I’m not here to tell you the “right way” to potty train your child. If you’ve been a parent for 5 seconds, I’m sure you’ve realized by now that there is no such thing as a RIGHT way to do ANYTHING. What I am going to do is tell you how I have done it, in case it is helpful to you. All 4 of my kids have been in undies during the day by their second birthday with essentially no accidents. My last 2 have been night time potty trained by this age as well.
I’ve also made a point of NOT using bribes, star charts, yelling, threats, shame, or “consequences,” not that all of these things are necessarily bad. (I’ve known parents that have used star-charts or other mini-bribes quite effectively.) This method is a bit of a time commitment and I have cleaned up some unpleasant messes. However, all-in-all, potty training has always been a very low-stress process in our house.
Our potty training process doesn’t require us to quarantine ourselves inside our house or stare at our child’s privates for hours on end. I don’t think my children are particularly brilliant and yet they’ve all managed to fully grasp the concept of using a potty by age 2. (Even the one that is fairly non-verbal).
Before, I start explaining my process, I have a couple disclaimers:
- I am a stay-at-home-mom. I don’t think you necessarily HAVE to be a stay-at-home-mom for this to work, but it’s probably best if you have someone who is willing to clean-up potential accidents around the clock. I think this might work if you only do it part time, but it will probably take longer if they spend half the time in diapers or Pull-Ups.
- Overall I think I’m a pretty laid back person. My kids definitely know how to awaken my inner dragon at times, but before having kids, I considered myself very patient, tolerant, and easy-going. All that is to say that my “method” might not be for all personality types. For example, my worst potty-training horror story involves my unsupervised toddler pooping on the carpet, then trying to clean it up himself by putting a pile of wipes on top of the mess and pushing down. Was I upset? Heck yeah! But was it the end of the world? Not really. In fact, after a few agonizing seconds in which I came to terms with the unpleasantness of my fate, I was able to praise him for his clean-up attempts. After all, he did at least recognize he’d made a mistake. If you would rather die than deal with this sort of occurrence though, this method probably isn’t for you.
Before I document the method I have used without deviation for the last 3 kids, it might help to explain what I did with my first. Basically, we used what is known as the 3-day-naked method with our oldest. When our son was 20 months old, we picked a long weekend when my hubby and I would both be home and we had nowhere to go. Then we let our son be naked from the moment he woke up until the moment he went to bed with one of us watching him at all times.
The blog page I had read that explained this method said that if after 3 days your child is having accidents more than 50% of the time, they might be too young to potty train. Our son was right around 50% success, so I decided to just keep going a few more days. That “few more days” basically evolved into a 2 month “training” period, where we had more successes than failures until gradually the accidents disappeared.
That gradual method, starting around 20 or 21 months and lasting for one to two months, is what I have used with all my other kids. We use a less intense version of the 3-day-naked method to begin and then move into a period of “training” where we use Pull-Ups some of the time. The child usually starts to understand right away, but there is a period of accidents where the child has the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and practice the necessary skills.
My Potty Training Supplies
Here is a complete list of everything I use to potty train.
- 2 Potties (We use a froggy potty in the house and a 99 cent store potty in the car)
- Undies (For my first child, I bought the thicker training kind, but for my later kids I just bought the inexpensive 10 pack of plain 2T-3T undies. I didn’t find character undies to be particularly motivating for my own children, but I definitely tried those too.)
- Potty book (This book has been an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY for all 4 of my kids.)
- Elmo Potty Time (This is the one sort-of “bribe” that I use for the first couple weeks in order to get them to just SIT on the potty. A couple of my children were not super motivated by this dvd and a couple loved it.)
- Pull-Ups (For outings and night time in the beginning.)
- Waterproof Pads (If you’d like to protect certain pieces of furniture)
- Step Stool (To make them more comfortable sitting on a real toilet)
- Step Ladder (To make it easier for them to wash their hands)
- Toilet Paper
- Waterproof bag with shorts or pants, undies, and wipes. (For the car. Once they understand the concept, I try to keep my kids in undies as much as possible. Thankfully, it rarely happens, but there might be a time or two when you will need to deal with accidents away from home.)
- Baby Gates (If needed to keep naked child out of certain areas)
Getting Ready for Potty Training
- Start reading your child the Potty book a couple times a day (or as frequently as they request). This book, with very few words, is absolutely perfect for a 1 to 2 year old. It is honestly my secret weapon. It is what gets my tiny kids interested in potty training.
Since there are so few words, I usually add my own words to help the child understand what’s going on. For example, on the pages that says, “What does kitty do?” Instead of just saying, “Oh.” I say “Ooooh! The kitty goes potty in the litter box!” On the page that is a comic strip, I will point to each panel and say something like, “Oops! Look, he forgot to take off his diaper! Bye-bye, diaper! Uh-oh, where did he go? There he is! He went to get a book. Still no pee pee coming out…I think he’s getting frustrated!” On the next pages, “Now he’s sleepy. Yawn! Look, they all went to sleep!” All of my potty-training kids have LOVED this book.
- Start thinking about what rooms you are going to confine your child to during their initial training period. In our house, thankfully we have hard floors in our kitchen and living room, so I just shut all the doors to the bedrooms. Get baby gates if needed. Worst case, you can plan to spend the day outdoors if it’s warm enough. (Though, honestly, if there is not a place in your house that you are okay with cleaning up poop or pee, this method is probably not going to work for you.)
- If there are couches, cushioned chairs, or beds in the rooms that you are going to let your child be in during the naked period, invest in some waterproof pads for your peace of mind and put them onto the furniture you wish to protect.
- I basically never have privacy with my young kids in the bathroom, but just in case this needs mentioning, let your kids see you use the toilet. Explain to them how you wipe. Let them help you close the lid and flush.
- Bring out the special potty and let the child get familiar with it on their own. It is great if they try sitting on it with their clothes on, but no pressure for a few days.
Potty Training – Phase 1: The First Few Days
I don’t typically let my kids watch a lot of TV, so even the baby knows it’s special. When we wake up on the morning of the first day of potty training, instead of putting a diaper on during the morning diaper change, I leave them naked.
I tell the child we are going to watch a special show while they sit on the potty. We usually only watch the first 10 minutes (basically Elmo talking, then his Dad singing a potty time song, then a song with children and animals about how they keep trying – all my kids have loved watching the baby kitten trying to climb the stairs).
If the child gets up off the potty, I turn the movie off and explain they have to sit down on the potty if they want to keep watching. I definitely don’t MAKE them sit on the potty, but I also don’t break my rule, even if they get upset and cry. We just move on to doing something else if they really don’t want to sit on the potty.
If the child is happy to stay naked, awesome. Just keep an eye on them and if you notice them starting to go, pick them up quickly and put them on the potty. If you catch ANYTHING AT ALL, make sure you show them and tell them that they did a wonderful job. Then have them help you carry the potty to the bathroom, add a little water from the sink, dump it in the toilet, clean the potty with toilet paper, close the lid and flush. For poop, I use a wipe last to make sure it is clean. Obviously I don’t let my child get dirty, but I let them help as much as possible. My kids usually love this part.
Afterwards, we wash our hands. My kids love this part too. Getting them to STOP washing their hands is frequently the challenge. Tell them that the next time they go pee or poop in the potty, we can wash our hands again.
If you miss it and the child has an accident, which seems to be more likely the more kids I have, it’s not a big deal. Just show your child how you have to clean it up and say, “Uh oh, we’re supposed to go pee pee (or poop) in the potty, not on the floor.” My kids, even my 4 and 6 year olds, like it when I ask silly questions about where we go potty. “Do we go potty on the floor?” “Nooooo!” “Do we go potty on the table?” “Nooooo!” “Do we go potty on Daddy?!” “Nooooo!” Even my youngest potty-training child, who wasn’t saying much else, knew how to answer “No” to all these questions, usually while giggling along with his siblings.
What if, on the other hand, you have a child who really wants their diaper on? Even my kids, who usually seem to enjoy being naked, would go through a phase where they wanted their diaper back. Explain that they are getting big and they don’t need a diaper anymore, but if they really want it, put it on and try again after the next diaper change.
After each diaper change, tell them that if they want to sit on the potty, they can watch Elmo Potty Time or you will read the Potty book to them. Rather than having them go in the potty, the main goal is to a) get them comfortable being naked and b) get them comfortable sitting on the potty. Eventually, these two things will not be a big deal.
Notes on the First Few Days
If you have a child that is absolutely insistent that they want their diaper after several days, don’t make a big deal out of it. However, I recommend taking some of those cheap undies that you bought and slipping a pair on UNDERNEATH their diaper. That way they can feel when they go potty and it will be less pleasant to have a diaper on. If you happen to know when your child frequently has a bowel movement (for my kids it’s in the morning), wait until AFTER that to use this undies trick to save yourself some work.
What if you need to leave the house? Try to schedule your first few days for when you don’t need to leave the house, but if you do, just put a diaper on. In all likelihood, your child is not destined to be totally potty trained by the end of this introductory period, so just don’t worry about it. If your child happens to tell you that they are going pee pee or poop in their diaper while you are out and about, throw a silent party! Your child is SO ready to be potty trained. However, if they go in their diaper like usual, that’s totally normal and not a big deal.
Potty Training – Phase 2: The Naked Period
After you’ve gotten ready and introduced your child to potty training, we go through a period of anywhere from 1 week to 1 month, where we just let the child be naked from the waist down whenever we are at home. (The more kids I have, the less frequent this seems to be.) We extend their boundaries into carpeted rooms as our trust builds. It usually only takes a week or 2 before I 100% trust my child to be naked anywhere in the house even without my supervision. (Though see above for my poop on carpet mistake.)
During this period, your main goals are:
- Have your child tell you when he or she needs to go so that you can help them get onto the potty. My youngest child was not speaking much when we started this process, so I had to learn to respond to the sound he made when he wanted to go potty, which was something like, “pie.” He had a couple accidents simply because I was distracted and didn’t know what he was saying. I apologized profusely and praised him for his attempts.
- Eventually, you want your child to just go sit on the potty on their own whenever they have to go. When you take them to the potty, remind them that they can sit down by themselves. Hold their hand as they sit down to begin with so that they get comfortable with the feeling. It always happens sooner than I expect that my child will be playing intently, then run to the potty, sit down and pee, then run back to playing. Although I want to shout from the rooftops, I usually just casually say something like, “Good job” or “Nicely done.” If they are casual about it, I want them to keep that attitude.
What if you have to leave the house? I have a lot of kids and a lot of activities, so we frequently do have to leave the house during this time. If I really don’t trust that they will tell me when they have to go, I put them in a Pull-up. If I’m starting to trust them, I put them in undies with a Pull-up on top. I also do my best to get them to go potty right before we leave the house.
I tend to do this leaving-the-house potty differently. Rather than having them sit on their own potty, I make it part of the putting-on-pants-and-shoes-to-leave-the-house routine. I grab a Pull-up, some pants, and their shoes, but instead of putting them on, I take them to the bathroom. I hold them on the toilet seat and say something like, “Give it a test. See if any pee pee wants to come out.”
In the beginning, they will protest and just try to scoot themselves off the toilet, so I will say, “No pee pee right now? That’s okay, let’s put your pants and shoes on.” I think it helps to act like I’m in a hurry to leave (which I usually am). After doing this a few times, they will usually actually try to push some pee out when I put them on the toilet, which is exactly what you want. Again, a casual “Nice job!” is all that’s necessary.
Once they are comfortable sitting on the toilet, I also like to do this as part of our going to bed and waking up in the morning routine.
Note: I think it’s important to get kids used to sitting on real toilets so that you don’t have any issues when you’re not at home. I’ve never used any of those potty training seats that fit over a real toilet seat. I just hold them on with two hands until they are comfortable sitting on their own. My youngest is definitely small enough to fall in, but he’s been okay sitting on the toilet by himself since around his second birthday. I’m always with him. He still uses his froggy potty most of the time, because it offers him more independence.
Potty Training – Phase 3: Wearing Undies
You are so close! You have a child that you are confident will go pee and poop in the potty when you are home and they are naked. However, they are still frequently going in their Pull-Ups when you are not at home. This is very common. This next step does require a bit of a leap of faith and a little unpleasantness, but once you commit, I’ve found this transition to be fairly short-lived.
To start, when you are at home, start putting them in just pants without undies or a pull-up. If your kids are like mine, they will at first think this is like wearing a pull-up and they will likely have an accident or two. These accidents, while unpleasant, are very helpful for teaching your child. They learn that even when they are covered up, they still have to go sit on the potty when they feel the need to go.
You will definitely want to restrict your child to the initial “safe zones” and put them in pants that you don’t care too much about. I’ll be honest and admit that I have actually thrown away a pair of inexpensive pants that my child pooped in during this stage. Cleaning up poop from INSIDE pant legs is just not fun.
Once they start telling you when they need to go while wearing just pants, you are ready to put them in real undies underneath their pants while they are at home. I think a period with pants and no undies is important, because it makes it far more obvious to the child that there is a problem. However, that undie-less period usually only lasts a few days in our family. Toddlers are smarter than I think we give them credit for. It usually only takes a couple accidents before they catch on.
Even if you are not having 100% success at home, I think it is important to move into undies while away from home as well, especially if you are able to get your child to go potty right before you leave the house AND you will not be gone very long. It is a leap of faith, but I think it shows trust in your child and helps the child to feel older. Somehow, I think they understand the stakes are raised when they leave the house in big kid undies.
Honestly, with my kids I tend to put off leaving the house in undies as long as possible, which is why the whole process usually takes a couple months for me. I just don’t want to have to deal with the embarrassment and inconvenience of dealing with accidents in public. However, ironically, I’ve NEVER actually had to deal with anything super terrible while not at home.
My kids definitely have peed in their pants a couple times at the park and they’ve pooped in their pull-ups while we were out and about. However, there were plenty of times when they could have pooped in their undies during toddler gymnastics or a big grocery trip and they just didn’t. I think this leap of faith is crucial in completing the process.
Potty Training – Phase 4: Nighttime Training
With my first 2 children, I didn’t worry about nighttime training at all. They drank a lot of water and they wore pull-ups at night until they were 5. Starting around their fifth birthday, I worked on nighttime training.
This involved limiting their water intake before bedtime and having them go potty 2 or 3 times between dinner and hopping in bed. Most importantly, in the beginning, I would WAKE THEM UP and have them go potty around 10 or 11 pm when I was going to bed.
For awhile, I tried carrying them to the bathroom and helping them pull down their pants and pee instead of waking them up and having them do it themselves. This prevented accidents, but didn’t seem to do anything to help them gain control since they were still half asleep during the process. I think waking them up and having them walk on their own two feet was crucial.
After a week or two of no accidents after being woken up in the middle of the night, I would try NOT waking them up. If they had an accident, I would wake them up again for a few days. Usually there would be one or 2 more accidents after I stopped waking them up. For both, it seemed like there was just one magical day when some flip switched and they no longer wet the bed or needed to be woken up in the middle of the night.
As with regular potty training, nighttime potty training involved a leap of faith and a few unpleasant clean-ups, but both of my older kids were nearly always accident free within a month or two of their fifth birthdays.
I noticed my third child was dry about half the time in the morning around his second birthday, so I decided to do nighttime training immediately following daytime training. I put 2 layers of waterproof pads and sheets on his bed and had him go potty on the toilet with me holding him on the seat immediately before bed. If for some reason he wouldn’t or couldn’t pee, I would put a pull-up over his undies before he went to bed.
That child was nighttime trained with much less stress and anxiety than my first 2 kids. (There was a time when I thought my older ones would be in pull-ups forever.) When my fourth came along, his pull-up was wet in the morning a little more frequently than my third, but I still decided to just go ahead and deal with the process around his second birthday.
There were definitely nights when I had to pull sheets off his bed in the middle of the night (hence the double waterproof pads and sheets). However, his accidents became less and less frequent until eventually they just disappeared entirely. Now at a little over 2, he hasn’t had a nighttime accident in well over a month.
I know when you are in the middle of it, potty training can start to seem like a big deal, but it really isn’t. Just have patience and remember that your child WILL get on board with using the toilet eventually. The less pressure you put on them, the better.
Trust yourself, trust your child, and diapers will be out of your life before you know it.
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