Here are some great tips for potty training your toddler, courtesy of some excellent comments different parents and parenting experts (many commenters are both 🙂 ) have sent us. Here’s a recap of what people have submitted, along with links to the full comment(s) for each point:
- Lookout for the early signs, and consider training backwards (#2 first, then #1) (link)
- Make potty time fun – have activities, and reward your toddler (link)
- Be consistent by creating a routine (link)
- Expect that accidents will happen (link)
- Celebrate the positive (link), and avoid going negative with punishments or shame (link)
- Wait to do potty training for when your toddler actually needs to go (link)
- Consider going on a backpacking or camping trip (link)
- Watch for signs that your toddler is ready (link)
- Consider investing in a portable tiny potty (link)
Note there are some mixed opinions about how early you should start potty training, with some saying to start as early as possible (here) and others advising to wait until your toddler is ready (here and here, for example). I recommend having a read through all comments and considering for yourself what approach you feel makes the most sense for you and your toddler in regards to that. A lot may depend on the toddler, so it’s entirely possible that starting early will work far better on some children than others.
Finally, if you are a parent or parenting expert with your own input to share on potty training, feel free to submit a comment here and I’ll add it to this article.
As a mom of 2 beautiful daughters - ages 9 months and 3 years living in downtown Toronto - I've learned a few things about potty training.
My key tip is to start super early. And by super early, I mean way earlier than you'd expect. We started putting our kids on the potty as soon as they could sit independently at about 6 months. We would put them on at diaper changing time just so they would get comfortable with it. Next, we started using the natural times that we all tend to want to go to the washroom: first thing in the morning, after naps, before heading out the door, and when we'd get home. When we'd sit them on the potty we'd make the sign language toilet symbol so they could associate it with being on the potty. When they'd pee we'd get excited and say 'yeh, you peed!'. It didn't take long for them to catch on and figure out what to do. When our eldest turned 1 year old, she was going on the potty reliably. We had her out of diapers during the day - only wearing diapers overnight. Sure, she had accidents but within just a few weeks they were rare. She now may have an accident every few months. We aren't there yet with our 9 month old, but I expect she'll get there around the same time.
I see other moms really struggling with potty training their toddlers. I know it isn't easy. I've seen reward charts and heard all the complaints. By starting early, really early, it just became normal for our kids. We've escaped the challenges our friends are facing.
--Carol Roderick, MEd, PhD, My Love Coach
My now 7-year old son was done potty training before he even turned 2. In fact, he was 16 months when he was fully potty trained.
And the funny story is that we kind of did his training backwards. Instead of him learning how to pee in the toilet first, we started with #2. I know this may sound a bit strange but as a young, busy mom, I was not trying to clean his booty longer than I needed to.
So I have two main pieces of advice that I'll share below.
1) Lookout for early signs
Once you start seeing them dance a little or touch their privates, it means they are becoming aware of the I need to go feeling. This is your perfect opportunity to begin the training, even if it seems like they are still too young.
One common mistake parents make is thinking that their one-year olds don't understand, but trust me, they do. So even if they haven't turned two yet, be on the lookout for these signs because you may miss the opportunity to train them young.
2) Train them backwards
It was much easier to get my son to go #2 in the toilet than #1 because the feeling of having poop in their diaper or pull-up is not a good one. It's more uncomfortable than just having a wet diaper.
So by having them start going #2 in the toilet and reminding them of their discomfort when they've gone, helps them go to the restroom. Once they have been trained to go #2 in the toilet, having them pee in there should be easier. At least that was the case for us.
--Lucy Reyes, Cheers to Life Blogging
We are a full-time travel family that started potty training our toddler at 16-months old. My wife is a preschool teacher, so everything is a learning experience. We learned to make potty time fun, he didn't have to sit on the potty bored for ten minutes.
During potty time we had activities for him to do, so he could relax. This made his less stressed and he would go to the potty every morning after waking up and at night before bedtime. Also, we rewarded him when he went to the potty. His favorite treat is M&M's so we rewarded him with five mini M&M's every time he went to the potty. We've been having success with these tips over the last four months.
--Corritta Lewis, It's a Family Thing
My overall piece of advice for parents that are potty training for the first time is to be consistent by creating a routine!
For my first child, every night my wife and I sat my son on the potty just before he was about to receive a bath. Even though, initially, nothing came out, we still stuck with it.
After a couple of nights, he became familiar with the routine and started going potty!
At night, he still needed to wear a diaper. So, we did a sticker chart and marked every night he woke up dry. We promised him a reward if he can wake up dry for 2 straight weeks.
It's important for parent's to manage their expectations and understand that every child is different.
For example, my daughter was officially potty trained at an age later than my son was.
For her, we put her in regular underwear even though she was not potty trained yet. She didn't like the feeling of being dirty. So, that motivated her to not have any accidents.
--Jonathan Sanchez, ParentPortfolio
My main advice for parents doing potty training for their toddler is to expect that accidents will happen. It is important that parents do not get too stressed up about it because their emotions will be obvious to the toddler no matter how they hide it. If a parent shows signs of exasperation when their toddler pooped on the floor, the toddler will feel it and they may take it as a sign of disapproval. Kids are especially sensitive to the emotions of their parents and this can cause them to resist potty training. Therefore, when accidents happen, parents should just keep calm, clean up the poop, praise the kid for trying and encourage him to try again on the potty when the need arises.
--Albert Lee, Home Living Lab
Since children usually start potty training between 18 and 30 months, parents should start talking about Potty training from time to time, and then start to stimulate interest around the child's first birthday. Keep some children's potty training books at home to read with your child. And bring up the topic of potty; say: I want to know whether Elmo [or the stuffed animal your child likes] needs to go to the bathroom or I have to pee. I want to go to the bathroom. The idea is to get the child's familiarise with the concept of Potty and prepare for it.
--Saleem Khan, SSLMagic
With four of our five kiddos potty trained and countless other families observed, here is some of my best advice...
When it comes to potty training kids, celebrate the positive. Our kids loved having a sticker chart they could add to every time they used the potty, eventually earning underwear when they had a predetermined number of dry days and nights. Don't rush your child into underwear. Be patient and remember that every child is different. If you're changing diapers a little longer than you expected, remember that this too shall pass. Stress only makes the child's job harder, so stay calm and encouraging.
--Marielle Melling, Lovin' Life with Littles
Potty training can be such a struggle! With my oldest, I had a couple of false starts and way too many accidents that probably could have been avoided if I’d had more information. It was definitely easier with my second because I knew a couple of important things.
My main piece of advice for parents struggling to potty train their toddler is to avoid going negative! Never use shame or punishments for accidents! Keep it positive. Potty training is a time to heap on the praise, use reward charts, and prizes! Celebrate every success no matter how small. And then build on it for as long as it takes until your little one gets the hang of it (which WILL eventually happen)!
Potty training can be rough on everyone. But if you can keep your frustration to yourself and keep things upbeat with your toddler, you’ll both feel better about the process.
--Elizabeth Voyles, Worth Writing For
We potty trained my now 4 year old last year, just before his 3rd birthday. We had tried a couple of times before, failing each time. What worked for us the last time? Simply, waiting until he was ready.
In the lead up to our third and final attempt, I let him go nappy free during warmer days in the garden and one day I noticed that when he had an accident, it wasn't just a small dribble of pee, it was a huge gush. This showed me that he could in fact hold in a considerable amount of urine. (Earlier attempts had failed as we were having multiple accidents of dribbles of pee here and there, without him seemingly realising what he was doing)
Waiting until he was ready meant he was potty trained in less than 3 days. We had two days at home and on the third day we went out and resumed normal life. At first we had to take the potty wherever we went in case he really needed to go, but he soon got used to being able to wait to get to a toilet. We have only had a handful of accidents since!
--Nicola Hughes, Mummy to Dex Blog
Consider going on a camping or backpacking trip, especially if you have a boy. When our oldest was 19 months old, we took him on a camping trip and told him he could pee on rocks and trees. As a boy, he thought that was the coolest thing ever. He got lots of practice and by the end of the weekend, he was ready for big boy underwear!
--Tiffany Burghart, The Stoke Fam
As a mother of two, my experience in potty training my kids hasn’t been easy, not to mention the struggle waking up in the middle of the night to change a wet bed. As I look back, it makes me smile as it was one of the many fun bonding moments that I cannot go back to. It would also be a great story to tell when they get a little older.
1. Explain why they should be trained. Try and make your child understand that they cannot forever wear their diapers. Make certain that you are not pushing too hard to scare them.
2. Create a potty song. Use musical encouragement to make them feel more relaxed. You can create your own or just choose from videos available online.
3. Get on a schedule. By making a potty schedule lets them know that it is a routine. It would encourage them to go potty by themselves once the routine is established.
4. Praise the kids more often. For instance, give a high five, a hug, or a simple “Good Job!” would motivate them to do it more often.
5. Train by example. You can also try taking your child to the toilet to show them how easy it is to do number 1 and number 2.
--Barbara Nevers, NeoLittle
My main piece of advice is to watch your child for signs that he or she is ready to go potty. My 2-year old daughter, for example, would say bear when she needed to go. The first time she said it I brought her her teddy bear mistakingly thinking that's what she wanted. Finally, I figured out that she asked for her potty that had a bear picture on it. She is 2,5 years old now and she loves to announce that she needs to go pee or poo before she runs to the bathroom.
--Nadia McDannels, Which Diapers Are The Best
1. Invest in a portable tiny potty for your little one. Be sure that it's one that easily comes apart to make cleaning easy, and is something that is easy for them to get on and off of themselves. Also, if you have a boy be sure the front lip is high enough to prevent spraying out!
2. Pick up a package of training underwear with characters your little one loves. Also pick up a package of pull up style disposable training underwear too. Let your child experiment with which one they like using the most.
3. Be prepared for accidents. Lots of them. Help minimize where accidents can happen by using those old baby gates to create boundaries your child can't go (like the dining room).
--Siobhan Alvarez, Mimosas & Motherhood
I recommend that you wait until they are ready and then let them be ready. Waiting until they are ready means waiting until the nervous system has matured enough that they are physically ready to be potty trained. This is usually some time between 18 months and 2 years old. A general rule is one year after they start walking.
After they are ready then let them be ready. Show your child how to use the restroom and then take them in to use the restroom every 2 hours or so during the day. Applaud successes. Once they show an understanding of the association between urinating and the toilet, put them in underwear. Put extra underwear and wipes in the bathroom. They will have accidents, expect this, but allow them to take as much responsibility as possible for changing themselves and cleaning up accidents. The time invested to clean up tends to be a strong motivator to take a break from playing to use the restroom and it encourages self-sufficiency.
--Leann Poston M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., Invigor Medical
Introduce the potty early on, long before you actually start potty training. Talk about using the bathroom as much as you can. Point out restrooms in public places. Demonstrate how you use the potty each time you go. Put a small potty in the same bathroom you regularly use. Over time, your little one may become more comfortable with trying to sit on the potty themselves. We put our son's potty in our bathroom months before we actually potty trained him. He would pee in the potty once a day for a few weeks before we officially decided to pull the potty training trigger.
--Lisa Alemi, Move Mama Move
The most important thing to remember when potty training is to not compare one child’s potty training journey to another. All children potty train in their own time and they may not be ready as soon as another child. My daughter started showing signs of wanting to use the potty at 21 months. She was fully potty trained within 2 weeks.
My son did not want anything to do with using the potty until after he turned 3. We tried shortly after he turned 3 and it wasn’t working, so we took a break from it. Within a couple of days he started doing it all on his own. It took a few accidents but he ended up essentially potty training himself in about 1 week.
Be sure to also wait until they are ready and show signs that they are interested. Forcing the issue can lead to negative feelings about using the potty and it will then take longer. Be sure to give praise and encouragement, even on the small wins like sitting on the toilet. Always be patient with them, there will be accidents and mistakes, but they still need to know it’s okay.
--Heather Hoke, Embracing Chaos with Love
My tip would be to not rush it, take the child’s lead on whether they are ready to learn to go in the potty. If you absolutely need them to learn for other reasons, my suggestion would be to set a timer for every 10-15 minutes and have them sit there and try. Do not skip, go every 10-15 minutes, you can even set a potty timer on your phone and make it FUN! Also, when they do go in the potty praise them like they just won a game show!! Major explosive praise will make them want to keep getting that praise. Another tip would be to find something they really want, like special big kid underwear with their favorite character as an incentive to use the potty. I used to tell my oldest that she could wear the new Minnie Mouse underwear if she didn’t get them wet because Minnie Mouse didn’t like to get wet. When she would pee in them I would say “oh no!!! Minnie is wet, she doesn’t like that!” And it made my oldest not want to disappoint Minnie Mouse so it clicked.
--Amelia Zamora, MamaBear Reviews
Wait it out. I have twin boys and like everybody else, I tried potty training them soon after they turned 2. And it was a complete disaster. I tried for a week, but I was so tired, and they never got the concept. I tried everything, by the book, asked other parents, etc. The only thing that made sense was that they weren't ready and that was okay. I tried again after a year. They were 3 and more mature and they listened to instructions. However, after 3 days of potty training, only one twin was doing it. The other twin seemed to be horrified of the events unfolding right in front of his eyes. And that was okay as well. We waited until one twin mastered all the tricks and then we started again with the other twin. Now, I am off diapers and I couldn't be happier.
--Geninna Ariton, Trendhim