On Friday morning, we started potty training Eleanor. By lunchtime she had it nailed. I’m not even joking with this. Want to know how we did it? (This is the spot where all the readers with grown or no children look for something more interesting and all the parents of babies and toddlers start paying rapt attention).
So here’s the breakdown: we potty train boot camp style. We’ve done it with both girls at 21 months old and it has rocked. Seriously.
The key is to make sure your kiddo is ready. If they aren’t ready then it really doesn’t matter what method you use because nothing is going to work. By ready I mean: does your kiddo show interest in the potty? Has he or she ever sat on the potty before and successfully used it (even just a drop or two of pee)? If not, you may want to let him play around with the potty chair or seat for a few days or weeks to get familiar with it. Let them see you use the toilet and then, if they show interest, let them trying using it too. Is your child capable of telling you when she needs to use the potty and are you capable of understanding her? It doesn’t matter whether your child uses words, sounds, gestures, sign language, whatever. As long as you can reliably and consistently understand what he is telling you and he can reliably and consistently tell you, then you’re good to go.
Step 1: choose a block of three days when potty training will be priority number one. Do not expect to get anything else done, other than eating and sleeping. Seriously. It is ideal to do this at a time when two adult caregivers are around, because you are going to need a break. (And wine. Don’t forget wine).
Step 2: Supplies. You’re going to need a potty of some sort. Whatever works for you and your setup. We use the Bjorn potty chair, but also have one of those little seats that goes on top of a big toilet (so the munchkin doesn’t fall in). I like the potty chair because even the littlest kids can get on and off of it on their own and, really, independence is what potty training is all about. Amirite? You’ll also need toilet paper and/or baby wipes nearby and something for cleaning up. Since we use cloth diapers, we just use our prefolds for mopping up messes. Some paper towels and a multi-surface cleaner finish off the job.
Step 3: Rewards. Praise and adulation. Jelly beans. Mini-marshmallows. Stickers. Chocolate chips. We have used various combinations of all of the above. Whatever works for you and your child. With Zoey, we started out with praise and stickers. We soon found we needed to up the ante to marshmallows for every pee and chocolate chips for every poop in the potty. Eleanor seemed to do just fine with plenty of praise although we have motivated with the occasional jelly bean.
Step 4: Set the scene. If it’s summer and you have a backyard, then by all means, use it! We live in Seattle so indoors it is. We have hard wood floors in the living room so we just rolled up the area rug and stashed it away and spread out shop towels on the couch and recliner. If you have linoleum or tile in your kitchen, that will work too. Just make sure you have plenty of toys and activities to keep your little one (and yourself!) entertained. You’re going to be there awhile. We have a stack of potty training books that we read (again and again and again) all day long.
The actual process: your child is going to spend the next three days with a naked bum. No underwear yet and definitely no pants. Socks and leg warmers (like Babylegs) work if it’s chilly. If it’s summer and plenty warm, go ahead and just let them be completely naked. Start out by telling you child ahead of time that potty training is coming. “In two more days we’re going to say bye-bye to diapers!” Keep reminding them so they get used to the idea. Then on the morning you start, begin with a celebratory “goodbye diapers!” Let the kiddo say bye-bye to the diapers if they want.
Head for your prepared potty training space and start playing with your kiddo. You’re going to want to encourage lots of liquids so they pee a lot. The more “hits” in the potty, the more the idea is cemented. Juice, water, popsicles, whatever it takes. The first time you see your kiddo start to pee, scoop him up and set him on the potty. Make a big production out of cheering and celebrating any pee that makes it into the potty (even just a drop or two). He’ll catch on to the idea real fast and soon start heading for the potty all on his own. We then wipe, dump the pee in the toilet, flush it and wash hands together. If you’re giving any kind of other reward, this would then be the time to do it. As I said before, praise was enough for Eleanor. However, she liked the idea of the potty so much that she just wanted to pee two drops at a time, go through the whole dump-flush-wash-celebrate cycle and then go pee two more drops, etc etc etc until the end of time. So we started occasionally rewarding with a jelly bean if she would let ALL the pee out at once. Worked like magic.
Some people who use this method choose to nap and night time potty train at the same time because they don’t want to confuse their child by allowing diapers while sleeping. We still diaper for nap and night and both of our girls seem to have had no problem understanding the distinction. Zoey still wears a pull-up at night. We allow pull-ups (or training pants) ONLY for sleeping. We do not use them at all for potty training. In my opinion, they feel exactly like a diaper, so why wouldn’t a child use it that way? I think they just confuse the child and prolong the process.
By the third day, you should be able to experiment with pants. Use loose-fitting, easy to pull down pants (no jeans). If your kiddo stays dry all morning, by afternoon you should be able to take a short (1 hour or so) trip away from home (possibly longer if you are going somewhere with a bathroom). We used our afternoon trip to take Eleanor to go pick out big girl underwear.
Things to note:
No matter what potty training method you use, your child will continue to have occasional accidents for awhile. This is normal. However, if they are only successfully using the potty once or twice a day and having multiple accidents, chances are your kiddo just quite ready yet for potty training. Shelf it for a few months and then try again.
Poop might take longer. They do it less often, so it makes sense. Don’t sweat it.
Yes, you can stop carrying diapers with you, but don’t ditch the diaper bag quite yet. You’re going to need it to carry an extra change of clothes (or two) with you everywhere for awhile.
Even after the three days are done and your kiddo is officially “potty trained,” you may want to consider letting them be naked below the waist or wear just underwear whenever you are at home for awhile. It makes it easier for them to make it to the potty in time, and decreases the risk for accidents. Besides, who doesn’t like hanging out at home in their underwear?
Finally, remember to keep your sense of humor with you (and wine. DON’T forget the wine!). You’ll need it. Good luck!