I am on day 5 of potty training our youngest child, who turned 3 almost two months ago. I'll admit I was hesitant to get started with this process since it does initially mean less freedom than diapers, more stops when you're out and about, more accidents to clean up, more laundry than there already is, etc... I'm going to assume you may be procrastinating for these same reasons perhaps? However, the upside is more independence for your toddler, more sense of accomplishment and pride, less money spent on diapers and less waste for the environment. Plus, potty training is one of those things that does have to happen at some point, so here are some of my tips for making it as enjoyable as it can be for both parents and child.
The Older, the Better:
I personally like to wait until after the 3rd birthday to begin potty training, but every child is different. By this age kids typically communicate better and have more control of their bodily functions, meaning they can go longer without potty breaks every 15 minutes like the younger ones. My first two kids started potty training at 2 and a half (a girl and a boy), and it took months for them to completely be accident free. My last two kids (both of them boys) were 3 and a few months when I started and within days they both were almost completely trained. And the quicker they pick up on it, the less chance of messes, and the more patient mommy and daddy can be during the process. Win, win!
2. There is no PERFECT TIME, but there are BETTER times than others:
I had recently been studying for 6 months for a difficult exam, which I passed last Saturday - Hallelujah!! I am now a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (whew - that's a mouthful!) Boy, am I glad to have that behind me! But, that was taking up all of my brain space...plus, coupled with the holiday season, especially Christmas, I just knew I had to wait until that was over to be in the proper head space to take on this project with my little one. I would not have been patient or given him my best during that time, and I knew to wait for both of our good. I gave it a full week (to decompress) between the exam and beginning the training.
3. The Child should show some READINESS:
Let me tell you, this little one showed ZERO signs of interest in the potty, toilet or underwear until this past Friday when I mentioned to him casually that he could wear underwear like his big brother, who he really looks up to - that's literally all it took that day to get him to wear underwear that he had never wanted to wear before. Also, it turns out he prefers the big toilet with a step stool to the little potty we've had for him for a while that he still hates.
4. Try to tie in some things of INTEREST to your child:
This one really likes "Siren Head", you'll have to google it, it's a weird craze...so we called the big toilet "Big Siren Head" and he suddenly had an interest in it - literally all on that same Friday afternoon! I wasn't necessarily ready to give up our long, 3-day weekend to potty train at home, but I also couldn't pass up his new interest and readiness in him to train!
5. Everyone loves INCENTIVES:
Keep it simple here, folks! I started with the tiny potty training chart with stickers (and I do mean it was miniature sized) that came with his Baby Shark underwear I had bought for him months ago. So, he gets a little sticker for each step of the process : "told mommy I had to use the potty," "sat down on the potty," "did my business in the potty," "flushed the potty," "washed my hands." Yes, a sticker for each step completed. After we filled up the little one, I printed a free chart that was available online and I taped it next to the toilet. I did purchase those little fluorescent circle stickers at the grocery store to use with our new chart. He REALLY enjoys putting the stickers on the chart each time he goes in the toilet, and he doesn't like stickers in general either. I don't care if he puts the sticker in the right spot on the chart, just that he knows he's being rewarded by getting to put the sticker on the paper!
*I personally do not believe in rewarding with food or candy, for anything. I know it can be an effective way to alter behavior, but I do think it anchors food as a reward for life. As a personal trainer I've seen firsthand how challenging (nearly impossible) that can be to overcome well into adulthood.
6. The POSITIVES of the SMALL POTTY:
Right now, my little guy is doing great holding his business long enough for me to get him to the big toilet, but the toddler potties are great for those kids who prefer them. With my older kids, I used to just move the potty with us from room to room wherever we were playing so it was never far in case they had trouble holding it as soon as they felt the urge to go. Usually the urge comes to them right before it's about to come out, so a close potty can be great for that. Also, some kids hate to break away from play and have accidents just because they didn't want to break their current play. Eventually they grow out of this, but it's super convenient in the beginning. I also used to take the potty in the center of my minivan everywhere I went. You never know if they can make it to a potty in time if you are on the road. Bring some Arm & Hammer diaper disposing bags (if you still have them) to dispose of number 2's on the road. Peepee is an easier mess to dispose of.
7. Be PREPARED:
Mentally first, but practically as well. Bring at least 1 bag of a full outfit change for toddler with wipes and a full-sized towel everywhere you go. I'd keep a second one in the car in case you leave in a hurry one day and forget that first bag! Don't forget shoes too! You'd be surprised at how many items can get wet with an accident.
I've always used plastic training underpants (Gerber sells them) that they wear over their underwear when leaving the house. It really does help to contain the mess. However, due to shipping delays mine haven't arrived yet, and I'm finding I really like just doubling up on the padded training underwear for going out. It's definitely more comfortable for the little ones and the double padding really helps to contain excess wetness.
8. Be PATIENT:
I know we are human, and it can be draining to clean up accident after accident, but this is a HUGE milestone for a child and they've only ever known to just go when they have to go. If you feel you've started training too soon, whether your child is just not getting it yet, or you are overly frustrated, you may want to wait a while (even a few months) and revisit it. Remember that children progress very rapidly, and something that is not clicking today could click in another month much more smoothly.
Currently, I'm taking him to the toilet right before bed and then putting on a diaper OVER his underwear. I still want him to feel the underwear at all times as not to confuse him with just going in a diaper anytime like before. The diaper is only to control the clean up of some nighttime accidents for now. I don't limit liquids at any time either. That one is up to you. Now, he tells me during the day that he has to go peepee, or when I ask him he will say "no" or "yes." Up until last night the diaper was full in the mornings, but last night he fussed at 12:30 a.m. and I took him to the toilet and he went, and then again at 5:20 a.m. That was our first dry night, but that is amazing for this stage. Hopefully, he will keep that up, but regressions are also completely normal. Again, if your child likes the small potty, keeping it next to his or her bed is a great option for quick relief at night.
10. EXPERIENCE is everything:
I can tell you that we are a lot more relaxed with our current 4th child than we were with our 1st. We have 3 successes under our belts now and we know it is only a matter of time before this one is dry all the time. Also, we are looking very forward to being a diaper-free family once again!
Wherever you are on this journey, whether this is your first time and you're searching up everything you can on potty training, or it's been a while and you just needed a refresher course - YOU CAN DO THIS!! I wish you the BEST OF LUCK as you approach this very special time in your child's (and your) life!