Caring For Our Kids

Toilet training tips

Photo: valentina powers / flickr

Potty training your toddler is one of those milestone moments that many parents often dread. It can be messy, frustrating, and stressful. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is — no more diapers. There are many opinions or “theories” on the best way to accomplish it, including countless books, videos, and articles.

When our oldest was close to turning 2, I convinced my husband to attend a potty training class, a two-session “course” at a woman’s home that “guaranteed” success. We were first-time parents and clueless, so this was our approach. We picked Labor Day weekend and canceled all plans to potty train. By the end of the weekend, we were so exhausted and stressed that both my daughter and I were in tears. Now we are in the throws of it with our third child and have learned a few things along the way. I am by no means an expert, but if the old saying, “third time’s the charm” is true, then I am happy to offer some tips to make this a bonding experience with your child. Here’s how we did it:


The first step is to follow your child’s lead, not yours. With my oldest, I was convinced she had to be in underwear before our son was born. Looking back, this is funny to me; I am not sure why I was so adamant other than that I was also a bit irrational at eight months pregnant. She wasn’t ready, and we ended up waiting a few months after our second child was born when our daughter began showing signs of being ready, which was a much better experience.

Some of the signs of being ready are letting you know when the diaper is wet or dirty. It is also important that your child can follow simple instructions and is able to independently pull down his or her pants. Some children are ready as early as 18 months while others aren’t interested until age 3. With our third child, who is now 2½ years old, he just told me one morning, “no diapers” and from then on refused to wear another diaper unless it was during naptime or at night.

It is also important to make sure you are ready. Try to avoid tackling this before a major event such as a big move, a new baby, or starting a new school. These can be stressful life events, and you are likely to hit some snags. Wait until you and your partner can devote some time and patience to the process.


The most important tool you need for this is patience. Expect accidents, especially in the beginning, so roll up your good rugs and keep a mop and towels readily available for those instances.

You will also need a potty chair. In our case, I bought a few to have available in a few rooms of the house. The thought of having potties all over can seem a little daunting, not to mention disgusting. However, it is an easy way to start, especially if your child is on the younger side. The toilet can be hard to reach for some children, and many have a fear of falling in or don’t like the flush. As our children got the hang of it, we eliminated some of the potty chairs and eventually helped them at the toilet.

A step stool and fun foaming soap to wash their hands after your child goes potty are also good investments. Teaching right from the beginning to wash hands with soap is important. We had our children sing the “Happy Birthday” or the “ABC” song while washing to make sure they got a good clean scrub.

Finally, elastic-waist pants that are easy to pull up and down are essential, particularly in the early days and even weeks of training. I remember thinking, Is my son ever going to wear jeans or pants again? but I found boys especially like to wait until the very last moment, so the quick slip down is crucial.

There is no way to tell how fast your child will conquer this new skill. It is important not to get angry or punish if there is an accident, but to reinforce calmly and positively the expected behavior: Put their pee and poop in the potty. This process takes time; for some it may be just a few days or weeks, but for others it could be months before they are fully trained.


We aren’t typically parents who give many rewards, and we don’t like to overpraise, except in this case. Find out what motivates your child and capitalize on that. For our family, this included a “potty dance/song” so every time they were successful at the potty, we made a big deal of it and all did the potty dance. We also created a sticker chart and gradually moved to M&M’s for the bigger successes — going potty outside the house, staying dry at night or during nap, and of course, poop in the potty.

My kids have also found it fun to call the grandparents and report their successes. This gives them a chance to feel the accomplishment and is another opportunity for praise.

The other fun reward is to make a special shopping trip just with your little one to buy “big kid” underwear. This is a big step for your little one, so some extra attention and making a big deal over small successes goes a
long way.

For parents, it can be a bit bittersweet saying goodbye to diapers and that baby stage, but try to embrace this new independence — and always keep a spare change of clothes handy.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]