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How to Start Potty Training: A Guide for Nervous Parents




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

Expert reviewed by Barb Davis, Certified Potty Training Consultant

I was terrified to start potty training. We waited until Caden turned 3 to even attempt potty training, mostly because he was showing zero, I mean absolutely no signs that he was ready. Luckily, I had a consultation with an incredible potty training expert to help our family prepare for the transition and her advice was gold. Despite the lack of “signs,” Caden potty trained rather easily and quickly – within a week he was accident free. Don’t misconstrue… we almost gave up night 1, but we stuck through it and the results were well worth it.

Embarking on potty training is a major milestone in your child's life, signifying a substantial step toward independence and growth. While this journey can pose challenges, complete with questions and potential setbacks, so I’m excited to introduce you all to Barb Davis, CD-Labor, LCCE, a parent educator and certified potty training consultant. Barb is who guided us on this journey, and today she is sharing valuable tips and insights to guide you with confidence through this process.

With expert advice, practical strategies, and a go-with-the-flow (pun intended!) attitude, you'll celebrate your child's newfound independence as you embark on the potty training adventure. Don't forget to bring your sense of humor along – you're going to need it!

How to Start Potty Training: A Guide for Nervous Parents

Understanding the basics of potty training 

Let's delve into the essentials of potty training, demystifying the process, and providing you with the best potty training tips that are both effective and stress-free.

When to initiate the potty training process?

Initiation is key, but timing is everything. Some children show readiness signs for toilet training as early as 18 months, while others might be ready closer to ages three and four. Every child develops at their own pace so it's important to avoid the comparison game.

Recognizing the signs of readiness for potty training

Before jumping into potty training, it's important to recognize signs of readiness. According to Barb, “Signs of readiness are crucial, even more important than age!” Some telltale signs to look for include curiosity about the toilet, longer periods of dryness, discomfort with a soiled diaper, willingness to follow instructions, and growing independence. If potty training feels like a constant power struggle, it may be beneficial to wait a little longer.

Barb emphasizes the significance of fostering curiosity throughout the potty training process and underscores the significance of fostering curiosity throughout. Your child may pose questions about the toilet, body parts, or may even observe you during bathroom activities. Barb suggests harnessing this natural curiosity as a teaching opportunity, stating, “This is an excellent time to introduce the proper anatomical terms!”

How to Start Potty Training: A Guide for Nervous Parents

Step-by-step guide to potty training 

Here's a comprehensive step-by-step guide to assist you in potty training your kiddo to make for a smoother transition.

  1. Choose the right time: This could be when your child starts showing signs of readiness such as awareness about bowel movements, the ability to follow basic instructions, or showing interest in the toilet.
  2. Get the right tools: For home, get a small potty chair or a potty seat for the regular toilet (we have that one, but some friends have this one and like it). For leaving the house, this portable pop-up travel potty with disposable bags is an absolute must, especially if you frequent the park or go on longer car rides. If you are going on an airplane, or frequently go to other homes like the grandparents, I love this super thin, foldable potty seat perfect for tiny airplane bathrooms or packing in the diaper bag. I also purchased training underwear that has a bit more padding to absorb any leaks before jumping into real underwear. You may also want to consider purchasing pull up training pants for night time use, to make for a smoother transition from diapers.
  3. Create a routine: Start initiating potty breaks every 30-60 minutes and after meals and snacks. This can help your child understand the connection between eating, drinking, and the urge to go to the bathroom.
  4. Use positive reinforcement: Offer praise to your child for every little success, even the smallest ones. Using the potty is a brand new skill that your child is developing. This can be as simple as sitting on the potty or recognizing the need to go. Many parents find success with a potty training chart. Just a friendly reminder, it's important to encourage without putting too much pressure.
  5. Practice good hygiene: Instruct your child on proper wiping techniques and emphasize the importance of thorough handwashing with soap and warm water after each bathroom visit.
How to Start Potty Training: A Guide for Nervous Parents

Choosing the right equipment and supplies

When it comes to potty training, choosing the right tools can make all the difference. Consider whether a standalone child potty chair or a toilet seat reducer aligns with your child's comfort. Step stools are essential for easy access, especially during the transition to the regular toilet. Additionally, don't miss the chance to engage your child in the excitement of potty training by letting them participate in choosing their first set of ‘‘big kid' underpants.

Making potty training fun and encouraging participation

Potty training shouldn't be a chore. In fact, it could be lots of fun! Try incorporating colorful potty training charts, reading books about using the toilet (we bought a series of Elmo books – this one, and this one), or creating a special ‘potty dance' to celebrate successes. Providing encouragement and positive reinforcement can greatly contribute to making your child feel at ease and excited about this new stage.

The role of rewards and praise in potty training

According to Barb, identifying what motivates your child, whether it's a sticker chart or a small toy, which can serve as excellent incentives. Equally important is recognizing the power of verbal praise. Offering genuine words of appreciation can bolster your child's confidence and inspire them along the journey.

Dealing with resistance and accidents during potty training

Resistance and accidents (a lot of accidents) are an inevitable part of the potty training process. Gently provide reassurance and remind your kiddo that it's okay to have accidents. The most important thing is to maintain a positive attitude and avoid turning an accident into a negative experience.

How to handle nighttime potty training

Mastering nighttime potty training often requires more time compared to daytime training. Barb clarifies, “Success at night is more linked to brain development and bladder size than other factors.” Some kids don’t nighttime potty train until age 5. We personally are waiting to nighttime potty train Caden until he is older since he is not independently comfortable undressing and redressing by himself. And honestly, I am exhausted enough, I don’t feel like adding in more complexity to our life right now. 

If you do decide to nighttime potty train, remember patience plays a crucial role, and you can begin by reducing liquid intake before bedtime or employing a waterproof mattress protector for the occasional accidents. A night light near the potty can also be a big help for late-night trips.

Does the 3-day potty training method work?

The 3-Day approach, which uses short, concentrated bursts of training, can be a game-changer for some toddlers. Know that this method requires commitment, time, and a LOT of patience, which may require taking off a few days of work or clearing your schedule entirely. The goal here is to place your focus entirely on potty training. You'll need to be on high alert, catching every sign that your toddler needs to go.

Here are the basics of the 3-Day method:

  1. Pick a day to start and ensure you have nothing else on your calendar for 3-4 days.
  2. Set up a comfortable, fun, and stress-free environment for your child.
  3. Have plenty of liquids on hand to create opportunities for your child to use the potty.
  4. On day one, as soon as your kiddo wakes up, take them to the toilet. Leave them bare-bottomed for the rest of the day, except for nap time and bedtime. You will need to continue using either a diaper or pull-ups for all sleeps, as sleep training comes later.

This is the method we did, but the 3-day method isn't for everyone. It can be intense and requires a lot of attention, patience, and availability. If this method isn’t the best fit for your family, that’s ok! Potty training isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. She also says that this method often sets parents up to be disappointed because it’s incredibly rare to be fully potty proficient at the end of three days. If you're considering the 3-Day method, it's a good idea to keep your expectations realistic, and think of it as an intensive 3-day kick off.

Naked time

Barb suggests that naked time can be done simultaneously with the 3-day method – and we did do this and noticed a massive difference between his ability to “hold it” naked versus clothed when we went to a birthday party that weekend. According to her, “I endorse naked time for potty training as long as the child is comfortable with it.” Being without clothes during this period, especially in the initial stages, enables the child to grasp the cause and effect of not wearing a diaper and experiencing wetness.

Setting expectations

Maintain a realistic outlook and avoid setting overly ambitious expectations. Barb advises, “Begin with low expectations, allowing ample room for positive surprises!” If the process becomes overwhelming or you've exhausted various strategies, consider seeking guidance from a certified potty training consultant. Take it one step at a time, exercise patience, and remember to celebrate the small victories. Congratulations, you're making progress towards a diaper-free life!

Shortly after thinking “we got this” Caden started withholding his 💩 so I put together tips for dealing with toddler constipation which is a very common nuisance that happens during potty training. To discover more actionable tips and valuable info on motherhood and family life, subscribe to the newsletter.  

Featurted Image by romrodinka from Getty Images


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