You’re tired of dealing with diapers. The cost, the mess, the time. But are you ready to try potty training? That’s another question entirely.
I’ve found that when you ask most parents about their experience with potty training you are likely to hear a survival story hallmarked with stress, power-struggles, and poop somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be. One thing is for sure: parents don’t look back on potty-training with nostalgia.
The reality is: potty training is hard. At least, it is when you follow conventional practices.
When it came to potty training our kids, we took a different route, and, honestly, it was easy, it just took more time and a different mindset. I’m calling it “Slow and Steady Potty Training” and I’m happy to tell you what we did and didn’t do to potty train our two kids before they turned two-and-a-half with minimal stress, zero power struggles, and positive results.
(Poop still happened, but you can’t win it all.)
Popular Potty Training Strategies (and Why We Didn’t Do Them)
Let’s start off with what we didn’t do and why.
3 Day Potty Training
The 3 Day Potty Training boot camp seems to be the most popular method these days. It goes like this: plan for an intense weekend at home in which you will fill your child with fluids, then put her on and off the potty all day long. While some testify to its greatness, we chose against it for a few reasons.
Firstly, it sounded stressful. To dedicate an entire weekend to all-things-potty seemed overwhelming to me, and I can’t imagine how it would have seemed to our kids! I’ve heard stories where this approach backfired, too, likely due to the stress it put on all parties. I wasn’t interested in putting any of us through that.
Secondly, I feel like it isn’t completely natural. Children learn best through consistent repetition, and I felt like this method expects a lot of young ones. We wouldn’t expect an adult to train for a 5K in a weekend; why do we push our kids to master this physical skill in three-days time?
The 3 Day Potty Training method did not appeal to me in any way.
Bribes and Charts
Though increasingly popular, I knew early on that I was not going to bribe my children with candy or sticker charts. Bribes, in general, don’t sit well with me. I don’t like to offer rewards to my children because I believe it directly interferes with motive. I want my children to use the potty because they are respecting their bodies and learning to become more independent, not because they get to put a sticker on a chart or nom on sugar.
The bribe method also becomes problematic if the kid fixates on the prize. What if they lie and say they have to go just so they can secure the candy?What happens when the M&Ms go away? I wasn’t going to find out.
On a more practical note, I didn’t want to have to travel everywhere with treats or stickers in my pocket. I found that though many parents utilize them, bribes and charts felt restricting to me and they didn’t fit my parenting philosophy.
Waiting Until the Child is Ready
Some people will advise to wait until a child is “ready” to potty train. The Mayo Clinic suggests that a child may be ready if…
- He can walk and sit on a toilet
- Pull down his pants and pull them up
- Stay dry for up to two hours
- Understand and follow basic instructions
- Communicate when he needs to go
- Seems interested in using the toilet
Is it any surprise, then, that most parents don’t start potty training until their child is around age three?
The problem with waiting that long, though, is that parents are choosing to introduce potty training right when their kid is developmentally programmed to push boundaries and assert his independence.
Read: power struggles.
I did not want to fight with my kids every hour and a half about using the potty. Besides, I knew from research that some people begin putting their kids on their potty during infancy, and cultures around the world potty train their children far earlier than Americans.
Waiting until the child is ready is probably too late.
Slow and Steady Potty Training
We took an entirely different approach with Slow and Steady Potty Training. I didn’t follow any plan, I didn’t read any books, I didn’t panic, and I honestly didn’t even try that hard. And yet, it worked.
Levi was fully potty trained before he turned two and a half, and Lucy, who has been using the potty since she was six months old, has a lot of potty training down at age two. (She can’t get on the toilet herself yet and still has accidents, but that’s more on me than her — I often forget to take her if she hasn’t gone in an hour or so.)
We potty trained our kids with almost no stress, no power struggles, and my kids are entirely proud of their ability to use the potty.
Here’s what we did.
Use cloth diapers
We did not use cloth diapers for the purpose of easier potty training, but it was surely a benefit! Cloth diapers are less absorbent than their artificially contrived counterparts, meaning that a child can feel the sensation of wetness against her body more readily. This makes potty training easier because they associate the bodily function with the sensation.
Put baby on a potty seat during diaper changes
When Levi was about one and when Lucy was a few months old, I began putting them on a potty seat when I changed their diaper (I wasn’t interested in cleaning two potties, so I opted for a seat that sat on our toilet). I would ask, “Do you have to pee?” and let them sit there a minute, smiling and chatting with them and giving them a chance to try.
If they didn’t go, no big deal – I’d say something like, “You didn’t have to go pee this time, that’s ok!” and put a new diaper on. But if they did go, I made a big deal about it! (More on that in a minute.)
I did not do it every single time we changed a diaper, but when I could, I did. It honestly did not take a ton of time — in fact, it saved time when they went, because I could delay the next diaper change an hour or so! What this did was establish using the potty as a norm, not as a special event. It also gave them the language to understand what was happening to their body.
By the time Lucy was sixteen months old, she was telling us she had to use the potty. I credit it to our slow and steady process.
Celebrate potty use
When Levi or Lucy peed or pooped on the potty, we celebrated. “Woohoo! Way to go! I’m so proud of you!” Even when Lucy was a baby, she would respond with delight at our enthusiasm over a tiny tinkle.
We also would brag about our kids’ potty use to each other – “Daddy, did you know that Levi pooped on the potty today? Amazing!” – and when our kids were verbal, I would encourage them to tell Daddy or Grammy or whoever was around. Lucy still will proudly proclaim, “I pooped on the potty!” to whoever will listen.
In this way, the kid were motivated to use the potty because it made them feel proud and because they felt good, not because of an external reward.
Use the bathroom in front of the kids
We personally have a family culture of open doors. Our children have seen us go to the bathroom a thousand times, and I’m sure that watching us made using the potty more natural for them.
Children like to mimic what adults do, from mowing the lawn to talk on the phone; using the bathroom is no different. We especially realized this when Levi was about two, and he refused to sit to pee because he wanted to “pee like Daddy.”
I suppose, in retrospect, we were potty role models!
Give the child plenty of time to learn
There was no rush for us to potty train our kids. We did start them young, compared to most people’s standards, and this worked in our favor: we got them used to it before they decided they didn’t like it, and we gave them lots of opportunities to try and fail.
Sure, there are accidents. Just today, Lucy peed on the hardwood floor. She told us about it, though, and helped to clean it up. But she, at two years old, is wearing panties and regularly pooping and peeing on the potty and delights in her independence. She’s much further along in the process than many of her peers, and it’s simply because we’ve taken the time to teach her.
Giving our children the gift of time made potty training less overwhelming.
Utilize diapers as needed
Some potty training materials will advise parents to throw away diapers while potty training. This was not necessary for us, seeing as our children still needed diapers for most of the day while they were learning and I wasn’t ready to clean the floors every day!
While our kids loved to wear underwear, we continued to utilize diapers for nap time and overnight, as well as if we are traveling in the car for a long period of time or know a potty isn’t readily available (like while hiking).
Diapers are not the enemy. They’re helpful, at times, and if you’re potty training your child patiently, there’s no need to give up on them prematurely.
Additional Tips for Potty Training
Slow and Steady Potty Training worked great for our family, but I know this style isn’t ideal for everyone. Regardless of how you decide to potty train, here are some tips that can help you, as the parent, make the process easier.
Just like most developmental stages, potty training is a process. It is important to know that your child will need time and experience to master this skill. It’s important to be patient.
Kids pick up on our emotions. If we are stressed about potty training, they will be too! Do your best to stay calm during every step of the process, from introducing the potty to dealing with accidents.
When it comes to potty training, you are the one who has to take initiative. Waiting for your child may be problematic until he’s figured it all out.
Instead of asking, “Do you have to go potty?” or, less effective, “Do you want to go potty?” put a smile on and say, “Let’s go potty!” or, “I have to go potty, come with me, we can go together.” Be, of course, respectful of your child and recognize that he may not have to go. But in our experience, they often do and just didn’t realize it!
Accidents happen. Struggles occur. Potty training doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to be realistic about the time, energy, and attitude it requires to potty train. If you’re not, you’re setting you and your child up for failure.
Potty training can be frustrating, but if you are able to remain positive, it’s likely your child will, too. Use positive language, put a smile on; celebrate victories, and let accidents roll off your back. At all costs, avoid shaming your child during the learning process. Your child will best learn how to use the potty when they have you as a cheerleader by their side!
Best of luck!