How to Potty Train Your Toddler

People write entire books on potty training, so I realize the cliffnotes and experience below is nothing compared to the well researched literature on the topic but it will do! Seriously, not everyone has time to read a whole damn potty training book. This summary below goes over potty training ideas for daytime potty training.

Wait Until Everyone is Ready 

There is no rush. I see so many people on my Facebook groups and other mom forums starting to ask about potty training around 16-18 months. For me, there was no way that was even going to be feasible and honestly, why the rush? Unless your child is advanced in language and comprehension to understand both the concept and instructions around the potty conversations at this time, it can make the job a lot harder on everyone. Kids who aren’t interested in the potty and physically aren’t ready shouldn’t be pushed that early on. Don’t worry! You are not going to lose any windows of opportunity here. Avoid making the process harder on yourself or your child if they aren’t quite there yet. 

I know, I know, in other parts of the world – children are potty trained super early. But rearing children in developing countries is totally different to begin with. First of all – they might not have access to proper diapering and sanitation products at all. Also, people in developing nations tend to spend a lot more time outdoors (which can help with the process). Customs, culture, cost, lifestyle, need and imbedded practices by the whole community early on influence the potty situation in many countries. It’s different here, let’s face it. 

Speaking high-level and specific to U.S.-based practices and research, children are not physically, emotionally, mentally ready to start the potty training process until after 18 months (ideally between 18 months and 3 years – according to many experts). The theory goes that boys tend to be more difficult to train than girls and the data says – they train at a later age range. I found this to be true in comparison to my son over other girls in his age range – but this can obviously vary greatly from child to child. 

Potty-training is good – yes! Potty-trained kids avoid diaper rash, the use of wasteful diaper products terrible for our environment, save their parents money on diapering products and parents save time and energy on the whole diaper-changing shenanigans. You might also have more flexibility when exploring daycares and preschools for your potty-trained child. But earlier potty training is not necessarily better. Many parents and experts alike worry that early potty-training can be harmful if it doesn’t go well – causing stressful emotional situations for both children and parents, behavioral problems or personality changes. 

In summary. Wait. Wait until your child is ready. If that is 18-months, great. If it’s two and a half years old, perfect. Know your children and don’t compare them to others or go by some made-up strict timeline. Like all parenting, do what is right for your child and your family. 

Invest in some Fun Potty Books

When we started looking into preschools around us, we realized we were actually on a timeline which pushed us to start potty training our son at 2.5 years old exactly. I guess this was a good thing, since it was a recommended window of time for boys anyway. We got some potty books and started talking about the potty, making the beginning of the conversation with our son positive and “fun.” Books we read together: Potty, Potty Time with Elmo, P is for Potty, Potty Superhero.    

Get Some Great Products

We bought some intriguing and fun potty products like a mini thomas the train toilet and a toilet seat with trucks on it, that I just knew he would be so pumped about. At my parents house, we invested in a stool up to the toilet he could climb himself and another cool mini toilet (cars! I mean who doesn’t love a racecar toilet). All of these items made me son totally excited about getting to use the potty – a variety of options to pick from. 

Pro tip: For those mini potty seats, these blue bags fit inside even if they don’t say it! That helped a lot with #2 clean-up, though we left them out for #1. 

Pro tip #2: These portable folding potty seats are AMAZING for on-the-go public bathroom trips!!!

Buy Some Big Boy/Girl Underwear

We talked about underwear for big boys who use the potty, and got a bunch of training underwear that I knew he would absolutely love! Sesame Street, Cars, Mickey, and trains were all big hits.   

Consider a Bribing System 

I don’t care what anyone says, bribing works. A friend of mine told me about her bribing potty-system and I went all in. I went to the dollar store and a local kids party store before we started potty-training and bought $45 worth of toys between $1.00-$3.00. Some of these items, like sticker packets, mini slinky sets, mini rubber snake pack, or these dinosaurs that grew in water, came with two or three items I could divide up for wrapping. I bought another 12 presents that were a little bigger and bulkers (but even at the dollar store, I got a whole sand bucket set out of season for dollar, a big coloring book set, and play-kitchen supplies- and these definitely counted as a “big present” even on the cheaper side). I wrapped all the “peepee” presents (small items) in white wrapping paper and the “poopy” presents (bigger gifts) in a funky blue paper. I put what I could fit in a huge bowl in the bathroom and hid the rest away. 

One thing that went a super long way was temporary tattoos. My son loves them and I found a whole book of them for $2. I cut the tattoos out and wrapped them two at a time for the “pee presents” and that could have gotten us a month in itself! 

Pick a Day

We started on a Saturday and knew we wouldn’t leave the house for the next few days as he learned his way around the whole potty thing. Some kids need longer or shorter periods of safety time at home. We decided that at minimum, we’d be home for 4-5 days and accepted that reality. We still played outside or went for short walks around the block, but generally we stayed home with crafts, games, toys, and of course, the potty. 

We explained that today was the big day when he would use underwear instead of a diaper and get to use the potty. How fun!! I explained the present system (for successful pee pee in the potty he got a white present and poopy in the potty, he got a blue present) and we were off to the races. 

The first two days, he figured out if he rationed his pee, he could get more presents by going to the bathroom more often, but I didn’t discourage it. The $.009 tattoo or $.25 mini dinosaur was well worth it. 

Let Them Be Free 

While we were at home, he was free to wear his “cool new big boy underwear” or be naked. He went back and forth on both and I didn’t push putting underwear back on if he had them off after potty time. The experts say that the sensation of being “naked and free” would be enough of a reminder that something was different to remember to go to the bathroom instead of just going in what was their diaper before. So if you are sticking home, try encouraging commando style living for a couple of days during the transition to potty-hood. We have hardwood floors so rugs weren’t a concern but I could see this being a problem for some…

Used Specific Language Across the Board 

We talked about using the potty in a super fun and positive way, and how we all used the potty too (mommy, daddy, papa, ama, cousin ascher, etc.). We reminded him that pee and poopy “belonged” in the potty. Instead of saying “it’s okay” when he had an accident we would say something like “uh oh, let’s try again on the potty! Pee Pee belongs in the potty, right buddy?” We weren’t mad or reprimanding him in anyway, but steered clear of any encouragement that going in his pants was still cool. 

We continued to read the potty books and we also celebrated for the first week at every big and small potty accomplishments like clapping, high-fiving and even singing “poopy in the potty! Poopy in the potty! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” For real. 

Well Timed Pottying 

Try to make some potty routines, like before you leave the house, when you return to the house, before bedtime or when they wake-up in the morning. Getting them on the habit of using the potty will help with regular use. 

The Bribing Continues

Our son got less and less excited about the presents as the days went on, I knew the novelty would wear off (thank god! I couldn’t buy more presents!). But we continued to use the presents whenever he asked about them after going potty (he kind of forgot after peeing but always remembered there were big presents to #2) until they ran out. That was the deal. I averaged this was going to be about 10 days, and I was spot on. We were able to utilize some presents like stickers and tattoos longer but generally the presets disappeared and it was no big deal. 

And There You Go

Some kids are going to nail it right off the bat. They get it. They like it. It works. Everything is gravy right from the beginning.

I have plenty of friends who have been like “yeah, after two days, we were golden and have never had an accident since.” That is awesome, that is also not my life.

My son is the most focused (and distracted – if that makes any sense) toddler you can imagine – zoning in on something fun, it’s hard to pull him away and he has #1 accidents every few weeks. He tends to do much better around kids his own age who are using the potty – like at pre-school. I know it won’t last forever, so I am not worried about it. No one goes to college still peeing there pants, so let’s get over the perfection in the first year. We just keep working on our language use around potty stuff, reminding him to go potty at regular intervals, and using stickers as rewards when we really must.