Potty training can be a very exciting or a very frustrating time for both parents and children. Making potty training stress-free is an exercise of patience for a parent, but does make the process easier in the long run. There are many options for potty training your child, but the real secret is consistency and perseverance. That being said, I do have a favorite method that stresses positive reinforcement with relatively quick results.
Step #1: Introduce the potty early (12-14 months). Let your curious toddler explore the bathroom, watch you or other siblings use the potty and get them a small potty to experiment with. Every time your toddler shows interest in the potty, give positive feedback with smiling, clapping, hugs/kisses (whatever makes you look silly and gets your child excited)!
Step #2: Start encouraging your toddler to sit on the potty without a diaper on. I do this before or after bath time, when they are already comfortable being naked. If they are resistant, then wait longer and try again. When they do sit on the potty or actually pee, increase the positive reaction to a full on party! Continue this step until they make the connection between the potty and peeing/pooping. Your child is physically ready to move on to Step #3 when they can go 2-3 hours with a dry diaper and they know (and can tell you) when their diaper is soiled.
Step #3: When you and your child are ready – meaning you have a few days at home, your child has made the pee/poop/potty connection, and is physically ready – you can start the real potty training process. Prepare to stay at home for 2-3 days and take away the diapers. You can keep your child naked or in “big boy/girl underwear” during the day. I suggest staying in a room with floors that are easy to clean during this time and only giving drinks with meals and snacks. Put your child on the potty every 1-2 hours and 10-20 minutes after eating or drinking. If they do go pee or poop on the potty, do the same as before and have a huge party or reward them with something they like, IMMEDIATELY. The first day, they will most likely have several “accidents”. When they do, calmly clean it up and take them to the potty. You will notice less “accidents” as the days go on and on the 3rd-4th day, most people can attempt outings without diapers. They do make plastic covers for carseats, which I suggest investing in!
Most children are not ready for naptime/nighttime potty training when they start daytime potty training. It is normal for some children to have nighttime accidents until late childhood. Make sure to explain to your child that diapers and/or pull ups are only for sleeping and underwear is for the daytime. I do suggest putting a waterproof mattress cover on their bed at this time, because some are ready and willing to try nighttime training out. You will know they are ready when they wake up dry most mornings. Make sure not to sabotage their efforts by giving drinks before bed!
If potty training is not going well and either you or your child is frustrated, buy another box of diapers and try again in 1-2 months. Do not pressure your child during this time and go back to positive reinforcement for exploring the potty. Make sure to save the real parties for the fantastic moments that they do go pee or poop on the potty!
Heather Joyce, MD