Monday, November 8, 2010

Potty learning tips

When parents come into the store to buy training pants, we usually spend a bit of time talking with them about the potty learning process. Although we practiced infant pottying with our babies, we still relied on the following tips and tricks when we were transitioning our toddlers to full-time underwear.

Start early.

Before starting the process of potty learning their toddlers, parents will often question whether or not they are 'ready' yet. Certainly, conventional wisdom dictates that your toddler should hit certain milestones before beginning the potty learning process, however, the reality is that children are far more capable than we give them credit for.

In other parts of the world, infant pottying is commonplace, and even within our own culture, previous generations of parents started potty learning their children at a much younger age than parents of today. No matter how you do it, you are always 'training' your child. If you wait for your child to soil a diaper, then you give her a clean diaper, you are in effect training her that diapers are used for elimination purposes. As a result, the longer you wait to potty your child, the harder it will be for her to unlearn what you have previously taught her.

Don't ask your little one if she needs to 'go', just take her to the bathroom.

Do you know what a toddler's top three words are?

1) No
2) No
3) No

Yes, all three are clearly the same word, but it doesn't matter. Toddlers like to test boundaries, and the word 'no' is a great way to test boundaries! If you ask a toddler if she needs to pee, nine times out of ten the answer will be 'no', regardless of whether or not she actually needs to pee. Rather than ask her if she needs to pee, simply take her to the toilet at regular intervals. Set the timer on the stove if you want something else to take the blame, it serves as a great reminder for you, and toddlers aren't rational people anyway.

Rely on diapers as little as possible.

Toddlers know what diapers are for, they soil a diaper, then you give them a fresh diaper -- it's not rocket science! If you continue to put your little one in a diaper, you are enforcing the idea that she should pee and poop in the the diaper. Rely on underwear as much as you can, it looks different and feels different than a diaper, and you will do a better job at staying on top of the pottying situation (the onus is just as much on you as it is on her when it comes to potty time, if not moreso!).

For those times that you may not be able to access a potty easily (like at the grocery store), or when you really don't want to chance an accident (like at a playdate at a friend's house), waterproof training pants are a great alternative to diapers. They pull up and down like underwear, so your toddler can use the toilet easily, and they will hold at least one wetting. We generally suggest to customers that they don't buy more than 3-5 pairs of training pants, the more you have, the more likely you are to treat them like diapers.

Be consistent

Make pottying a part of your toddler's day-to-day routine, so that she knows to expect it, and she gets used to the idea of using the toilet. Potty her first thing in the morning, after drinks, before and after naps, and before you leave the house.

Use positive reinforcement.

When we got to the point where our little ones were consistently using the potty when we took them to it, and we knew they were capable of going themselves, we introduced the concept of rewards to encourage self-pottying. In our case, we used Smarties (shock, horror, I know!). If you're not comfortable with the idea of using candy as a reward, use something else you know will motivate your child to self-potty (stickers, pony rides, whatever feels right!). Once our little ones had the hang of self-pottying, we would gradually wean them off the reward.

Keep calm and carry on.

OK, I'll admit it, this suggestion can be tough to follow. I once found Grace in her bedroom with poop smeared everywhere -- on the wall, on her crib, and on the carpet, she was covered up to her elbows in it. I will fully admit that I cried. I cried like a baby, sobbing big, fat hysterical sobs, tears the size of jellybeans rolling down my cheeks. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The second you make potty training a big deal, it will become a big deal. When you freak out over accidents (which are bound to happen, consider yourselves warned!), you run the risk of scaring your toddler off the toilet and back into diapers. When your little one has an accident, calmly clean it up, talk about where poop and pee belong (in the toilet!), and move on.


  1. Excellent article! My daughter has been "trained" since 21 months (not overnight though yet) and it's because I pretty much did everything written here.

  2. We're already teaching our 10 month old the "Poopsmith" song which basically states that poop goes in the potty. Every time he poops we take the diaper over to the potty with him and say "Poop goes in the potty." The poop gets plopped in and we wave bye-bye as it gets flushed away.
    It is my desperate attempt to avoid future poop-smearing incidents. :)

  3. Excellent! The only thing I would add is that before you even begin, you can model toilet behaviour for your little one. Let them watch you using the bathroom, flushing, washing hands so they see the routine. Talk about it while you go so they can put words to the actions ("Now I'm finished so I put the seat down and I flush"). This will get them ready for when you start training them. They will already have been exposed to the language around toileting and have seen how toileting behaviours work. It doesn't mean you can never have privacy in the bathroom, just that you don't want it to be a mystery to your child before you start. You can even prepare your child when you know you're going to be ready. For about 2 weeks before we started potty learning our daughter we talked about how soon she would be old enough to start using the potty instead of her diapers. I think it really helped prepare her for the change.