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?
2 hours ago