Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Potty Training

We potty trained M (girl) & C (boy) when they were 26 months old. My fellow mommy friends have lots of questions on what did and didn’t work, so here we go! I was inspired by the 3 day method, but adapted it to our situation. Here are my notes and tips on the potty training adventure.


  • Step Stool – to have setup in front of the sink for independent hand washing.
  • Towel – next to sink for hand drying.
  • Soap dispenser – for hand washing, within reach.
  • Non-slip mat – to go under the step stool. Especially important on tile/hardwood floors.
  • Singing Potty – really important for the first couple days. After the first week it started to drive me crazy so I turned it off.
  • Faucet extender – unless your toddler has super long arms, it’s hard to reach the water even with a step stool.
  • Tic Tacs – this was our bribe of choice. We kept them in the kitchen, so they were motivated to do their business and then move on. As the days went on they forgot about the reward since it wasn’t sitting in front of them in the bathroom.
  • Books – once you get your toddler planted on the potty, you’ll want something to keep him occupied. We used books, and always have a stack in the bathroom for them to choose from.
  • Plenty of drinks – keep them hydrated so there are lots of “learning experiences”.
  • Cleaning supplies – yeah, accidents WILL happen so be prepared.

Anti Pull Ups: Pull ups do not work. They feel like a diaper, and your toddler will have no immediate consequence if he goes in his pull up. A pull up is a diaper and your toddler will treat it like one.

Getting started: After you’ve decided you’re ready, pick the day and go in 100%, any less will confuse your child so commit to it completely…

  • On the morning of the first day, get your toddler up and put them in their potty training outfit – long sleeve shirt and socks. NO PANTS, NO UNDERWEAR. We felt like we had some toddler nudist colony or something, but it works so just don’t think about it. This works because if your child has an accident they (and you) know RIGHT away. An added bonus is that they hate the pee running down their leg and it feels really uncomfortable to just pee on the floor. The comfort of underwear or pants makes it concealable just long enough so they won’t feel bad.
  • Give them unlimited liquids the first day. We did all sorts of tricks to keep them drinking – fruit punch, chocolate milk, ice water, etc. Keep it interesting and they will keep drinking, and peeing. You want them to be super hydrated so they have lots of opportunities to go on the potty, and to make mistakes so they can learn early on.
  • Keep the tic tacs (or whatever treat you choose) in a separate room so they aren’t too impatient. After they use the potty they can get a treat. After a couple days I stopped reminding them about the treats and they slowly forgot about them.
  • On the first day they are still learning how to control themselves, so expect a potty run every half hour or so. If it’s been a while and they haven’t gone, enthusiastically say, “Let’s go on the potty!”, don’t ask them because they will say no of course.
  • Every time they go on the potty you have to make a BIG deal about it. I would shout “Yaaaay M!!! You did it! You went on the potty!” and then spin in circles with her dancing and throwing her in the air. That is something they won’t forget and will keep them coming back to the potty.

Some Tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to make them sit on the potty for a few minutes. You’ll get the hang of it and realize they are probably due to go, so say “Let’s go on the potty!” and read them a book or sing a song to keep them distracted long enough to go. The more they pee in the potty (even if it’s not intentional), the more their confidence will build.
  • Lead by example. Take them with you when you go on the potty so they can see that mommy and daddy do it too. Kids love doing the same things as their parents and it will make the whole process seem more “normal” to them.
  • Interjecting a little routine goes a long way. For example, “potty” times around here are: wake up / before breakfast, before leaving the house, when we return from an outing, before lunch, before nap, before snack, before dinner, and before bath. Of course they also go when they feel like it in between, but it’s good to set the expectation so they don’t decide they need to go at an inconvenient time.
  • Lots of positive reinforcement! If they are out and wearing pants ask, “Are you dry?”, if they say yes then give them a big smile and a high five. When they go on the potty do a big happy dance. Enthusiasm is crucial!


  • When they have an accident you say in a serious voice “Oh no! We do not go pee pee on the floor, we go pee pee in the potty.” Do not yell at them, but make it clear that it is not ok.
  • Immediately whisk them to the potty, and again remind them “We do not go pee pee on the floor we go pee pee on the potty. Mommy is going to clean it up off the floor and you need to finish your pee pee on the potty”.
  • Accidents will happen, but that is how they learn. Every time I had to clean up an accident it was bitter sweet since I knew that it was a learning experience for them. After the first day the number of accidents dropped dramatically.

Getting Out:

  • After a few days of playing at home with no pants on, your toddler (and you!) will be ready to get out of the house. Plan an event (ex. to the park) that is no longer than an hour.
  • Before leaving the house put your toddler on the potty and tell him he can wear pants and go to the park after he goes pee pee. Do not leave until he does so. It’s a really good habit to have them learn early on to go potty before leaving the house.
  • Dress your toddler in his potty training outfit + loose fitting pants (no underwear). Tell him “We do not go pee pee in our pants, if you need to go pee pee you go on the potty”.
  • Go on your adventure out of the house, fully expecting an accident, and you just might be pleasantly surprised.
  • As soon as you return home, have them go on the potty.
  • Over time you can gradually add more of these outings. Your toddler will learn to “hold it” for longer amounts of time too.
  • When you get back home, it’s back to the potty training outfit (no pants).

Hand Washing:

I waited to introduce the full hand washing routine until they were getting pretty consistent on the potty. Introducing it too early can get distracting for a toddler, so by waiting you can take it one step at a time. Once they’re ready you can treat the hand washing as a reward. My kids looove the whole process of soaping, scrubbing, rinsing, and drying their hands.

Calling Quits:

If your toddler isn’t ready, than he isn’t ready. There is no reason to rush into potty training, and doing so can make it more difficult to train him later. Be patient, and if after a week or two you aren’t having success, take a break. I first tried potty training the twins when they were 22 months old, and C clearly wasn’t ready. He was crying begging for a diaper, so I stopped and waited until he was showing signs again. Trust your mommy instincts, and don’t push it on your toddler.

Potty Trained:

If your toddler is “getting it”. that means about 80%+ hits per day, then you should keep at it. Continue for the next several weeks keeping your child in their potty training outfits at home, and loose fitting pants without underwear when leaving the house. Once they “get it”  put a step stool by the big potty and teach them to use that by squatting and holding onto the seat on both sides. And as the accidents diminish you can start introducing underwear and wearing a full wardrobe at home.


Please leave me questions to answer or comments in the section below for future potty trainers to read.

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