I wish I knew then what I know now! Potty training is not unlike teaching a kid to ride a bike. Some kids take to it quickly and easily, but a lot of them need help. And many of them do best if you start them with training wheels!
Just like you watch your child for signs to be ready to ride a bike (being old enough, big enough, strong enough, and able to balance) potty training will be easier when your child’s brain and body are ready to learn it! It’s better to watch your child than to watch the calendar. Here are some signs:
- Having some consistency with having wet and dirty diapers. Does he poo at similar times each day? Does she wake up from her nap dry?
- Showing discomfort when the diaper is wet or dirty. Does she let you know with a word, a sign, or a gesture when the diaper isn’t clean?
- Understanding some words and following simple directions. Is he able to sit down, come here, or throw something away when you ask?
- Participating in activities like pulling down pants and washing hands. If she can’t take off her pants or step on a stool and help wash her hands, you can start the potty training process by teaching her these steps.
When your child is showing signs of being ready to learn how to use the toilet, take a look at the equipment that you have. Just like bike-riding requires the bike and a helmet, toilet-training requires some basics. You will need a place where your child feels safe and secure to sit to pee or poo. It can be a little potty chair on the floor, or a regular toilet with adaptations for little bodies. Be sure that your child’s feet can be planted firmly on a flat surface to increase her stability. Dangling feet make it hard to relax!
You may choose to keep your child in diapers while he is learning, or use pull-ups, or try potty training pants or regular underwear. Diapers and pull-ups make less messes, but they also make it harder for your child to feel when they are wet. Keeping new undies with favorite characters dry can motivate some kids!
You will also need a set of activities for your child to do while she is sitting on the potty. These can be new books, favorite songs, or fun games that are reserved only for potty time. Sometimes just having you hang out in the bathroom with them is really motivating! If sitting on the potty is difficult at first, have a supply of rewards for your child if she sits while you read one book or sing one song. Then you can expand the reward for actually “going!”
At first, you may want extra servings of your child’s favorite drinks so they have to pee more often. Expect accidents. You can involve your child in helping to clean up in a neutral, non-emotional way. You can take poo to the potty, dump it in, and say, “This is where the poop goes!” Be aware if your child is frightened by the sound or the unexpectedness of the toilet flushing.
And, if you have a child who needs training wheels, you can be those training wheels. You can take them to the toilet every hour (or more frequently at first!) Set an alarm on your phone, or use a potty-time app like this one: https://www.pull-ups.com/en-us/potty-training/games-tools/time-to-potty-app. You can take all the responsibility for getting your child to the potty in time. You don’t have to rely on them to tell you when they have to go. You don’t have to ask them if they have to go potty. Just let them know when it is time to go sit. Go into the bathroom with them to help them. Every. Waking. Hour. Even children with speech delays who can’t reliably talk yet can still potty train with this kind of training wheels. Because it’s all you. Help them feel successful right away, and motivate them to keep at it. Keep it fun. Don’t be afraid to offer rewards. You can offer rewards for the smallest steps towards using the toilet. Use whatever it takes- praise, games, smiles, candy, stickers, music, a prize bucket, laughter, even a potty dance party!