Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I actually had this topic in mind to write about when I received a request to dedicate a Titus 2-sday to potty training. Although I have seven children who successfully transitioned out of diapers, it's been about eight years since I last potty-trained a child. Technology has changed a lot over time, but human plumbing has not. Maybe you can glean some useful ideas from my experiences.

My first advice is - don't start too early, and don't push too hard. In our family, potty training usually took place around two years of age, but I've known women who waited until their children were three years old or older. When your child keeps his diaper dry for longer periods, has developed an awareness of when his diaper is wet or dirty, and has predictable elimination patterns, it's time for potty training. (Wow, that last sentence was awful, wasn't it? Couldn't think of a better way to delicately word that, though!) I have known mothers who started early, only to have the process drag out for several frustrating, tedious, tearful months. By waiting until the child shows physical signs of readiness, you can make the transition out of diapers more quickly and with fewer accidents.

Secondly, this a celebration - making the move from diapers to big boy or big girl panties is an exciting event! Let your toddler help pick out fun training pants. We called them "fat panties" at our house because they are thickly padded in the center. I preferred cloth training pants because they are more "grown up", less like a diaper, and are more uncomfortable when wet or soiled than something like Pull-Ups. Remember, the goal here is for the child to prefer dry, clean pants and to take appropriate action to keep his pants that way. Pull-Ups may be okay for occasional outtings or for bedtime, but I don't recommend using them at home during the day.

Your toddler can also help arrange the bathroom for this new endeavor - potty chair, a special basket of small picture books, etc. Again, make this part of the celebration!

A word about clothing during this process - don't dress your toddler in cute little overalls or frilly dresses and tights. EASY ACCESS is the rule of the day. Cotton knit dresses for girls, loose fitting shorts or sweatpants for boys. Requiring your child to be a Houdini every time he needs to use the bathroom will NOT help things.

Consistency and regularity are your allies. This may mean that you have to modify your normal routine in order to focus on potty training, but it will be worthwhile to slow life down for a few weeks and avoid unnecessary outtings. Have a routine potty schedule - first thing when your child wakes up in the morning, then every hour or hour-and-a-half throughout the day; right before and immediately after naps. Use a kitchen timer if you're prone to lose track of time, Mom. In the beginning, don't ask, "Do you need to go potty?" - they almost never do, until it's too late. Instead, simply tell your toddler, "Time to go use the potty!" Then, let your child sit on the potty while you chat or look at a book together.

When your toddler successfully uses the potty, rewards are definitely appropriate. We kept a bag of Skittles in the bathroom closet just for this purpose, but you could also use stickers or some other small token of achievement. A friend recruited her older children to help with the potty training of younger siblings - if the toddler tee-tee'd in the potty, she was rewarded with a few Skittles or M&M's. If she pooped, everyone got a treat from a special drawer stocked with snack-sized candy bars, Little Debbie cakes, etc. My friend turned potty time into party time - talk about motivating. By the way, simply flushing the toilet is quite an exciting treat for a toddler who has used the potty successfully!

Being an old-school Mom, I think negative consequences are also appropriate. If your child has an accident, let him or her rinse out the soiled pants and help clean up any messes. However, do not nag or make belittling comments. Natural consequences can be sufficient deterrents without exaggerating the negative.

After making the switch to training pants, we did not go back to diapers at all during the daytime. However, we did continue to use diapers - and then training pants with a waterproof cover - at nighttime. When a child begin waking up consistently with a dry diaper, we switched to just training pants at night. (Use a waterproof pad or cover to protect the bedding.) Amazingly, the entire process - from diapers, to dry all day, to dry all night - took only a few weeks with each of the children.

Your child shows signs of being ready, you've cleared your calendar, and the bathroom is all set up to begin. Don't turn around. Don't go back. Persevere, be consistent, and press on. You may have a bad day (or two or three) when you're tempted to go back to diapers, just for a break, but don't do it. That is confusing to your child, and will draw the process out unduly. There will be bad days, days when you throw ten pairs of wet panties in the laundry - but they will pass, and they will become less frequent. And once you're past potty-training, there will be days when your child has accidents. Don't let setbacks discourage and overwhelm you. Remember, this is a process. Hang in there, Mom!

I know several wise and experienced moms read this blog. What additional comments or tips do you have for young mothers who are just beginning the potty training adventure? Any special advice for working moms?


tracy said...

Mucho thanks! I'll pass this post along to my friend.

Jenny said...

Katie was trained at 18 months.

Owen was trained when he was two.

Audrey may still be in diapers when she's a teen.

Camille, I think you covered it all. The only thing I can think to add is that when they are ready, they learn to go off and hide when they poop. :-D

The Westmorelands said...

camille, i think you pretty much covered it!

we started training knox at 2 yrs, 7 mo, and pretty much only because a new baby was on the way a few months after that! i have heard people say "just because you start sooner, doesn't mean you'll finish sooner." it's true!! while knox (now 3 yrs, 2 mo) knows HOW to use the potty and WHEN he needs to potty, he is not always motivated to do it...which means regular accidents! not huge puddles on the floor or anything, just wet pants or slightly soiled underwear (sorry if that's tmi...ha! but, we have been talking about poop here, right?!)

a word about negative consequences: we have definitely had to institute them. we have tried to be very clear, though, that we are punishing him (taking away toys, privileges, sometimes spanking) not for having an accident but for BEING IRRESPONSIBLE/DISOBEDIENT, NOT TELLING THE TRUTH and/or BEING DISRESPECTFUL. (i.e. "Knox, do you need to go potty?" "NO!" ...when it's obvious he needs to go.) let's just say that we're trying to be less concerned about the poop in his pants and more concerned about the poop in his heart! :)

Christian gal issues said...

Great post Camille. I too have not had to do the potty thing for a while, but I could have used some info like this earlier on! I am sure there are many who will appreciate it.

We used to send the bigger kids in to celebrate with a song :)

"pee pee in the pot - tee" the last part "tee" is with hands in the air. They sounded so cute and all was very light and fun.

One word of caution. One of our daughters was 8 when she was finally dry at night. Her days were fine, but we couldn't get the night to be dry at all. My husand and I each had brothers who couldn't hold it all night. IT was hard for everyone, but man did we have a HUGE party when she was dry for 2 weeks straight at night. She is now 15 and still remembers the party!! Ha!

Some bladders just don't grow at the proper pace. She still needs to go more than the others do! Try not to be too harsh if you know they have no control. Tempers can rise, that is for sure!


Ginny B said...

I so agree with you about the the Pull Ups, I started Savannah out in those but then decided to use real underwear and noticed a Big difference. The pull ups are diapers I don't care what the comericals say Lol. I tell people not to use them. Savannah was harder to train than Dalton, I don't know if it was because I started early or not, I cannot remember how old she was I think around 2 years. I don't remember how Dalton was either, but seemed easier for him.
Good advice you have put out there.