I remember being afraid of potty training once I became pregnant, even though I was a little prepared. My previous job allowed me the pleasure of working with seasoned career women who were mothers. They often reminisced about their potty training days. Through those conversations, I was prepared for pee and poop accidents at home, in public, and in the bed. It seemed that this is something most parents go through.
As a Mental Health Therapist and Social Worker, I worked intensely with a girl diagnosed with Autism, from the of ages 2-4. My job was to help her adjust socially in the classroom with other kids. I would go to her preschool and spend 4 hours observing and playing with her and other kids. I, along with her parents and teachers, also helped to potty train her.
Now that I am a mom, I have the experience of potty training my son, Cory, as well. I want to share with you what I have learned in the process. My big take away is RELAX- they will learn.
What is the normal age for potty training?
The normal age for potty training varies. My daycare provider told me the appropriate age is 2-years-old. However, did you know that in the 1940’s, the average age was 18 months?
I started introducing my son to potty training at 21 months. The book, Oh Crap Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki, says it is easiest to start between the ages of twenty and thirty months. The way I introduced my son was sitting him on the Elmo potty when I thought he would need to urinate.
What are the signs that your toddler is ready to potty train?
- Pulling at a wet or dirty diaper
- Hiding to pee or poop
- Interest in other’s use of the potty, or copying their behavior
- Awakening dry from a nap
- Telling you that they are about to go, are going, or have gone in their diaper.
What is the best way to potty train?
- Let your child watch and learn
- Buy the right equipment
- Help your child get comfortable with the potty
- Motivate with cool or fashionable underwear
- Set up a training schedule
- Set aside naked time
- Celebrate victories
- Keep trying
- Bring fun into the process
- Ditch the Diapers
Below is how we incorporated the points above in our potty training process.
This can begin before you officially start potty training. Have you ever been out shopping or in the airport with your baby/toddler, and you need to use the public bathroom? Parents usually have their child in the bathroom stall with them and this gives the child a chance to observe you.
Once my son was around 20 months and aware of the difference between boys and girls, I would put a large towel around me while using the bathroom. This way, he was able to see me use the bathroom but not see my lady parts. In a public place, I wouldn’t have a towel so I would use my shirt, hunch over, or rest my forearms on my thighs as a cover.
Cory also observed my husband, Don, use the bathroom. Don would pick Cory up after work everyday from daycare and have him use the restroom at home. It was during these times, my son realized that girls and boys urinate differently.
Arm yourself and child with the right equipment when potty training. We used the Elmo potty for two reasons. Three Elmo potties were given to us as gifts during our baby shower and Cory loved this Sesame Street character, Elmo. When he saw the potty, he was excited to sit on it and loved the flushing sound it made.
This potty is great because it is the perfect size for kids and it encourages them to lean forward slightly with their feet on the ground when it is time to poop. An adult size toilet can be intimating for kids because it is big and some kids are afraid they will fall in.
Insert or Adapter Seat for Toilet
You may also purchase a more portable-friendly potty seat like the Travel Portable Useable Toilets Seats. We used these but my son liked the Cozy Green Seat better. Even though it is big, I put it in my baby book bag and carried it with me in public.
The adapter seats are great to use when you are out in public. It should fit on the toilet securely and be comfortable for your child to sit on. We used the Cozy Green Seat around the house and while out in public. It is a little large but it provided the best experience for my son. I have also seen the Baby Boy Potty Training product that many parents find helpful. I have never used it because it was available after my son was potty trained.
Step stool is needed so your child can get on and off the adult toilet. This also assists your child when they have to wash their hands. Typically, at the beginning of potty training, they are short and their little hands will not reach the sink. Your child can also put their feet on the stool while using the adult toilet in order to stabilize themselves.
Books are great to use when potty training your child. They help aid your child in understanding what other kids do while going through the process. Read books to your child while they are on the potty. You may also give them books so they can independently look at the pictures. We also read books during naps and before bed time at night and talked about what the character was doing. We compared the character’s actions to my son during the potty training process.
Examples of books are…
- I Use the Potty by Marie Van Lie Shout
- How to Pee: Potty Training for Girls by Todd Spector
- How to Pee: Potty Training for Boys by Todd Spector
- Pottytime for Chickies by Janie Transler
- Danny is Done with Diapers: A Potty ABC by Rebecca O’Connell
- Potty by Leslie Patricelli
- Even Firefights go to the Potty: A Potty Training Lift the Flap Story by Wendy Wax
- Once Upon a Potty: Boy by Alona Frankel
- Once Upon a Potty Girl by Alona Frankel
- No More Diapers for Ducky by Bernette Ford
- Sesame Street: Let’s Go Potty Elmo by Lori Froeb
Examples of Cartoons are:
- Sesame Street: Elmo Potty Time Movie
- Potty Power for Boys and Girls Movie
- Bear in the Big Blue House – Potty Time with Bear
Fun with Potty Training
One way I made potty time fun for Cory was to pretend the toilet was a person. I know this may seem gross but it worked. When we first started potty training, Cory was introduced to Mr. Toilet. Mr. Toilet does not eat food like boys, girls, mommies and daddies. He drinks pee and eats poop. If Mr. Toilet does not drink or eat then he will be sad.
This gave my son a connection to the toilet. He was concerned when Mr. Toilet did not eat or drink but when he did, my son was excited.
Mr. Toilet may not work for you, however, come up with your own stories. Create it so your child will have a connection with the potty.
Set a Schedule
Most children do well with schedules because they know what is coming next. This logic applies to potty training as well. Before establishing my own schedule, I talked to my daycare about providing consistency for Cory. We also coordinated together when he would transition from pull-ups to underwear.
A great potty schedule to follow is have the child use the bathroom before and after breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. Other times were before and after he woke up from nap and sleeping for the night. Cory has never wet the bed and this is because he uses the bathroom beforehand daily.
Semantics and Be Clear
One detail I have noticed about many toddlers is that they take what you say literally. For example, if you tell a toddler it is raining cats and dogs, and this is the first time they have heard this, they may look in the sky for cats and dogs. I made sure to tell Cory exactly what I needed him to do during potty training. Instead of telling him to “Pull your pants down,” I would ask him to “Push your pants down.”
Another example is instead of telling a child to “flush the toilet,” tell them to push the handle down on the toilet until they see the water go down. This only needs to happen as the child is learning. Once the child knows what to do, you can simply instruct them to flush the toilet.
Give Your Child Time to be Naked
Letting your child go naked or semi naked is a great way to introduce them to the potty. You don’t have to do this but I freed up a Friday and Saturday to accomplish this. During this time, it was cold outside so he didn’t go completely naked. He had on a shirt and my old socks, with the foot section cut off, on his legs to keep them warm. Another option is to use baby leg warmers to prevent their legs from getting cold.
We played with his toys and I had his Elmo potty beside us while playing. I watched for signs that he had to go to the bathroom like squeezing his legs together and then I put him on the potty. Sometimes we got to the potty in time and sometimes we didn’t. I knew I would do a lot of cleaning that day but I was prepared for it.
There was a benefit to doing this because he learned that pee and poop go in the Elmo potty. However, the only drawback is he had to go back to daycare on Monday, which caused him to lose some of his skills. He would not be able walk around naked at daycare.
I think if you are a stay-at-home mom, this method may work better for you. If not, as least you can do it once your child is home in the evening.
Patience is the most important part of potty training. Most parents should know before doing it, that there will be accidents.
Children are learning so many different skills while potty training from gross motor skills to language. It is sometimes hard for us adults to learn one thing at time let alone multiple. Because of this fact, some kids will experience regression. For three days your child may be dry, and then the next two days, they have accidents back to back. Stay calm and have a system in place.
If there was an accident at home, then we would soak his clothes in a bucket with water and detergent. If there was an accident in public, which this rarely happened, then I had disposal diaper bags, where the wet clothes would go. The next step would be to wash your child off and put on dry clothes.
Bring Extra Clothes Always
Even though I have conquered the potty training days, I still take extra clothes with me everywhere we go. You never know when there will be an accidental spill while eating at a restaurant. Bringing extra clothes is extremely important while potty training, even if your child is in Pull-ups. Being prepared helps to bring your stress level down and allows you to be calm for your child.
Don’t compare your child to other children
One of my biggest take aways is not to compare your child to other kids. Sometimes, when we find out another child is fully potty trained, it makes us as parents feel uneasy. We then transfer these feelings to our kids through anger and frustrations when they have accidents.
It makes the child feel nervous when they have an accident which is essentially a mistake. When we learn something new, we have to make mistakes because that is an indication that our brains are stretching. Once your child’s brain makes internal connections that pee and poop go in the potty, then they will be potty trained.
But it is ok to talk to other parents
I remember debating whether to send my son to daycare with underwear instead of pull-ups. I wasn’t sure so I asked my friend who was potty training her son simultaneously. It was helpful to talk to her because our sons were showing similar signs of potty readiness. From that conversation, I decided it was ok to send the underwear. It is ok to talk to other parents but don’t put extra pressure on your child if they are behind another kid. Just know that when your child shows similar signs to the children ahead of them, then you can adjust your approach.
Being around older children
My son went to a daycare where he was the youngest. He constantly observed older children going in the bathroom. He was conscious of what they were doing because he observed my husband and I use the bathroom. One day he said he is going to the bathroom like one of the older kids in the daycare.
If your child has older siblings then that is an advantage because big sisters and brothers can lead by example. If there are no older siblings, then parents leading by example will do just fine. Also reading the books mentioned in this article helps because the characters in the stories can be great role models for your child.
How boys are different and what to do
Boys usually start potty training by sitting on the toilet to urinate; however, they eventually learn to stand up. I wasn’t sure how to teach this to my son so my husband was a big help. My husband picks my son up from daycare and brings him home. Once they take off their jackets and shoes, they would go to the bathroom. I could hear my husband downstairs showing and instructing my son on what to do.
If there is no husband or close male figure available, don’t worry, I personally know plenty of moms who potty trained their boys on their own.
Teach boys how to put toilet seat down now
One aspect of potty training that most people don’t talk about is teaching boys to put the toilet seat down. My husband always puts the seat down and has encouraged me, through his interactions with my son, to teach him as well. It makes it so much easier for the women and girls in the household. Don’t forget this part, boys can do it!
Accidents in bed
Although my son never peed in the bed, I was still prepared. The first night he slept in his underwear, I put bed wetting pads on the mattress. I remember being so nervous that night waking up every two hours to check if the bed was wet. The thought of my son sleeping in wet clothes all night made me feel uneasy.
I also had spare sheets ready to put on the bed in case of a bed wetting accident. The best way to ensure your child will be dry in the morning is to have them use the bathroom just before going to bed. Also, do not let them drink anything at least 2 hours before bedtime.
My Overall Experience
Potty training was a good experience once I accepted that there would be accidents and that my child needed to take time to learn this new skill. Having a schedule and plan of action in case of any mishaps was helpful was well. My son was fully potty trained around 30 months. He did a great job going through the process and so will your children!
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