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Potty Training 101

One of the milestones that children go through in the first few years of life is potty training, and what a milestone it is. Learning to walk and talk are fun and all, but the end of dirty diapers? Now, that is a milestone!

In this article, we cover the right time to start potty training as well as the basic things you will want to do to help your little one succeed. There are also a few tips that you might want to try if your child is struggling to get the hang of things.

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When Is The Right Time To Start Potty Training?

After changing hundreds or even thousands of diapers, most parents are understandably quite excited to begin potty training. However, parents aren't the only ones that get a vote in this case. Things will go much more smoothly if your little one is on board.

In terms of age, 22% of kids are out of diapers by the time they are 2.5 years old, and 88% are out by 3.5. But, every child is different, and not everyone is ready to learn on the same schedule.

So, how do you know when the time is right? Look for the following signs:

  • Are they staying dry for two hours at a time? Infants urinate very frequently. As children grow and develop, they begin to gain bladder control and don't need to go as often.
  • Do they communicate or show signs of needing to go? Some toddlers might tell you when they need to urinate or move their bowels. More commonly though, they show non-verbal signs. For example, some kids go under a table or to the corner of a room when they need to go. While they might not be telling you directly, this awareness is a good sign that they are ready.
  • Are they able to walk to the bathroom and sit on the toilet? This is a prerequisite for potty training. If they are going to master it, they will need to be able to get into position.
  • Can they pull down their pants, and then pull them up again? They will need to do this in order to master potty training. So, there is no need to rush ahead until they have it down.
  • Do they notice when they have a dirty diaper and tell you about it? If they are letting you know that they have a dirty diaper, it could be because they don't like it. This may mean they're motivated to learn.

If you believe your child is ready to start potty training, there is one more thing to consider: Are all of your child's caretakers ready?

Potty training can take a few weeks or a few months to master, and putting in a consistent effort is one of the keys to success. Before you begin, be sure to coordinate with everyone that will be taking care of your little one (spouse, relatives, daycare, nanny, etc.) to make sure you are all on the same page.

The Wrong Time To Start Potty Training

While the questions above can be good indicators that your child is ready to begin, you should also stop to consider any changes in your little one's world.

Things like beginning daycare, switching from a crib to a bed, or getting a new sibling are major changes in a child's life. It's best to avoid overwhelming them by putting them through too much change at once. So, if there is another big event in your child's life, you might want to wait a month or so before potty training.

Potty Training Basics

Ok, you're ready to begin. Here are the basic steps that you will want to take to get started.

Get A Potty Training Chair Or Seat​

Some parents prefer a free standing potty chair, and others prefer a seat that goes on top of the toilet.

The big advantage of a potty chair is that it's right sized for your little one. They will be able to get on by themselves, and should be comfortable sitting on it since their feet will be able to touch the ground. It's also possible to put the potty chair wherever your little one spends the most time, instead of having to put it in the bathroom. That might be the playroom for example. Having it nearby can really help when your child suddenly has to go.

On the other hand, the big advantage of a seat that fits onto your toilet is that you don't have to clean up after your child uses it. After so many diapers, a lot of parents are eager to move onto this new phase.

Have Your Little Trainee Sit On the Potty

If you want them to learn to use the potty, the first thing to do is to get them comfortable sitting on it. Have them sit down with their clothes on first to try it out. Then, have them sit on it without clothes to get used to the feeling.

By the way, it's best to have boys learn to urinate sitting down. Otherwise, moving bowels while sitting and urinating while standing can get a bit confusing. Once they've mastered bowel movements, you can show them how to urinate standing up.

Dump The Contents Of A Diaper Into The Potty Or Toilet

This will help kids make the connection. While you should explain things to them verbally, there is no substitute for seeing it first hand.

Let Your Child Flush The Toilet

This is another way of showing your child what the toilet is all about. A lot of kids thinks it's fun to flush the toilet and watch the water swirl around. Associating potty training with fun can help keep them interested, and ultimately help them succeed. 

Dress Them In Clothing That's Easy To Remove

Regular pants are in. Overalls and onesies are out. Believe me, the last thing that you want to do when you're trying to rush to get your child onto the potty is to slow things down to fuss with some buckles or snaps.

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Stay In The Bathroom With Your Child

You can read or play on your phone, but it's good to be in the same room with your child when they're trying to go.

Allow Them To Get Up When They Want

Even if you really think they need to go, let them get off the potty when they want. If you fight them on this, they might start resisting more in the future. It's much better if you're both on the same side, trying to master this together.

Keep An Eye Out For Signs Your Little One Needs To Go

If you notice your little one start to squirm or make a face like they have to go, try to quickly encourage them to get to the potty. There's nothing like striking while the iron is hot!

Move To Training Pants Or Underwear

After a couple of weeks of dry diapers, offer to let them start wearing underwear. It's good to heap on the praise and talk about how they're really becoming a big kid as well.

Take The Potty Chair On The Road

Potty chairs are small and portable. So, if you head out to the park or the beach for a few hours, take the potty chair along. That way, your child can keep making a consistent effort, which has a big impact on how long it takes to conquer this milestone.

Accidents Will Happen

Accidents are a part of the process. No child is going to pick things up perfectly from the start. The key is to keep encouraging them. It's never a good idea to shame them or punish them when an accident happens. This can make potty training much more stressful, unpleasant, and longer than it needs to be. It's better to just say looks like you had an accident. Let's get you cleaned up, and you can try to use the potty again next time.

Teach Them Good Hygiene

Now is the time to form good habits. So, be sure to have them wash their hands every time they sit on the potty. For girls, it's also the right time to teach them how to wipe from front to back.

parent and child washing hands

A Few Potty Training Tips And Ideas That Might Work For You

Some kids pick up potty training quickly, and others take a few months. The tips below are great ways to help the process along. You don't have to do all of these things, just pick the ones that you think will work best for you and your child.

Take A Break

If your child is having lots of accidents, and doesn't seem to be getting the hang of things, take a break. Maybe your little trainee isn't quite ready. Everyone masters potty training on their own schedule. Taking a few months off and then trying again can be better than continuing to struggle and grind it out.

Offer Up A Reward

A sticker chart can be a great way to reward success. Every time your child goes, you can add a sticker to the chart and heap on the praise.

You might even consider offering up something sweet. A lot of parents use mini M&Ms as a way to motivate their kids. Just be careful with this one, since you will want to stop at some point.

Cristin's Note: When our son was potty training, we offered up something sweet every time he made it through the day with no accidents. Sometimes it would be a scoop of ice cream, other times it would be a cookie or a piece of candy. I think this helped our little guy master potty training, but then it was really hard to break the habit. Six months after he mastered it, he was still asking for cookies and candy at the end of day!

Finally, we weaned him off his daily dessert but it was not the easiest thing in the world. All in all, I think we would have been better off trying a sticker chart or at least a smaller sweet like a mini M&M.

Dedicate A Whole Weekend To Potty Training

After a week or two of trying to potty train, you might carve out an entire weekend to really focus on it. Let your child play, eat and drink like normal but have them sit on the potty every 15 minutes. That will be a lot of trips to the bathroom, and your little one won't go most of the time. But, they will go some of the time, and probably won't have any accidents either.

Let Them Stay Naked

If you're going to focus on potty training for a weekend, you might also let your child run around the house naked (or bottomless). If they're naked, they will be much more aware of when they are urinating or moving their bowels since it won't just be absorbed into a diaper or underwear. This can help them make the connection between what they are feeling and when they have to go to the potty. Just be sure to keep them somewhere accident friendly (hard floors are better than carpets).

Read Potty Themed Books

There is no shortage of books out there that focus on kids learning to use the potty. Pick up a few from the library and read them a night. This is a great way to get your little one interested in potty training.

Show Them How It's Done

Bring your child into the bathroom with you when you have to go. Kids love imitating grown ups. It's a big part of how they learn. So, show them how it's done, and they may want to try it out for themselves.

child on bed with stuffed animals

Night Time Training

Learning to use the potty during the day is one thing, but getting through the night is a whole different story. It generally takes quite a bit longer for kids to master this. So, you might consider putting them in underwear during the day and then using training pants and mattress covers when they go to bed.

Most children are able to stay dry at night between the ages of 5 and 7. So, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Final Thoughts On Potty Training

Like a lot of things in parenting, it pays to be patient. Potty training is a part of childhood, and sooner or later all children master it. That said, just as kids learn to crawl, walk and talk at different ages, they are also ready to potty train at different ages.

The best thing that you can do is to pay attention to signs that your child is ready. There is no need to rush ahead just because their best friend is learning to potty train. Instead, do things on their schedule, and heap on the praise every time they try.

About the Author Cristin Howard

Cristin is a co-founder of SmartParentAdvice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.

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