Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Potty Training 101

Recently a nanny inquired about how to start potty training. She hadn't done this previously and was looking for some tips. I thought it might be a good idea to give you my ideas on potty training. After years working in a child care center with all ages, specifically as the lead toddler teacher, and 21+ years as a nanny I've been through this many times. However, don't forget there are lots of websites, blogs and chat rooms that discuss ideas about this very subject that can be helpful in creating your own process for toilet training children.

Remember that any type of behavioral modification takes time and requires your patience. Each child reacts differently to the process. While some catch on quickly and are successful, others may struggle and need to have more time or try again later. Comparing one child with another will just be frustrating - keep in mind each child is an individual.

Number 1 - Readiness
Starting the process when a child isn't ready is quite simply, frustrating to everyone. So look for signs of readiness in your child. Some of these signs include: interest in other's bathroom habits, fairly regular or predictable urination and bowel movements, child has dry periods of at least 2 hours, demonstrates interest in independence with other things, takes pride in accomplishments, can pull up and down their own pants, they are able to communicate that they know they are wet or soiled showing awareness, some measure of cooperation with directions. There may be other signs that show your child is ready to get started. While often children around two are usually ready, that doesn't mean all two year olds are ready. For a successful outcome readiness is critical.

Number 1.5 - Consistency
Almost as important as readiness is consistency throughout the process. All adults in the child's life should be "on board" with the plan. Relying on one person to take the lead is fine, but if that is the only person working through this it will be a much longer and more challenging process. Once a plan is established, everyone needs to follow the plan and re-evaluate to see how things are going. This means frequent and honest communication. Families, nannies and others working with the child may find that keeping a detailed log with notes on successes, failures, cooperation of the child, etc. can really help them all stay on course. Be honest about outcomes - if things aren't working, communicate that. Sometimes tweaking the plan will help or maybe it's time to step back and try again in a few weeks or months. There's no blame in taking a step back. Remember it's in the child's best interest that you are working through this process . . . together.

Here are some other considerations when developing your plan of action:
  • Underwear or Pull Ups? While they both are helpful, my personal choice is underwear as a first option. However, I've used pull ups as an aid when we were on outings or at activities outside the home. They are more convenient than bringing a bag full of extra clothes and can still be effective in your plan. Often families choose pull ups for night training with excellent results. To encourage and excite the child about this new endeavor have them select their own underwear. It can help them in a desire to keep them dry.
  • Make it Exciting! We know children respond when there is energy, encouragement and excitement. Celebrate their successes in a big way - sing, dance, clap - give them lots of praise and feedback. Downplay the misses. Don't get caught up in "accidents" or missed opportunities. Regroup and start again. Sitting on the potty can be a good time for a book, singing, fingerplays or other activities that help the time go by.
  • Routines Work! Set a schedule for going to the bathroom and stick with it. Right after waking up, several times during the morning, before or after lunch, before nap/rest time, after nap/rest time, several times in the afternoon could be a good place to start. Some children benefit from frequent visits to the bathroom and then taper off as they start to have success. Make sure to tailor the plan to the needs of the child rather than the convenience of others - you'll be glad you did. When you are out and about do your best to stick to the routine you've set.
  • Rewards? Encouragement in the form of stickers, treats and surprises can really motivate the child who is struggling or showing opposition. Be sure you are honest about their readiness before adding a reward system to your plan. A child who isn't ready can be motivated by a reward but not be progressing to self sufficiency - be observant of what is really happening.
  • The Self Sufficient Child! The goal is to move your child closer to doing things for themselves. Make sure to include them on all aspects of bathrooming including flushing, washing of hands, dressing themselves and helping clean up when there are accidents. Talk about the process and expectations often. Share your feelings about their success and ask them to share theirs. Talk about frustrations so that you can provide understanding and support. Work as a team until the time when they can manage on their own.
  • Success at Night! Getting through the nights can take longer and require a routine that works for your child. Regular toileting before bed and immediately upon waking is important. Most children sleep deeply and have trouble waking themselves up to get to the bathroom on time. Be patient. Dry nights requires a maturing process and it is not uncommon for 5 or 6 year old to still be struggling. Don't be afraid to seek professional help if you need it.
  • Boys vs. Girls? Ok, let's get it out there . . . is there really a difference? I think it goes back to readiness and the individual child. There is a certain maturity you are looking for, not only in motivation and interest but also in physical sensation and ability. In my experience girls generally "get it" more quickly or are ready earlier, but I also have trained boys in a few days with great success. I can't say this enough - the child is an individual and the best time for them is unique to them.
  • Patience, Patience, Patience! I don't think I can emphasize this enough. Be patient with the child and yourself. Observe and evaluate as you go. Is one bad day enough to throw in the towel? I say - no! If I see a consistent lack of interest, success, cooperation - then I think we need to either change the plan of action and our process or step back and try again later. You may be surprised at what a few weeks or a few months will bring.
Do you have a potty training technique that's a winner? Send us a comment to post to share with others!


  1. "While often children around two are usually ready, that doesn't mean all two year olds are ready."

    very good point. I am working with 2 1/2 year old boys and I really don't see readiness with one of them (they're twins). I wish that the pressure weren't on in the form of preschool not taking them next year if they aren't fully potty trained... I agree that training needs to progress at the pace that works for the individual child. Rushing it for a school deadline might just turn them off.

  2. My Will was 3 when I potty trained him too. I actually cried with happiness the first time he went in the potty. He could hold it from the time he got up in the morning till a diaper and nap time and then again until I put a nighttime diaper on. It was definitely a hard job to tackle. But gummy bears when he went was the one thing that finally did the trick. It felt like he would never quit asking for them for a while afterwards, but he did within a month or two. Good luck! You can do it :-). Potty Training For Girls

  3. Thanks for the information. This will be beneficial while we potty train our son.

    Kelly Brown