If you have young kids, then you've probably thought about potty training once or twice (or a million times). It's a necessary evil, something that we all know is inevitable, yet we aren't really sure how to tackle it - especially if it's your first experience going through the process with your child. I'm just over a year out from potty training my oldest daughter and here I am getting ready to potty train another child, our feisty two-year-old.
You probably think I'm going to tell you the exact method to use to potty train your child, because let's face it, every parent thinks they know the 'secret' once they get their child(ren) fully potty trained. But, what I'm actually here to tell you is this: it's HARD, no matter what anyone tells you - and how the process goes entirely depends on your child. There are a multitude of methods out there and they all work differently for different kids.
My oldest daughter is a tough cookie, an independent and outspoken child who will only do what she wants to do. When she nearing three, I heard so many of my mom friends talk about how their kids were having success going on the potty and not wearing diapers and I secretly felt ashamed that my three-year-old wasn't even CLOSE to that yet. As she approached 3.5, I started to get a little worried because she needed to be fully potty trained before going back to preschool in the fall and nothing we tried seemed to make her interested in going to the bathroom like a 'big girl' does.
Let's just say that I did a LOT of Googling, asking friends (IRL and social media!) for advice and some soul searching too (ask me how much time I spent sitting on the floor outside the bathroom over the past year) – and I found that there is a LOT of advice out there. And I also found out that not everything works for everyone – so I wanted to share lessons learned and some of the things that did and did not work for us.
1) A 3-day Potty Training Bootcamp is not over in 3 days. I naively thought this lady was onto something and I’d have a potty trained kid after just 72 hours of intense focus. As it turns out, a 3-year-old can control their bodily functions incredibly well – there were two occurrences of pee and zero poop in about the first 48 hours of potty training. So, there we were, at the end of day two of a three-day bootcamp feeling defeated. If she wasn’t actually going to learn how to go on the potty in the first two days, how would she be able to be potty trained fully in 3 days? By the way, I’m definitely NOT knocking this training method, because I have heard stories of it working for some kids! And even though 3 days wasn’t enough for us, I have taken quite a bit of guidance from the author of this book.
2) Holding in poop can actually cause a fever. True story. Though we had two small accidents overnight while she slept (gross I know!), she didn't go nearly as much as normal, was pretty lethargic and complained that her booty and tummy hurt (TMI!). The girl needed to let. it. rip. but she was afraid to go in the potty. I was at a loss – I didn't know what to do or how to help her. We noticed her face was really pink and took her temperature and she had a low-grade fever. After consulting Dr. Google, I was 99.9% sure she just suffered from something that is apparently quite common in toddlers/preschoolers – poop withholding.
3) Taking your child to the potty when you go may help. For the first few days, we tried to strictly follow the advice of the potty bootcamp author, which stated to only say “Let us know when you have to go potty” to keep the power in the child’s court. However, we weren’t making any progress this way. When I finally asked her if she wanted me to go potty with her, she seemed to perk up. This was a big turning point for us – if I actually went potty too, she almost always went. Small victories.
4) Enlisting help is key to your sanity. Trying to do a bootcamp-style approach to potty training? If at all possible, make sure it’s on a long weekend so your spouse is home or when you have family visiting to help out (ESPECIALLY if you have other kids!). We chose to do this on a holiday weekend because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone and my husband had an extended weekend due to the holiday. We also got super lucky (well I did – I think he was ready to go back to work. ha!) that there was snow, so he was home an extra day to help out. Potty training is just plain HARD. And when you have another kid clinging to your leg and needing something every 2 seconds, it can make you a little crazy trying to do everything. Especially when the one who is potty training has accidents…which brings me to my next point.
5) Invest in those little blue and white dog pads. We actually had a ton of them from when we potty trained our dog (and she’s still not trained properly, so maybe we just suck at potty training!). I put them on every piece of furniture that my daughter sat on and covered them with towels. We also put them under her sheets – that way, we don’t have to wash her ‘air-dry-only’ waterproof mattress pad every time we have nighttime accidents. We told her they just make everything extra comfy and she totally bought it. She started to ask us to put one down before she sat anywhere. Hope that doesn’t scar her later down the road!
6) Pick a reward that works. We honestly tried to slowly introduce her to potty training over time, thinking it would make it less intimidating. But she always resisted – even when we promised her a new toy or whatever she wanted from Target. At least 80% of the people that I got advice from said rewards worked – but the caveat is you have to find the reward that works for your child. Apparently toys were not it for her, but when we went all in on the bootcamp plans, we let her pick out a bag of candy and she chose gummy bears. I still don’t think the candy was the reason she finally went on the potty, but it definitely helped motivate her the first few days. Later, she didn't even really ask for gummy bears anymore when she went (I think she got tired of them – or was just so full of poop that she couldn't eat more.)
7) Make sure you’re well-stocked with detergent. And stain remover, for that matter. We did more laundry that week than ever before – mainly because we washed bedding every single day. Those are the moments I sort of regretted nighttime potty training…but honestly, it needed to happen and I just needed to have more patience with the whole process.
Potty Training a Strong-Willed Child
I also wanted to share some of the awesome ideas I received from IRL friends, family and social media friends – though not all worked for us and some I didn't try for myself, I thought these were great and wanted to pass them along in case they might work for you!
- Make a reward chart and every time there’s a potty success, add a new sticker. When your child fills the chart you made, they get to pick a new toy or go get ice cream.
- Give them ALL the praise every time they make it to the potty – make a huge deal out of it.
- This is more for stubborn kids (ahem, my daughter). Get happy and sad face stickers – when they go potty, they get a happy face sticker. When they go in their pants because they refuse to go to the potty, they get a sad face sticker.
- Make a nighttime routine checklist and use pictures. Add things like brush teeth, put on jammies, read a story and of course, go potty. This way they get accustomed to adding potty time to their routine and will expect it nightly.
- Sometimes it works best to have your kids run around naked – sans panties too. This is true especially if your kid starts treating the panties like a diaper!
- Let them blow out a candle after they successfully go on the potty. We tried this and she actually liked it!
- Read lots of potty books while you’re training them.
- Resist the urge to fall back on diapers if you’re feeling discouraged. It’ll happen – just be patient!
- If they’re resisting even sitting on the potty, put it in front of the TV at first and they’ll probably zone out and go potty without realizing it. Once you build their confidence, move the potty back into the bathroom.
- Surprise them with new underwear with their favorite characters. Make sure they realize they don’t want to mess up their Frozen (or Minnie or Paw Patrol, etc.) panties!
Hopefully some of the ideas will help you if you’re like me and have struggled to get your kids to go potty! For the record, I think a lot of it will depend on your child’s personality and the approach will vary based on that. Just know that no matter what you're struggling with when it comes to potty training, you're not alone. Every child is different and your approach may take trial and error and make you feel defeated before you find a winning method. But I'm here to tell you: it will happen one day, so don't give up!