How To Potty Train: Ultimate Guide, FAQs And Common Problems
By, Nancy Shaw, Baby Friendly America Contributor & Founder/Main Editor of HifiveBaby
One of the most critical milestones in every child’s life is when they learn to poop and pee on their own. They can’t wear diapers forever.
Aside from the unnecessary expense (they could use up at least
four naps in a day unless you’re using cloth diapers), it’s also more convenient if your little one already knows how to use the toilet.
It may not sound like a big deal when you’re not a parent yet, but as a first-time parent to a toddler, it feels as if I somehow won the lottery. Yes, the sense of accomplishment is that incredible.
The thing is, I’m sure other parents have told you, it’s not easy. There’s never such thing as someone just breezing through the process. If there is, it’s one in a million. Any mother I talk to says the same thing: it’s messy and challenging.
You’re dealing with a child who has just discovered his independence and they will uphold and assert it in every way possible. They’ll pretty much do anything that’s the exact opposite of what you tell them just because they feel like it.
So yes, I’m telling you upfront you’re going to need every bit of patience you can muster. Trying to learn how to potty-train your child is both dreadful and exciting. But for the most part, you just want to get it done.
Nevertheless, rushing your child through any milestone or training is never the best means to go.
Why Potty Train?
It is a skill your child needs to learn. Learning to control their bladder and bowel is a lot like developing fine motor – it’s a process, and they need your help. Soon enough, you’re going to have to ditch the diapers and just let them wear pants.
If potty training is successful, they can now tell you when they need to go and use the bathroom.
When To Potty Train?
The answer here is simple: whenever they’re ready. You see, one important element is timing. Don’t force the child before they’re ready because it will only be frustrating for both of you.
Some doctors agree it’s often somewhere between 18-24 months or 22-30 months but just like in crawling, walking or other milestones, children will learn depending on their pace. You need to check for certain skills before proceeding with the training.
Keep in mind that you should do this when it’s not a stressful time for your family – no significant changes like the arrival of a new baby or moving to a new home.
- They can already follow simple instructions like “please bring that toy here” or “please pull down your shirt.”
- They don’t like the feeling of wet or dirty diapers and may even tell you when they’re peeing.
- They can pull down their pants or diapers.
- They can stay dry for at least two hours during the day.
- They can sit on and get up from the toilet or potty chair.
- They’re interested in using the bathroom or toilet.
- They pass their bowel at predictable times of the day.
- They have terms they use for stool and urine like “wee-wee” or “poo.”
Benefits of Potty Training
It goes beyond the mere convenience of having a child who knows how to use the toilet and the economic factor (you can now use the nappy money for other things).
In fact, there are several advantages after reaching this milestone:
- They learn about personal hygiene. Of course, at this point, you still can’t expect them to clean after themselves, but this is a start.
- It makes them feel capable which in turn, enhances both their confidence and self-esteem – two important traits in growing up. Do you remember those times when you told your child “Good job” and they beamed at you with so much happiness?They have a certain sense of accomplishment – the kids know they’ve done something major and it makes them feel more confident in anything that they do.Keep in mind, however, to avoid scolding them if they commit mistakes during the process because that’s like going against what we’re trying to achieve here.
- It asserts their autonomy and independence because it makes them feel like they’re already “grown-up girls or boys.” Especially for toddlers, they now want to try and do everything – from feeding to putting their clothes on.If they’re potty trained, they can add that to the list of things they can do without your help.
Because this is an important life skill, learning it will also improve their social status. Assuming they’re attending daycare, they might experience peer pressure if they’re the only one not toilet-trained.
Potty Training Chart
Because potty training is very challenging for both the parents and kids, it’s always a good idea to add some fun while you’re at it. In my experience, our first day was a total mess –literally and figuratively.
We had to throw one underpants filled with stool and at one time, my son pooped on the floor. I was this close to giving up, throwing in the towel and just putting some diapers on him. But I didn’t. Instead, I pushed on. And you should do the same.
What you can do is take it one step at a time and do what you can to make it a memorable experience, not a traumatic one.
Don’t impose what you want them to do because if you’re training a toddler, they will continue challenging your authority and that’s not going to work so well. Instead, ask for their cooperation.
In the scheme of reward and punishment, I’ve always leant towards the former because I find positive reinforcement to have better results in the long run.
To make my little boy tell me he wants to pee and go independently to the bathroom, I promised him he will get a ‘tattoo’ each time he pees on the urinal. It’s not much really, I simply draw a star or moon on his forearm using a pen. And he enjoyed it.
So you can do the same. This potty training chart will work well with stickers too. You can tell them that each time you mark one, they get a sticker. They will love seeing their progress and accomplishment and that will motivate them.
Also, while it’s nice to give them rewards (some mums even use chocolates or other treats), don’t forget that the most important thing is to praise them – verbally or with hugs and kisses.
How To Potty Train
In 3 Days
It is pretty challenging, mind you. Sure, it’s shorter than most training but what you should know is that for three days, you will need to spend all of your waking hours with your little one.
It’s a lot like a crash course, so you need enough commitment and dedication to accomplish this.
Your whole attention will be on your child. Clear up your schedule and don’t even think of scrolling through your social media newsfeed while in the midst of it all. Also, because of that, cooking, cleaning the house or doing the laundry in between is a big no-no.
You can ask your spouse to do those things. Don’t worry though, aside from potty training, you will get to bond with your little one. And even though it sounds like the training is going to be rigid, it’s the opposite of that.
The author of this method advocates praise instead of punishment.
With this 3-day method, you will include nighttime potty training too.
- Your kid will either go commando or wear cotton underpants. My son went for the former, but he wore an oversized shirt just to cover his private parts. At first, he still didn’t get the concept when he had to wear briefs because he thought it was still like a diaper where he can pee or poop.
- Accidents can happen during and after the 3-day potty training. It’s important not to get upset or react negatively since it can have an impact on your baby. Just clean up the mess and help them through.
What To Do
- After waking up, take off their diapers and tell them you won’t be using it for the rest of the day which is why when they pee or poop, they have to do it in the bathroom.
- Join them for breakfast; you can go for high-fiber foods like fruits or those with high water content like watermelon. Then, if they usually drink half a cup of juice or water, add a little extra.
- After that, you can now take a trip to the bathroom to use the potty. If it’s successful, praise them but if not, tell them it’s okay. They can still try next time.
- While waiting for their next pooping or peeing session, do a variety of activities like learning to play simple musical instruments or reading their favourite books (not the bedtime stories).Just remember not to give them something that’s hard to get away from like a full two–hour movie.
- Always have a cup of water within reach. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, you can go back to the bathroom. Afterwards, make them take a sip again.
- After finishing their dinner, don’t give them any more milk, snacks or other liquids. In the middle of the night, you need to wake them up to use the potty and pee.
- For the next two days, just repeat the whole process.
- If accidents happen (and they will), reinforce your teachings by telling them poop and pee should go in the potty, not on the rug or floor.
In One Week
For some parents, this one seems more realistic compared to the three-day method. Besides, most experts claimed that it was most effective for kids younger than 28 months because they’re still not resilient to most things.
However, this one-week option requires readiness from all the parties involved – the child, the parents and the rest of the family.
What To Do
- Preparation includes allowing the toddler to practice sitting in the potty for about 5-10 minutes. This is an important step. I remember one hurdle I encountered during our potty training – after a minute, my boy would suddenly tell me he’s done.And when I check the potty, there’s no poop or pee. One method that worked for me was giving him a book to read, or letting him watch videos on my iPad. I don’t typically allow that, given that I have strong opinions against toddlers using gadgets but this is one of the few exceptions.Besides, it’s not going to last forever, just for the time you’re training.
- Aside from the one mentioned above, another way to prepare your child is with the help of visuals. You can download potty training videos or read books of their favourite characters pooping or peeing. This will give them an idea of what they need to do.At this stage, avoid setting any expectations because chances are, you won’t see that much progress yet. That’s okay because you’re still prepping them. Also, explain how the toilet works like how to flush and what happens to the poop.
- Prepare a potty training chart similar to what I showed earlier. You can purchase stickers to mark them or simply put a smiley face each time they successfully use the potty. As to the rewards, you can give them whatever they like.My son isn’t much of a sweet tooth so giving him chocolates isn’t a good option.
- You can put on diapers during naps or bedtime, but if you want to go big, you can put it off. After eating breakfast, take off the nappies and make them wear briefs or panties. It will put them in ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ mode.
- Every fifteen minutes, let them sit on the potty for about 5-10 minutes. This is the hard part. Again, do what you can to keep them there – read books or watch videos. However, the fifteen-minute interval is flexible.My boy got annoyed when we had to do it that close so I tried 25 minutes, and it worked. Do what works for your child. The important thing is how long they stay on the potty.
- Give them more fluids than usual and the moment they start showing signs that they need to go to the bathroom, whisk them to the toilet immediately. Yes, this is why you need to monitor them and pay attention.If they pee or poop, give them a reward or praise them – a little “hurray” goes a long way. But don’t overreact since they might feel deflated if there’s nothing on the potty.
- If accidents should happen, explain again where the poop and pee need to go – the toilet. But don’t scold or shame them. You see, even if you finish the training, don’t expect them to be potty trained 100%.They might still have accidents now and then, but most of the time, they will opt for the toilet instead of nappies.
If the potty training doesn’t work, you can try again for around 6-8 weeks.
Potty Training Tips From Parents
There are plenty of books and guides for potty training, but I firmly believe that the best tips come from those who experienced it first-hand and there are no better ‘advisers’ than fellow parents.
Let them go commando. When I potty trained my son, he had to play around naked for an entire day. Of course, they’re more prone to accidents this way. There were several instances when the potty was just a few feet away but of course; he had to pee on the living room floor.
You need to look out for signs that he has to pee or poop – like stopping in the middle of playing and straining or looking down on their private part. When they do, take them immediately to the potty.
Let them go commando
Patience is necessary. I can’t even begin to count how many times I considered giving up during the first two days. Take note, frustration won’t take you anywhere, it will only delay the process.
I started out with 15-minute intervals and gradually increased them until we went to the potty every 25 minutes. You cannot afford to lose patience because trust me, it will pay off.
Patience is necessary
Timing is just as essential. It’s all useless if your child is not ready or if there are significant life changes which can affect their training. Keep in mind that this is as challenging to them as it is for you, so the best thing you can do is to make sure there are no additional stressors for them. Make them feel secure.
Timing is just as essential
Give them treats or rewards. Bribery is a good motivation for the kids. You can buy stickers, chocolates, or other tokens. For example, you can give them one sticker for pee and two for poop.
You can even promise them an extra episode of their favourite cartoons. Again, do what works for your child.
Give them treats or rewards
Pack on the positive reinforcement. Sometimes, kids just need words of praises like “Good job!” or “Whoa, you pooped on the toilet!” It may sound simple enough, but toddlers will love it.
Pack on the positive reinforcement
There’s nothing quite like a big smile and hug from mummy and daddy. You see, if they don’t usually get rewards, you can just do whatever parenting style worked for you in the past. Sure, bribery does wonders but so can undivided attention.
- Talk to them about fears. It’s natural for kids to get scared of things they’re not used to. They still don’t have a full understanding of the concept of pee and poop and sometimes, the potty might look scary too.The best way to handle this is to ask them what makes them feel afraid and try to explain to them in the simplest terms possible.
- If you’re travelling, always bring a portable potty with you because chances are, kids might feel intimidated by ‘big people’ restrooms. If they do, you can’t force them to pee or poop.
- Always remind them that they need to go to the potty. Often, they get so busy with playing or doing stuff that they forget it’s time to pee or poop and they might end up doing it on the floor.You can set the alarm every 15 minutes and tell them, or you can walk with them towards the bathroom or wherever the potty is.
- To make them sit longer on the potty, give them something to keep them occupied – gadgets, toys or books. They can easily sit still for 5-10 minutes.
- Help with their aim. Another tricky part in potty training for boys is they seem to want to pee everywhere. What you can do here is place some Cheerios into the toilet so they have something they can use as a target.There are products like urinals for kids with spinning wheels in the middle to help improve aim and focus.
Common Problems Encountered
How to travel with a Potty Training Child
You have two options here: a portable potty or soft toilet cover seat. Of course, if it’s long trip, you may want the potty because you can stop anywhere and let them pee or poop there and wipe it clean.
With the cover seat, you need to stop at gas stations or public restroom which isn’t the best option for most parents. You have to prepare yourself to deal with accidents, though. If you’re using bribes and rewards, continue doing so.
It is to avoid any interruption to whatever routine you have created for them.
2. How to Potty Train Multiple Kids with only ONE Bathroom
One parents suggested the use of potty stools since you wouldn’t need to buy another trainer. The kids will go directly to the toilet – the same one mummy and daddy are using.
They can take turns and you can adjust the intervals so they won’t go at the same time. Also, once they see the success of one sibling, it’s more likely they will be motivated and follow suit. Don’t sweat it.
Don’t let them see you getting frustrated because potty training should be a fun experience even though it’s challenging. Also, make it a family ‘activity’ and involve everyone at home. Instead of getting stressed out, take it slowly.
3. How to Potty Train Kids With Autism
First of all, you need the perfect timing – it should be stress-free. Then develop a routine based on the pattern you’ve observed from the kids. You can use clear and simple visuals like photos or videos to explain to them what you’re trying to help them learn.
Make sure everything’s easy to understand and not confusing. A laminated sequence pasted to the bathroom wall is a fantastic idea. When it comes to rewards or praises, it’s up to you which one works better for your child.
Some kids with autism are okay with verbal praises. Others aren’t so comfortable with it. Also, help them communicate especially if they’re encountering difficulties. And as always, reward their accomplishments but don’t make a big deal when accidents happen.
It’s also important to take note of non-verbal cues like suddenly stopping in the middle of doing something and concentrating or looking at the bathroom. These are ways you can tell if they need to pee or poop.
You have to give them your undivided attention so you can easily see when it’s time to go. If all else fails, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
4. When to Start Potty Training
The first thing to look at is your child’s readiness. While some kids are ready by the time they’re 18 months old, there are those who can begin earlier or later. Just like with every milestone, there’s no such thing as one exact age for every baby.
You need to observe any indication that they’re all set for potty training. The key here is to avoid rushing when they’re not yet developmentally prepared. It’s not going to work if you’ll force them into something they cannot do yet and it will only end in frustration.
You can assess your little one with the help of the checklist above. If they’re not yet ready, you can always start prepping them with the aid of books or videos of their favourite cartoon characters like Elmo or Dora – you can find plenty of these on YouTube.
5. I Am Having Trouble Potty Training my Tot, What Should I do?
your child refuses to use the potty, they’re probably not yet ready for it. That’s pretty much the gist of it. Their readiness is an important factor for the success of potty training. If you’re using soft covered seat, the child could also be afraid of the toilet which isn’t surprising at all.
Especially with toddlers, they might see it as one big, scary monster. If that’s the case, buy a small potty trainer and once they’ve gotten the hang of it, you can start transitioning to the toilet.
The thing is, don’t insist if they adamantly refuse because it doesn’t work that way. Don’t make it a traumatising experience for them. As much as possible, keep it light and fun.
About Hi Five Baby: HiFiveBaby is a professional blog written by a registered nurse that focuses on health, tips to care for babies, product reviews, child development, toys, and gifts.