The following process is my own rendition of the potty training process spelled out in the Little Llamas blog (adapted from the book "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day"). This is the best technique I've found and worked like a charm for my little guy, Will. You can take parts of it, all of it or add your own spin on it. Either way, I hope it helps some Mommy or Daddy out there starting the potty adventure (see how I try to make it sound fun?)!
Okay, so I have to admit something. Part of me likes potty training. There's a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is I like a project. I like being challenged sometimes, specifically in parenting. It keeps me busy and keeps me humble because I often fail. But when I succeed (or in this situation BOTH of us succeed) it's thrilling! I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous before packing up all of Will's diapers and saying bye-bye, though. I think I wanted to cling to them more than he did. Not to mention I had to juggle a nursing seven-month-old baby girl as well. On the other hand, I knew he was ready. I could feel it. So I cleared out a weekend and decided to dig in.
My favorite thing I read about potty training that really encouraged me and ended up being the deciding factor for whether we should begin or not was that being ready is not the same as being interested. I had heard many times that if your child shows interest in the potty then you should immediately race to the potty and consider starting potty training right then and there. But if your child screams at the suggestion of sitting on the potty then they are definitely not ready. This was discouraging for me because months ago Will seemed excited by the idea of sitting on the potty, but the splendor of it all wore off pretty quickly, like most things with children. Even the days and weeks leading up to beginning potty training he burst into tears and screamed "No no no!" every time I suggested we go pee in the potty. So, my conclusion was "He's not ready!". But he was.
He knows when he's thirsty, hungry, tired, etc., so he could definitely grasp the concept of recognizing when he has to go. He can follow simple instructions like sit down on the couch, go get your juice or put that toy down. He has always been slow on communication, but I knew he could communicate well enough to say the important words. Even two-word sentences are quite a stretch for him right now, but we quickly taught him "I go potty" for when he needs to go and he already knew "pee-pee" and "poopy". So don't hold back from potty training just because your kid isn't a huge talker or is less than pumped about it. If you think they can handle it then they probably can.
Here's the key, though. You have to be fun, but firm. This was another thing that helped me a lot from the Little Llamas blog where I got my technique. I was scared to be too firm, too critical, too scary when it came to potty training my son, Will, for fear it would turn him off the whole idea and totally backfire. Plus, he's a strong-willed little guy and direct orders are often met with pure defiance or at least a little testing to see how serious I am. As most of us know, we have to prove to our kids how serious we are and if we take the neutral road it will probably not go well. Consistency is huge and firmness is imperative. Get them excited, praise and encourage them, jump up and down like a fool when they succeed, but be equally disappointed and firm when they fail. They're going to have accidents so expect it and do not necessarily punish it unless it's deliberate disobedience. But communicate to your kids that this is not what we do. They are a big kid now and big kids go in the potty NOT in their undies.
The night before Day 1:
We talked all about what was going to happen the next day. Like I said, Will is not much of a talker and even when he tries to talk it's often difficult to make out what he's saying. So it was mostly me talking and - I'll be honest - Will crying and fussing at the thought of sitting in the potty. But I continued to remind him how fun it was going to be to say "bye-bye" to diapers (which are for babies, by the way) and wear his big boy undies just like Daddy does.
When it came to myself I made sure my weekend was clear. I would not have to leave the house for any expected reason and even the next week wouldn't be super busy. It's not a good idea to start potty training right before a big trip, a move, a new baby arriving, going to day care or school for the first time, etc.
After he went to bed I got to work on prepping. I know many parents do not have the energy, time or patience to put this much work into potty training and I totally understand that. As I said, I like a project and can get a little carried away. Some parents don't need to do much because it wouldn't affect the child's response to the process. But I know my kid and I knew that if I made something fun and had some rewards set up for when he did well then he would get it, eventually. I think most kids respond well to a rewards system, so I do think it's a good idea to have a bag of M&M's handy or at least some organic animal crackers for those that are against giving candy to kids.
If you want to do something similar to what I did here's what you'll need:
- Big board (I got mine for $1.50 at Toys R Us)
- Five or six prizes (I hit up the $1 section at Toys R Us and Will was thrilled with everything)
- Big kid undies (it helps if you let them pick these out themselves, although I made the executive decision to get him Thomas undies and they were a hit)
- Some kind of treat (we did chocolate animal crackers since I knew we'd be giving out a lot of them the first day and they were healthier than candy)
- A bag to put all of the diapers into to send to a baby (because, you know, diapers are for babies)
- Markers to draw poop and pee charts
- Some stickers for your charts (we got 400 Cars stickers for $1 at Toys R Us as well)
- Pull-ups for naps and bedtime for the first few weeks
- Some kind of doll or stuffed animal that can wear undies
- If you want to do the "Who Wears Undies?" part of the board then you can cut out some kind of cartoon character wearing undies or use the Captain Underpants body I used here. You'll also need to cut out the heads of some family members and friends to place on the undies body.
Cut out your Captain Underpants bodies (it definitely does not have to be perfect since you're doing this for a toddler) and glue or tape on your family and friends' heads. That's a weird sentence. If you're like me you'll be laughing your head off the whole time you make these strange little figures and texting pictures to each Captain Underpants member. Hopefully, their sense of humor is as good as yours. On the sides you can do your poop and pee charts. I did them separately mainly because I anticipated a lot more battles with the pooping part with Will. I thought it would make more sense to him to see a whole side dedicated to pooping, complete with a picture, and he would have more fun putting extra stickers over there. Obviously, that's your call on how you want to handle that one. Will definitely enjoyed periodically pointing to the picture of the poop and laughing.
I got Elmo all dressed in his undies and my treat and prize box and bag ready to go. Once I had my bag for diapers labeled and plenty of undies ready I was set go!
Now it was suggested in the original blog to call family and friends the morning of Day 1 and ask them if they wore undies. You can make a big list of the people you know who wear undies and go in the potty. This is a great idea, but Will 1) hates talking on the phone and 2)probably grasped the concept better when it was done visually. Hence, the board of undies-wearing family members. I made sure to include all of the males in our family (uncles, cousins, grandpas, daddy). It was perfect timing since we had just returned from a trip to Philly where we visited all of these family members and their faces were very fresh in Will's memory. Plus, he had major respect for all of them, so I knew seeing them in undies would make the whole idea that much cooler to him (and hilarious - there was lots of giggling).
Day 1 of Boot Camp
Everything went more smoothly than I thought it would and we only had two accidents the whole day. This was mainly because I had my timer set for every 20 minutes for Will to sit on the potty, so we had very few chances to even pee in his undies.
We started the day watching Elmo's Potty Time, which he loved and it gave us lots of things to talk about afterwards. After that was over we went to the board and did step one - talked all about everyone we know that wears undies (specifically "big boy undies"). I also had a few family members and friends send us a video where they told Will all about the fact that they also wore undies, went in the potty, kept their undies dry, etc. He loved this and it was just that much more encouragement that he was about to start something awesome. We would also return to these videos throughout the weekend when he had accidents to remind him of what we were doing and give him a little boost. Have you iPad, computer, iPhone or whatever set up so you can return to them any time.
So after we finished our videos it was time to do step two - say goodbye to all of our diapers, including the one he was wearing. We rounded up all of his diapers in our paper bag and decided we should send them to his baby cousin, Kylah. We wrote her a note then step three - put on big boy undies!! I made a big deal about this and gave him a cookie (animal cracker) just for putting his big boy undies on. I replayed the crucial sentence of this process in my head "You have a child in underwear now. NO going back!". Scary, but good to remember. Also good to remember step four: keep lots of salty snacks and tasty drinks nearby to encourage drinking and, eventually, peeing. Let them drink all they want.
Then we did the whole exhausting process. Step five - every couple minutes I'd ask him if his undies were dry and praise him and occasionally give him a cookie for keeping them dry. This is the biggest deal. Dry undies are just as worthy of praise as going on the potty is. Continue the dry undies check every few minutes throughout the day. It'll be repetitive and you'll both be exhausted, but it'll work. Step six - we practiced over and over running to the potty with Elmo, pulling Elmo's undies down and letting him go pee (Will loved when I poured water behind Elmo's back to make it look like he was peeing. It was amazing how much this visual helped even if he knew it was pretend). Having a child teach someone or something else a concept is a great way to get them to learn it themselves. Step seven - after we'd done that a few times we practiced running to the potty again, but this time pulling Will's undies down and sitting on the potty. I had a whole stack of books in there and would let him sit for a minute or two looking at books to see if anything would happen. Then we would get up and practice running again from a different room in the house. Each time we would rehearse the line "I go potty" since that was about all Will could manage when it came to a full sentence. I also gave him a cookie each time we practiced to show how wonderful it was that he was sitting on the potty and trying to go pee-pee. He was a little tired of the running back and forth after a while, so I let up, but communicated to him that this was not an option. We had to practice because we had to go on the potty. Step eight - set a timer for every 20-30 minutes throughout the day and tell the child to go try and put some pee-pee or poop in the potty. If they have an accident, practice running to the potty some more. Have them feel the wet undies and clean up any mess on the floor themselves. Emphasize that we want dry undies NOT wet undies. If they go potty act like they just got into Harvard!!! Continue to reward them for sitting on the potty and especially for dry undies.
Will held it for a long time, but finally had an accident at 11:30 am. I was actually excited because it gave me an opportunity to show him my disappointment over the fact that his undies were no longer dry and correct him so that he understood the importance of going in the potty. He had his first success about an hour later right before nap time and all in all he ended the day with two accidents and six pees on the potty! Not bad for a first-timer! We made a really big deal every time he went on the potty and sprinted to our chart to put a sticker on the board. He loved that. He also got a cookie every time and one of the $1 prizes for the first time he went on the potty. I reserved the rest of the prizes for big stuff like first poop on the potty, first outing staying dry, first full day with no accidents, etc. You can customize that however you think would work.
Side note: The Little Llamas blog recommends using the big potty and not little potties partially because some kids just fit better on a big potty and public areas have big potties, so it's a good idea to get them used to that. I agree with this, but my little guy has gained about 4 pounds in just over a year, so fitting on the big potty was not happening. Plus, getting on the big potty terrified him. So I quickly pulled out our froggy potty and had much better success with that. I say if the thought of a big potty freaks your kid out then just go with the little one. They won't be going to college using their froggy potty (or whichever one you have). It might be a little inconvenient for a while (you may need to throw it in the back of the minivan for shopping trips), but if it gets them trained faster then you'll be glad you did!
The second day was rough. It started out pretty good, but it ended up being a roller coaster. One minute we'd have a huge success like going poop on the potty for the first time and the next minute we're peeing on the floor for the fourth time and I'm wondering if it's ever going to get through to him any time soon. The good thing was he was starting to get upset when he wet his undies, mostly from me showing him what a yucky thing it was to have wet undies. Otherwise, I don't think he would have cared too much. By the end of the day he had had six accidents, seven pees on the potty and one poop in the potty and we were both exhausted.
I woke up a little nervous about the day ahead of us, especially since we were going to have our first outing that day to church and Will had not convinced me the day before that he was quite ready for that. I contemplated keeping him home, but decided we should give it a try. He handled it like a champ! He peed in the church potty twice, which shocked me since it was a completely different potty and environment from what he was used to and only had a small accident right as we were about to walk out the door to go home. If he had just waited a couple more minutes he would have gone the whole time dry. But we celebrated his success nonetheless and had no accidents the whole rest of the day! Fantastic.
Even with no more accidents by that evening I was little discouraged because he had not gone to the potty completely on his own yet. I had always asked or told him to go and was still setting my timer for every 20-30 minutes. This is a great trick by the way because you can blame having to sit on the potty on the timer instead of Mommy or Daddy. "The timer said we have to so we better go potty!" You can even customize some timers from apps on smart phones to say what you want like "Potty time!". Anyway, I had visions of it being a year from now and still setting my timer and reminding Will to go potty every few minutes. I'm a little dramatic. No sooner had I started mentally fretting about this then I suddenly realized how quiet Will was. I turned to look for him in his play area and found him sitting all by himself like a big boy on the potty just peeing away! Now, remembering to pull his undies down first was another story, but I was definitely not going to major on the minor with that one. We did our happy potty dance and ran to the kitchen to put a sticker on our board, get a cookie, pick out a prize - that kid could have had all the candy he wanted in that moment. It had finally clicked. He recognized that he needed to go and went. I knew accidents weren't over and I still had my work cut out for me, but the largest hill had been climbed. Hooray!
Tip: If your little one is like my guy they might just want some privacy. Will had a hard time going when I was sitting next to him talking to him, reading him a book and waiting for him to go. Can you blame him? That's too much pressure for me too. Try stepping out of the room for a couple minutes and tell them to put some pee or poop in the potty before you come back. They might just surprise you and do just what you said!
A note about pull-ups: You'll need pull-ups for the first little while during naps and bedtime. Hopefully, you'll start noticing dry pull-ups in the morning and when they get up from their nap. If it's been months and they are still wet try limiting liquids and stressing how important it is to keep your "night-night undies" dry as well (that's what we call them to keep from associating them with diapers). I do not recommend using diapers during sleep times. Nor should you let the child stay in pull-ups at any time during the day other than sleep time. As soon as they wake up, pull-ups off, undies on. No exceptions. Make sure you take them potty right before and after they get up.
- Continue to remind child what to do when you go to new or public places after initial three training days. If you can, show them where the potty is and rehearse what they should say if they need to go.
- Always bring a change of clothes wherever you go for the first little while.
- Keep praising and encouraging child when they go in the potty even weeks after training. They will feel good knowing that they are still big and doing the right thing. We all need a little boost in self-esteem sometimes.
- Will had a hard time getting his undies down, bless his heart. Make sure you are always aware of where your child is so you can follow them into the bathroom if they head that direction. They may need a little help for a while before they can manage the whole process on their own.
- Aim is a tough thing to grasp as a little toddler, so start boys sitting down.
- Do not consider throwing in the towel even if it's day 3 or 4 or 5 and it still hasn't quite clicked with your child. Yes, it's possible they might not be ready and you can use your maternal instinct on that, but it's also possible they're waiting you out to see if this is just a phase. Especially if you're like me and have dabbled half-heartedly in potty training before this they may just be waiting for you to give up first. Our kids are smarter and more aware than we think and if you can just stay consistent and firm about the fact that the diapers are gone and our only option is the potty now it will really help your child understand.
- Back away from the rewards system shortly after you see things click with your child. They should still be praised and cuddled and kissed every time they succeed, but their motivation should slowly become the satisfaction of knowing they are now a big kid and no longer a diapered baby. :)
YOU BOTH CAN DO THIS!!!