Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Potty Training Post

Several moms have asked me how I potty trained my son.  I certainly don't mind talking about potty training, but I decided to write this post so that I don't have to continue repeating myself.  On May 4th, I began a six-day series in this blog on potty training, but this is a much more exhaustive detail of how I actually approached potty training.  It has been over two months since my son has worn a diaper.  We do not (and have never) used pull-up style diapers.

For starters, I used Lora Jensen's 3-Day Potty Training method.  I didn't follow it completely and I totally rejected one part of it, but I went with a lot of her method.  I highly recommend that you purchase her e-book to read the entire method for yourself.  My son was about ten days shy of his second birthday when I decided to go for it.  It worked for us and it might work for you too!

Note that all of this is not from Lora Jensen's method (quite a bit is my own), but here's a quick breakdown of the potty training journey that I had with my son (whenever possible, the links go to the actual products I used/use):

- My husband & I let our son see us use the restroom and we would sing-song "Daddy (or Mommy) has to go pot-ty. . ." when we went.  My purpose in doing this is so that he would make a connection that not only do we all go potty, but that it's a normal event.  It isn't shameful and we go potty in the toilet.  We sang the song because the boy likes singing.

- Get the entire household on-board with the potty training method you choose to use.  You do not want to send mixed messages to a new learner.  This includes using the same terminology.  Some might say that I'm doing my son a disservice by not using proper words (urine, feces, etc.), but I use pee, poo-poo, potty, and toilet.

- Commit to whatever method you choose to use.  This is really important.  Potty training one day, not the next, and again in another couple of days is terribly confusing.  The child doesn't know if you're serious or not and, well, it's easier to soil yourself than run to the potty so why should they bother taking this seriously? 

- It might be messy and it might be stressful, but believe in your child's ability to do this!  If you don't believe in them, how can you expect them to believe in themselves?  They will pick up on your attitude, whether or not you say a word.  It is entirely doable to potty train a child in three days - my son is proof.  Well, proof that it can be done in four days anyway.

- I put a potty chair in our bathroom for weeks, maybe months, beforehand.  I let him sit on it fully clothed (or with his diaper down) whenever he wanted.  I'd let him know that this special potty chair was for him to use when he becomes a big boy.  I liked this specific potty chair because it had a deep cup to catch the urine/poo, it comes apart incredibly easily for cleaning, and it was really cheap.  Plus, the top part can be used as a toilet ring on top of the toilet.

- I also put a simple toilet ring in the bathroom, next to the toilet.  The one I bought had Winnie the Pooh on it and the play on words (Pooh, poo) still makes me laugh; I guess I'm easily amused.  Every now & then I would put it on the toilet and let him know that he can go potty in the toilet whenever he wants when he's a big boy.  I liked this specific toilet ring because it has handles on the side.  That might not sound important to you or me, but it is when you're a 25-pound child sitting on what must appear to be a huuuuge toilet for the first time.  Plus, it just sits on top of the toilet so there is no need to fight with removal when you need to go to the restroom - easy on, easy off.

- I picked up a couple of step stools to help the boy reach the sink and the toilet on his own.  I have a single step for the toilet and a double step for reaching the sink.  The single step has rubber grips on the top and on the bottom of the legs so it is sturdy on a tiled floor and it is curved so it sort of hugs the shape of the toilet.  The double step one has a little storage space under the top step.  I stored fun stuff for him in there:  stickers, silly little toys, stuff like that.

- I bought some fun foaming handsoaps in bright colors that he could use to wash his hands.  I said that these soaps were for him to use once he's a big boy who uses the toilet.

- I also bought a Peter Potty toddler urinal and set it up in the bathroom, but he still hasn't used it even once.  I'm a little frustrated since it cost me $40, but it's easier to just have them pee in the toilet so I really can't complain.

- Though my son's crib mattress has a plasticky cover, I always have a fitted waterproof mattress pad under the fitted crib sheet to prevent stains and/or odors.  Though it costs a few dollars more, I have found that the Carter's brand holds up significantly better than the Circo brand.

- I made sure to have a small waterproof pad (I actually just used a small sheet saver) to protect the carseat.  I also have a big waterproof pad that I spread out for him whenever he is on my bed.

- I took him to the store weeks before I decided to start PTing.  I enthusiastically told him that he was "going to be a big boy soon" and that he was allowed to pick out his very own "big boy underpants!"  I held out some options and he picked Elmo (shocker!) and Nick Jr. cartoon characters.  I excitedly told him that Daddy wears big boy underpants and he (my son) would be wearing them soon too!  I ended up buying the little guy 20 pair of underpants.

- I stocked up on Clorox wipes to clean up messes and sanitize the potty chair after each use.  Though I'm partial to the Orange scent, the Fresh and Lemon scents aren't too bad.  Costco & Sam's Club each have a 4-pack that works out to pretty darn cheap per container. 

- For several weeks leading up to PTing, I would remind him that he was going to be a big boy soon and that meant that he could use the potty!  I was always upbeat and excited, like it was something to look forward to rather than something to dread.

- I would have him follow me to the toilet to rinse out his poopy diapers and toss all the dirty dipes in the diaper pail.  I would let him know that babies go potty in a diaper, but big boys wear underpants and go potty in the toilet.

- I also would point out younger children wearing diapers and specifically say that they are wearing "baby diapers" and I'd follow that up by mentioning that he'd be a "big boy" soon and wear his "big boy underpants."

- I cooked up plenty of meals that I packaged in single serve containers so that I wouldn't be distracted away from my son during the three days that I originally committed to potty training.

- Make sure to have plenty of snacks, juices, and fruits/veggies/high fiber foods on hand.  You do not want the child to get constipated while learning about the potty because it could scare them away from using the toilet.

- Make sure you have no reason to dash out to the store during the first three days.  Stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, milk, eggs, whatever you might need in those three days.

- Remember that accidents, while messy, are very helpful learning experiences.  How's that for a silver lining??

- The day that I decided to start began a little different than most days.  I had an early morning appointment and the little one tagged along.  On the way home, I talked up that this was the day he was going to become a big boy.

- We arrived home and I had him help me "throw away" his disposable diapers and pack away his cloth diapers.  I'll admit that I kept the disposable diapers - those suckers are wildly expensive!  The entire time, I kept chatting that he was going to be a big boy very soon.

- I let him pick out a pair of underpants.  I removed his diaper and put him in the underpants.  I told him that it was his responsibility to keep his underpants clean & dry.  He only had on a shirt and underpants, but no pants. 

- I told him that he needs to let Mama know if he has to go potty so we can run to the toilet.  I congratulated him on becoming a big boy and we started our day.

- I plied him with fluids and high-fiber snacks.  The idea is that you want to give them plenty of opportunities to go potty. 

- I probably said, "You need to let Mama know when you need to go potty," and "Do you have to go potty?" about 1,000 times in that first day alone.  I probably checked to see if he was clean & dry at least 500 times.  Okay, okay, those are exaggerations.  But I did both of these things every ten to fifteen minutes.  All. Day. Long.

- We didn't turn on the television once or have any friends over during the four days that we were at home so that I could remain totally focused on my son.  He was always within an arm's reach so that I could catch every accident as it was happening.

- We hugged and cuddled so much in these first days of potty training.  I did this for a couple of reasons: I wanted him to be close so that I could catch an accident as it was happening and I wanted to give him plenty of reassurance and love.

- When he started to have an accident, I'd hustle him to the restroom and on the potty chair.  I'd reassure him that everyone has accidents when they are learning how to be a big boy and I'd remind him that it's his responsibility to keep his underpants clean & dry.

- I'd have him help me clean up (and put the dirty underpants in what was formerly a diaper pail) after accidents and then let him pick out his fresh underpants.  Sometimes he'd want a new pair for no reason and I let him change if he wanted a different pair.  I think he liked having that control and, for being such a small thing, it sure made him happy.

- I found that the second day was worse than the first.  I think he was testing me to see if I'd give him back his diapers.  Once or twice I reminded him that we don't have diapers for him to use anymore.  I stuck with the plan and he ultimately ended up catching himself having accidents a couple of times and ran to the toilet on his own.

- My son was resistant to defecating in the toilet or potty chair.  I kept pushing the fruit juice (something he rarely gets so it really gets things, um, moving) and high-fiber foods.  The first time he did it in his potty chair, I gave him a special stuffed animal.  It wasn't like I made a big deal, though I did clap and let him know that he was such a big boy to make poo-poo in his potty chair, but I wanted to reward him for doing something that he clearly did not want to do.  I gave him a packet of gummy snacks or a cup of juice for each bowel movement for the first couple of weeks of potty training.  I phased it out pretty quickly though because I didn't want him to always expect a treat for doing something that he could easily do.

- I still used baby wipes to clean him up for a few weeks after beginning to potty train.  However, I called them "bathroom wipes" instead of "baby wipes" so as not to confuse him.  Remember, he was a big boy now so he wouldn't be using baby wipes.  These days I just use toilet paper on his bottom, which makes going potty in public much easier.

- I've found that my son doesn't usually have accidents during sleep.  This means that I don't have to change his bedsheets if I can grab him right when he wakes up.  I'll admit that this is tougher to do than it sounds and he still has the occasional night time accident.

- I initially began training him to use a potty chair, but I got him using the regular toilet as soon as he got it.  My reason is that cleaning a potty chair is just as unappealing as a diaper and using the regular toilet is less messy.  I also feared that he'd develop a potty chair habit that would make using a regular toilet somewhat uncomfortable.  That's also the reason that I didn't let him get used to going potty in the portable potty chair or using a portable toilet ring.  Life is easier and less messy this way.

- I have found that nocturnal accidents have stopped (except the night he had a high fever) since he moved to a big boy bed.  Perhaps he somehow made the connection that babies sleep in cribs and babies soil themselves so it must be okay to soil yourself if you sleep in a crib?  Or maybe it's just easier to get up, get out of bed, and call for help to get on the toilet?  I guess it could also be that he's all puffed up about being a big boy (with a big boy bed!) so he doesn't want to do "baby" things anymore?  I don't know the reason, but I thought I'd share the info in case your little one has a lot of night time accidents and is still in a crib.  Moving him to a toddler bed sure did end bed wetting for my son.

- If you cloth diaper (or even if you don't), I wonder if a fleece or wool pull-up style cover would help with night time accidents?  Has anyone tried this theory?  If so, please let me know.  I'm a PUL kinda gal and I never used either fleece or wool.

- You will probably need to leave your house at some point and you'll have to have a plan to deal with toileting, and possible accidents, while away from home.  It's helpful to plan this in advance.

- I liked having the Kalencom Potette Plus 2 in 1 because it is both a travel toilet ring, but also a stand-alone travel potty.  It uses plastic bags with an absorbent thing at the bottom so that urine doesn't splash around in the bag.  I keep it set up in the back of my car (for emergencies) and he had to use it a few times in the early weeks. 

- I began telling him to squeeze his muscles like he was stopping his pee so he could hold it when we were out.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but these days he can keep his muscles squeezed long enough that we can always make it to a toilet.

- I have found that I must let him know that each place we visit has a toilet that he can use whenever he has to go potty.  Doing this has stopped all accidents when we're in public.

- I keep a fresh change of clothes in both my handbag and in my car.  Nothing fancy, just underpants and shorts in case they are needed.

I liked the all-or-nothing approach and it clearly worked well for us.  It's true that my primary objective was to get my son out of diapers, but it was very important to me that I not injure his psyche in the pursuit of a diaper-free household.  I know it's Freudian and all, but I did not want to cause him long-term damage because I was zealously pursuing my objective.  With that in mind, had my son been fearful (fear that I couldn't soothe) or tearful (tears that I couldn't soothe), I would have held off for another few weeks. 

Other than my one breakdown (which I detailed in one of the previous potty training posts), I was impossibly upbeat, encouraging, and enthusiastic during the entire process.  I never once raised my voice or was critical in the least.  This is a very foreign concept to a child and they may stubbornly cling to their diaper.  Losing their diaper might feel like a loss of security to a young child.  The longer they've had the diaper, I suspect the longer they want to keep it - up to a certain age anyway. 

Lora Jensen gives a specific age that she says is idea for PTing - 22 months.  I don't know about that, but I do think that young toddlers are certainly more pliable than an older child.  Possibly even more eager to please their parents too.  My son needed a fourth day at home and he was a little older (just shy of 24 months) than the age she specifies, so maybe she is right after all.  I'll also add that I needed the fourth day to boost my confidence in his ability to hold his potty until he was on a toilet.

My personal parenting philosophy is that I don't turn everyday events into battlegrounds.  This means that I don't fight with my son to eat meals, go to bed, use the toilet, and stuff like that.  I don't think that my way is the only way, but it worked wonderfully for us and I hope that this post has been helpful to potty training (or wanting to potty train) parents in my readership.


  1. Heather, I'm sure this info will help other moms. Thank you for "coaching" me too! I just want to add for any mom's who may get nervous about being past the 22 -24 month "magic" age to potty train, don't be nervous. I was too but it worked out fine. My daughter was exactly 28 months old when I started. She had 1 pee accident at the end of day 1 and 1 night/sleeping pee accident on the second night. We went right from diapers to "big girl panties" fulltime, day, night and nap. She has been diaper free for 3 weeks now,with only a couple of minor pee accidents at home. Not one public accident yet and no poo accidents at all. Throwing away the "baby diapers" was a big part of this process being successful in my opinion, as well as letting her pick out her "big girl panties". Like your little guy, she liked changing her underpants just for the fun of it, which was fine with me.

  2. Thank you so much, Lisa, for your kind and encouraging words! I really appreciate it!

    I agree that going cold turkey off of diapers really helped ensure our success too. And, two months later, my son still likes to choose his own underpants. It's such a small thing and it makes him so happy!

    I realize now that I forgot to mention so many things that it will likely be an entire post tomorrow night. Potty training - it's serious business! haha

  3. Thank you for all of your notes & our talks on this Heather! I REALLY appreciate it! Today is Day 1, he's napping we'll see if he wakes up dry. So far he has not gone on his toilet or ours, but I bring him to his every time I catch him going. He didn't like throwing the diapers away or initially putting on his big boy underwear this morning. So we got off of that topic and just began our day with playing. I carried him to his toilet about 4 times today. He's getting the hang of the topic, I can't imagine him actually running himself to the toilet though. I will keep my eye on that prize! He's more comfortable now than he was this morning, with wearing underwear since he's on his 5th pair so far today! How did you clean the poo undies? I think I'll throw it away since I bought 30 pairs like Laura suggested. He was so close to going in the toilet for that! I knew he had to, I put him on it, but he refused & got up, so I second guessed myself thinking maybe he's not, then he did in his undies a second later!! I sat him on his toilet right then & emptied it into the bowl so he could see. He was very proud of it and loved flushing it down the big toilet! Okay, hope that's not too gross for anyone reading this! Thanks again Heather!

  4. Wonderful news, Marlies! I'm sure your little guy will "get it" by day three or four. I know that it's hard, but it is so worth the effort! Keep on catching each of those accidents and, brace yourself, tomorrow may be an even more accident-prone day. But hold on to the knowledge that it will get better in short order if you stay the course.

    I have a diaper sprayer/bidet that I used to spray the poo off of cloth diapers. I used the same device to spray poo off of underpants. I did throw out one pair of underpants during this process though. Lets just say that it was so horrible that I didn't bother trying to salvage it - bleh! If you have 30 underpants or so (I wouldn't recommend more than 15ish), I'd toss the soiled pair.

    About poo, it's a tricky thing sometimes. Don't fall into the trap of putting him on the potty because you "know" he has to poo. I know that's hard to do; my son used to have bowels so regular that I could set my watch by his movements. But that changes somewhat when they become potty trained. Let him learn his body's cues and run to the potty on his own. Yes, it will be messy (as you learned today), but it ulitmately is better. For now, keep focused on catching every accident (poo & pee) and rushing him to the toilet/potty.

    BTW, my son used way more than five pair of underpants in his first day so I don't think that your fella has used an unreasonable amount thus far. Good job to both of you! Keep on giving him plenty of liquids and high-fiber snacks & give me a call or text if you have any additional questions or need some more support! You can do this. . .and he can too! :)