Potty Training Lessons Learned

I’ve mentioned before that potty training is my least favorite part of parenting so far. It’s a frustrating and all-encompassing moment in life. My oldest was challenging and potty trained at 3.5 years and my middle potty trained at 2.5 years and was much easier.  Below are some lessons we learned along the way.  See my previous post for the potty training gear we used.

Embrace interest in the potty, even if it’s inconvenient. Both kids showed interest in the potty before age 2, but with my older son I brushed it off because I felt like it was too early or inconvenient. Oh, you want to try to pee in the public restroom at the grocery store? Mmm, can you just go in your diaper? With my younger son, I embraced these moments.  Before age 2 he had successfully used the potty a handful of times and in the months to follow it happened more frequently.

Potty training is for them, not for you.  With my oldest, we ended up pressuring him into potty training early on even though we weren’t trying to.  I was saying things like “Wow, mom is so proud of you!” which seems harmless but it makes using the potty a way of pleasing me.  Once I started saying things like “Wow, I bet you are so proud of yourself!” or “You must feel so much better.” it put things back into his control.  He would use the potty because it made him feel good, not because I wanted it to happen.  It’s a subtle change, but it made a big difference for us.

Don’t get visibly upset when accidents happen.  Accidents will happen and it can be really frustrating.  Don’t let that frustration show.  This gets back to my last point.     I learned to just say things like “oh, that looks uncomfortable” in a completely normal voice.  This put the ownership back on the kid.  Eventually, they realized that it was really uncomfortable to have an accident.

Show by example. Neither of my kids liked constant reminders to use the bathroom.  I think this gets back to pressuring them into using the potty.  Instead of reminders, we would just try to show a good example.  Before we left the house, Tim and I would both loudly exclaim “Oh, I’m going to use the potty before I leave.” and then afterward we would say “Wow, I feel so much better!”  It was strange to narrate our actions like this, but the kids would often follow suit.  It worked!

Pull-ups may hamper potty training. For my kids, pull-ups were helpful in the early stages of potty training but eventually, we had to ditch them.  I think they are a good transition to allow for occasional potty use, but they don’t encourage consistent potty use because having an “accident” isn’t uncomfortable.  Once my kids clearly demonstrated the ability to use the potty, we put them in undies.

The first day may not go well.  Neither of my kids did well on their first day in undies, but after the first day, it got better.  With my oldest, we tried a couple times for a day here and there and when it didn’t go well, we went back to pull-ups.  I think we gave up too early.

Read books, lots of books. Books really helped peak interest early on and kept the ball rolling.  Here are some books that we really liked:

#1 and #2 are not the same.  Both my boys had early success with #1, but #2 was challenging. Instead of telling us they needed to poop, they would often just hide in a corner and let us know they had an accident afterward.

  • We learned to recognize the signs that they needed to poop and intervene.  I try to play around with it like flying them to the bathroom or reading books on the potty.
  • We also learned not to let the kids get constipated because that just made the situation worse.  If they didn’t have a day went by without a poop, we would start giving them small quantities of MiraLax (or similar supplement) to encourage the process.  NOTE: you should talk to your Pediatrician before you introduce a supplement. 
  • When we could tell that one of the kids needed to poop, instead of saying “You need to poop.” we would say “Hmm, looks like your belly hurts.  What do you think would make that feel better?”  This gave them control rather than forcing them to use the potty.
  • If pooping becomes an issue, we really liked two of the books I mentioned above: It Hurts When I Poop! a Story for Children Who Are Scared to Use the Potty and I Can’t, I Won’t, No Way!: A Book For Children Who Refuse to Poop.

Night time potty training is very different. We didn’t potty train at night right away with either kid.  We kept them in pull-ups until they seemed ready.  Since they were in undies all day, they would ask why they couldn’t wear undies at night.  We would tell them they could start wearing undies at night when their pull-up was consistently dry in the morning.  This was motivating for both of them.

Don’t go overboard on rewards.  With my oldest, we were desperate to get him potty trained in time for preschool that we started incentivizing him with large prizes when candy and stickers didn’t seem to work.  While this did get him to successfully use the potty, it wasn’t sustainable. We had to back-track to regular rewards (which didn’t initially go well). Eventually, we settled on one Tic Tac for each time the kids used the potty.  This was enough of an incentive for them, but also small enough that my oldest eventually forgot about them and naturally transitioned to using the potty without them.

I hope some of these lessons we learned may help with your potty training adventure. Good Luck!

– Anna, Life with Little Ones

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