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Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Potty Training Post

First, my kid has barely been trained a month. I am by NO MEANS an expert - so I'm just writing about what I found helpful at the beginning of this process.

(Note: this is not my daughter, or even a poorly drawn representation of her. I just borrowed it from Google.)

I really don't want to get into too much detail here, because even a two-year-old deserves some modicum of privacy when it comes to their lives (says the mom who blogged every milestone monthly for two years).  So I'm going to try to keep it pretty general. In fact, let's just pretend like I'm talking about my friend's cousin's hairdresser's daughter Susie.

Some background:

1. I went to a potty-training seminar offered by our local Children's Hospital a few months ago (watch for free at the link). There were a couple things the presenting doctor said that really stuck with me:

  • If your child isn't fully trained three months before a major life event (new baby, new house, etc.) don't bother attempting after that three-month-prior cutoff. The regression is inevitable (the doctor said something like 90% of kids will regress), and the frustration that both parents and children will experience when the regression occurs makes it not worth even attempting in that time frame.  If the child has been trained fully three months or longer prior to the event, the regression may not happen at all, and if it does, it will likely be a much more minor setback. 
  • If a window of opportunity arises, and the timing works for you, grab it - the attention span of a toddler is fleeting, and if you don't take advantage, it may be another six months before they show an interest again. Training when there is an interest can take just days - versus months if you try outside one of these windows.
  • Once you start, go all in. No pull ups, no diapers while going out and underwear at home, etc. He even recommended tossing all the diapers except what will be used at night. 
  • It works best if you can dedicate an entire block of time - three or four days - to focus only on this experience.
  • This is a duh, but: positive reinforcement only. Never negative reinforcement, never punishment for an accident.  Make it the most exciting thing ever with the most exciting prizes ever.
  • Also a duh: it's totally normal for it to happen in stages. They will often start out either pooping or peeing in the potty, but not doing the other for several weeks later. Nighttime training might take another year or two. They recommended not sweating the nighttime thing in the slightest until after kindergarten. 
  • A final duh: it's okay to start, see that you or the child isn't quite as ready as you thought, and go back to diapers. Just don't make a big deal of it and start again when the next window arises. He did say he always recommended giving it at least a week before going back, UNLESS you're so frustrated that you're at risk of physically harming the child. 

2. Carys - er, Susie - was very ready. There were a number of signs she gave that she was ready leading up to us training her, but in light of her privacy, I'm not going to go into detail about most of those. However, one I will share: the giant, flashing neon light of a sign she gave that prompted us to start the training process was that she went potty herself, with no help and no prompting, twice in one day. So a VERY obvious sign.  Waiting for obvious signs of readiness cut training down to a matter of days versus a matter of months or longer. I'd much rather train a ready three-year-old than a not-ready two-year-old. Susie trained early, but most kids don't train until around three. There is ZERO wrong with that, and lots to be said for waiting until the kid is ready to do it.  
As build-up to training, well before we actually began the process, we started laying the groundwork. We bought a potty seat for the toilet when she was about 18 months old, and just very casually introduced it - for instance, I would sit her on it while getting her ready to take a bath so she got used to it (we got the potty seat versus the little potty because I've heard of kids having a hard time transitioning from little potty to the adult toilet and thought it'd be nice to skip that step. So far it's worked!).  We also got a stool so she could get up and down herself.  I was very open with my own bathroom, um, activities, and would let her observe and ask questions, and I would get very excited whenever I put a pee in the potty (I can say that since it only embarrasses me, right?). I also was sure to show her my big girl underwear whenever I put it on or was doing laundry, and talked a lot about all the benefits to being a big girl in ways unrelated to the potty - how they got ice cream, go up and down stairs alone, use the mini-cart at the store, etc.  I picked up a few books about going potty and becoming a big girl as well, and we read them often.  This was all done very casually with no pressure. 

Because of the three month window that they had taught us about at the seminar, I knew that it would be best if she was potty trained by mid-September, or I likely wouldn't be able to do it successfully until after the new baby came. I also knew that she'd still barely be two by mid-September, which would be VERY early to be potty-trained. I was truly not expecting it to happen by then and was fully preparing mentally to have to deal with two in diapers, as well as having to potty train a toddler while dealing with a newborn or small infant.  So the fact that she gave such an obvious sign so early was a surprise to me, but per the recommendation of the doctor of taking advantage of the window, we dove right in. 

Again, I don't want to get too much into detail in this post, so email me if you have any questions about the early readiness signs or specific steps I took, but I did want to share a few tips that worked for us (after her readiness was apparent - no tips on getting them to that point!):

1. Start with naked training. For the child, there seems to be a much more obvious gap between diapers and being naked than between diapers to underwear. Also, there's zero delay to getting them on the potty, which is VERY important the first few days when you literally have a split second of notice. 

2.  For girls - skirts and dresses ALL THE WAY! If they do have an accident, you usually just have to change the underwear (as opposed to underwear and shorts/pants), and they're super easy and fast to get out of the way to go potty. They also helped us transition her from being naked to wearing underwear, which we did by putting her in dresses with nothing underneath for a day or so to get used to wearing clothes again, and then adding in the underwear once she had that down.
3. Let them pick their own underwear. Duh. Big fat duh. But it really, really, REALLY does help them get excited about it and wanting to wear the new undies. 

4. Line your car seat with one of those sheet saver things that is supposed to go over the crib sheet when they are newborns. Do you know what I'm talking about? Don't worry, I didn't either - I used the hand-me-down ones we got on top of the changing pad because I didn't know they were supposed to be used in the crib. Ha! But these or these are what I'm referring to - waterproof pads topped with terry about 2ft by 1ft in size. I put one in the car seat to protect it from accidents. I am normally a HUGE carseat nazi and am SO anti-putting-extra-things-in-the-carseat, but they are very thin and it's for a very short period of time, so I opted for doing that over having to possibly wash the car seat multiple times due to accidents. 

5. Travel potty or other small potty for the car. If we go to the park or somewhere similar without a bathroom (or just a longer car trip without guaranteed bathroom access within a couple minutes of being alerted) it's incredibly useful to have a little setup that can be used out of the back of your SUV or even by the side of the road. We use this one - I didn't buy it as a travel potty, but it ended up going in the car and has stayed there and yes, has been used many times.  I just have a container of pop-up disinfecting wipes that I keep in the car with it. (I know a lot of people who really like this actual travel potty but I can't get over the idea of the bags.)

6. For naps, I lay down a waterproof crib liner (the ones that are not full sheets, but are just used between the sheet and the mattress when they are little, like this) with a folded towel on top, and lay her down just in underwear or even naked. She wakes up dry around 75% of the time, but is getting better and better each day. I think that if I were to put her in a diaper, naptime training would be a ways off.  I consider this vastly different than nighttime training - holding it two hours versus eight hours is a big, big difference.  For bedtime, she's in a diaper. I don't expect that to change anytime soon. The night diapers haven't seemed to affect her daytime training at all, though I did have to explain to her that even big girls wear diapers at night until they stop waking up wet.

7. Once you start, go all in. Toss or pack away the diapers. I think that if I'd kept them out, I would have reverted back to them purely out of MY frustration within the first two days - the hardest two days (and that was with her being ready and only a few accidents - this was when I was trying underwear, before I went to the naked thing). And I never would have known that on the third day it'd get 100% better. It doesn't give you or the kid the opportunity to back out of it and forces some sort of commitment to the process.  Pull-ups are diapers; everything I've read everywhere says not to use them, so we didn't even try them. Training underwear is quite thick and some kids - like Susie - might just see them as diapers. If that's the case, go all the way to regular underwear. Commitment is key (that said, as the doctor indicated in his lecture, if you're still completely frustrated after a week, there is absolutely NO SHAME in putting the underwear away, bringing out the diapers again, and putting it on hold until the next window of opportunity comes up - but do give it at least a week!). 

8. Go big with rewards and praise. I'm an anti-sugar crazy person when it comes to Susie, and we're doing M&Ms despite that. It's something new that she's never had before, so it's completely and totally associated with potty training in her mind.  She gets a sticker and an M&M for each success.  How to wean off this? To be honest, she just stopped asking for them every time. I still give her one when she asks, but I think the process got to be such a normal thing that she started forgetting on her own.

9. I learned this the hard way. Even after they've said, "I need go potty!" for the tenth time in an hour without any action....when they say it the eleventh time, LISTEN. They are just learning their body and what it's communicating to their brain, and it's hard to tell those beginning tingles from full-on "need to go" tingles. The first ten times they may not have needed to go QUITE yet, but they're gearing up for it - and if you don't get them on the potty the eleventh time because you aren't taking them seriously.....you're in for an upset toddler AND mom.

10. The first few days or week are hard. Even with Susie being completely ready, there were a few accidents and some incredibly trying days. Try to do it during a low-stress time if you can.

11. Reading books about ANYTHING helps around here, so we definitely picked up some books.  She really loved the Elmo potty book with sounds, the Potty Book for Girls (for boys here), You Can Go Potty, and her all-time favorite...Where's the Poop?. There are a ton of different books out there, so find one that will pique your child's interest and read it over and over.

12.  (ETA #1) So training for, um, "number two" was taking longer. I realized that she liked to be able to push her feet against the floor for leverage, so we started using the little travel potty for pooping and that helped a lot, since her feet could easily reach the floor while using it.

13. (ETA #2) If they regress, go back to basics. This random kid I knew - no relation to Carys - regressed when Emmeline her random, no-relation baby sister was born. I was expecting it, so it didn't take me totally off-guard, but it was still frustrating. And the regression only involved one of the "numbers." Number two. We went back to the basics, with rewards and lots of praise, and powered through. It took bringing out really big gun prizes/awards, but after a couple weeks of that, she was back to being fully day-trained and hasn't looked back since.

So good luck! You'll probably need it. And again, feel free to email with any specific questions!

ETA #3 - So I've gotten one question via email several times, which is: "How did you deal with going out in public?"  Well. Um. We didn't really do anything, honestly. We just did it. I put her in underwear and hoped for the best. She never had a problem using the big potties in stores (I just use a seat cover and she perches on the edge, I don't take a travel mini seat (though I know a lot of people who swear by this seat or something similar) or anything and we wash and sanitize hands afterward) and never was scared of the toilet flushing - it's one of her favorite parts, actually. So we got insanely, insanely, crazy lucky there.   I always let her pick which stall to use (she's partial to the handicapped ones for some reason) but that's pretty common sense.  The first couple weeks I took the stickers and M&Ms with us so her rewards would continue, and just asked her while we were shopping if she had to go potty constantly. She probably hated me.  When we are out, I do keep a spare pair of underwear and a spare pair of leggings in my purse just in case, and a spare spare pair in the car in case we ever have a really bad day, but luckily haven't had to use them yet.  So really, I don't have a lot of advice on going out other than just do it.


  1. Call me impressed. Despite our early success with Kaia on the potty (she was going on it fairly regularly while she was in the cast...up until around 18 months), she has decided recently that she wants absolutely nothing to do with the potty. If I suggest trying to pee on the potty I get a "NO!!!"...although she loves 'wiping' with toilet paper and throwing it in the toilet. She will however sit on the potty at bedtime as a delay tactic and will occasionally go at that point after much stalling.

    I'm not in a HUGE hurry...but forward progress would be nice rather than back...

    Good job Carys.

  2. Congrats! A few more tips once you are a bit further down the road... A little watter in the bottom of a potty makes poo-poo clean up MUCH easier, and makes no difference if they just pee, so we always kept a little water in the potty - just like the real deal. And...once you move to the big potty (which we did really quickly thanks to cushy toddler seats) if you're out in public and your girl is afraid of automatic flushers, keep a post-it pad in your purse. It's perfect to cover the sensor!

  3. Thanks for the information. This will be beneficial when we potty train our child.

    Lori Goodman

  4. Nice post. It really is important to potty train your kid since this saves a lot of diaper dollars. The main issue that kids face is that since they cognitive developments are just on the beginning phase, they do not recognize the signals sent out by their body as to how urgent they are and how soon they need to use the body. So it often happens that they recognize the urge after its too late.

    That where comes the tricks of potty training. It is imperative to teach the child as to what is correct point of time to react and let mommy know that he/she needs to go to potty :-)

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