I’ve been there, three times now! Potty training is one of those things that every parent dreads, and for good reason. It’s not easy. It’s stressful, time-consuming, messy, gross, smelly, and usually s-l-o-w going. After potty training three children, I have learned a lot about the process. I have made all of the classic mistakes, but I have also discovered some amazing “wins”.
My first child (my daughter) was relatively easy to train. I don’t know how or why I was so lucky with that experience, but I mostly attribute it to two things: 1) her personality–she is and always has been the type of child who just does what you ask her to do, and 2) her birth order–she was my first and therefore had all of my attention during this process. It is obviously a little different for younger siblings.
My second child was, by far, the hardest one to train, and I mostly attribute that to ME. I made a lot of mistakes. I waited too long to train him, I started and then stopped when it got hard, I showed my anxiety and stress during the process, and I didn’t properly prepare because I had a false sense of confidence after training my oldest.
I did things differently for my third to avoid another potty-training disaster. I read two different books in preparation, and the one that I liked the most (and implemented) was Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowackie. It is a very straight-forward, no-nonsense book, and I really loved and appreciated her blunt writing style. I highly recommend that book as the first step in your potty training journey (in other words, read it before you are ready to begin). Her methods are very pragmatic and proven. That book should cover 99% of your potty training questions and needs, but here is the 1% that I would like to add:
Controlling the Mess
Potty training is just going to be a little bit disgusting. There WILL be accidents. Expect to be wiping up pee from the floor, and washing poop out of underwear (and vise versa). I can’t help you completely avoid that part. But one tip I can give you: get the correct toilet seat cover for your little one. You may have a little portable potty like this one that we used, and those are great, but you won’t use that forever (in fact, you’ll probably only use that during the training process). Sometimes a regular toilet is closer, and it’s also just a good idea to get them used to going on one anyway. Their little bodies are too small for those, though, so you need a toilet seat cover. My advice: do NOT buy the foam padded ones like this that you will see everywhere. I made that mistake and discovered that the pee gets trapped between the foam pad and it’s plastic base. It’s unavoidable and it’s disgusting. Your bathroom will perpetually smell like rotten pee. I got rid of mine, and instead bought this one. It’s one piece, it has a rubber border to keep it in place, and it has a built-in splash guard (which is so helpful during the period that boys sit to pee rather than stand). It’s so easy to wipe down and keep clean, too. I love that it comes with a little hook that you can attach to the side of your toilet to hang the cover from.
Surviving the Car
Nothing sets off panic like a toddler in underwear who announces that he has to pee (or worse, poop) while you’re driving. Toddlers cannot hold it for long once they feel the urge to go. You don’t have time to find the nearest McDonald’s, or to drive back home. You need to pull over and let him go as soon as possible. Enter this car potty. This little contraption will save your sanity and upholstery. It is always in my car, and my son uses it almost every day. It’s a very simple little seat–it has collapsible legs so that you can store it flat if desired, and you line it with these plastic bags for when it’s being used. Here’s something I learned the hard way: do NOT line it with a grocery bag instead–the plastic is too thin and often already has rips and holes in it. The bags that are designed for this potty are sturdy and are also lined with a little absorbent liner to ensure nothing leaks out. Keep this in your car until your child reaches an age where he can hold it long enough to get to a bathroom.
Surviving the Public Bathroom
I don’t know many things more disgusting than having to sit your toddler down on a public restroom toilet. It gives me chills just to think about it. You know how it goes: since their bodies are too small for those toilets, they lean forward and hold onto the seat with their hands, while their legs (with their clothes/underwear around their ankles) cling to the front of the toilet. No amount of hand-washing leaves you feeling OK with that experience. Enter the holy grail potty cover. This cover is not a misnomer–it literally covers the entire toilet. Your child can grip the seat, cling her feet to the front, and she will remain germ-free. Each cover comes individually wrapped, so it’s easy to always have one ready to go in your purse.
In addition to the covers, I also learned another great tip for surviving public restrooms in the Oh Crap! Potty Training book: tiny post-it notes. Keep a little book of those in your purse, right next to the covers. Have you ever used a public toilet yourself, and had it automatically flush while you were still in progress? It’s jarring even to adults, so you can imagine how terrifying it is for a toddler. Use one of the post-it notes to cover the motion sensor to avoid the toilet from automatically flushing.
Making it Fun (for them at least)
There was one part of the Oh Crap! Potty Training book that I did not agree with and did not follow: prizes. The author doesn’t recommend them, but I have only had positive results from implementing prizes. I also never had any issues with stopping the prizes once potty training was over. For all three kids, I used the “Poop N Pull” reward system and I cannot say enough positive things about it. I bought mine back in 2012 when I was training my oldest, and used the same one for my two sons. The look of the product has evolved in the past seven years, but the concept is the same: the device hangs over a door, you store prizes on one side, and then load one prize in a trap door on the other side to be released by your child by pulling on a cord after success on the potty. My kids were SO motivated to use the potty knowing that they got to use the Poop N Pull afterwards. The prizes can be anything that fits through the trap door, but should be something that won’t break if it hits the floor. I typically used small wrapped candies in mine, but there are so many things that would work!
You’ll get through it. But to get through it, you have to keep going. An important piece of advice in the Oh Crap! Potty Training book is to not give up. It will get hard, and it will get messy. That’s when the little devil on your shoulder starts telling you that maybe he’s just not ready, or maybe it will be easier when she’s older. Wrong. It will be harder if you start and stop, start and stop. Power through and treat yourself to some prizes along the way too.
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