Potty Training 101

For some time now I’ve been putting off writing about potty training. Why? I guess there is so much out there about it, so many opinions and personal viewpoints. These range from those to think potty training should begin as soon as a child can sit to those who hold out until their child is 3 or 4 years old. On this blog I try to cater to everyone and make it easy for anyone to feel welcome, yet I know that won’t always be the case.
Almost every time I blog about something that is a big deal, I tend to want to cover all angles so that no one feels slighted or left out. Problem is, I am not always familiar with all the angles and won’t be able to do them justice. Then I remember that this is my blog and that what I write about should be what I think, how I feel, and my personal experiences on the subject. While it is good to consider everyone’s feelings, in the end, trying to please everyone will result in making a mess of things.
So when you are reading this, remember that I am writing from my experiences with my children. If I suggest something that is not to your liking, you are not obligated to like it or do it, just like I don’t have to do what you say on your blog. Our blogs are our own personal expressions and should be seen as such.
I also want to offer a disclaimer – when I talk about at what age you should do something or how to do it, I am talking about children who are healthy, who don’t have physical disabilities or health problems that would hinder or delay them from being able to potty train at the age I am suggesting. In such cases you as the parent will have to decide if they are ready or not and how to best go about it.
Your child may or may not progress in the same way mine did. Actually, it is highly likely that they won’t, since every child is different and progresses at different paces. Also, right now I am only referring to daytime training. Nighttime training is a whole other subject that will be covered separately.
Ok, keeping all of that in mind, let’s get into the basics of potty training.
First off, the age at which you decide to begin potty training is really up to you, but from personal experience, I have found it can be started as early as 12 months and it is possible for a child to be trained as early as 14 months. If you feel that is too early, then sometime between 18 and 24 months is reasonable. I know many people like to hold off until their child is over 3 or in some cases 4, but I feel that is too long to wait. Why they feel it is easier to keep a child in diapers until then beats me, not to mention how gross diaper changes for a child that age would be.
I started Logan on the potty at 12 months. It was only to get him used to the potty and let him get comfortable on it. I made it a regular part of our day to put him on the potty at intervals, though I have never had set intervals. You can time it, or you can get a feel for how often they go by watching them for a few days and noting when they go.
Logan’s first time on the potty,
a few days before his first birthday.
In the beginning I only put him on a few times a day – morning when he woke, midmorning, before nap, after nap, midafternoon, and before bed. I was using cloth diapers at this time since it is easier to tell when they are wet and can be removed easily for pottying. He still wore a diaper all day. That way if he didn’t make it to the potty there was no floor mess to clean. (I should mention that I was pregnant with my second at this time.)
When Logan was about 16 months, I took him out of diapers and just let him run around in underwear. I continually reminded him to tell me when he needed to go so that he would get the idea. Since he wasn’t talking yet, each time I would point to his pants and pat them while reminding him. He eventually would pat his pants when he needed to go.
Between 16 and 17 months I focused on his training. I wanted him trained, at least for when he was awake, before the new baby arrived, and he was. Often, if I put him on the potty as soon as he woke from his nap, his diaper would be dry, but if I waited it would be wet.
But then he regressed. I had the baby and spent 5 days in the hospital away from him (C-section). He was with daddy all the time and daddy didn’t keep up the training like I had so he lost what he had learned. Since I couldn’t bend or lift him for some time, it had to wait, and we picked up again when he was about 19 months old. Since he was already familar with the process, he relearned quickly.
With Lila I was wiser and, while I introduced the potty early, I held off her focused training until she was about 20 months. The reason? Yes, I had another baby and another C-section. It was planned that time so I knew it would be best to wait for when I could handle it physically. Since she was already in the habit of sitting on the potty at intervals, it wasn’t too hard for her to learn.
My plan with Scarlett is to wait another month or two and then start. Since I am not/will not be pregnant, I won’t have to worry about that interruption. She is now 13 months, but I want to wait out the cold months and train her when all she has to wear is a diaper and maybe a t-shirt. She has sat on the potty once or twice, but only for a second and usually after seeing Lila use it. She still thinks the potty is a toy and likes to play with it if I don’t keep the bathroom closed.
Logan at 19 months.

So here are some tips:

– Decide when you want to start and go for it. Don’t do it on and off as that will be confusing for your child.
-Make sure that things are relatively peaceful when you start. Heavy teething, sickness, weaning, passing through a time of emotional difficulty, or a having a new baby could make it difficult for your child to focus on the training.
-You may want to wait for warm weather to train. Children pee more when they are cold, and if they are wearing several layers it will make more work for putting them on the potty.
-A child will pee more when they drink more. Some books recommend offering more drinks during the training time so that they will need to go more often and get in the practice. The problem often is that they go so frequently you will finish your stack of undies before the day is out.
Lila’s first time on the potty at 11 months.

-Hearing water running will often make a child go. When they sit on the potty, you can turn on a faucet and let it run a little. If they don’t go within a few seconds then they probably don’t need to go. But you don’t want them to only pee when they hear water or you will be in trouble when you pass a fountain, it rains, etc.

-Remind your child to tell you when they need to go. It is good to do this so that they get the idea, but don’t depend on it. And don’t ask if they need to go – 99% of the time the answer will be no. And you won’t get a reply if they aren’t talking yet, so save your breath. If they haven’t gone in a while and you feel they need to go, put them on. Just say, “It’s time to go potty now.”


-Teach non-talkers a signal for how to tell you when they need to go.
-Potty time should be fun. There is no need to leave them for a long time. If they don’t go after a few minutes, take them off and wait a while. While they are sitting, you can use the time to look at books or sing songs together. Especially if they fuss about it, do something to distract them.
-Some people prefer to start on a potty and others go straight for the toilet. I prefer to start with a potty. It is easy for a child to sit on and eventually they can sit without you being there. Some children find the toilet scary, too.
-Learning to use the potty is a new skill for a child, so it isn’t fair to them to punish them when they have accidents. Accidents happen; when they do, just remind your child in a cheery voice, “Pee goes in the potty.” And leave it there. Don’t keep harping on it.
-Draw attention to the positive by getting excited and clapping for them when they do go, even if it is just a dribble. Positive reinforcement is the way to go.
-I don’t think it is good to get in the habit of offering treats to get them to go potty. You don’t want to connect food with praise, nor do you want them to depend on getting a reward every time they use the potty. Food is for nourishment, not reward. Offering food treats can get them in the habit of always eating to reward themselves and could later lead to weight problems. Instead, offer lots of verbal praise, claps and cheers.
Lila at 2 insisted on using the toilet.
-On the other hand, if you feel a reward would help them, try something like getting new undies with their favorite cartoon character on it, or a new toy, or a trip to the playground. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t want to have to buy them something for every potty run. Such rewards could be for success over a certain time frame, one that is easy for your child to reach. An immediate reward that you will always have is story time with you. Most children love that, and you could offer it whenever you want.

-Potty training success will take time and effort on your part. Don’t give up too soon. But don’t feel you have to keep going if it isn’t working for you. You can always wait a few weeks and then try again.

Logan, 2 yrs. 5 months; Lila, just days before her first birthday.
 Next time we will discuss nap training.
Mommies, please share your tips and what worked for you. Also mention the age at which you started and why. First-time potty trainers need all the help they can get so let’s give it to them.
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1 Comment

  1. Wow. This is some good stuff. I'm bookmarking this page. Emma just turned 2. She pees for me on the potty almost every day but she won't ask (normally) but we're getting there. I also DO NOT offer a food reward for the reasons you listed. I just need to buckle down and do it right. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this!


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