Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Toilet-Training Tips from the Trenches

Once, when standing in line at Costco, Anthony told me "I have to go".  I had just loaded a carts-worth of food onto the conveyor belt.  The checker did not yet have my card. There were people behind me and he was an arms reach away blocked in by a cart in the front and one behind. We didn't have many options at that very moment. And then he made it really clear he HAD TO GO... and he left a trail of pee while I ran with him (still in the cart drawing attention to us with those noisy wheels) all the way from the check-out to the bathroom.

Toilet training is a trying time, a physically exhausting time, a time when you have to scratch your plans, your schedule, your other duties, to wash undies and change sheets and clean floors.  But if you do it when you are mentally and physically prepared to take on the challenge, you can do it faster and in a less complicated way. Here are five tips from the trenches to help it go more smoothly with less tears from everyone.

1. Intentionality.  Being intentional is the first key to a quick potty training experience. Push the fluids, fill their bladders, give them lots of watermelon to eat - whatever.  The more chances they have in the day to pee the better likely they are to succeed.

2. Dress for success.  Well, really undress for success.  Don't make things complicated.  If you have a little girl, give her a little sundress to wear and skip the undies (while at home) for a little while. If weather permits, let them run around in the back yard without bottoms for a while.  For that first day they may not even realize that they are peeing. Once they realize how their bodies work, they will be better able to make it to the potty in time.

3. Relax.  The bathroom is a relaxing place (or it should be). Make sure your child feels comfortable on the toilet.  Get a special seat if you need too.  They have ones that fit on the toilet, are built into the seat (super cool!), or of course the little ones for the floor that you dump and clean. They even have fancy ones with a ladder attached. That one looks complicated but it is pretty good at keeping the child's hands off the toilet seat.

Take regular trips to the bathroom with them so that they can learn to just relax on the toilet.  Read to them (Amazon has all sorts of books for kids who are potty training!), sing with them, make us rhymes with them about pooping and flushing and all that stuff.  Make it fun and most importantly a no-pressure, relaxing experience.  If you have boys you can get Cherrios for them to aim it, or buy some fun flush-ables (like wee wizards), but I always worried too much about my plumbing for that stuff.

4. Free Access.  Buy or borrow an extra potty seat, and move it to the room you are in.  For that first week or so, don't restrict potty-time to just the bathroom.  Often kids struggle to potty train because they are too interested in what they are doing and they don't want to stop coloring or watching that show or playing with their toys.  Put their potty seat in their playroom and keep watch.

5. Reward with real joy.  There is real joy for them in actually peeing in the potty.  Keep the MnMs and stickers and other such rewards for when you really need to motivate the child. If you need to provide incentives for them then do it (!) but keep them small. After all, they are going to be peeing their whole lives and it is not likely that they will get paid for pooping. Think about whether you want to award a sticker for trying or succeeding.  We created an over-the-top Happy Dance for when they actually succeeded and they LOVED watching us be super silly. We also had a pooping song which was just catchy enough that we used it for all the kids. If you want a tangible reward system, this is a really cool chart that outlines what they should be doing (trying to sit, washing hands, flushing etc), and gives a place for you to put smilie faces for them. It would be especially good if you have your little one in childcare and he needs the assistance of someone else helping him potty during the day. It could also be a good reminder for the kiddo to use alone after they have mastered the basics.

Okay you say, but how old should my child be when we do all this? Anytime between 15 months and three years gives you a decent shot at success. I like toilet training early, before the terrible twos kicks in.  Before independence and defiance and all that fun stuff makes you want to pull your hair out. Give it a try and if it seems like it is too early then drop it for a few months.  Anthony was totally trained by his second birthday. With JR we started a little before age two and it was horrible.  After a few days we dropped it and gave it another try three months later.  The girls are a blur.  Generally, the experts say kids should be waking up dry after naps, they should be letting you know that their diapers are wet/dirty.  I don't think that matters as much, but they are some concrete measures you can use. Most kids are day-time potty training by age three.  Within that window, it matters more if you are up to the challenge.

Let's talk a minute also about what motivates us - the parents.  Often the impending arrival of a new baby makes us think we need to potty train the big brother or sister. Don't do that to yourself. Trying to do it when you are 8 or 9 months pregnant (just so that you don't have two kids in diapers) is bonkers. You child will probably regress anyhow after the baby is born so just wait a few months and give it a shot once the family settles again.  The big kid may be ready to show the baby what a big kid he really is and then you have a more motivated child on your hand.  I have loved using pre-school as a motivator for potty training.  All my kids wanted to go to school, so using that as some leverage always helped.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

*I am an Amazon Affiliate and I included links to some toilet training products in this post. I don't recommend any specific products per se, but I wanted you to have easy access to the whole wealth of items out there.  All you really need is a basic potty seat and a package of Pull-ups, but if you want to buy more you have a lot of options!
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