my 5 steps to potty training

I had lunch yesterday with one of my fellow SAHDs, and among the many subjects that we talked about was potty training, especially because I have been jubilantly posting a lot about it on my Facebook page. Basically, my 2 year old son is rocking it.

I told him that I have found 5 things that were really helpful to my wife and, as well as my son, and that I don’t claim to have superior knowledge on the subject, I only know what my wife and I discovered as we navigated our way through this adventure. And after some 10 months of potty training, my boy has been wearing his undies for more than a week with no accidents (including camp, field trips and nap time) and we couldn’t be happier.

Use this advice as you see fit:

1. Using Cloth Diapers

At this point I have been using cloth diapers for nearly 2 years with my son, and now my daughter, and you can read about it here (and here). I will not go into the details or reasons of why I chose to use cloth in this post, other than to say that cloth diapers let kids feel the wetness much more than disposables. Thus it makes sense that kids don’t want to be covered in pee if they have a choice. For that reason they seem to take to the potty more easily and sooner than kids that didn’t use cloth.

2. Encouragement

This is the big one. My son wanted to use the potty kind of early on, and so we went all in right away to support that, and I think that was the key for us. We bought a potty and set it up in the bathroom across from ours. We bought lots of books about potty time, and a drawer full of undies as a reward for using the potty. We also put a jar full of mini-M&M’s and several sheets of stickers as a reward for peepee, and later we added Hot Wheels cars for poopoos.

potty rewards

Once we started getting more regular peepees in the potty my son no longer wanted to wear pants around the house as they would serve to cover his undies, which he had worked so hard for. At this point I started wearing my undies around the house too and we talked a lot about how it’s an honor to wear undies for those of us that peepee and poopoo on the potty.

Using a reward system seems to be a point of contention among some of the parents I have talked to, however I have found that the “rewards” (cars, M&Ms and stickers) are a great way to get things started or keep it moving through the lulls when he loses interest in the potty, but are not what is really driving his using it. The main reason he likes to go potty is to be part of the family and do what the rest of us are doing. So leaving the bathroom door open and inviting him to accompany me every time I go to the bathroom has been the the number one motivator for us. And if someone had told me a few years ago that I would be saying (daily) “Dad-O is going poopoo, do you want to go poopoo with Dad-O?” I would not have believed them.

3. The Potty

When I went to look at potties for the first time I found 2 distinct styles, those with all kinds of faces and bright primary colors on them (and even electronics and iPad mounts) and those that looked like a “Real” toilet. My feeling was that I didn’t want him to play on/with it, so why would I buy a toy looking one? No, I wanted him to learn to use the bathroom like us, so I bought him a potty that looked like out toilet. The Baby Bjorn model had nice lines, was easy to clean, had a good “boy peepee catcher” and a rubber edge on the bottom so that it wouldn’t slide.

As we progressed toward using the big boy potty I installed a Mayfair Nextstep on our toilet. It looks just like a regular toilet seat, except that it has a kid sized seat that can be lowered for them to use.

potty options

When not in use the smaller seat flips up and is nicely held in place by magnets. It looks great and I don’t have to have a special seat attachment hanging around the bathroom or do any prep for him to use it that looks different than how we use the potty.

4. Peer Pressure

One of the things I was surprised by is how much kids talk with each other about what they are doing. So it caught me off guard when on a Skype call with his cousin, my son told him all about going potty and wearing undies, which were modeled, and then a few days later when we Skyped again his cousin had made substantial progress in potty training and had his undies on too. This became a ritual during our Skype every few days and really helped both boys stay motivated to use the potty.

Because of this, we make it a point to talk to my son’s friends that are potty training about using the potty and showing them his undies (the top of them) to help motivate them as well.

5. Patience

ride the dragonWe started potty training our son at about 18 months, following his cues, and had great success until his sister was born and then we took a month off (which is typical), again following his cues. So at this point, we have been working on it for 9 months and are just now getting to the point where he has quit wearing diapers except for sleeping over night. All of which has required much more patience than I expected, and thinking about our journey I’m always amazed when I read things like “How I Potty Trained My Daughter in 3 Days”. I agree with most of her concepts, but is a bit misleading in it’s title. After all, I could teach someone to “operate” a motorcycle in an afternoon, but this doesn’t mean that by the end of the day they actually know how to ride one and should head off the ride The Dragon. This is because riding a motorcycle, like potty training, is a straight-forward concept but requires a lot of practice to become good at, and neither can be mastered in 3 days. After all, I’ve been riding a motorcycle for 25 years and still have a lot to learn…and using the potty for 38 years and my wife feels I could still work on my aim a bit.

I think going in to this process knowing that it is going to take months will establish a realist goal in your head, which will also lower the pressure you place on your kid to “get it done”. This means asking your kid “Do you need to go peepee or poopoo” every 20 minutes for months, but the first time they tell you they need to go without being asked all that hard work seems instantly worth it. Not to mention the reward that both my wife and I both felt the first time we were out (and my son was in undies) and he stopped playing to tell us that he needed to “go peepee please?”. Banner moment in our lives and ocular high-five as I ushered him off to the bathroom.

PS: In the interest of full disclosure, while sitting on my couch writing this my son has been sitting next to me typing on his keyboard wearing his Empire Strikes Back pajama top and Spider-Man undies and has asked to go peepee 3 times.

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