Potty training—it can be SO overwhelming. Not only because of the huge undertaking it can be to teach our (possibly stubborn, strong-willed) child to no longer use their training pants as the bathroom, but also emotionally on us as parents.
Our little ones are growing up right before our eyes—and usually much too quickly! But you won’t miss getting out of that cloth diaper wash routine!
I wouldn’t call myself a pro at potty training, but I’ve definitely been in the trenches with my four kiddos, and have learned a few things that really seem to work. Now, each kid and situation is different.
But if you’re looking for a few tips to get started, you’ve come to the right place.
Where Do I Even Begin Potty Training a Toddler?
There are many potty training practices to choose from (which we’ll get to in a little bit),but in our house, we’ve mostly stuck to the Three Day Method. With this practice, you need to plan a little bit:
1. Clear that calendar for potty training!
I know we are all busy, but you need to be able to set aside 3 days (as best practice) to really ensure success.
The first day is the most important to be home. You’ll have a lot of accidents to clean up and that’s much easier if it isn’t in the Target cart in the toddler shoe aisle.
2. Potty training underwear.
You’ll want a lot of these! Grab some cotton training underwear that you won’t mind potentially throwing away a pair here and there. If your child is old enough, you can let them choose some at the store.
Tip: I have potty trained three out of my four kids during the winter months. To keep their legs from turning into little ice cubes, I’d give them some baby leggings to wear with their undies.
There isn’t anything extra to pull down, but they keep their legs nice and toasty. I recommend having a few pairs of these because, well, they’ll get wet too.
3. Choose a training toddler potty chair.
You have several options here: a potty chair (the more it resembles an actual toilet the better); a potty training seat that goes directly on the regular toilet seat; or even simply a step stool in front of the regular toilet.
You can even get a couple of choices so they can decide what works best for them. (Kids are more reticent to learn new things if they feel like they have some level of control over it.)
Oh, and they may change their mind from day to day (like toddlers do about everything else). My little guy currently chooses between the potty chair and the regular toilet.
Get ready to pump your kiddo full of liquid! I like to get a variety of fun drinks that they may not normally have. You can use a variety of cups too—GOsili has some fun ones.
5. Potty training rewards!
What will motivate your child? Treats, stickers, prizes? If you’re anything like me, it’ll seem like a three-ring circus. But if it works, it works. Don’t hold back—get all the things!
Tweaking the Potty Training Method
Potty training isn’t an exact science, and truthfully, the kids are in control here. So we, as caregivers, just need to do the best we can and hold on for the ride.
After potty training four kids, I realized that some things just didn’t go as planned. With my first, we followed the Three Day Method to a T. (First child, amirite?)
With the next three, things slowly morphed into whatever worked best with keeping the Three Day Method as our base.
- There aren’t always three days to shut yourself and your potty training child in the house and have no distractions. Actually, it’s nearly impossible, especially if you have other kids. As soon as you look the other way, you’ve missed a cue and are cleaning up an accident. In our case, we had to leave the house for the older sisters’ activities. You just need to do your best with what you have, but I still HIGHLY recommend staying home for at least the first full day.
- I mentioned underwear. In the classic Three Day Method, the child quits diapers cold turkey. No trainers, no nighttime or naptime diapers. Straight to being a big kid. But maybe you would rather start your child off bare-bottom and move to undies a couple of days later—less laundry is always a pro, after all. Or maybe you want your kiddo in Nicki's trainers during the day or while they sleep. (Fewer messes on the floor...or your couch or bed.) Do what works for you and your potty trainee.
The MEAT of Three Day Potty Training
You have your plan, now time to free yourself of diaper laundry!
1. You will become a broken potty training record.
Even in your sleep, you will be saying “Tell me when you have to go potty, honey.” You will say this on repeat, especially on the first day.
My in-laws think we have absolutely lost our minds every time they come around in the early days of potty training, because this is all we say. We say these words instead of asking “Do you need to go potty?” because we want them to learn to recognize the cues without us needing to ask them.
This is also why we do not use the timer method. With a timer, you are telling the child that they need to go potty. By reminding them to tell us, they are learning about their body.
2. Encourage drinks.
They need to be drinking so they have plenty of opportunities to use the potty. My kids didn’t eat as much as they normally would during those three days because they were so full of liquid. And if your kiddo is still nursing, great—extra liquid!
3. There will be accidents.
So many accidents on that first day of potty training. Don’t react negatively towards them. As soon as you see that puddle forming on the floor, grab their hand and run to the bathroom while reminding them pee-pee goes in the potty.
If you see them start to squat behind the curtain, grab their hand and run to the potty. If they get even a DROP into the potty, it’s time to celebrate!
If we didn’t make it for #2, I always plopped it into the potty while she watched and cheered when it hit the water. You get fewer opportunities for poo celebrations, so you have to make do with what you have.
If you chose to use a potty chair, keep it in the bathroom. It may be tempting to keep it nearby in an attempt to deter accidents, but then you are teaching them that they can use the potty in every room.
Don’t do this. You will have to tear out the carpet—or have stock in carpet cleaners. Grab a few splat mats to keep under your little one’s butt while you read a book together on the couch. Thank me later.
4. Rewards are my FAVORITE part of potty training and they will be your child’s too!
Earlier, I mentioned my three-ring circus of a celebration. I’m about to let you in on the crazy, and I hope you adapt some of it to your potty celebration too!
- Sticker chart: I put up a huge poster board where everyone can see it and where they can reach it. If you don’t want to make your own chart, there is a sticker chart inside this book from Nicki’s! Potty Palooza - A Step-by-Step Guide to Using a Potty. Pick out some fun stickers (we get special ones for #2) and let them pick out and add a new sticker each time they get (even a little!) in that potty.
- Treats: I have changed this up with each kiddo because it’s been tailored to what they like. One got a Skittle, one an M&M and the last two got a mini marshmallow each time they had a successful pee. Poos were always a bigger reward, like a sucker or a freeze pop—which also helps get more liquid in them.Tip: Even after the 3rd day, when you are busting out of the house and tasting freedom again, pack these potty training reward treats in a Snack Bag so you can continue the positive reinforcement on the go.
- Praise: NEVER STOP PRAISING THEM! Words of encouragement, a happy dance, or a high five can go a long way.
- Singing: For every successful poo, we gather whoever is home at the moment (my son always got the biggest production), we light a candle, sing “Happy Potty To You!” and then he gets to blow it out! He LOVES it. All of this candle-blowing really made him look like a pro at his next birthday too. Just as a warning, they may want to blow out every candle they see—after demanding you sing to them, of course!
5. Be prepared to transition out of a crib during potty training
Be ready to transition out of the crib once your little one is naptime and/or nighttime potty trained, if you haven’t already.
Here’s why: Unless your child is catapulting themselves out of their crib on their own (which, let’s be honest, then they should already be out), they’re stuck. That’s why we love cribs, right?
But once they know their body’s cues and feel that they need to go potty, they have to be able to get there.
If they’re being held captive in their crib, they’re going to have accidents. And that will derail the potty training. Not only will you have even more laundry to do, your little one won’t get to feel the accomplishment of making it to the potty, and they won’t get that positive reinforcement from their biggest fan—YOU!
Some great things for their new big kid bed? They’ll love a new security blanket and new stuffed animals to make their new bed even more exciting. Oh, and don’t forget a LumiPet—all four of my kids sleep with theirs every night!
Honorable Mention Potty Training Methods
Like I said at the beginning, there are numerous potty training methods to choose from. Even though I didn’t use them in my house, it doesn't mean they wouldn’t be the best choice for yours.
You could even do a mashup of several different methods—which is pretty much what ended up happening by our fourth kid.
1. Elimination Communication:
EC can begin before they’re even one month old; it is about recognizing the signals of your infant and in turn teaching the infant to be in tune with their own bodies from an early age.
There are many cues that caregivers can rely on to understand when their child needs to go to the bathroom, as well as using timing to gauge
when their little one may need to go.
2. The Clockwork Approach:
This method is exactly what it sounds like. The caregiver sets a timer or a potty training watch for every 15 minutes. When that alarm sounds, the child is brought into the bathroom and put on the potty.
If they don't go right away, they can remain on the toilet for 5-10 minutes. Of course, if the child tells you at a random time they need to use the bathroom, you take them then as well.
3. The Naked Weekend:
Free the booty! Get rid of diapers, but don’t adorn those little cheeks with underwear just yet.
Once the potty trainee understands the concept of getting to the potty before an accident occurs, you can add underwear. Plus, picking out new underwear can be a great incentive.
With this method, the caretaker waits for the child to essentially announce that they are ready to hop on the pot.
If you don’t have any deadlines to meet (starting school, activities, etc.) this method could be great for you. Some kiddos just aren’t ready until they say so.
Nicki’s Will Always Be Here For You
Now that your little one is potty trained, we won’t be sad to see you go—because you aren’t leaving us!
For example, it’s still a great idea to always keep a wet bag in your baby bag or car. They may be potty trained, but accidents happen. If you have a wet-dry bag you can keep the extra set of clothes zipped in tight and ready for that quick change.
We also still use our CJ spritz because toddler skin is sensitive. When my son had the stomach flu, I was reaching for my CJ’s because it was the only thing that would soothe his sore bum.
So, as I said, even though you are transitioning out of diapers, we hope to always have you as a part of the Nicki’s family. With patience and humor, you will have a potty-trained kiddo in no time! Just go with the flow... Get it?