapers and no more accidents is typically a long way down the road from where you start. So be patient and ready.
4. It's not overnight. I fully admit now two years later that before I had a toddler starting to be interested in the potty training thing, when I heard the term "potty training," I thought of a long weekend staying in the house, running around naked or in underwear, filling them with liquids, then by day three they are having NO accidents, NO diapers, nap times and overnight are DRY DRY DRY. Um, OK, what delusional state was I in?! I honestly thought that's what people meant when they said potty training... Now, after 1 year and 5 months of my son potty training, I realize that it's a very long phase with very different stages that get better and worse and are up and down, until then you get a long way down the road and he just gets it and things are good and you consider your child "potty trainED," as in done, not "ING" as in still going. While I agree those 3 days locked inside and really focusing on the potty stuff is GREAT, that's just what we did, it's just the beginning, not the end. Don't let that hype confuse you.
PHASE ONE: Where it started
We didn't set out one day thinking, OK, it's time to start potty training, it just sort of unfolded with our first child, we were new at this and had no idea what we were doing! I really dreaded potty training, like really was anxious about it, had no interest in it at all.
We just had some potty books around that people had given to us, so we read those, kept some on the back of the toilet. We read them a lot, at bed time, whenever he'd find them in the bathroom, etc. but again it wasn't purposeful, it was just sort of happening at that point. This was probably when Owen was about 14-16 months old.
We then got a gift certificate to Babies-R-Us around Christmas time and didn't see anything else we wanted, but found a potty seat on sale so we got it, way too early, we knew, we just wanted it because it was a good deal and we were out and thinking about it. Well, then our son found it a few months later, wanted to play with it, so it was a toy for a while, he got used to it, which I think was great thing.
We also at that point allowed him to come into the bathroom with us when we were going to use the potty. He was intrigued. We started encouraging him to tell us when he went poop in his diaper the last two months before he actually decided he was ready to go on the potty, around 16 months old.
He seemed to not care at all if he pooped in his diaper, he'd sit and play with his diaper on, no big deal, until we realized he'd gone and went to change him. As soon as we started encouraging him to tell us, saying "yay, you told us you pooped, let's go change it right now!" or if we noticed it before he told us we'd say, "Owen, you need to tell us when you poop, OK, so we can change you?" He caught on quickly. Then we noticed he started hiding in another room or going behind the bikes outside or some place not totally in the open to go in his diaper.
Shortly thereafter he just told me he wanted to wear big kid underwear. Someone had given us some, so I was folding and putting clothes away when he saw them and wanted to wear them. He told me without a diaper under the underwear... and we were off. I just took his lead, underwear from there on.
Things that worked for us:
- He decided on his own that he was ready to wear big kid underwear, we didn't decide for him. We took his lead. We were actually not ready ourselves when he was ready! That's another thing... be prepared for THEM to be ready and you not to be... BUT do whatever it takes to take their lead. If you don't jump at the chance when they give it to you, it could be twice as long before they are ready again.
- The timing was great... his sister was born in April, and in August is when he told me "I wear big boy underwear, no more diapers." He was ready to be that big kid we'd been telling him he was as a big brother, he was also ready for full-on attention, which he got from potty training. I literally had to lay the infant down on the bathroom rug a few times to help my son with pottying... oh the joys of two kids!
- Prizes. We'd received a lot of little trinkets and cars, stickers, squishy balls, etc. at Christmas and for his birthday in February. I knew he may want to potty train at some point in the coming year, and with a newborn on the way, I wanted as many things prepared as possible. So, I kept some of those little tiny toys in a prize bag for potty training at some point. I was SO glad I did because when he surprised us in August wanting to train, I didn't have to rush to the store to get things. So, each time he tried, he got to pick a prize. Prizes could be new cups, coloring books, crayons, pens and pencils, stickers, stamps, cars, trucks, balls, shovels for outside, etc. Then later on we did M&Ms and fruit snacks, so be prepared with whatever you want to use as a reward. I do not typically agree with rewarding with food... but one day we were out of prizes so we tried the M&Ms. After that bag was gone, I got fruit snacks with less sugar so it wasn't as bad.
- Over-excitement and praise. We literally jumped for joy every single time our son went potty or even tried it. We clapped, sang songs like "Yay! Owen's a big potty boy! He goes pee! Yay!" Whatever. You look like a fool and they love it - totally OK! But I mean, really get excited, not just like "oh good, nice work." I mean, dance if you have to!
- Everyone on board. We had very willing and supportive caregivers and my husband was totally into it once we started. I think it's probably difficult if only one person in the child's life is doing the training, but if everyone seems to be thinking this is a great idea, then your child will follow suit.
- Just like dad. Very quickly into the process, probably a few weeks to a month later, our son wanted to pee standing up like his father. He's a tall boy, so this worked for us. Dad also took the lead on a lot, explaining, letting our son go in when he was using the bathroom, etc. He really enjoyed that time together with him, especially when I was so busy with an infant.
- Stayed home! We had plans with friends the day my son told me he wanted to wear big kid underwear and no more diapers. I canceled. I was supposed to work two days later, I called in sick. My husband stayed home another day after that. It's important those first few days to be consistent. I'd say a week is amazing if you have the time to be home, either you or another family member or partner. But at least three days is my advice. What I found was that it ebbed and flowed... up and down... he was so into it day one, then by day four he was like, "this is boring and not as fun." We had to keep encouraging and making it a set thing we were doing.
- LOTS of underwear! We had all different kinds... Thomas the Train, Cars, Batman, etc. Get things that are fun to talk about, bright colors, etc. You will go through a lot those first few days . Be prepared to do lots of laundry. We had many accidents the first few days, but each day the accidents were decreasing. I suggest having at least 20 pairs. Not kidding. First, you need to leave extras at daycare... I'd say 5 pairs there, that you continually are replacing during the week if needed. Then you always have some in the laundry and need some in the house. We keep a basket of underwear in our bedroom, outside the bathroom. We always had spare underwear in our car also.
- Pull-ups and Diapers helped. We used pull-ups during car rides. I commute an hour a day... I couldn't chance an accident in the car. This did not confuse my son at all. And he wore diapers for naps and night time. Again, no confusion at all. But I've heard a fear from others that once you potty train and do underwear, you need to stick with underwear. Whatever works for you, for us it did not make a difference. We always had spares of these in the car, in the bathroom, in the bedrooms.
- Several potties. We used both the cushion kids' toilet seat cover as well as little potty his level. I find it's really important to have a few options so your child can be in control. The more they are able to control about this process, the more apt they are to be interested in it, in my opinion, especially at the age my son was at 2 1/2... all about defiance and control and making decisions. I also found that kids can't reach the big potty on their own at first, they can't even get on without your help... so if that's your only option they aren't going to be able to explore, learn and try it out themselves when they want. Whereas having the small potty on the ground lets them sit on it while brushing teeth or while you are on the big potty. We also had a travel potty fold up seat. You can get this at Babies-R-Us. As far as which type of potty... honestly, I don't think it matters. I hear a lot of questions about this, which one to buy, but really, we go the cheapest one out there and it works just fine, I really don't see a big difference in them.
- Books on the back of the toilet so prepared to sit and read, that keeps you both focused on sitting there. Sing songs. Do hand clapping games. Talk. At first you spend at least 15 minutes just sitting and waiting. I love the red books about pottying, it's so true that one page and you "wait and wait and wait." So true. Don't rush this process. They learn to potty on there by sometimes their bodies surprising them. Oftentimes they will go pee without even trying... which then teaches them they can try later on and push it out.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom. Those first few days it was every 15 minutes or so, then 30 minutes, then every hour for a long time, then every two hours... it increases gradually. But being consistent on OUR part was key. At first, he did not initiate, we had to for months. He'd say he didn't have to go... but we knew he was on a routine basically with pottying so when we'd make him go he'd actually pee.
After about a week of potty training we celebrated with a weekend party at a local playground with just some close friends and the grandparents. It was so fun! Owen was beyond proud of himself, and seeing others congratulate him and say what a big boy he was really sealed the deal with him wanting to do this.
It was also two-fold, not just to encourage the pottying, but also because we'd been so focused on his newborn sister that whole summer, we wanted to do something really special JUST all about him. It was perfect!
Check out our Big Boy Party below, tons of fun ideas I found and made up on my own.
It's hard work, but do-able. Just make sure everyone is ready, then hit the ground running and don't look back. It improves with every single day, week that passes by.
More tips coming in another post with specifics on what to do and when.
Hope this is helpful to you!