I think at by now I have successfully potty trained, like, 15 kids. I mean, obviously the parents do the heavy lifting during the nighttime and weekends, but I think I can give myself credit for playing a large role in it seeing as I spend every day with the kids. I can't tell you how much people dread potty training. It's seen as the worst part of parenting, as opposed to just another milestone, which is what it is. It's something that should be exciting! Sure, cleaning a poop off the kitchen floor blows, and waking up in the middle of the night to change sheets sucks, but it's not the end of the world. When it's approached as something horrible to have to get through, the kid isn't going to be enthusiastic about learning and it'll be a drag for you.
Up until recently, I had been going by instinct when helping a child learn to potty train, and for the most part it went really well. I will admit to the occasional bribe, but for the most part, bribes weren't necessary. Kids want to learn, their brains are ready, and all they need is positive reinforcement.
This past fall, when I started to potty train my little Avocado, his parents recommended Oh Crap by Jackie Glowacki to me and it put everything on the page that I have been trying to articulate to parents for years. Get this book, people! It is so clear, a quick read, and makes so much sense.
The following tips are tricks I picked up over the years that have only been reinforced and streamlined after reading this book!
1. Start Young!
Like, between the ages of 20 and 30 months young. I know a lot of people who think that is too early, but truthfully, the most successful and quickest potty learners I have ever worked with are the ones who have been around 20 months, including Avocado. Their brains are not experiencing any huge developmental milestones at this time - they can walk, feed themselves, communicate with words and small phrases. They can focus on potty training really well at this time because not much else is going on up there! Also, the older the kid gets, the less they realize that shitting their pants isn't socially acceptable. Kids start to realize that going to the bathroom is a private activity around 18-24 months, but if you wait too long to potty train them, they lose that sense of needing privacy when going to the bathroom and it remains normal for them to be waddling around with a full diaper. And let me tell you, there is nothing more disgusting than a four year old walking around with a saggy diaper and no shame.
2. Give lots of positive reinforcement!
As tempting as it may be to give your kid a treat when they go to the bathroom, bribing isn't really necessary. All they need is a lot of excitement and cheering when it goes well. My mom used to give me an M&M when she was potty training me, and while I'm sure it was relatively effective the first couple days, bribery usually loses it's charm pretty quickly when a kid doesn't want to do something. If you really feel your kid needs something to help them track their successes, hang a little chart on the bathroom wall and let him put a sticker up every time he goes to the bathroom without having an accident.
3. Let them watch you go.
How else are they gonna learn if they don't watch their parents do it? Make it a party! Though you're probably doing this already. I've yet to meet an 18 month old with a deep respect for bathroom privacy. And use the proper names for body parts, for goodness sake. And on that subject, pick a word for the action and stick to it. Poop, pee, potty, whatever you choose, just make sure the same one is used across the board so there is no confusion.
4. Don't shame them when they have an accident.
Hold it inside even when you're at your wits end. And they will have accidents. Lots of them. You don't want to instill a sense of shame or "badness" in your kid when they pee themselves. It can be really difficult and frustrating because obviously cleaning up a mess is really annoying and gross, but it's important that your kid's self-esteem isn't damaged and they don't develop negative feelings around going to the bathroom. If it's a stressful situation for them, it's not going to go well. Instead, once they are cleaned up, have a quick little talk about what went wrong. Maybe mommy took too long putting her bags down and you didn't go straight to the bathroom and you couldn't hold it any longer. Or maybe you had trouble finding your words to tell mama and papa that you have to go to the potty. Believe me when I tell you that they get it.
5. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.
Especially those first few weeks, they are gonna need to sit on that toilet and hang out. Bring them books, read to them, sing songs, and let them do their business in their own time. Sometimes it takes a while for them to get comfortable enough to trust the situation enough to go!
6. Get ready for your kid to be Donald Duck-ing it 24/7 for at least a month.
My advice would be to pick a weekend and stay home the entire time. Let your kid hang out naked the whole time, and put them on the toilet every 15 minutes. It sounds like a lot, but this will get them into the routine and it'll leave little room for accidents. After the first weekend, pick short outings so your kid can practice holding it while having his clothes on. You can go longer and longer times after the first couple weeks.
7. Believe your kid when they tell you they have to pee.
That means NOW. And if you are out and about, that means they're gonna pop a squat on the nearest tree. Who cares where you are, just do it. I mean, there has been the occasional time where there have been too many lurkers and I've hauled ass around the corner, but for the most part, just go for it. As my little Avocado told me once, "I want to pee in this mud!" Go for it, lil guy!
8. No more diapers.
No night time diapers, no pull ups, no diapers for when you go to a special place. Diapers are gone. You want that sensation to completely leave their mind, or else they will know that they can always go back to the comfort of their diapers if they try hard enough. You must commit even when you don't want to. So double line the crib with piddle pads and take them for a sleepy 11pm potty break every night.
Have some hard liquor stocked in your home and you'll be surprised by how quickly your kid will be potty trained. Yes, the first month or so may be semi-brutal, but by 3 months your child will have completely grasped the concept and be totally potty trained. That's right, you can have a fully potty-trained two year old. There will be the occasional accident, but for the most part your kid will be good to go. And by 6 months it will be a whole new world. Trust yourself and your kid that you are ready and can do this. Have confidence and your kid will too! And hey, a potty book never hurt either! You got this!