We started “official” potty training about 5 1/2 weeks ago. Joe was just over 21 months at that point and I was 32 weeks pregnant. I thought it’d be nice to give it a try and, if possible, avoid having 2 little ones in nappies at the same time. I kept telling myself (and the few others who happened to know about it) that this was a trial only. If things didn’t work, if Joe was stressed or I was stressed, then we’d call it off and re-visit potty training down the road. Not a big deal.
We tried it and, thankfully, all has gone well. I don’t profess to be an expert on potty-training, but I can share a few things that I’ve learned.
1. Start talking about potty training a good while before you “officially” begin potty training.
I’m a talker. Joe and I have always had conversations, even before he could say real words. I’d talk to him about what I was doing, what he was doing, what was going on around him, and so on and so forth. When he had a dirty nappy, I told him so. I didn’t just pick him up and change him. Chris started copying me on this and we’d both say something along the lines of, “Oh, you have a dirty nappy!” or “You went poo!” or “You went pee”, and then we’d tell him we were going to change him and talk about what we were doing.
Using cloth nappies took things one step further, in my opinion. When you use cloth, you flush the waste down the toilet. Once Joe was older, I would bring him into the bathroom with me and tell him what I was doing. He watched and learned. Once he started talking, he would even say “flush” or “poo”.
It was only natural that Joe began to follow us into the bathroom once he was walking. We kept right on talking and I’d explain what was going on. This might embarrass some parents, but I’d tell Joe that I was using the toilet, give him a little bit of toilet paper to play with and, when he was older, ask him if he wanted to help me flush. I’d let him put his tiny piece of toilet paper in the toilet and we’d say “bye-bye” as it swirled away. Boy, was that exciting for him! After that, we’d wash and dry our hands together.
By the time we were ready to start potty training, Joe was quite familiar with what went on in the bathroom and what different words meant.
2. Buy the right supplies.
Here are the basic things that I bought:
- 2 cheap potty chairs without the removable splash guard (can pinch little boys)
- 1 toilet seat insert (may or may not need this depending on the size of your child)
- 1 step stool
- Flushable wipes (bought more for convenience)
- 10 pairs of underpants
- 2 pairs of training pants
- 1 package of Pull-Ups
- Carpet cleaning supplies
One of the books that I actually read a fair mount of recommended against buying an expensive potty chair with lots of bells and whistles. Their rationale was that a child should move from the potty chair to the toilet pretty soon. If your child isn’t likely to be able to do that, then it’s probably too early for potty training. Since you’ll move them to the toilet after only a short while, what’s the point of buying an expensive potty chair? The authors suggested getting 2 or 3 cheap potty chairs to have about the house. I bought 2 like the one below from The Warehouse for $4 apiece.
Joe used these chairs for the first 2 weeks. I kept one in the main part of our apartment and one near the bathroom/kitchen. Having 2 chairs was a good idea. For those first 2 weeks, Joe wasn’t able to hold it for long so I often needed to have one within easy reach. These potty chairs are lightweight, are simple to clean, and low to the ground (another thing the authors recommended, as it allows little ones to plant their feet and feel secure).
I bought the potty chairs a few weeks before we started training and explained to Joe that these were his chairs and that he would get to use them soon. Wasn’t that great?! I used an excited voice whenever we talked about using the potty. Joe liked to carry a chair around with him to sit on while playing, and by the time we started training he was pretty familiar with them.
I bought 10 pairs of underpants a few days before we commenced training. I showed them to Joe and made a big deal about how these were big boy underpants! And he was going to get to wear them soon! How exciting! When it was time to start wearing them, he was pretty pleased with himself
Three days into potty training, I bought 2 pairs of cloth training pants for short excursions out of the house (more on that later). These let Joe feel wet if he’s had an accident, but provide a bit more protection than plain undies.
I bought a toilet seat insert for when it was time to transition Joe from potty chairs to the toilet (about 2 weeks after we started training).
Some reasoning behind why I bought what I bought…
I’d read conflicting advice on the use of Pull-Ups and training pants. Some people said “undies only!”, whereas some suggested a mix. I could understand where some authors were coming from – Pull-Ups are a lot like disposable nappies and it’s confusing for kids to use them when they can’t tell the difference between a Pull-Up and a nappy.
When we began training, Joe didn’t wear anything from the waist down whenever we were indoors for nearly all of the first 2 weeks. I found that when he needed to use the potty chair, he wanted to go right away and he liked being able to sit on it himself without any assistance needed. Yes, this meant that when he had an accident it made more of a mess than if he’d been in undies, but after the first 2 days he didn’t have many accidents.
Joe wears wears undies 90% of the time, including during his afternoon nap. If it’s a short outing to a place where I know that there are toilets, then we use the training pants for a bit more protection. He wears Pull-Ups for overnights, for longer outings where I’m not sure we’ll have access to a toilet, or if he’s at our church’s or gym’s creche. Oftentimes, Joe will wear a Pull-Up more than once because he rarely has an accident in them. I call everything by its name: underpants, training pants, and Pull-Ups. I don’t call Pull-Ups “underwear” or training pants “Pull-Ups”.
I don’t think it’s a big deal how or when one person potty trains their child or the supplies that they use vs. how another person does it. For us, the main reason why we use a mix of undies/training pants/Pull-Ups is because I didn’t want to be a stressed out, grumpy mum. I knew that my attitude would affect Joe and Pull-Ups made me breathe a little easier for long outings, so we used them. Same deal with training pants on short outings. Use what works for you and allows you to be relaxed. One thing I’ve heard again and again is that if you’re tense and anxious and stressed during training, then your child will be tense and anxious and stressed during training.
3. The actual process of potty training.
We started talking to Joe about potty training related stuff early on. He knew the terms. He knew what the toilet was for and what went on in the bathroom. He knew about flushing and wasn’t scared of it. He’d seen the water swirl away and understood about wiping and using toilet paper and putting it in the toilet and washing hands.
The night before potty training, I told Joe that tomorrow was an exciting day – we were going to start potty training! How great! I showed him his potty chair and said that in the morning, we would put away all of his nappies and he would use the big boy potty.
The next morning, I changed his nappy and reminded him that – hooray! – today he got to start potty training! I had him help me put away his nappies and I kept him clothing-free from the waist down. I had him sit on his potty chair right away and talked about how, starting today, he would go pee and poo in his potty instead of in a nappy. Wasn’t that exciting and great?
For the first 2 days, I asked Joe to sit on the potty about every 20 – 30 minutes. I would tell him that he didn’t need to go, but that I wanted him to try. Whether he went or not, there was always praise involved. If he went – hooray! – and if he didn’t, I’d thank him for being such a big boy and for trying. By about day 3, I stretched this out to asking him only once an hour. When we were going somewhere, I would tell him in advance that I wanted him to try to use the big boy toilet when we were out, but that he didn’t need to go, just try. Whenever he used the potty, I would sit next to him to make sure that things were positioned correctly and not over-spraying the seat. He still needs a little help with this.
I’d been told to expect accidents 100% of the time for the first 2 days of training. I am so glad that I read that because, you know what? Joe had a lot of accidents for those first 2 days. It was discouraging, I’ll admit, but whenever he had an accident, I’d say something like, “Oh look – you’re going pee! Let’s sit on the potty, quick!” in a cheerful voice. If he couldn’t make it to the potty then I’d say, “That’s OK – accidents happen. Will you help me clean up?” If he got even a little in the potty chair, I’d make a big deal about how great he’d done and ask him to come with me to help flush it away, wash hands, etc., etc.
Another bit of advice that I got – stay indoors for a full week. I intended to follow this advice to a “T” but after 2 days, we both had a bad case of cabin fever. I was starting to feel overwhelmed even though Joe was having fewer accidents and I thought, “This is not good – if I’m stressed, he’s going to be stressed. We’ve gotta get outta here!” This advice might work for someone who has a backyard, but for us? Living in an apartment? In the middle of the city? Without even a balcony? Not gonna work.
I had a midwife appointment the following morning. Chris watched Joe while I nipped over to my appointment and, on the way there, I picked up the 2 pairs of training pants. Within 30 minutes of getting home, I had Joe in the training pants and we went on a short trip to our nearby park. Getting out did wonders for our mood and we took a second trip after Joe’s afternoon nap.
We kept at the potty training and I learned a few things, the biggest being that when you potty train your child, they’re not the only one who’s learning – you’re learning things, too. I learned what worked best for us and our family. I learned the best ways to encourage Joe. I learned how to help him point things in the right direction when he was on the seat (“Point it down and lean forward” has become a common phrase). I learned that some advice was great and some of it was rubbish.
4. Advice that wasn’t so great (for us)…
Some not-so-great advice that I got? Give your child lots of salty snacks and sugary drinks. It’ll encourage them to drink a lot and give plenty of chances to use the potty. I didn’t do that. Joe doesn’t drink sugary drinks. He doesn’t eat lots of salty snacks. Why would I make a change like that just to get him to potty train? If he was ready, he was ready, tricks or not. I did let him have a few more snacks and adjusted our routine, but that was because we were indoors for a large chunk of time, more than what we’d usually be, and it was what worked for us for the time being.
Some more not-so-great advice? Plop the potty chair in front of the TV and let your child watch lots of movies or kids’ shows while seated on it. The idea behind this is that they’ll sit still and remain on the potty chair, increasing the likelihood of them going in the potty. As one author explained when arguing against this, when you have your child sit there and they’re distracted and they just happen to go on the potty chair, then they’re not learning anything. You’re just catching the pee or poo. Your child isn’t recognizing that they need to go – they just happen to go in the right place. What’s more, if your child doesn’t have the attention span to sit on the toilet for a minute or two without being entertained by a DVD, then they probably aren’t old enough to begin potty training.
This made sense to me. Yes, it meant that we had a lot of accidents those first 2 – 3 days, but you know how you learn? By having accidents and making mistakes. Joe learned to run to the potty or to say “potty, potty!” when he had to go or had started going.
This isn’t to say that I expected Joe to sit there placidly by himself whenever I told him to use the potty chair. I’d sit next to him and chat with him, ask him to “point it down and lean forward”, and if he went, then yay! Big excitement! And if he didn’t go? I’d say, “That’s OK – thank you so much for trying!”
After 2 weeks of using the potty chairs, I decided to transition him to using the toilet. He needed the seat insert for the first week to help him feel a bit more secure, but after about 4 – 5 days we started using it only part time, then not at all once the week was up. I learned quickly that having him transition from the potty chair to the toilet sooner rather than later was a good idea. I didn’t want to have to carry a potty chair or a seat insert with me whenever we went out, then go through the rigamarole of putting it on a public toilet, cleaning it afterward, etc. No thanks. It took Joe a little longer to get used to using public toilets, but I kept up the good attitude and found that talking to him about it in advance was a help. If we were going somewhere, I’d ask him to use the toilet at home and then just before leaving would say something like, “OK – we’re going for a walk. While we’re out, I’d like you to try to use the big boy toilet. You don’t have to go, but you do need to try.” Then when we were out and it was time to use the toilet, I’d say, “OK – time to try to use the toilet!”
More and more, Joe will simply tell me all by himself that he needs to go, but that’s nearly 6 weeks out from when we started. I know that some people say that potty training can be accomplished in a week. Maybe it can for some, but not us. Joe still gets a little distracted sometimes and has an accident. Chris and I went out on a date last week and our friend said that he had 2 accidents while we were gone. That was the most accidents Joe has had in a single day since the first time we started potty training. I was surprised, but it wasn’t a big deal. I just figured that he was so excited and distracted that he forgot.
5. Some other odds and ends
There were a few children’s books about potty training that Joe enjoyed.
“Lulu’s Loo” – by Camilla Reid
“On Your Potty, Little Rabbit” by Kathleen Amant
“Have You Seen My Potty?” by Mij Kelly
Joe really liked the “Little Rabbit” book. I took to saying, “On your potty, little rabbit!” and he would repeat, “Rabbit!” and run to his potty Pretty cute.
I pulled a couple of books on potty training from our local library.
“Potty Training Boys – The Easy Way” by Caroline Fertleman, MD, and Simone Cave
The book by Fertleman and Cave was the most helpful to me. I didn’t read any of the books all the way through, but this one made the most sense, in my opinion.
In the end, I think that the most important thing was my attitude. I won’t claim that I was serene and calm the whole way through. There were a few times where I got frustrated and it came out in my tone of voice. But that happens whether I’m potty training or not and when it does, I simply apologize to Joe, resolve to do better, and move on. II’ve been told to expect some regression once baby #2 arrives, and we’ll deal with that as it happens. For now, I’m glad to have a little break from nappies and that we’ve gone through this stage with fairly few bumps and bruises