Potty Training: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

image: Todd Morris, Flickr. CC license.

After many years of diapers in my house, I now have three potty-trained kids. As my family celebrated this milestone, it dawned on me that each of my children potty trained differently. All three children became successful in accomplishing this milestone in their own time and at different stages; the only common factor was that they all reached that success when they were ready. So, while every child is unique, read on below to find some helpful tips I learned throughout this process.

Potty training readiness

Most children will show signs of potty-training readiness somewhere between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old. Even if kids show a lot of signs at 18 months, it is unlikely that they will have the bladder or bowel control to be successful. I recommend waiting until age 2 to begin the process and look for some of the signs below.

  • Child lets the caregiver know that the diaper needs to be changed.
  • Child goes to another room or location to have a bowel movement.
  • Child can pull pants up and down.
  • Child shows an interest in wearing underwear.
  • Child uses the potty consistently at a set time of day.
  • Child wakes up from naps or overnight sleep with a dry diaper.
  • Child goes several hours during the day with dry diapers.
  • Child has bowel movements at a similar time each day.

Technique

Because every child is unique, there is no specific technique for potty training that works for all children, but here are a few recommendations for approaching potty training.

  • Stock up on potty-training essentials when the child begins showing signs of readiness so that you are prepared if they suddenly decide they are done with diapers.
    • Two packages of underwear
    • Small potty (It is preferable for kids to be able to place their feet on a flat surface while learning to use the potty. Also, it is helpful to be able to move the potty if needed).
    • Depending on the child’s attention span, some small toys that stay in the bathroom may be helpful for learning to have bowel movements in the potty.
    • Small incentives
      • Stickers
      • Small candies
    • Empower your child
      • Let your child be a part of the decision when to start, and if possible, let him or her decide.
      • Let your child do as much as possible without assistance. Ask your child if you can help him or her before automatically doing it. This approach may get a little messy but in the long run it is very helpful.
      • Instead of rushing a child to the bathroom if an accident looks evident, rush the potty to the child.
      • If the child is in a bed at naptime, leave a small potty in the child’s room and remind them that it’s OK if they need to use it.
    • Stay positive and be consistent while still being flexible.
      • Offer immediate praise for any amount of success, even if it’s just that the child made it to the bathroom but not the toilet.
      • Give gentle reminders with praise if needed.
      • Avoid constant reminders as it can create anxiety.
      • Consider avoiding pull-ups or training pants. It’s good to fully commit to potty training and try to be home for the first day if possible. Switching between pull-ups and underwear can be confusing for kids.
      • Be willing to give up and try at a later date if it’s too stressful.
      • Have an open dialogue with your child throughout the process.

Nighttime potty training

Some kids are able to accomplish nighttime training simultaneously with daytime training, but other kids may need to be fully successful with daytime training before they can accomplish nighttime dryness. Also, some kids may be fully daytime trained years before they have the bladder control to stay dry at night. Here are some tips on nighttime potty training.

  • Have children use the bathroom as the very last step of their bedtime routine.
  • Consider whether your child is constipated; increase fiber if so. Constipation can add pressure to the bladder and can play a role in nighttime wetting.
  • If you’re unable to nighttime train, use pull-ups just for the night.
  • Nighttime wetting may occur until kids are 7 years old. If your child is still wet at night after age 7, notify your pediatrician.

Potty-training resistance

If you’ve been trying for a while and giving up is not an option, here are a few helpful tips.

  • Look for patterns when accidents are occurring and try to make a schedule. Write the schedule out and turn it into a sticker chart. Have a very manageable, immediate goal rewarded with an incentive picked out by the child and another goal to work toward at the end of the week with a different incentive, then a two-week goal and a four-week goal.
  • Let the child be responsible for cleaning up after him/herself if possible.
  • Read about it! There are many great potty-training books designed for kids and keeping them in the bathroom is a good idea. A favorite in our house is “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C has a background in pediatrics and volunteers with the Beaumont Parenting Program. She is the mother of three young children.

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