Are you counting down the days to the potty transition? Or maybe you’ve already dabbled in a few less-than-successful attempts at potty training? Either way, the potty training journey can be a combination of exciting and challenging.
Luckily, there’s a few signs that your kid is ready to ditch the diapers. Some telltale cues include: showing an interest in the bathroom, telling you when they have to go, or wanting to be changed promptly after pooping. If you notice your little one seems ready for potty training, try any of these tricks from experts and experienced parents to make it a little bit easier for everyone involved.
When Is the Right Time to Start Potty Training?
Like any other developmental milestone with your child, there’s not necessarily a “right” time to start potty training. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average age for potty training in the U.S. is between 2 and 3 years, but it’s not uncommon for some parents to begin sooner if their children are displaying signs of readiness.
It’s Important to Practice Patience When Potty Training
Morale of the story? Potty training can take a long time. “The two big surprises are that toilet-teaching isn’t fast and it isn’t smooth,” says Maureen O’Brien, Ph.D., director of parenting and child development at The First Years, in Avon, Massachusetts, and author of Watch Me Grow: I’m One-Two-Three. “Several areas of development need to line up first. The child has to communicate well, be aware of their bodily feelings, and understand how much time they need to get there.”
Sticking to a Routine
Routine is a huge piece of potty training success.
“The key is consistency,” agrees Jen Singer, mother of two, author of the Stop Second-Guessing Yourself parenting series, and a member of the Huggies Pull-Ups Potty Training Partners. “Whatever you do at home with your potty training plan, you also need to do elsewhere.” This includes daycare or preschool programs.
For instance, if your child prefers to read a book while on the potty, talk to a childcare provider about sending in a favorite book. If a school or daycare is too busy to customize potty training techniques (understandable), consider asking them how they can help foster the success you have had at home, Singer suggests.
Using Rewards While Potty Training
When it comes to potty training and rewards, there are several different schools of thought. If you do choose to go the reward route, we have some creative suggestions from parents who tried it—that aren’t M&Ms:
“I wholeheartedly recommend bribery as potty training motivation. We kept a small plastic piggy bank in the bathroom and rewarded every success (one penny for pee, two for poop). Our daughter was entranced—she would shake the piggy with a gleam in her eye and remark how heavy it was getting. When she was all done, we took her potty windfall and turned it into quarters to spend on rides at the mall.” —Lisa Spicer; Los Angeles, California
“Every time each of our toddlers used the potty, I decorated their outfits with stickers. At the end of the day they showed off their rows of stickers (which looked like an army general’s stars) to their father. So they got double the praise for their potty training successes, and I got an inexpensive and easy way to reward them.” —Jen Singer; Kinnelon, New Jersey
“My son has always been obsessed with cars and trucks and luckily, the movie Cars had just come out. My husband scoured the local stores to collect all the figurines featured in the movie. We saw the movie, then we told my son that every time he went potty he’d get a car. It was magical. After 15 cars, he was totally potty trained. I’m sure Disney would be so proud.” —Darlene Fiske; Austin, Texas
Positive Reinforcement Is Key
Regardless of whether or not you use physical rewards, be sure to use positive reinforcement and praise your child when they’ve successfully used the potty or identified when they needed to go. The below parents offer some tips on how to make your children feel special as they’re learning how to use the potty:
“I’ve heard all the potty training tips—stickers, bribing with toys, special underpants. But you have to pick something that’s consistent with your parenting style. I didn’t use rewards elsewhere, so I didn’t want to start here. What did work: Lots of undivided attention, positive reinforcement, love, affection, and pride when my kids were successful. Making a big deal about small steps of progress is key.” —Diane Hund; Elmhurst, Illinois
“I didn’t use any special stuff—no kiddie toilets, potty rings, or even pull-ups—because the local YMCA where my daughters attended didn’t believe in them. We even had to sign a contract stating that we’d follow their potty training policy at home. I was instructed to just put the kids (they were around 2 1/2) on our regular toilet throughout the day when I thought they had to go. After a week and lots of ‘Yeah! You did number two!’ and ‘Good for you! You made a wee-wee!’ they were done, with barely any accidents. All told, I think they were just developmentally ready.” —Sandra Gordon; Weston, Connecticut
Choose a Potty Location to Set Your Children Up for Success
There are a lot of options when it comes to kid-friendly potties and placement. Do you buy a little potty, or one of the attachable seats to go on the grownup toilet? These parents offer some advice:
“We found that the kiddie lids that go on top of the toilet were too intimidating to use right away. (Plus, since they usually need a step stool, it can take too long for children to reach the toilet in time.) So I started my 2-year-old daughter with a mini-Elmo potty seat, which we kept in the living room, since she spent the most time there. We gradually moved it closer and closer to the bathroom, and eventually worked our way up to a Dora seat that went right on top of the toilet.” —Tracy Burton; Grand Ledge, Michigan
“To take some of the pressure off our daughter, we put the potty right next to her bed so that she could have her own space. Also, she could get to it faster, especially first thing in the morning and at night. This technique worked for our second daughter as well.”—Anne and Ben, Cheshire, CT
Start Out Seated for All Children
When potty training a child with a penis, many experts recommend to start sitting down. “It’s not just because of the mess factor,” says Dr. O’Brien. “When a child is learning, you want to keep the number of variables that they need to think about to a minimum. Deciding whether to sit or stand can cause him to hesitate a few seconds—and those seconds can be crucial.”
Take this potty training tip from a real mom: “When my son was potty training, he refused to use the baby potty or even one of those seats that fits onto the toilet. Instead, at the suggestion of my daycare provider, we let him sit on the regular toilet, only backwards. It sounds strange, but with him facing the rear of the toilet, he felt secure (not like he’d fall in!) and he didn’t have to aim, since it naturally aimed for him. That way, he could focus on just going to the bathroom. It worked!” —Sarah Caron; Sandy Hook, Connecticut
Practice Aiming for the Potty (and Eliminating Messes)
When transitioning to standing while urinating, consider making a game out of trying to aim for the potty. This will help motivate your child—and makes the learning fun. For some creative ideas, let these parents guide you:
“Getting my son to learn the standing-up thing was hard, so we turned it into a game. I put five Cheerios in the potty and told him to aim at them when he peed. Every time he did it right, he got to pick out a prize from a bag of goodies I picked up at the dollar store.” —Erika Cosentino; Lawrenceville, New Jersey
“To get my son excited about standing up to urinate, we put a few drops of food coloring into the toilet bowl so he could see the water change color as he used it. We did the same thing with our daughter, but we sat her on the toilet backwards so she could see the colors.” —Vicki, Chapel Hill, NC
“After a couple of failed attempts, I tried a new technique while Mom was away on a well-deserved weekend with her friends. We covered the couch and chairs with plastic and bought ‘manly-man’ underwear—just like Dad’s. We spent the weekend in underwear and T-shirts, making a game every hour or so to see who could go to the restroom. There were very few accidents and just blocking out a weekend made for very little stress. It’s still one of my favorite memories.” —Scott Smith; Mount Washington, Kentucky
Making Potty Training Fun
Your toddler can feel intimidated by the big task of learning how to use the bathroom. Make them excited to use the big-kid toilet with fun games, stories, and more.
“We set a timer, starting at every 30 minutes and increasing as we have success. When the timer goes off, my daughter says, ‘potty time.’ She feels she has control, and we make a game of choosing which potty to sit on (toilet or potty chair). Each time, she gets excited to show me which potty she chooses. This has worked well. I get what I want (her sitting on the potty) and she has control over her choice of potty. We’ve also been using big-girl panties. So far we’ve had very few accidents.” —Jessica R. Guerra
“Once my kids were interested in the potty concept—around 2 to 2 1/2—we let them run around naked before bathtime and encouraged them to use the potty. Then I let them go sans pants at home for extended periods of time (they did really well remembering to go as long as they didn’t have any clothes on). After they mastered naked-potty use, we worked our way up to clothes (first just underwear, then eventually pants). This method was extremely painless—very few accidents or setbacks.” —Jennifer Walker; Cleveland, Ohio
“My middle son was stubborn when it came to number two on the potty—absolutely refused, no matter the reward. So I finally told him that when we flush, the poop goes out to the sea to feed the fish—so if he didn’t go, then the poor little fish wouldn’t have anything to eat. My son, being the compassionate, sensitive little do-gooder he is, felt it was his mission to poop to ‘save’ the fish. (After all, Nemo and Dory were counting on him!)” —Liane Worthington; Simpson, Pennsylvania
Potty Training On the Road
Sure, you might master potty training at home—but then there’s the daunting task of taking your newly toilet trained toddler on the road, whether that’s on a trip to Grandma’s or just down the street to the grocery store. Here’s what some parents have to say:
“My daughter was terrified of the automatic flushers in public restrooms, so I started doing this trick. Put a Post-It note over the sensor and it will prevent the toilet from auto-flushing. After she’s all done, wiped, and left the stall, you can remove the paper to let the toilet flush.” —Tracy Marines; Lancaster, Pennsylvania
“We travel with a small toilet with a removable seat to help my daughter feel more comfortable on the ‘scary’ big potties in public restrooms.” —Christine Louise Hohlbaum; Paunzhausen, Germany