Potty Training: Tips & Tricks for Success

Two dreaded words: Potty Training. Am I alone? As Amelia came up on this major milestone I shied away – and by shied away I hid completely. With a new baby on the way and a fiercely strong willed little girl I had no interest in getting start. Alas, you do what you gotta do. I’ve been cluelessly plugging away only and realized .. maybe you are too?

Meet Agata

Agata is the creator of @little.bears.potty, an Instagram page dedicated to all your potty training questions. As a new momma to Wesley she started sharing her potty training knowledge & tips from her experience as a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, working in a home daycare, & a parent coach to families of children with autism. Needless to say, she walked many families through the process of potty training. Like why I started Simple & Sage, Agata was being asked by friends who had started potty training for her help.

Why is potty training so tough?

Agata shares “it’s one of the first difficult skills that is not intrinsically motivating for children. Potty training is different from learning to walk or talk. Children are motivated to learn to walk and talk because it gets them access to things like treats and toys that were previously out of reach.  Potty training does not do that.

From their perspective, it makes their environment worse.  Right now they are wearing a cozy diaper and can pee or poop anywhere and anytime they want, without stopping what they are doing.

Then, suddenly you ask them to stop what they are doing, leave their toys, hold it until they get to a toilet, go, wipe, AND wash hands.  That is way more work. It has value to the parents, but not necessarily to the child.” At some point, though, the time comes when that convenience will need to change.

Is now the time for you?

Agata has shared her tip & tricks for making potty training a smoother process for you & your little one. The top three tips are:

  1. Make sure they are ready. 
  2. Make sure you, as the caregivers are ready for it.
  3. Positive reinforcement: like I said, this is a really tough skill.  It is very important to have a really solid reward system to reinforce all the tiny successes and big successes. You want them to learn that this is something that’s important, that they are doing a great job, and to keep trying.

Before you get started

  • Your child must be physiologically, cognitively and emotionally ready in order to have success with potty training. 
  • This typically does not emerge until after 18-24 months of age.  Agata always recommend following your child’s lead. 
  • Do they have good imitation skills, so that they can copy a sibling or parent?  
  • Do they reliably answer “yes” or “no?” 
  • Are they able to sit on a potty or toilet for 5 minutes?
  • Are they cooperative with parent requests most of the time?

If you and your toddler are in a stage of tantrums and power struggles, Agata recommends working on that prior to potty training. 

  • Are they able to pull underwear and pants on and off on their own?

This is not necessarily a must, but can be helpful when they get to a stage of going to the bathroom completely on their own.  It can help to prevent accidents because they were not able to get their pants off quick enough. 

  • Have they been examined by their doctor and cleared of any physiological concerns that may interfere with training? (e.g. frequent urinary tract infections, constipation, medications …etc.)

Prior to starting potty training, I suggest having an appointment with your child’s Pediatrician or GP who can rule out any physiological barriers and give you the green light to start potty training.

Signs of Readiness

Some subtle cues your child is developing body awareness include:

  • Changes in body language right before they urinate or have a bowel movement (BM).  For example, they may stop playing and go to a “hiding” place to have a pee or BM.  Some parents report that they know their child is having a BM because they hide behind furniture or in a corner.  They might try to get a dirty or wet diaper off, or ask for a change.  This is a good sign as it shows they are noticing discomfort when soiled, and may be motivated to stay clean and dry. 
  • Cognitively, they may start showing an interest in the toilet by asking questions, wanting to watch others use it or are eager to try sitting on the potty or toilet themselves.

Are YOU Ready?

  • Is this a low- stress time in your life? 

Potty training is not necessarily stressful, but it does require your undivided time and attention during the initial stages. There will be accidents; you will be doing more loads of laundry at first.  You will also be celebrating and having mini bathroom parties several times per day.  Make sure you have set time aside to be available for that. 

  • Does your child split their time between two homes or attend daycare? 

Ensure all caregivers are on the same page and are ready to follow one plan of action. 

  • Do you have any upcoming changes to your home (move, birth of a sibling, vacation, change in childcare setting… etc.)? 

If so, wait. Hold off until you are comfortable settled into your home, back from your vacation or in a routine with a new baby.  Again, this will require your undivided attention, so set yourself up for success. 

Supplies for potty training

  • Underwear

I do not recommend pull-ups for training as they mask the sensation of being wet and can slow down the process.

  • Potty chair, toilet insert, step stool should be individualized to your child’s size

They should be able to sit comfortable with both feet planted flat and not need their hands for balance

  • Lots of old towels to pad the play area and to clean up accidents.
  • Rewards

Have a plan. Think about what your child gets excited about. Whether you plan on using edible treats, stickers or points charts stock up so that you have them on hand and are ready to deliver. 

Tips for Success

  • Patience is key!

Accidents will happen.  Know that they are learning a tough new skill and give them the support and time they need to get there.

  • Respond to accidents by staying as emotionally neutral as possible.

Do not get upset or make them feel like they are in trouble.  Do not make it into a funny joke.  Give it as little attention as possible.  You can say, “you had an accident, lets go clean up”. 

  • Plan to carve out some time specifically for potty training. 

Take a few day off work, make arrangement for someone to help out if there are sibling around and set some time aside so you can devote your undivided attention just for them.

  • Pooping often takes a little longer to train. Be patient, it will happen. 

Children have a lot more opportunities to practice peeing in a day than they do pooping.  When you do have a poop success, amp up your reinforcement.  Have a BIG party. 

  • Overnight without accidents often comes much, much later.  Again, it will come.

Don’t be afraid to put them back into diapers or pull-ups over night.  Children often don’t have the bladder control to hold it over night. Speak to your child’s paediatrician or GP regarding overnight readiness.

Celebrating the Wins with Your Child

Using the potty for the first time is hard and can be scary. Using diapers is familiar, safe and easy.  You are asking them to leave an old habit behind to learn a new skill. There has to be something of value in it for them. 

Using positive reinforcement teaches the child that the new skill is valuable, it matters and that their hard work and efforts have value.  But what exactly is positive reinforcement and how do you know it’s working? 

Positive reinforcement is a consequence that is given to the child right after they perform the skill, that will make them more likely to want to perform that skill again in the future.  

Using the Reward System

Each child’s reward system will look differently.  Design your own reinforcement plan based on your child’s preferences and needs.  For example, some children will do great with a point chart where they earn stickers or check marks that they will exchange for treats or fun activities at the end of the day or week.  Others are not quite ready for that and need something more immediate, like a Smartie or chip after every success. 

What you use as rewards will also vary depending on your child’s individual preferences.  A reward will only work as positive reinforcement if it increased the likelihood that the child will want to try the skill again next time.  If the child does not care to earn the reward, then we don’t have reinforcement.

Are you all set?

The MAIN thing is there is no ‘one size fits all’

Each child and family will have their own steps.  There are lots of “how- to” instructional books out there, and they will work for some but not for others.  Look at your child’s individual strengths, preferences, personalities and shape your plan to what will fit them best. Think about what your potty training goals are. For example, some parents like using timers and want to train their child to use the potty within their daily routines.  Other parents want their child to recognize when they have to go, and ask to use the potty.

If it’s go time in your house click here to download the Let’s Potty Reward Chart – be sure to review the How To Guide before getting started!

Happy Potty Training!

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