Thinking of Potty-Training your Toddler?

As your toddler nears his/her second birthday many parents ask themselves, “Is my toddler ready to be potty-trained?”  Another equally important question to ask yourself is: “Am I ready for potty-training?”

Are you committed to the process and ready to see it through?  With my two children I have waited until they were closer to age 3 than age 2 to make sure we were ready.  Every child is different and parents take many different approaches, but the idea is to avoid a false start.  The authors of Potty Wise say, “A false start happens whenever a parent gears up a child’s emotions and expectations, begins the process of training, and then loses steam a few days later.”

Pottywise for Toddlers: A Developmental Readiness Approach to Potty Training

After reading several Potty-training books I chose the Progressive Potty-training strategy from On Becoming Potty Wise For Toddlers: A Developmental Readiness Approach to Potty Training, Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D.

I like this approach for a few main reasons:

  1. You reward your child for using the potty to stay “dry and clean” not just for using the potty.  The goal is to stay “dry and clean” right? (Your child could use the potty one minute and have an accident the next and that’s not the goal!)
  2.  There is a step-by-step plan in which you clear the calendar for 3-4 days to focus on your goal, and by the end of that time the child is potty-trained.  (there may be periodic accidents, but you have practiced so much over those few days and spent the time working with your child during that time the training doesn’t drag out for months and months-ugh!)
  3. You prepare for the “big day” by taking your toddler to the store to pick out fun drinks and salty snacks (juice boxes, Capri sun, Kool-Aid, any sort of sugary drink that is really exciting and novel; popcorn, pretzels, potato chips etc.). Sweet drinks don’t quench thirst but produce lots of urine output therefore making them want to drink more!  Add in the salty snacks and they are sure to want lots to drink  (the more they drink the more they practice using the potty in a short amount of time).  Also, you want to buy some sweet treats–a bag of mini candy bars, M&M’s or taffy to be used as the reward for staying “dry and clean”.

Are you reading the above snack and drink ideas and cringing at the idea of giving your child all that junk?  Well, I have to admit, I was too, but a few days of these special treats will not kill them, and if they are novel they will be even more enticing and rewarding for the end goal!

After you’ve set the start date, and purchased your fun drinks and snacks, you set out all these special treats in a highly visible place (perhaps the kitchen counter) for the child to get really excited about earning these rewards!  Make sure you don’t give in and let them have any before the big day or they lose their effectiveness.  I would suggest a 1-2 day preview of these rewards but not much longer than that or they’ll forget about them.

The big day has arrived, the night before you will explain to your toddler, “Tomorrow you get to start wearing big-girl/boy underpants!”  In the morning, put them into their underpants and loose fitting clothing that is easy to pull on and off.  Short sleeves are great, dresses for girls or elastic waisted pants or shorts are all very convenient.

Give them a boring breakfast with plenty of fluids, no sugary cereals or pancakes and syrup.  You want your sweet rewards to be very enticing and it’s just about showtime!  You want to begin the following routine right after breakfast.  Put a special drink into a sippy cup and have your toddler offer her Teddy Bear a drink (the toddler should taste the drink just to make sure it’s really delicious).  Wait a few minutes, maybe 5 or so, and ask your child to check to see if the Teddy Bear is “dry and clean”.  YES!  Teddy Bear is “dry and clean” so your child offers Teddy a small reward (a few M&M’s perhaps, the same one you’ll be offering the child in a few moments) for staying “dry and clean”. (Teddy shares the treat with your child). Wait a few more minutes, and then take Teddy to use the potty.  Make a realistic sound and consider using a little cup of water to pour into the potty so your child can listen for the appropriate sound.  When Teddy uses the potty to stay “dry and clean” he earns a double reward (twice as many M&M’s, or perhaps  a mini candy bar or piece of taffy).

  1. Begin the same routine with your child.  Your child just role-played each step with Teddy Bear so now it should be easier to follow.
  2. Ask your child, “Are you dry and clean?” Your child should check for dryness by using his/her fingers to feel the underpants.  If your child is “dry and clean” offer them a small reward (a few M&M’s).
  3. Your child is dry and you should take advantage of this!  Wait a few minutes, but not too long, and then say, “Let’s use the potty to stay dry and clean!”  Have your child sit on the potty while you hold a double reward in your hand (the same one that Teddy Bear earned).  When your child uses the potty, they earn the reward.  If you come up with a dry run then just try again in 15-20 minutes.  It is helpful if you can convince your child to sit on the potty for a few minutes.  Try reading a book, or putting on a video to extend the stay.  But don’t force it!  If they want to get down just wait and try again–keep the bathroom a fun and welcoming place, not a torture room!

Remember, you’ve cleared your calendar to focus on this important skill, so pay attention to your child’s cues.  Turn off your phone, don’t schedule any appointments, let the errands and chores wait. Repeat these steps often throughout the day (I even set a timer for 30 minutes to make sure I don’t wait too long). I usually do the role-play with Teddy Bear once and then just turn my attention to my child.  If your child enjoys the role-play then continue it until they lose interest.  Make sure you are offering them lots of drinks and salty snacks.  You are on your way to accomplishing your goal!

A word about day-training vs. night-training: these are two different skills.  Often a child will be day-trained but not night-trained.  It’s not always a gender difference, but it seems that boys often need more time before they are night-trained.  Once your child is day-trained you can put them in a diaper or pull-up at night and it will not confuse them.  When I was day-training my daughter and put her in a diaper at night she adamantly told me, “No more diapers, Mom, I’m a big girl.”  I responded, “Yes!  You are a big girl and you keep your underpants dry and clean ALL day.  But, at night when you are sleeping you don’t know when you need to use the potty so it’s okay to wear a diaper until your body is ready to stay dry all night.”



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