Step 1: Assess your child's readiness.
There are lots of websites that give you a long checklist about how to tell if your child is ready to be potty trained. If you want qualified advice, go read one of those. Here is my checklist:
- Is your child at least 2? Don't bother before that. They're too little to pull their pants up or down, they can't climb on the potty, and no one outside your home will even think to take a kid that small to the potty while at the gym or church or wherever.
- Have you ever changed your sweet little girl's diaper and thought, "there is no way that came from a child?" Adult-like poop needs to go in the toilet.
- Has your child ever used any words to tell you that he/she was wet, needed a new diaper, or pooped? If you can articulate that there is poop or pee on your behind, you can figure out how to use the potty.
- Is your child willing to sit on the potty (at least once)? Although you can push it if you have to, this is easier if you don't have a fight to sit down every single time.
- Are YOU really ready to do this? Does your child need to be trained to attend school? You probably need to force the issue a little bit. Are you trying to fit this in before vacation or because your mother asked why that child is still in diapers? You can wait until later for that. Potty training is MUCH easier when you are not incredibly invested in it being a success right now. It is MUCH easier when your kid thinks it is his or her idea. It is MUCH easier when you no longer worry about pee on your furniture or carpet. The calmer and less frustrated you are, the more likely you are to succeed quickly.
Almost every American man, woman and child will get at least 1 three-day weekend during the year. Labor Day, Memorial Day, MLK Day, and President's Day are all good options. You need three days. Pick your least favorite holiday/extra day off to sacrifice to potty training. Your child has to be between 2 and 3 years old during one of them and, let's face it, you have a small child and do not have fabulous plans for every three-day weekend of the year. I warn you that it will not be fun. You will have the worst long weekend of your life that does not involve tequila and Border Patrol agents. One other thought; if your kid says she's ready right now and it is a random Tuesday, just go with it. My easiest kid to train informed me one Thursday afternoon that it was now time to wear "unnerwears." So we did, even though 15 minutes later there was a puddle on the floor. Three days after that there were no more pee accidents, so in my book it was worth it even though that Friday was a little dicey.
Step 3: Go shopping. You need three (maybe 4) things:
- Underwear that you let your kid pick out. You probably need 8-10 pairs. Our daughter chose princesses. Our first son chose Mickey Mouse. Our second son chose DC comics characters. Anything will do as long as your kid really likes them--it can be motivating to tell your kid not to pee on Superman. I did not use the ones with extra padding (training pants) because I wanted my kids to be really uncomfortable when they were wet.
- A potty seat or potty chair of some sort. We have a plain white one that goes on the big toilet that is sort of cushion-y. Those pee guards for boys just kind of get in the way so if you get one, make sure it can come off if it annoys you or your child. We also have a separate potty chair that we used some but it is really gross to clean out and I still had to convince the kid to transition to the big toilet later, so consider what you would prefer when buying.
- A step stool of some sort to help your child climb up on the toilet.
- A potty book (optional). Any book your kid loves will do, but we bought a special potty book to entice our kids to sit on the potty. It worked better with some kids than others.
Step 4: Set the stage.
The day before Potty-Gate goes down tell your kid that the doctor said that he/she was too old to use diapers and that tomorrow we are going to start wearing big boy/girl underwear and using the potty (again, this is MUCH easier if your child is on board before hand). Then get rid of the diapers. Put them in your closet. Hide them with the Christmas ornaments. This is cold turkey potty training and you won't be needing them again. This is also a good time to choose your child's success treat to use after every poop/pee in the potty. A lot of people use M&Ms. I did not because I would have eaten all of them myself even if I did not pee in the potty. With my son (who loves music) we did a dance after every success. With my daughter (who loves adoration) we clapped and cheered. Our third child is more of an "act like you've been there before" kind of a kid and he didn't want us to make a big deal out it. So we just smiled and told him he did a great job and that we were proud of him. Pick what your kid would like.
Step 5: Potty Train Your Kid
- Day 1: Put your kid in underwear, give him a lot of something he likes to drink, and make him sit on the potty every hour. Don't sit there forever--it can be just a minute. Tell your kid up front that you're going to the potty at the end of this episode of Curious George, after we finish breakfast, before nap time--whatever it is, just make sure you set that expectation. Expect your kid to pee on you a lot. My husband put towels on the sofa while our son watched TV. We played outside a lot so that the pee just helped water our grass. We tried to direct the children toward the areas of our house without carpet--of course, they just peed on the rugs, but we tried. This first day, one of our kids peed or pooped in their pants 13 times and peed in the potty once. One of our kids had two total pee accidents ever (there were poop and nighttime ones so don't be too jealous). You just never know. It is common for a child to sit on the potty and do nothing, then get up and immediately pee all over your kitchen floor. Do not expect success on this day. Expect frustration, exasperation, and disgusting messes.
- Day 2: Do it all over again. If your kid starts to have some success with actually peeing in the potty, you can have them go every hour and a half instead of every hour. Otherwise, just stick to the same plan as yesterday. Remember to make a big deal out of every success, whether that is dancing, candy, or whatever your kid likes. Do not expect much more success than you had yesterday. Do expect to get mad at your spouse.
- Day 3: Do it all over again, again. Keep track of how many successes vs. messes there are each day. You should be able to see some mathematical improvement by the end of this day. It may not be much, but it should be there. One of our kids went from 7% to 55% in these three days. That is still peeing on oneself half the time, but it was much better than the first day. If your child has not improved at all, reassess and try again at the next boring long weekend. If you are having successes, you can extend your potty time to every 2 hours instead of every hour. I know. I really know how to enjoy a holiday weekend, right?
This sounds counter-intuitive, but I think it matters. Assume that on Day 4, you're finished. Treat your kid like he or she is potty trained. Point out how proud you are that she learned to use the potty this weekend. Take your child to the potty first thing in the morning and every two hours after that. Also, keep an eye out for "natural" times to go--like after lunch or before you leave the house. If your child is in daycare this part is easy because they will do it for you. When you do leave the house, make sure you have two extra outfits, a towel, and a plastic bag for wet clothes. I kept a towel in the car seat just so I wouldn't have to wash the cover in case of an accident. Expect some success and some humiliating public urination. There is a display doll house at our local Pottery Barn Kids that will never be the same. I hope they gave one heck of a discount on that thing. Keep this routine up until you don't really remember the last time you got peed on, although by then you probably only need one extra outfit that lives in your car.
- What if my kid doesn't want to sit on the potty when it's time? Make it fun with books he loves or let her carry a doll that she can teach to use the potty. Also, you can use tactics like saying, "o.k, you don't have to go potty now, but we're not going to read books/play toys/watch TV until after potty time." Switch up your coercion methods to keep her interested. I have used everything I can think of except offering new toys or food. Those two items are expensive and gross, respectively. Your child is trying to keep control, so give him as much as you can while still getting him to obey you.
- How do you deal with accidents? Don't make your child feel bad. They really don't know exactly what to do. Having said that, it is totally fine to make clean up as annoying and time consuming for your kid as possible. I would sit my child on the potty while I dealt with the dirty clothes (they went straight into the washing machine to be run at the end of the day) and cleaned up most of the mess on the floor (if there was one). Then I would go back to my child and wash her off with a washcloth and get new clothes on. I would also expect her to "help" clean up the mess I left at the accident site. Finally, we went back to the bathroom to wash our hands. I tried to make this take a much longer time than going to the potty would so that my kids would begin to get that it was easier to go potty than to have to clean up an accident. In addition to keeping control, kids don't want to go potty because they want to keep playing. This is your opportunity to show them that they get to play more if they use the potty.
- What if my child pees in the potty, but keeps pooping on himself? Just keep trying. You will probably have to follow your kid around to make sure that he isn't sneaking off to poop in his pants. One of my kids didn't do this at all. One of them did it often and in horrible locations and after eating something that resulted in loose stool. One of them did it occasionally but really only in new settings (being watched by someone else, for instance). It can be maddening, but try to remain calm. Tell him that if he has to go, he needs to sit on the potty. He will get it eventually, but you may have to clean up a lot of poop. You may also have to encourage pooping with prune juice or a children's laxative if your kid holds it for days to avoid having to go on the potty. It won't last forever and, honestly, cleaning up poop is usually easier than cleaning up pee so don't stress out too much about it.
- What about training at night? It depends on the kid. If your child is waking up dry most mornings, you can just go ahead and start using underwear. Remind her not to wet the bed and tell her goodnight. I did not start this immediately, but rather waited until about 1-2 weeks after we started training just for my own personal sanity. There is only so much pee I can touch in one week and all kids will wet the bed at some point. If your child does not wake up dry most mornings, you can wake him up in the middle of the night to go. One of my kids refused to wear the pull-up one night 5-6 days into potty training so we went with that. This shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks and you should have a completely potty trained kid within 2-3 weeks or so of starting. Still expect to change the sheets every now and then--it's not a failure or a regression, but probably the result of being tired or going through a growth spurt of some sort. Some kids will have a harder time with this and you can ask your pediatrician for more ideas if that is the case.
- What about using pull-ups? For the most part, I think that pull-ups hurt your cause, but I can also see their benefits. I did use them at night until I was ready to face wet sheets. I also used them for extenuating circumstances. For instance, our newly trained daughter informed me that she would wait until she got home from vacation to use the potty. Since we were on the North Shore of Oahu at the time and our home is in Atlanta, I insisted she wear a pull-up. She continued her resistance onto the plane, through our layover in Chicago, and on into the ATL. To her credit, she did actually hold it the entire 17 hours. So if your kid is a flower girl in your brother's wedding and it is day 8 of your potty training, a pull-up may not be a horrible idea. However, if you think that every time you leave the house is an extenuating circumstance your kid is never going to be potty trained.