Toddlers: Potty Training

Let me say right off the bat that my potty training history is a bit murky.  I don’t think I ever really had a big plan with my first two children.  We just sort of went with the flow (no pun intended).  I would buy a potty chair and let the kids live with it in the bathroom for a while.  I didn’t push it at all.  When they wanted to sit on it, I encouraged them.

When he turned two years old, my oldest son Aidan potty trained in 2 days without an issue.  Claire was nearly potty trained at 2½ when Dominic was born, but then she regressed.  I had a new baby and sleep deprivation to attend to so I didn’t worry about her potty training.  When she was nearly 3 she announced one day that she wasn’t going to wear diapers anymore and she didn’t.  I think she had one accident and that was it.  I’m talking about day training here.  Both Aidan and Claire slept in nighttime pull-ups until they were dry in the morning, then we got rid of them.  They were both about 4 or 5.

I thought Dominic would be like his older siblings, but of course not.  What was I thinking? Dominic liked wearing diapers.  He didn’t see any reason to pee in the toilet if he could just go in his pants.  I mean, his pants were right there.  This is when I started to read what my favorite parenting writers said about the subject.  Attachment advice ranges from “don’t do anything; it’ll eventually happen naturally” to creating a big potty plan complete with games and potty parties.

We got him the potty books and videos, and tried to make a big party out of going to the potty, but he didn’t buy it.  Dr. Sears says in his “Baby Book” that when it comes to potty training, late is better than early.  But then the 3 year mark passed, and still he wasn’t day trained.  Late was getting really late.  Dr. Sears suggests that at this point you can use the “running out of diapers” approach.  You show the child that there are only 10 diapers left, and then you count down as they disappear.  When you get to one diaper, you make sure the child knows that’s it.  So we tried this.  Dominic just went in his pants.

This is when we, I regret to report, resorted to the old reward measures.  Star charts didn’t work.  He liked his diapers more than stars.  We tried giving him a jelly bean every time he used the potty.  Nope.  He looked at me like “That’s it? A jelly bean?”  One reward that did work:  We made a 7-day chart with the first 6 days blank.  The 7th day had a picture of Chuck E. Cheese.  We said if he could go 7 days without an accident we would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.  Each day that he succeeded, we put a smiley face on the chart.  Guess what?  It worked.  For that first week.

I’m honestly not sure how he ever became trained.  I know that as his 4th birthday passed, he was still not trained, but at some point he decided he didn’t like the mess in his pants.  Now he’s a boy of 6 both day and night trained.  (Though he does like to wear his pants backwards).  Don’t ask me how we did it.  I thought he’d be wearing diapers in college.

Given my track record with Dominic, I perhaps have no right to offer potty training advice, except maybe to suggest putting slipcovers on your sofa.  However here’s what wiser folks suggest.

1)      Make sure your toddler is really ready:  Watch for signs of potty readiness.  Is she interested in the potty or what you’re doing there?  Does she tell you when she’s wet or poopy, or does she start taking off her diaper when she’s soiled?

BabyBjorn Potty Chair

2)      Set the stage:  Get a potty chair and some fun books or videos on potty training.  Show your toddler how the potty chair works using a doll.  We had a Baby Alive type doll with Dominic that would pee right into the potty.   After buying all sorts of fancy potty chairs for my older 3, my favorite potty chair is the no-frills one I have for Lydia.  It’s the BabyBjorn potty.  It has a deep seat, a high back, and it’s easy to clean.  Some of our favorite potty books:  The Potty Book for Girls and The Potty Book for Boys by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, My Big Girl Potty and My Big Boy by Joanna Cole, and You Can Go to the Potty by William and Martha Sears.

3)      Help your toddler make the pee to potty connection:  Watch for signs that he needs to go (squatting or sitting in the corner), then ask him “Do you need to go potty?  Let’s go potty!”  Then take him to the potty.  If he produces, make a big fuss about it – dance around and sing songs.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

4)      Dress for success:  Make training easier by dressing her in stretchy pants that she can pull down herself.

Bare bottom training is also an option.  In summer weather, you can bring the potty chair outside and let your toddler run around bare bottomed.  At some point, he’ll produce and he’ll see what happens when he pees or poos.  You can show him that the pee or poo goes in the potty.

Lydia turned 2 in January and she’s nearly potty trained.  She has been interested in the potty chair for many months and she’s recently been going into the bathroom and going potty herself, but still not consistently.  I ask her every few hours if she needs to go potty.  If we have a warm day, I let her go bare bottomed outside and that definitely helps.  No rewards or bribes.  Just lots of encouragement, cheering, and potty celebrations.

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet (

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