When I started this process this is what I wanted. I wanted a checklist, a to-do list of sorts, of step by step what I was supposed to do. I never found that. So, I've tried to provide you with one. Hope this helps!
Disclaimer: This is what worked for me... every child and situation is different.
BEFORE / PREPARATION: (about 6 months before you think your child will be ready, typically this is between 14-18 months old. For us, we started this at 18 months old or so.)
- Speak the language. Start early using the accurate terms for penis and vagina and other body parts.
- Let them see you go to the bathroom, and talk to them. We even say, "Yay, Mommy went pee!"
- Talk about pee and poop. I know it's gross, but it's a normal thing. Don't make it gross. Make it something that just happens. When you change your 14-month-old's diaper say, "Let's change that poop." And when your child shows even a slight interest in you going potty, start saying, "Someday when you're big you are going to put your pee in the potty, too, like Mommy."
- Watch videos, Elmo's Potty video was our favorite.
- Read books about potty training yourself.
- Kids' books. Keep some children's pottying books upstairs so before bed they could be an option and on the back of the toilet so when you are in the bathroom you can stop to read every now and then.
- Get some big kid underwear, keep them around so your child sees them, same for pull-ups. You can even have your child pick them out.
- Get a potty seat, travel potty seat cover, and a small potty and let your child explore and play with them.
- Get a stool for them to stand at the sink to wash their hands after pottying. Although for us we did not do the hand washing at the start, I'd just wash their hands with a wipe after. At first, it was too much to teach at once. I'd do the hand washing thing a month or so later.
- Gather treats, prizes, fun drinks, new cups, etc. for rewards.
- Discuss your plan and ideas with your partner. You both need to be invested, interested and on board. I found having my son's father take the lead with him really worked for him. He wanted to be just like him and of course they have the same body parts, so that helped. That doesn't mean if you have a boy the father must be the only one training him or vice versa for a girl. Everyone can do it. I just found it helped my son having his father really involved.
- Watch your child's cues for a long period before you start. Write things down if you have to... when does she wake up dry after naps? Does she care if she's pooped in her pants... or does she run to ask to be changed?
STARTING / READY, SET, GO! (when your child shows you she's ready... that varies. Could be 18 months, could be 2 1/2, 3, 4, etc. This part takes a few weeks to a couple of months, after spending a few days at home really focused on potty training. For us, our son told us he was ready at 2 1/2 years old.)
Signs to look for to know your child is ready for a few days inside potty training:
dry during naps, dry for longer periods of time, talking about the potty, wanting to go to the bathroom with you, hiding poop or pee and then asking immediately to be changed, not liking the feel of it in his diaper, asking to wear big kid underwear, etc.
- Positive encouragement, praise, excitement, happy attitude, etc. Throw a proverbial party or a real one! Tell everyone you know so when they talk to him they will be excited, too.
- Patience is a virtue. It takes time. I remember being so frustrated after putting my son on the potty for 20 minutes, nothing came out... then 5 minutes later he peed on the kitchen floor. What?! You want to scream and sigh... but it's not productive and he's still learning. Be patient.
- No shame. Don't make disgusted faces when they have accidents. Kids already feel this is a weird thing... make it normal. Don't get angry or upset when they poop/pee in underwear, especially after you just asked them to go! Yes, it is annoying... but don't let them see you think that way. When there was an accident we said, "Owen, where does pee go?" He'd answer in the potty. We'd say, "That's right, we don't pee on the floor. Let's go get you cleaned up." End of story. Move on, start again.
- After accidents, have them sit on the potty for a few minutes. Of course, you know they don't have to go, but it gets them in the routine of this is where it should be going. Then take your child to the bathroom to change and wipe up. If there is poop in the underwear, drop it into the toilet to reinforce that is where it goes.
- Total focus, don't plan anything else for a few days. This is your plan... no parties, no dinner with friends, no running errands. You're home, potting. Oh yes, it's that fun!
- When to wear what. Wear underwear during the training at home, diapers during nap and night time sleep only, pull-ups when going out in the car at first. We put underwear over the diaper or pull-up, to reinforce these are what he'll get to wear, he's becoming a big boy.
- Reward even just trying those first few days/weeks. Offer 1 prize for trying every single time those first few days.
- Drink a lot! Encourage drinking by making fun smoothies or lemon water, etc. or using new cups.
- Go potty every 15-30 minutes the first few days, then extend it to every 30 minutes the first few weeks, and eventually you get to going potty every hour to two and three hours. You start noticing your child doesn't have a lot when you take him every half hour, so you extend the time. You could set a timer if that helps, we didn't do that but I've heard it helps.
- Boys. Some people have boys sit backward on the big potty so they can aim better. We never had to do that, but I hear it works well. We just had a little cup on the edge of our potty seats that caught the pee and we'd help by pointing our son's penis into the potty, and eventually he'd do it himself.
- Call caregivers with a heads up about this new development, explain what you've been doing, what is working, etc. so they are prepared to do the same when you drop your child off at daycare, etc. Don't have this conversation the day you drop him off, the sitter needs time to prepare and it's not something to really get into in front of your child.
- Pack it up. Put underwear and pull-ups in diaper bag for car, outings and the one you leave at daycare. I always had plastic bags on outings, too... to put wet clothes in just in case.
- Have a spare potty in your car, especially on trips. We had our son pee in the trunk a few times... interesting, but just part of life as a parent with a potty training kiddo.
- Comfort is good at first. It's OK to take a stuffed animal or lovey in with them to the potty. It's nerve-racking and new in there, let them do what is comfortable.
- Nix the jeans or button pants. They need sweatpants, wind pants, stretch pants during the beginning potty training stages... something that is easy to get on and off, that they can do themselves. This makes your life easier and theirs. They want to do this potty thing themselves, but don't have time to fool around with buttons on pants.
- Watch the physical signs. For my son, that was playing with his penis or moving around his underwear, running or getting physically active, getting louder or like he needed attention for some reason, or fidgeting in his seat. Those were all signs to us he needed to try to potty. He is always MUCH calmer after he goes.
- 1 treat for pee, 2 treats for poop. Pooping is typically more difficult for kids to consistently do on the potty, so up the ante with the treats. (We did treats for about four months I'd say, not consistently near those last few months, only if he asked at that point.)
- Drop the treats after a while. After a period of time, depends on you and your child (for us it was at least a month or two after starting the weekend at home pottying), take away the treats for pee. Our explanation was, "You're such a big boy, you potty on your own now, you don't need treats for pee! But we know poop is hard, so you will still get treats for poop right now." This worked for us. Do whatever works for you. And by "treats," I mean anything you want... crackers, gummy snacks, M&Ms, stickers, matchbox cars, whatever. We used gummy snacks for a while.
- Initiate him going to the potty. We had a rule, "you just have to try, if nothing comes out, that's ok, but you have to try. I'll count to 10 while you try." Of course we'd get some whining during this, but every single time something comes out, so eventually it started working that he realized yes, I do need to try. We would say, "Hey, Owen, in one minute we're heading to the potty." Give a heads up so they can redirect their focus away from playing and to business.
- Always try before leaving the house or bed. That was a non-negotiable in our house, still is. Always try. It can't hurt to try. Sometimes the pee takes a minute to come out, I've found with our son... so sometimes if I get him focused by singing a song "pee, come out pee, Owen's going pee" (I know, Award-winning right?!), he goes every time.
- No toys in the bathroom. They became distracting and honestly one fell in the toilet, so then that was it! Just keep them focused in the bathroom, especially with busy boys who don't want to sit still and stop and focus. (This is after the first few weeks of allowing a lovey in there if you choose to do so.)
- Pooping is hard. We had to physically hold our son on the potty a few times for less than a minute to get him going because he went through a long phase of having poop accidents, he was nervous to poop on there. Pee came much easier to our son, he had that down within a week of starting training... poop took at least six months to really get on a solid routine.
- What worked was our consistency, patience and encouragement.
- We threw a party also every time he pooped on the potty.
- Privacy worked also. For some reason it was embarrassing to him to poop with us in the room, so we started standing in the corner looking the other way, and eventually we'd be outside the door and he'd call us in to wipe him when he was ready.
- What also worked was writing down when during the day he typically needed to poop... before lunch? first thing in the morning? just before bed? Then we'd always make sure he tried then.
- We also had him try poop EVERY time he even went to pee, even when we knew he probably didn't need to poop. After two weeks of him trying every single time, with a fight, he stopped fighting and just did it, he knew it was what he had to do. We focused on how quickly he had to poop... it comes out of his body within 30 seconds of sitting there typically... so if he sat there a minute and nothing came out, we trusted he didn't have to go and he could get up. This was of course later in the phase of pottying.
- High-fiber foods that make you go poop are important in your child's diet, too, if he's having trouble pooping... apples, beans, muffins, whole-grain pasta, etc.
- Drop what you're doing and help. They can't wait. Oftentimes it happens when you're in the middle of cooking or outside playing... but drop what you're doing and go take him potty.
THE END / IT'S ACTUALLY WORKING! (This happens at the very end, for us this took about 15 months from when we started, and this particular phase lasted about 3 months to the point where now at almost age 4 he really does all of this on his own, we rarely have to make him do anything with the potty. But our son is not yet dry overnight, that I think is a physical thing that will just come, just as being dry during naps became.)
- Child is dry during naps, so can now sleep in underwear, no more pull-ups at nap. Just take to the bathroom immediately upon waking. No more pull-ups in the car either.
- Child is beginning to be dry some mornings when first wakes up and asks to pee quickly, eventually will be dry overnight.
- Child goes to the bathroom without your help, start to finish, doesn't need help pulling up pants, flushes toilet on his own, washes hands, etc.
- Child stops playing or doing something fun to say he needs to go potty at that point. It's not a fight or your initiation.
- Boy stands to pee, then sits down to poop. (You may need to encourage this. Lately my son's been on the go and pottying more on his own without our help... so we've had a few accidents where he was sitting to poop, ended up peeing while sitting, too, and some pee got on his underwear and pants... needed to be changed. It can be avoided by having him pee first, then sit to poop.)
- Child can wipe him/herself after pooping... this takes a long time, from what I hear. I believe it starts closer to 4-5 years old. (We are just starting this now, almost 1 1/2 years after potty training started.)
- We encourage our son to "check your body," to stop and think if he has to use the bathroom. Oftentimes kids this age (he's almost 4) want to do what they want to do when they want to do it, they don't have time to stop and get to business. So we'll ask if he needs to go potty... he'll say no sometimes, during those times we'll say, "Well you need to stop and check your body." He literally stops and determines yes or no he needs to go. If he says no, and then 10 minutes later he's running to the bathroom, we don't do an "I told you so" dance, we just say, "good job going on your own, buddy!"
- Keep change of clothes including underwear in your car, not really for accidents but for those times when they are rushing in the bathroom and accidentally get some pee on their clothes.