It is the dream of parents everywhere to have potty-trained children and be free of the obligation to wipe your kid’s ass. We were in this happy place for a couple of years and then we had another kid so we have been changing diapers for the better part of ten years. We are now starting toilet training for the last time.
Learning to change a diaper and dealing with diaper leaks and explosions seems terrible and onerous when you are in it. The idea of cleaning up pee on the floor, couch, carpet, etc. is pretty unappealing when compared to the diaper life when you know everything is safely contained. This transition phase can be over relatively quickly or drag on for an extended period. So how do you know when your child is ready to start the process? How do you know when you are ready to start toilet training them?
Kids are generally ready between 18 months and three years of age. In some countries and cultures they toilet train kids much earlier. The timing of when you start the process really depends on a combination of factors, namely their readiness and your readiness. You will also want to consider what is happening in your life and your child’s life.
Your child may be showing signs of being ready to switch from diapers to the toilet, however if you are having another child, switching them from a crib to a bed, moving, experiencing any significant change or stress, it may not be the right time to start the process.
This was certainly our experience with our first child. She was showing signs of wanting to use the toilet and do away with her diapers when she was 18-20 months old. We made good progress on the journey and she was mostly toilet trained. Then we moved her into a toddler bed. Then her sister was born. Then we started packing up our apartment to move to a new city. Then all our efforts at toilet training were lost and we had to start over once life had settled down again.
With our third child we waited until we were ready. She has been ready for a while, but we weren’t quite prepared to be cleaning up pee all the time. So we waited until I was going to be on vacation so we could both be home and monitoring and helping her get to the toilet or potty on time and it worked very well.
Signs Your Child is Ready for Potty Training
- Your child is aware when they are peeing or pooping in their diaper
- Your child can communicate to you that they need to relieve themselves.
- Your child indicates they want their diaper changed when it is dirty or wet.
- Your child can stay dry for two hours or more
- Your child can get on and off the potty
- Your child shows an interest in doing away with diapers
Signs You are Ready to Start Potty Training
- You are tired of spending money on diapers
- You are tired of changing diapers
- You have encased your couch and chairs in plastic
- You have carpet cleaners stocked and rolls of toilet paper handy
- You have a week or two to spare where you can be at home most days
How to Potty Train Your Child
The basics are simple, take off the kid’s diaper and point them in the direction of the toilet or potty whenever they need to pee or poop. Sadly the reality is often messier than that. This is where it is handy if your kid can recognize when their body is telling them that they need to use a toilet.
Diaper companies would have you believe that pull-up diapers will help your child understand when they have peed and when they should use a toilet instead. This has not worked for us with any of our three girls. We also tried the waterproof potty training underwear. This didn’t really work either. In both cases these tools seemed to prolong the experience for us.
With our third child we decided to go cold turkey at least in the day time. We set up a potty on the main floor of the house so that she had a toilet available upstairs, on the main floor and in the basement. Then we stopped putting diapers on her during the day and got her some underwear. Can we all pause here to acknowledge how cute and tiny underwear is for a two year old?
We decided to start toilet training in the summer when she could also run around naked in the house or backyard and pee when needed without the hassle of taking off underwear, pants or shorts. Whenever she said she needed to pee, we rushed her to the toilet/potty and within a week, she was doing it herself, with only a few accidents along the way. Now I feel safe declaring her to be daytime toilet trained. Next is night time training. While it is slightly more work on our part, it should go ok since she is waking up with an almost dry diaper every morning.
Self-Directed Peeing vs. Structured Peeing
Our approach with kid number three was pretty organic. We let her tell us when she needed to pee and it worked well. With our other two we were much more structured about the process. We put them on the toilet every hour or so. This takes some commitment and a timer. It also means you need to be prepared to stick around home for a few days so you can maintain the schedule.
Other techniques involve more strategic training. In Potty Training Girls and Potty Training For Boys Dr. Caroline Fertleman and Simone Cave recommend training sessions in the morning and afternoon. They suggest putting your child on the toilet every 15 minutes for a few hours during these blocks of time and otherwise having them wear a pull up diaper. Stick with this schedule for a couple of days and then do it all day.
There are multiple systems out there. In all cases, celebrate with them whenever they are successful. Reassure them they are doing a good job and mistakes happen when they don’t make it to the toilet in time.
Some systems recommend a chart to track their successes and providing a reward when they fill the chart or are fully toilet trained. We did this for our first two and I think it helped. With our third we are too lazy to keep track. She got her reward at the beginning – Olaf and Elsa underwear! Her motivation is to be able to wear Olaf all day and it seems to work. She is excited about which underwear she picks in the morning and is determined to keep it dry all day. She is disappointed when we don’t let her wear the underwear she kept dry the day before for a second day.
If your kid is going to pre-school or other day time activities it is important to notify the instructors / teachers and engage them in the process. Ask for their guidance as well. They help toilet train kids every week and know what works well. In our case they usually line the kids up on a schedule and get them to pee on command.
Leaving the House While Toilet Training
This is kind of like a game of Russian Roulette. Bring spare pants and underwear, learn quickly where the bathrooms are, carry a potty or potty seat with you. If you are going to be in the car for a long time or somewhere where bathrooms are not easily accessible, consider a diaper or pull up.
We have a folding seat that works fairly well although more often than not we have to hold her so she doesn’t fall into a toilet while peeing and that works totally fine.
Night Time Potty Training
It helps to view day-time and night-time toilet training as separate projects. Focus on daytime training first and once your child stays dry consistently during the day, you can start on night time training.
Start by limiting their drinks before bed. By stopping any drinks an hour before bed, you will give your child’s body time to process any liquids before bedtime so they can pee before bed and increase the likelihood that they will remain dry in bed.
You may also choose to wake up your child before you go to bed so that they can use the toilet and help them make it through the night.
Make sure that once your child stops wearing diapers at night that you put a washable mattress cover or plastic cover on their mattress and that you have spare sets of sheets available so you can deal with the inevitable bedwetting that will occur.
Every child is different. With many kids the toilet training process will take a week or less. Others might take a month. If it is taking longer than you expect that it should, consider whether they are truly ready to start or if perhaps there are other stressors happening in their life that might be presenting a barrier to their efforts. Consult with your physician or a child care worker if you are concerned that your child is struggling with the process more than other children.
You may need to stop the process and start it again in a few months if your child is not ready to give up their diapers when you first begin with potty training.
Share with your friends with toddlers so they too can join the ranks of the diaper-free
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