Raising the Lid on Potty Training Tips and Tricks

Published on 
March 17, 2014

nicole-freedman-author-banner-101613 Legend has it that I was potty trained in one day, at the age of two. My mother insists that this is fact rather than fiction. My younger brother, however, had zero interest in using the potty until the age of three and then took months to become formally potty trained. Looking back, I think it’s fascinating that two children who grew up in the same home had completely different potty training experiences. It goes to show that every child is different and there is no exact science to this process.

As a nurse practitioner in the Division of Pediatric Urology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I work with many children and their parents who are trying to navigate through the potty training journey. I have learned that there is no “one size fits all” approach. There are lots of ideas floating around out there, so you have to choose the time and method that works best for your individual child. I hope this article provides some helpful tips to make this process easier on both you and your tot!

Raising the Lid on Potty Training Tips and Tricks

Is Your Child Ready for Potty Training? (Tweet this)

The average child becomes toilet trained around two years old. Remember that “average” indicates that some children will achieve this goal earlier and others later. Boys tend to be slower than girls at this process. Start potty training during a stable period of your child’s life. For example, if there are stressors happening at home such as moving to a new home, a new baby, starting a new school or becoming familiar with a new caretaker, then it’s best to wait until your child adjusts. There are a few simple ways to determine if your child is ready for potty training both physically and developmentally. If the answer is yes to most of these questions, then they are probably ready.

  1. Does your child express an interest in sitting on the potty?
  2. Does your child keep their diaper dry for two-hour periods or longer?
  3. Can your child tell you when they have a soiled diaper or when they are in the act of urinating or defecating?
  4. Can your child physically remove their own diaper or pull down their own pants?
  5. Does your child use words for urine elimination or defecation like “pee pee” or “poop?”

If you answered “no” to most of these questions that’s okay—just go through these five questions again in a few months. You can always consult with your child’s pediatrician about when may be the best time. “Don’t push potty training too much—children are ready to potty train at different ages,” confirms Stephanie Marcy, PhD, pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. If you start this process and it goes poorly, then and try again at a later date.

Take Baby Steps

Slowly introduce the idea of using the potty. You can begin by demonstrating how you or an older sibling uses the toilet. Another option is showing your child how you empty their stool from the diaper into the big potty or to their own individual potty. Many children are scared to sit on a regular adult-sized toilet so it is best to buy them their own potty seat or potty-chair that rests on the floor. If you use a potty seat that fits on top of the regular toilet, make sure to use a little stool so your child’s feat are resting on the ground rather than dangling. Here are some other tips to start the potty training process,

  • Read your child a story about using the potty. There are lots of great titles out there. Some favorites of mine are “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood: Going to the Potty;” “Once Upon a Potty,” “Everyone Poops,” “The Little Critter: The New Potty” and “The Potty Train.”
  • Help your child get used to their new potty seat by allowing them to practice sitting on the potty fully clothed or with their diaper on. Next you can have your child sit on the potty with the diaper off.
  • If you see your child starting to grunt or act like they are in the process of defecating, then quickly scoop them up and place them on the potty.
  • If you know that your child generally has a bowel movement the first thing in the morning or in the afternoon, place them on the potty “to try” around these times. You can also have your child sit on the potty 15-30 minutes after they eat. This is the time when the body naturally elicits an elimination reflex called the gastro-colic reflex where the intestine contracts.

Seven Ways to Make Potty Training Fun (Not Stressful) (Tweet this)

Potty training gives your child an opportunity to control the situation—they can refuse to sit on the toilet, continue urinating and defecating in their diaper regardless of your potting training efforts, etc. “Don’t allow it to become a power battle—parents will always lose,” states Dr. Marcy. There are ways to make the potty training process fun and inspire your child to take steps forward.

  1. Reward your child for their efforts. Make a huge deal about their accomplishment of even just simply sitting on the potty and trying to go to the bathroom. If you your child has an accident, reassure them that it’s okay. Encourage them that they will get it next time.
  2. Have your child practice putting underwear on their stuffed animals or doll and roll model them using the toilet.
  3. Never scold your child for not being able to “go” or having an accident in their pants.
  4. Make your child a fun star chart to incentivize them to want to use the potty. For instance, they can earn a star sticker each time they sit on the potty or actually make a pee or poop in the toilet. These stickers or stars can be collected to redeem a prize like a trip to the park or a fun new toy.
  5. Let your child pick out their own new undies. Children are more likely to feel excited about wearing something with their favorite cartoon, princess character, super hero or action figure.
  6. Take your child out of their diaper and put them in the undies they pick out. Your child will feel the discomfort of a wet undergarment because diapers tend to protect them from the uncomfortable sensation.
  7. Carry extra changes of clothes and undies when your child first gets started. This way you can continue doing your errands and activities without having to return home or end the activity abruptly because your child has an accident.

Make Sure Your Child Stays on Track

At first, put your child on the potty a few times a day as practice. Eventually, when they become toilet trained, make sure to keep them on a schedule. Kids easily become distracted by playing and don’t want to take the time to stop playing and use the bathroom. This frequently leads to pee or poop accidents. Remind your child to try to use the toilet at least every two to three hours. Children achieve daytime continence first and they later become dry at night. Your child may stay dry during the day but still require pull ups at night for months or even year(s) afterward. Be patient as this will come with time.

I hope this article helps explain the potty training process clearly. Remember that children develop bladder and bowel control at different ages and rates, so determine a strategy that will work best for your child. Your child’s pediatrician is also an excellent resource for guidance as they know your child and their developmental capability.

Make a Donation

Help us Treat Kids Better

Consider making a donation to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles today.