How We Survived Potty Training


I always hoped that Max would be potty trained between two and a half and three years old, but once I got pregnant I the “hope” quickly became a “had to.”  Having two in diapers was something that I just didn’t have any appetite for if I could help it, and I knew Max was pretty close to being ready.

When we were ready to start, I asked other parents what worked for them, and everyone had different but super helpful advice.  I don’t think there’s any one tried and true method for every kid, but I wanted to share a few things that were helpful for us.

We tried going naked for most of the weekend and it didn’t seem to be super impactful one way or the other, so I didn’t include in my tips below, but it does lend itself to lots of opportunities for cute baby bum photos.
  1. We waited until Maxwell showed signs he was ready. The one and only bit of advice my mom gave me about potty training was that it isn’t worth pushing the issue until the child is ready, otherwise you’ll just drive yourself crazy trying to force it. I don’t think there was any particular magic technique that we used for working with Max, but I did heed my mom’s advice and I’m so glad that I listened because our potty training was over pretty quickly and Max was pretty much 100% within a week.  Encourage your child to use the toilet (even on an inconsistent basis) without forcing the issue and start reading them some books about it, and hopefully they will eventually start showing signs of interest and asking to go.  For us, this was the trigger for us for Max.
  2. We made sure the whole team is on board.  There should be buy in from mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, teachers at daycare, and anyone that the child is around on a regular basis.  It really does take a village, and everyone in your child’s life should be actively supporting the process.  We started Max’s potty training on a Saturday, and his teachers at school encouraged us to only send Max to school with underwear the next week.  They were ready and willing to help with the process, and didn’t mind dealing with the messes when they happened.  By Thursday of that week, there were no more accidents.  I largely credit Max’s school with making the process so easy for us.
  3. We used positive reinforcement.  We used all positive methods of reinforcement to encourage Max’s successful potty training.  In my parent pooling, some parents used Cheerios, M&M’s, and one even had a little treasure chest of tiny gifts that the child could pick from (like you’d see at a doctor’s office).  We created a sticker chart that we posted on the refrigerator and let Max pick a new sticker each time he went to the bathroom, and he loved working toward filling the page. (I admit we also used pieces of candy (bigger than an M&M).  I know that’s not for everyone, but he eats enough healthy foods that we are OK with him having candy sometimes.)  When Max did have an accident, we never scolded him or reacted in a significant way other than to encourage him to go to the potty sooner next time.  He is usually more upset at himself if he has an accident, and we don’t want anything about this experience to be negative for him.
  4. Got new “toys” to make going to the potty easier and more fun.  When Max was about a year and a half old, we started him out with this kiddie potty that looks just like the real deal, and he loved playing with it.  It was in his bathroom and each night we encouraged him to try to go before he got his bath.  Over time it became a routine for him that he looked forward to each night.  The bottom comes out for easy cleaning, it has a space for wipes in the top, and the handle makes a real flushing sound that makes it fun for kids to play with. 
  5. Once we got down to the serious training, its easier if they can actually make it on to the potty themselves so I bought this step stool and kids seat combo.  The little toilet seat fits right into your existing seat and gives kiddos handles to hold onto as they step up.  It is really lightweight, folds flat and sits against the wall when not in use.   Max can actually grab it folded up, put it on the toilet and get it ready all by himself already!  And finally to make washing hands easier, I bought a two-pack of non-slip step stools.  Each of the items above were all around $30, and I’ve included the links right to Amazon in this post.We didn’t isolate ourselves to our house.  Unless you plan on just staying home for the next few years, they will eventually need to learn to use the bathroom in public too.  We pushed the envelope and took Max out to the farmers market on his first day, and he actually did OK.  Just take a pack of wipes and change of clothes in a plastic bag as backup and go for it (using that plastic bag to hold the accident clothes if needed.) If it makes you feel better, take a diaper along just in case too.
  6. (Eventually) let Max feel like he was in control.  Maybe this one isn’t for everyone, but I felt like Max did better at potty training when he felt like he was the boss.  On the second day of training for us we attempted to make him try to go to the bathroom every 20-30 minutes.  After the first few tries, it became a disaster and he started fighting us.  He was annoyed, felt pressured, and seemed to take a few steps back that day.  The next day at school they just let Maxwell tell them when he needed to go, and he did just fine.

Its not to say we don’t have an occasional accident here or there, but the whole process went much more smoothly than I had anticipated, and I’m not nearly as freaked out now about toilet training baby number two when she’s old enough. 

Good luck, and please comment below to share any tips you may have for other readers!

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