Potty training is one of the most feared, stressful, and trying times of being the parent of a toddler. The good news is that it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips and tricks I've learned while spending the better part of the last five years potty training three toddlers.
1. Hello, potty.
There are some sure signs that your child is ready to begin potty training, such as dry diapers through the night, as well as the child showing interest in the potty even before then you can introduce them to it. With my oldest child, we even had him come to the store when we purchased the potty chair.
Potty chairs, especially in the early stages of training, should always be easily accessible, and in the introduction phase, we even had it out in the playroom. Each of my kids would sit, fully dressed at first, on the potty and I would explain what the potty was for. After a while, we moved it into the bathroom and began just sitting without a diaper on. Most times nothing would happen, but we would praise the attempt and go crazy if the kids actually went while sitting on the potty.
2. Timing is everything.
Many people find that sitting your child on the potty first thing in the morning and after naps, particularly if they wake with a dry diaper, can help make the magic happen. I've also placed them on the potty around the times of the day when they usually had a dirty diaper, again praising the attempt no matter the result.
Another popular method is setting a timer and having the child try to go every 20 to 30 minutes, for example. I have multiple friends who swear by this method, although for me personally it seemed to annoy my kids, and I always had a fear it would create a Pavlov response and make my kids want to pee every time the microwave beeped. One thing to keep in mind, even if you've done potty training before, is that every child is different, and using different methods can often lead to success.
3. "I'm scared!"
The potty can be an intimidating and even frightening place for a child. Heck, I know it's a scary place for me, but that's because I'm the one cleaning up after five people (three of them male). There are several things you can do to make the potty a happier place.
First, consider the chair. A big potty can be particularly scary for a small child, and even with the seats that fit over the top, it can be hard to access, leave them feeling like they are unsteady and high off the ground, and make them afraid they'll fall in. Smaller seats on the floor can provide a "just-right" alternative for your soon-to-be potty master.
Secondly, make it a fun experience by reading potty-related books, making up silly potty-time songs, and even have a potty party. One of my readers suggested streamers and balloons in the bathroom to help inspire a love of the potty. I say, whatever it takes to make the toddler comfortable, and it's a fun way to make childless friends think you've finally lost it.
4. Bribery . . . ain't nothing wrong with it.
What one person calls a bribe, another might call positive reinforcement. You can try a variety of methods like stickers, treats, or even toys. I have friends who used charts and stickers that worked, while others bought special "big-kid toys" once potty training was complete. My second child responded great to Raisinets, and he was going on the potty within two days. Only problem was he would pee a little, get a treat, and then return to the bathroom every 10 minutes only peeing small amounts to collect the treats. On the contrary, my oldest, who took the longest so far, finally did it after I promised treats, a trip to the zoo, pet fish, and a new DVD. What he doesn't know is I was ready to pull out the checkbook and pay him off had he gone another day in diapers.
5. Going #1 is OK, but #2 is not today (or any day).
One major issue many kids encounter is that they will freely use the potty to pee, but refuse to use it to poop. Many, including one of my own, would hold off for a diaper or pull-up, and when not given one would just hold it in. In this case, continue to praise the peeing on the potty and don't withhold a diaper or pull-up if your child will then hold it in. When cleaning the poopy diaper, dump the contents in the toilet and have your potty trainee flush. Continue to encourage pooping on the potty, but don't yell or get upset if it takes a while.
6. Keep it positive.
Potty training isn't easy, and although some kids seem to take to it right away, others take a little more time. This doesn't mean that you or your child is doing something wrong, so when accidents do happen, or when some things like pooping on the potty take longer, resists any urge to yell, punish, or criticize your toddler. Working as a team, which, with a toddler, can feel like running a marathon backward barefoot in a snowstorm, is really the best approach. Turning potty training into a negative experience for your toddler is only going to be counterintuitive and could cause it to be a longer and much more difficult transition for both of you.
Don't make the mistake of putting your toddler back in diapers just because it's easier for you. If you are traveling or vacationing, grabbing the diaper bag might seem easier, but it can cause a step in the wrong direction even if you go back to old behaviors for a few days. Instead, pack extra clothes in case of an accident, try to keep on your successful routine, and consider products like travel potties (I won't leave home without mine).
Also, in order to keep things consistent, make sure that daycare providers, teachers, and babysitters are all on board with your potty training plan. Keep them updated and request updates from them on your child's progress while away from home as well. The last thing you or your child needs is to be making strides on the potty only to have a lack of communication cause them to be in diapers or pull-ups while away from home.
8. Get help.
If you have any concerns about your child's progress, talk to your pediatrician. This is especially true if your child has a significant change in bowel habits, seems constipated, or you feel they are not showing any progress after you have provided consistent potty training for some time. There are tons of resources on the web, books on potty training, and great forums where you can connect with other parents going through the same thing. Talk to friends or relatives who have been there done that, and see if they can help with any tips and tricks that worked for them.
9. Know when to quit.
For me, potty training has been the biggest challenge as a parent. Because my children are all two years apart, I have literally been changing diapers, transitioning to pull-ups, and doing the potty training thing for five years straight. I have had my share of success as well as my share of utter potty training failures. It can seem like a process that is taking forever, and there are some days that I wonder if it will ever end. It's important to be patient, give it time, and know when your child is ready. My daughter, who recently turned 2, showed some slight interest this Spring, so I pounced on the chance to bid diapers goodbye. Much to my disappointment, her interest dwindled about as quickly as it came, and now we're back to reading books, playing around while sitting on the potty, and peeing and pooping in a diaper. This was particularly disappointing, because she wore underwear for a few days . . . and now she only wears them as hats.
So stay positive for you and your child, be consistent, ask for help if you need it, and know you are not alone in the potty training marathon! Good luck!
Award-winning blogger Susan McLean can be found sharing the good, the bad, and the usually embarrassing at her website The Divine Secrets of a Domestic Diva. Enjoy a look at the lighter side of motherhood. You can also connect with Susan and over 12,000 like-minded friends on Facebook for daily laughs, and check her out on Twitter, too!
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