While we may have conquered one goal last month (saving our emergency fund), we decided to work on another goal to start off this month. So I’m here, in the middle of probably the hardest few days of my life. And I’ve given birth to a human being people. Yeah, I’m talking about potty training.
My son is 18 months old and we’re in the trenches of potty boot camp, mainly because I had a long weekend off from work and he’s been giving me signs that he’s ready. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to save money on diapers? I mean really.
Now you may think, “you’re a first time parent, how do you even know what you’re talking about?”
Well, let me just tell you. I’ve been working with preschoolers who are potty training (with and without pull-ups) for a total of 7 years. I’ve lost track of how many kids I’ve been part of their potty training journeys. But I’ll be honest, I did not come up with this on my own. This method is actually from Julie Fellom, who created the Diaper Free Toddler Program in 2006. There are so many books on the subject now so I had a lot of resources to choose from, like this one, this one, oh and this one too.
Let’s just say I know my way around a toilet. Yeah, I meant to say that. It’s ok to laugh a little. We are talking about pee and poop after all.
Signs your child is ready for potty training
- they seem interested when you go to the bathroom
- they have enough bladder control that you often have dry diapers for hours
- they can give you a sign that they have a dirty/wet diaper
- they can walk without help
- they have the ability to communicate with you in any way (talking, signs, PECs)
If you’re doing a potty boot camp like I am, you can’t just decide you’re going to do it today. You need a plan, to prepare yourself and your child for what’s going to happen.
Here’s what I did 1-2 weeks before boot camp
- I bought a travel potty seat like this. It will serve many purposes throughout the whole process.
- I took my son to the store to let him pick out a reward for successes. We went straight to the candy aisle so he could have immediate reinforcement when he pees (you can honestly chose anything but we chose candy because it’s normally in short supply at our house). He chose m&ms so right away he gets no more chocolate unless he uses the toilet.
- We had him sit on his travel potty when we went to the bathroom so he knows what to do. At this time, he got one m&m every time he sat down without a diaper. There was no pressure to go. He just learned that sitting on the toilet in the bathroom is a good thing.
- Let him pick out some cool underwear. He was honestly so excited, he didn’t let go of the pack until we went to checkout.
- Established the game plan with my husband. We’re all on the same team and because of that we both had to be on the same page. The game plan was also discussed with my parents who watch him while I’m at work. Everyone who is part of your village needs to work together.
- Took our rug in our living room up. I knew that the living room was mostly where we were gonna hang out during the day, nobody likes cleaning pee out of carpet. I don’t think I need to explain any further.
With the plan set in place and the whole house on board, it’s time to get to business. Potty business that is.
Here’s how potty training in a weekend works:
starting when he first wakes up, I take him to the bathroom. He then spends the whole day naked (well he has a shirt on but it’s July so he may not even need that). I take him every 15 minutes using a timer on my phone and I literally do nothing but watch him all day long. I also give him extra opportunities for success before and after eating and naptime/bedtime (both of which I put him in a diaper, we will tackle sleeping later).
He’s never asked if he needs to go potty, he’s told the simple statement “it’s time to go potty” and immediately taken to sit on the toilet. At the same time, I’m also using the sign for potty and forming his hands to do the same. It’s ok to teach multiple things at the same time, especially if they all relate to the same thing.
In the very beginning, I gave him one m&m for sitting quietly, two for peeing on the potty, and three for pooping. Halfway through the first day I changed the sitting to having access to my kindle because it became why he wanted to sit on the toilet.
At this point, the travel potty is used for accidents when you can’t make it to the bathroom. And by accident, I mean he pees on the floor (do you see why I took the rug up?). When an accident happens, I don’t say anything. I simply pick him up and put him on the potty to give him a chance to finish on the toilet.
Again, the day starts with going to the bathroom and getting naked. Now the time between potty breaks is the same as day one until he is dry long enough to span it in 5 minute increments.
The main thing that is different on this day is that you take an adventure outside your house. We went on a walk in our neighborhood, so we didn’t go too far. We were only gone for 20 minutes but it was after he’d only been awake for about 2 hours so it wasn’t too hot.
The thing with the outing is to obviously test bladder control. A lot of places suggest wearing loose pants with nothing underneath but I think it’s a chance to try out that underwear. So, underwear and loose shorts was a success for 20 minutes of walking. Even better when you get back home to immediately go sit on the toilet.
If you have success, give the immediate reward and LOTS of praise. He even seems proud of himself when he gets to flush the toilet and put down the seat himself. Of course it adds to that desire when it’s only allowed on successful voids in the toilet.
It is the same as the other two days, still naked at home. If you’re brave, try putting on underwear on for about 30 minutes at a time. Again, even with underwear don’t make accidents a big deal. Sit on the toilet, change clothes, and move on. Don’t give a reward unless it’s in the toilet. If the pee is finished in the potty give half a reward (one m&m or a very small sticker)
On this day, the out of house adventure needs to take longer. I’d suggest maybe later in the day after you’ve had a lot of successes. But I’m talking 45 minutes-an hour, longer if you if you think your little one can handle it. Go to the bathroom before you leave the house, and go first thing when you come back. Make sure you know where bathrooms are wherever you go too, just in case.
Other than the adventure, pottying at home stays the same. Go on a schedule (stretch it out at your own discretion) and whenever your child gives you a sign they need to go. My son has been going into the bathroom and either yelling momma or mostly his version of the potty sign.
Day 4 & beyond-
let your toddler be naked at home for a while, at the very least until you can go a few days without accidents. If you stay consistent, they will either be walking into the bathroom on their own, telling you they have to go potty, or willingly going into the bathroom when you give them a reminder to go.
Keep on adventuring outside of your house, the more you do that the better. In fact, you can’t stay in your house forever. I would suggest trying to go underwear all the time when going out, just make sure you pack lots of extra clothes just in case. And maybe a small bag of your rewards for when you try going in a public bathroom.
One very important thing to remember
If you go through potty boot camp, and it seems like an epic failure it’s ok. It’s not the end of the world if your child doesn’t get it right away (shoot, I’m still not sure my son will be fully potty trained when this is over), try again in a few weeks. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself or your child because that may scar them (and you from trying again). You want them to think that the bathroom is a good place and feel comfortable enough to go when they need to.
The bathroom shouldn’t be a place that you have to drag them to, that’s why I reward him just for sitting on the potty at first. It makes him think that the bathroom is a place he gets awesome things! I know that sounds weird, but you don’t have to give your kids a reward for going to the bathroom forever. Just until they stop peeing and pooping in their pants.