I put off potty training until my daughter was 2.5 years old for a number of reasons. Surprisingly, I had her ‘trained’ in a few short days. Of course, it depends on your definition of what trained really means.
Which leads to one of my reasons I waited so long (although, ‘long and short’ is also subjective). To me, trained means the toddler being able to know they have to go to the toilet, walking there, putting the potty seat on the toilet, pulling pants and underwear down, physically going to the bathroom, pulling pants back up, and flushing the toilet without an accident. Trained also means no pull-ups or training pants (daytime AND nighttime). Unfortunately she still isn’t tall enough to reach the handles of the faucet to wash her hands (even with a step stool) so I have to assist her (I may have to buy a bigger step stool).
To other people, trained may mean the toddler is able to hold it and go in the toilet if their parents help them every step of the way. I know people who say they trained their kids by 12 months old. But are they really trained when they need your help to physically get on the toilet? And that was the main reason I didn’t start that early. Good for them, but I just preferred to wait until it was easier on both of us. Sure, I will never have the bragging rights of someone who trained their baby before their first birthday, but it also didn’t take me as long as it could have, and I’m grateful I waited longer.
Here was my process if anyone is interested. I’m not a potty training expert, even though I’m writing this in the form of advice. I just wanted to write our experiences and if it helps anyone out then it was worth it. And of course, what I did may not work for everyone. You have to do what works for you, as the parent, and your individual toddler. I modified our process based on reading other people’s experiences, and made some changes along the way.
Before you start, block out at least 3 consecutive days that you can be with your toddler alone at home. If you have a spouse, don’t include them in the process if you can. I’m not saying that they wouldn’t be of help (my husband did help after he came home from work), but only one parent/caregiver should be assisting the toddler the majority of the time to avoid confusion, conflict, and help with focus.
Plan super easy meals that require very little prep, turn off the TV, put your smartphone away. Do everything you can to avoid taking attention off your toddler. Your main focus should be on them.
Start by surprising your special toddler with their own underwear. Make it a big deal. I told my daughter it was a special day because she’s a big girl and doesn’t have to wear diapers anymore. She was extremely happy when she saw her own Minnie Mouse/ Daisy Duck underwear. She put the underwear and pants on. I brought around 20 pairs of underwear and pants downstairs for our first day, expecting accidents to occur throughout the day.
There WILL be accidents. You cannot avoid this, and if you try to it will prolong the process. Treat accidents as learning experiences. The whole day might be entirely accidents, or maybe just half the day, or maybe just one, it depends on how fast your toddler will catch on. You want them to know what an accident feels like. Don’t scold them or punish them for it. You will be angry, disappointed or frustrated when it happens, but try not to show them you are. They might become afraid, refuse to go, or ask for their diapers again for fear of failure, thus prolonging the training. They need potty training to be a positive experience.
The morning we started I physically put her on the toilet every 15-20 minutes. It sounds excessive but I wanted her to get used to the act of going each time. Each time she went pee a little bit. I praised her lavishly every time, clapped my hands, gave her a sticker, or cookie, or a hug, etc. I used the bribes early on in training but took them away when she only went to the bathroom to get a treat. So, the way you get your toddler on the potty will change as things progress.
Don’t Give Up
She also had 4 accidents before the clock hit 11 am. Since this was my first time potty training a human being, I lost my $h*t because I am a neat-freak and used an entire bottle of Resolve, half a can of Clorox Wipes, a roll of paper towels. I asked everyone I knew if what I was doing was wrong and concluded that the first day will be the most difficult on both me and my daughter. It would get better the next day (and it did).
Don’t Ask, Insist
The main mistake I made on Day 1 was asking her if she needed to go potty. When I asked her if she needed to go, she’d say no. Then there would be a puddle on the floor 2 minutes later.WHY would she say no if she had to go?! Because she didn’t know any better. She was learning the feeling of peeing herself each time she did it. Treat it as a learning experience. Remind her to tell you she has to go potty next time. Tell her to avoid getting her new underwear wet. Put her on the potty as she’s having the accident, or after she has it, then clean her up, and move on. It’ll probably happen again so get used to it.
Another tip for the first day is try to section off an area that is easy to clean up an accident. I had board games and puzzles at the kitchen table and we stayed mainly in the kitchen area because we have hardwood floors there. It’s also right by the bathroom in case we had to rush in there. She loved that I paid attention to her the entire day, playing games with her.
I’ve read that other people leave their toddlers completely pant-less or underwear-less (is that a word?) when they start training. I feel that can possibly make them regress after you put pants on them again, because they might feel the pants are like a diaper and start using it like one. Even though I had to wash each pair of underwear + pants after each accident, it was worth it for her to learn quickly and not regress. Same goes for pull-ups or training pants as a crutch.
After the 5th accident of the day (around 2 pm), she finally ‘got it’. Meaning she understood that she had to hold it and go in the toilet. She still had 1 accident after that, but it was a tiny one, and you could tell that she was trying to hold it until she used the bathroom.
Another tip: do not withhold liquids to prevent accidents. You want her to have as many opportunities as possible, so if she asks for a drink, offer it. Plus they would be pretty crabby if you didn’t give them a drink when they were thirsty. In the beginning of training, she will go 10+ times, and to me that was normal. In time she will learn to hold the liquid in her bladder for longer periods of time. There is nothing wrong with your kid if they are going more than 10 times a day (unless it looks painful for them to go, then maybe they have a UTI or some other issue). Don’t let anyone tell you a toddler going 10+ times isn’t normal, or that something is wrong with them.
Doddling On The Potty
Aaaand another tip: Do not let her sit on the potty and wait for more than a few minutes. Some parents say they let their kid sit there for 20+ minutes, play with a toy (ew) or eat a snack (ewww) to get them used to it. I wanted to teach her proper hygiene so playing or eating on the crapper was a definite no-no. In other (more crass) words, $h*t or get off the pot.
In total, she had 6 accidents and 7 successes. We put her in a nighttime diaper as a crutch (yes, call me a hypocrite but I was learning as well!) but realized after 3 nights of her going to the toilet in the middle of the night every night, she was able to hold it. She hasn’t had a nighttime accident since we first started training, even though she ALWAYS filled the diaper at night before we started. So in my experience, you don’t HAVE to wait for the sign of a completely dry night diaper before you try, you just try and see what happens (though I recommend a protective waterproof cover on the toddler’s mattress just in case).
Way easier than Day 1 for us. No accidents and I stretched out our potty schedule to 30 minutes, then to 1 hour, then 2 hours before putting her on the potty. Each time I put her on, she went. Lots of praise, hugs, stickers etc. Now that she was going successfully each time I put her on, I wouldn’t say potty training is a complete success yet. She still had to master feeling the urge to go and wanting to do it herself without my schedule. We would start that on Day 3, and I will expect lots of accidents to happen.
One thing I’d like to mention, if your toddler isn’t mastering going to the potty successfully when putting them there, I would repeat this each day until they can.
Day 2 had 11 successes and 0 accidents. A nice break before the hell (I mean constructive learning!) I had planned for us on Day 3.
It was harder for me than for her, but I reminded her to tell me when she wanted to potty every 30 minutes. When she said yes, she went to the toilet. When she said no, I DIDN’T PUT HER ON THE TOILET. If an accident happened, I’d clean her up, remind her again, and move on. She learned quickly she didn’t like to be soaked in her own urine and went each time she felt the urge. By mid-afternoon, she would come ask me if she could go pee in the potty, then go by herself.
Day 3 had 9 successes and 4 accidents, but I find this day was the most productive. Like I said before, accidents aren’t setbacks and I didn’t treat them as regression. She caught on fast that I wasn’t there to help as much as before, and it led her to do it herself.
Night time was interesting. She got up 3 times that night to go to the bathroom. She only went once, and the other two times she just sat there. I think she was worried she would have an accident in the bed and was overcautious. My only guess is her hyper-awareness of her bladder makes her go potty just for a drop or two. Which leads me to…
My crazy kid goes potty 392859842 times today. 96% of those times she just sits on the potty, doing nothing. I don’t understand it, except that maybe she’s afraid of having an accident. I tried to find information on this issue on Google, but it seems no other parent in the world has a problem with their kid wanting to go too much. Mainly the problem is how a toddler refuses to go to the potty or isn’t interested. My kid is obsessed.
After she sits on the potty without going, she says, “Mommy I went to the toilet by myself, now you can be happy again.” I cringe, realizing one of the reasons she’s doing it is for my benefit. I reduce my praise for her going (only praising her when she actually pees) and not paying attention to her when she sits there waiting for a response. This takes a few days.
Night time training was the same as the night before. We are all in bad moods from the lack of sleep. Luckily this phase passes as well.
I only praise her when she announces she needs to go (not asking my permission like she did before), gets on the stool to turn the light on, put the potty training seat on the toilet, pulling pants down and going by herself. I praise her for her independence. You’re such a big girl, you’re going all by yourself, etc. She continues to do this by herself more and more.
Sometimes she goes every hour or half hour, sometimes every 3-4 hours. It depends on how much liquid she drank beforehand. I stop myself from reminding her every half hour like I did in the beginning, because if I continued to do that, she would eventually regress and stop waiting for the urge.
Night time sucks once again.
Days 6 to 10
I don’t worry about accidents anymore; She can tell me she needs to go and does it herself. I do still remind her to go after watching a TV show, playing outside for hours or after a nap. And I will continue to remind her, just as I remind her to eat her veggies, to brush her teeth, to wash her hands. Because she still needs to learn that sometimes schedules conflict with potty times and you need to prevent an accident from happening, even when you don’t NEED to go.
Night time is finally a success. She gets up once a night or not at all, and goes only when she needs to. Though, once in awhile she’ll wake up and pretend she needs to use the toilet in order to stay awake and play. That is a whole other problem but it is also disappearing fast.
Ironically, sleep training has been successful the exact time we started potty training. It took a lot of patience and effort but somehow they coincided with one another for our daughter. Maybe she is more comfortable not wearing a diaper at night and can sleep better, I don’t know. My husband helped with the majority of this part, probably because he has more patience than me and I was stressed out from all the potty training throughout the day.
I haven’t experienced any regression with my daughter and don’t know if I will, like other parents have talked about, so I wouldn’t know how to go about that unless experiencing it first.
Going Poop (um I mean, #2)
For some toddlers accomplishing going #2 successfully is difficult. Just as with going pee, it’s a learning experience to feel the urge. On day 1 I ran her to the toilet when I saw her standing in the middle of the kitchen pushing. I praised her excessively when she went in the toilet and gave her ice cream afterwards. For a few days she was a little scared of going #2 in the bathroom (overcautious and running to the potty when she had gas), so there were a lot of false alarms but each day there was also success.
We are going on a small weekend trip soon that includes a plane ride, a hotel, and being in a city where we will be out walking and such. I do not want to use diapers or pull-ups, but I will bring a few JUST IN CASE. We had the luxury of staying at home and taking our time with potty training so I don’t know how my daughter will fare when we are away from home.
I also bought disposable toilet seat covers for the gross public bathrooms we might have to use. Since my daughter refuses to use any sort of diaper (even at night time) I doubt we can force her to use one during our vacation as a crutch. But I will bring them because, you never know. I guess I don’t agree with using pull ups or diapers as a crutch daily, but I will keep them handy in an emergency. It’s better to be prepared than not, you know?
In our diaper bag I’m bringing:
Two extra pairs of underwear, pants and socks, a plastic bag to put wet clothes in, clorox wipes, wet wipes, disposable toilet seat covers (I bought them here), a few diapers, and some lollypops. The lollypops are in case she refuses to use a public bathroom out of fear and I have to bribe her.
I wouldn’t say my toddler is 100% perfectly trained and will never make a mistake again. But I can say after 10 days she is around 90% there. She still sometimes goes into the bathroom to sit there and daydream. Maybe she’s bored while she’s home. Maybe she’s being super cautious. Who knows. I’m sure many of you will have your own quirks to deal with when potty training your toddlers. I understand if some of you don’t have the time to consistently train the way I did. I’m able to stay at home all day with her in order to accomplish this. Maybe some parents both work full time or some of you are single parents. Perhaps you will need more time or assistance. Maybe your toddler will need pull-ups, maybe they will regress. Maybe it will take one year to night potty train.
No kids are alike. Do what works for your family. Don’t make it a competition with other families. Don’t let someone tell you there’s only one specific way that works for your toddler. These are things I repeated to myself as I trained my daughter. I only listened to the advice I could use and ignored what I couldn’t use.
The rules I had chosen to follow I also broke when I felt it was necessary. For example, on Day 2 I had a doctor’s appointment and had to take her to my checkup. On day 2 I also let her play on the carpet because she wasn’t having any accidents. On day 3 I took her to the supermarket. So we didn’t necessarily stay home 3 days in a row because in our situation I felt she was ready enough to go out. And I stopped using treats and stickers to bribe her when I noticed she only went to the bathroom for treats and stickers. Once again, do what works for you and your toddler, and good luck!