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.

Code brown: Adventures in potty training

Little girl potty training her teddy bear

Cropped image. Manish Bansal, Flickr. CC license.

Take 1

At 18 months old, my daughter, we’ll call her C, started to show an interest in the toilet. I thought it was too early, but my mom insisted on getting her a potty. “She’s ready, honey,” Mom would say.

What do you know? On the first day we had the potty, she pooped in it. I squealed with delight. High-fives were flying. I was jumping up and down, yelling to my husband to come and see. All while my inner monologue was running wild: “Could it be?! C is diaper free at a year-and-a-half?! Do I have one of those mythical children who potty train themselves at a super young age?! This. Is. Amazing.”

This enthusiasm, however, was apparently quite terrifying because C wouldn’t even look at the potty, let alone sit on it, for weeks afterwards.

Take 2

We stopped being potty pushers and decided to take a more relaxed approach — we would let C tell us when she’s ready to start. However, around the two-year mark, a group of kids in her daycare class began potty training and we needed to jump on the bandwagon.

“But she’s not ready. Real underwear? She’s too little for that. Can’t we wait a little longer?” I begged her teacher. Nope. We had to reinforce at home what was being taught at daycare. Fine, way to be totally logical. We’ll try again.

Take 3 and 4 and 5…

At daycare, potty training progressed nicely. In the beginning, she often had accidents when they were outside playing (she didn’t want to stop to go to the bathroom) or during naptime. Lately, it’s been very infrequent, maybe once a week if that. Go daycare!

At home, it’s a different story. Rarely will C use the toilet and we never leave the house without a diaper or training pants on. I don’t get it. We’ve tried everything: sticker charts, chocolate chip bribes, positive reinforcement, commando weekends. I don’t know if I can read another “How to Potty Train Your Toddler in Three Days” article.

We’re constantly taking her into the bathroom and sitting her on the toilet with no results. On several occasions just moments after we leaving the bathroom, she had an accident (once hilariously on my husband while they watched TV; it was an especially juicy bowel movement).

Another favorite: going poop in the bathtub. I guess it is relaxing. But seriously C, a “code brown” is never a good way to kick off the bedtime routine.

So here we are nearly year after her toilet interest piqued and still changing diapers. Friends and family say not to worry. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “It’s best to avoid assuming that your child will begin training by a certain age.”

Most of my brain agrees – she’s only two and half. I get it; she has plenty of time. However, a small part of me is confused — why is potty training going so well at daycare and not at home? What’s their secret? Is C is just trying to fit in with the cool kids and go to the bathroom on the toilet? (I guess there’s worse forms of peer pressure.) But seriously, do I need a parade of toddlers to come through my house every hour and use the bathroom so C will too?

Oh, potty training. One of these days, we’ll figure you out. In the meantime, let’s commiserate. Share your potty training adventures in the comments below.

– Anne Hein is a volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program and mom of a strong-willed toddler. 

There are Puddles in My House and It’s Not Even Raining

Little girl potty training her teddy bear

Cropped image. Manish Bansal, Flickr. CC License.

I’m very grateful for our hardwood floors. It’s much easier to mop up pee than to clean it out of a rug.

We started potty training our boy/girl twins in November. It’s now January and we can’t claim victory. I’m not going to lie. It’s disheartening.

When we started out on this adventure, I would’ve told you that one kid was ready and one wasn’t. That same kid was going to be a breeze to potty train. Good thing I’m not a betting person because I would’ve lost. Big time.

We read up on potty training toddlers. We took the kids to the store to pick out their own undies. We got a jar of M&Ms for rewarding going on the potty. We have a little stool and potty seat to make everything as little-tushy friendly as possible. We thought we were set.

One kid did really well. In fact, within about a week, we were accident free. Hooray! Granted, this kid still expects an M&M sometimes after a bathroom trip, but it’s a small price to pay.

However, the other kid just isn’t having it. There are good days (really good days), but then there are days where we’re changing wet pants minutes—sometimes seconds—after reading books for 10 minutes in the bathroom. We’ve learned that the kid must wear pants with the undies every day. Just undies alone won’t work. The pants absorb more and we have to clean up less. Gross, right?

So frustrating. But when I think about it, if I’m frustrated, the kid must be insanely frustrated. I know this is about control, but I just don’t know what to do about it. Any ideas?

I’m just holding out the hope that by the time the kids are in junior high, we’ll be able to put this in the “success” category.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples