4 simple steps to successfully potty training your child

Well, it’s that time folks: potty training time.

Oliver had shown some vague interest in the potty some time ago, but we hadn’t really forced the issue. “When we get back from vacation,” we said, “we’ll really give it the ole college try.” (We didn’t actually say, “the ole college try”. Who talks like that?) (I do, that’s who, but in this case, I didn’t really say it.) (Okay, I actually said, “the full court press“, which isn’t much better)

The game of potty training goes like this:

  • Step 1 – Get him to go on the potty at all costs. Pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes. This means as much bribery as you are physically able to manage.
  • Step 2 – Overpraise and make as big of a deal as you can when he goes in the potty, even if it is by accident, so that he thinks he is exercising power over you by making you act like a fool at his whim. Also, the bribing.
  • Step 3 – Somehow continue to drag out step 2 as long as possible by any means necessarily. This is the tricky part, because eventually, no matter how many bribes you give and how much you act like a fool, he will eventually grow tired of this “putting pee pee in the potty” game.
  • Step 4 – If you manage to drag step 3 out long enough, you’ve now tricked him into going potty enough times that it is becoming a habit. Going to the potty is just what one does. You’re over the hump now and, even though there will be minor setbacks and accidents, you have successfully broken your child’s will and ground his resistance into dust. Congratulations!

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? It’s not. Here’s the thing: you’re walking a very fine line. Around this time*, your child is looking for any reason to defy you. If they catch a whiff of the fact that this is not just a fun game you’re playing, and they actually wield immense power over you with the ability to crush your parenting hopes and dreams, they will use that power against you without a moment’s hesitation. This means no forcing. It always has to remain fun (for the kid, it will probably not be as much fun for you, and sometimes you’ll have to smile one of those I-swear-I’m-smiling-not-baring-my-teeth smiles). No shouting, no shaming, no holding down on the potty. You must outsmart your adversary, not use force.

*Side note, the sooner you potty train, the better. It might seem like it is easier to put it off until later, when your kid can better understand what’s going on, and you can reason with them. This is a fallacy. In reality, each day that goes by your child is going to be more willful and better able to defy you (both physically and mentally, as they better learn how to push your buttons). Best case scenario, you slide in right before the terrible twos hit. And for you parents with two year olds? Believe me, three is even worse. So unless you’re planning on waiting until they’re ten, you might as well start as soon as you think you can, before it gets any worse.

Okay, so enough with the philosophy, let’s get down to specifics. This is how it went with Oliver:

As with Evie, M&Ms were the perfect bribe. I swear kids will do anything for those little colored crack candies. We called them “pee pee chocolates” and he could have one if and only if he put his pee pees in the potty. He was really resisting going on the potty, and it seemed like a hopeless cause until the very first time he got a pee pee chocolate. Literally one time and he was hooked. In this case, we always gave Evie a pee pee chocolate as well, to avoid jealousy. Oliver didn’t seem to mind at all, he always made sure to get her, so she wouldn’t miss out. No one else is aloud to touch the pee pee chocolates, sometimes not even me.

Ollie: “Mama is in charge of the pee-pee chocolates.”

We did the usual overpraising, clapping and dancing, along with “hip-hip-hoorays” (in which I toss him up in the air and catch him three times), and singing the song we made up for Evie when she was potty training, which he loves. (“Pee pees in the potty, Ollie listened to his body!” congo-line style) He also enjoyed wearing his “big boy underwear” (or “big boy panties” as they get called as often as not in our house…this is what happens when you have an older sister).

Then came the hard part, where you need to come up with a constant stream of new ideas to keep him interested. The whole, “Nala wants to see you go pee pee” wore out very quickly. It just goes to show you, what motivates one child, doesn’t necessarily motivate another.

No, instead, what worked the best for him was to say, “wouldn’t it be so funny if…”. He was really into the phrase at the time, so I came up with the idea of co-opting it for our purposes. “Wouldn’t it be so funny if you put your pee pees in the potty?” “Wouldn’t it be so funny if you went pee pee on the potty in the kitchen?” “Wouldn’t it be so funny if you went pee pee on the white potty?” It was a stroke of genius, and it worked like a charm. Hey, whatever works. This is what got us started, and worked for quite some time.

Eventually, everything stopped being so funny and this technique finally stopped working. After a moment of panic, where he didn’t want to go and we didn’t have anything motivational, we came up with another brilliant idea: “Wouldn’t it be soo funny to go pee pee on some toilet paper”? Why yes, apparently it would. Ollie loves to “get it wet” as he terms it. Just put a piece of toilet paper in the potty and he’ll sit right down and go on it. I had eventually planned to turn this into a whole host of things it would be so funny to go pee pee on (the only other one I could think of was a Cheerio, but there must be other things I could think of if I had to), but it turns out they weren’t needed (Actually, the first time this technique was successful, it involved going pee pee on a handful of sand in the potty. It was so funny.). Even now, this is the best motivational tactic we have. Oliver usually rips off the toilet paper and puts it in the potty himself, before going.

I think we have now moved into the final stage, because he now no longer even questions sitting on the potty. When we say it’s time to go, he goes.

It should be noted that a kid this age is not going to fully get everything at once. The first step is to teach him what to do with a potty. We still have to put him on the potty every hour to avoid accidents. If he has to go, he just goes. He doesn’t understand about holding it, not even with wearing big boy underwear and getting a dried cherry if he keeps them dry. However, now that we’ve accomplished step 1, it’s pretty clear that he’s starting to get the other parts too, even without us telling him. Several times now he’s told us that he had to go before he went. Yesterday, he went all day with no accidents, and even went poo poo in the potty for the first time. He’s also kept his diaper dry for his nap several times. So he’s certainly getting it.

One final thing, I had mused about the commonly held wisdom that boys are harder to potty train than girls. I think I can say that we did not find that to be true. At the beginning it seemed that way, since Evie had been interested in the potty before potty training and Oliver had not. However, Evie was potty trained by about 22 months, and Oliver will be by about 24 months. In other words, it is within the margin of error. Oliver looks like he will take a little bit longer to be completely trained, but it was MUCH less stressful than with Evie (though I think this is mostly due to us being much better at it the second time around, and keeping it fun). Also, it’s quite possible he could have gone two months earlier if he had been wearing cloth diapers and we hadn’t had to schedule it around our vacation.

So that’s it. KEEP IT FUN and you too can successfully enjoy leaving the house with half as much stuff and constantly begging to use the bathroom in strange places!


2 thoughts on “4 simple steps to successfully potty training your child

  1. I just went through this a coulpe weeks ago. I just put two long sleeve shirts on my son and left him naked from the waste down for three days. The first day he kept asking for a diaper but I didn’t relent. He needed to pee about every half hour so we stayed home. The second day was much better but we had one accident that I had him help me clean up. I put underwear on him the fourth day but no pants. After a coulpe days of that and only a few accidents we went to fully clothed. I used a potty chart with candy for the next week. And now, two weeks later, he doesn’t even tell me that he needs to go- he just runs to the potty. Now I just need to figure out how to potty-train him for night time. So when you figure that one out, let me know. Good luck!


  2. Pingback: “Look at my bottom!” « Is this thing on?

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