Child-led Potty Training

Get Potty Trained

I’ve never considered myself a super laid-back mom. I enjoy being in control, by nature, and running my family is no exception. However, kids can’t be controlled…they have a mind of their own and certainly mine have come with a stubborn streak (must be from their dad!). In order to cope, I try to live with the mantra ‘choose your battles’. I just can’t make everything a big deal so it always goes my way and emotionally survive the drama! Potty training, for me, is one of the things I choose to not make a battle. My husband, on the other hand, has thought our daughter should have been trained a long time ago, which has led to more than one disagreement and fit of tears. Hopefully as I share our journey you can glean some encouragement and tips along the way – in the end remember the most important thing…kids will go on the potty when they are ready (or when you can find the proper motivation).

As an infant our daughter didn’t like to sit in her soiled or wet diaper so we assumed this would mean early potty training, especially since one of her grandmas was trained before age one. We started sitting her on the potty before bath time, making sure we always talked about what we were doing and how you wipe and wash, and how people don’t fit down the potty – only tinkle, poop, and toilet paper go down the drain. As she got a little older we made sure we had both an insert for our regular toilet as well as a toddler size potty seat (We have this FROG potty and this insert style) so she could decide which one she wanted to ‘try’ on before bath time. We had a few successes with this approach. She randomly did go tinkle and poop, for which we praised like crazy!

I didn’t want to see regression of bathroom use after our second child was born, and quite frankly didn’t have the energy to lift her on the potty while I was pregnant, so I stayed pretty low-key about the bathroom usage. Finally, after her second birthday my husband really pushed to get serious about training. We attempted to encourage her to sit on the potty more often – which usually led to a battle of her crying and screaming “I don’t want to” and my husband getting frustrated! He made a potty chart that never got used past the second sticker. Her aunt bribed her with a trip to the ice cream shop if she would go. She got to pick out her own special underwear – which we let her run around in outside so she could feel the uncomfortable sensation of being wet. We offered candy, gum, and I’m sure a million other things along the way. Through all of this she wasn’t interested or willing to go on the potty so I kept saying she’ll do it when she’s ready, which quite frankly was probably just an excuse to not have to fight the battle!

tell you pottyOver the course of the second year she developed the ability to know when she had to go the bathroom – which really is the most important first step because if they can’t tell you BEFORE they go, they’ll never be successful consistently. But that really only led to her having more control, because we would sit her on the potty then as soon as she was back in the diaper she would go. Ugh. Insert more bribing, more conversations about how she wouldn’t fit down the drain, and more crying fits over having to sit on the potty. We tried offering her control in other areas of life like choosing her own clothes, in the hopes that would allow us to ‘force’ the potty thing. No luck there either just more battles along the way. We read books about going on the potty and sang the Daniel Tiger song ‘If you have to go potty, stop and go right away.’ (you can hear the song here). We didn’t want to scar her from the potty forever, so we’d take breaks where the potty seats got put away for a while in the hopes that if it was ‘new’ again she would be interested in it – nope, that didn’t work either.

We limped along this way for a year and finally after her third birthday, with the motivation to not pay for diapers for three children after our baby was born, I finally got serious. I did some reading and talked with some friends – most suggestions I read were take 3 full days of nothing but focusing on potty training. Stay home, sit in the bathroom, let them run around in underwear, and put them on the potty every 30 minutes (setting a timer so everyone remembers to try). We were supposed to reward when she kept her underwear dry, when she asked to sit on the potty, and when she was successful in going. We wrapped presents, talked about it, and picked our days when both parents were home.

The first morning went great – she was excited and willingly tried to go. Her first successful poop came from a round of playing the ‘pull my finger’ game with daddy to get toots out and oh boy was that exciting! About lunch time she got tired of having to go every 30 minutes without being successful, so we increased her fluid intake and pushed it out to 40 minutes. We made it through day one with a couple of successes with pee and were so hopeful this was working. Sadly on day two we were back to the crying and screaming at being told when to sit on the potty and let’s be honest even the candy wasn’t motivating enough to overcome this, so we offered to let her get her ears pierced when she could keep underwear dry. Nope, that bribe alone wasn’t enough motivation either. I was starting to think she might be ten before we had success.

So we were back to diapers for a time, but then one morning a couple weeks later she woke up and called out that she needed to go potty. Well sure we said, and off we went to a successful morning of staying dry and going on the potty. For the next few days we let her be a ‘big girl’ and wear a pull-up, but as soon as she got it dirty she was back to baby diapers. She would run to the potty randomly and have success with pee, but always pooped in her pull-up partway through the day. At this point, I finally said to my husband we MUST just be patient and wait until she is ready to decide. We can’t force her – this has to be her decision! We had exhausted all our ideas and bribe options, or so we thought.

After about a week of half day success with pull-ups my husband finally came up with another random bribe we hadn’t tried yet…letting her do her daily rest time downstairs instead of in her bed. I hesitantly agreed to give it a shot because as a mom who is home all day I NEED to have that hour to myself. But lo and behold, that was the push she needed. She went day one keeping her pull up dry and clean – which was the first day of poop success we had seen, ever. We rewarded with a wrapped present every time she was successful at going pee (wrapped up M&M’s), and once a day when she had a ‘big poop’ she got a poopy present, which were random things like a yo-yo and bracelets.

Day two found us traveling to her aunt’s house, but even in the different place she was mostly successful and we continued on with the candy rewards. By this time we were all tired of running to the bathroom so often to try, but she started to get excited about wearing her big-girl underwear so we kept at it. After her third day of a dry and clean pull up, even with being away from home most of the day, I felt like we could see the finish line of this battle. We started Monday out with underwear and a conversation about how it’s not ok to SHOW people your underwear, but you could tell them what it looked like (add that to the list of things I never thought I’d have to teach my children). And with only a couple accidents when she was having too much fun outside to stop to go potty or not having a potty close by she’s stayed dry and clean since. It’s amazing what a child can do when they decide they want to!

It’s been two weeks of dry and clean. She finally is to the point where she doesn’t go pee, then five minutes later run back to go poop and is learning that she doesn’t need to poop every time she goes pee. I feel like I can finally say that our almost 3.5 year old is officially potty trained!! We rewarded with a trip to get her ears pierced and pick out more big girl underwear and she gets to have ice cream with her aunt this week!

Child must be readyI am obviously not an expert at this but here are the biggest things we’ve learned along the way:

**Using the toilet is one of the things kids can control, so seriously, unless they decide they are ready no amount of bribing or yelling will make a difference. But don’t be afraid to try bribes – we thought we had tried every bribe out there, but finally found something that was motivating enough for her (for us it was just being able to rest downstairs with a movie – for our niece it was the reward of going on a Disney cruise…every kid is different) so it may take several tries to find what truly motivates your kid. And if no bribe works don’t stress – I have friends who didn’t do any sort of rewards or charts and their kids figured it out in their own time.

**There is no magic age – every kid will decide to hit this major milestone at a different point and that is ok! Our daughter is a great kid and developmentally ahead in lots of areas so being ‘later’ to potty train than some of her friends doesn’t define who she is or her ability to be successful in life. And truthfully her pediatrician wasn’t concerned that she wasn’t trained by 3 so I didn’t stress about it either.

**Potty success is not an indicator of your parenting. There were several points along this journey where my daughter’s friends were using the potty and I started to wonder if I was just going about it the wrong way. I needed to come to terms with the fact that she would learn eventually and not feel like others were judging me (because if they were, they weren’t very good friends).

**Don’t undervalue the beauty of an older child being totally independent in the bathroom. In our previous attempts I would have to sit with her the whole time she was ‘trying’ and help with every step because she was too little to do it for herself. When she finally decided she was ready, she basically did everything herself…from getting out the potty insert and stool, to wiping her own bottom and washing her hands. This wasn’t without a few issues with lack of wiping (insert another one of those moments of things I never expected to have to teach my child – you have a crack in your bottom that you need to wipe after you poop) but was very freeing for me as a mother to not spend hours in the bathroom.

**Talk about it – a lot. We started talking about the potty early on and I don’t regret that one bit. We talked about how nice it felt to be dry and clean. Our friends talked about how fun it was to be able to go to dance class because they went on the potty. We watched shows, read books, and made going on the potty just part of the normal conversation. Even now my daughter takes great pride in telling people she is a ‘big girl now’ because she goes poop on the potty.

**Sometimes it happens in stages. Many kids learn to go poop on the potty long before they are fully trained. For us pee on the potty happened more consistently first. And learning to stay dry at night often happens at a totally different time!

When I asked for potty training advice from family and friends one of my cousins said this: “I’m a strong believer…. There is no coercing it. Child is the boss in this category.” It stuck out to me and was the absolute truth in how things went at our house. Good luck, know that you are never alone on this or any other parenting journey and there are TONS of places to look for ideas and suggestions. And kids all figure it out eventually. Stay strong and kind!

**Update: We are in the midst of potty-training child #2. At age 2 she decided she wanted to be like big sister and has been consistently going poop on the potty for several months. However, she only uses the toilet about 50% of the time for pee – whether she is wearing underwear or a pull-up and regardless of what we bribe her with. So we keep at it, one trip to the bathroom at the time, while waiting for her to decide being wet with pee is uncomfortable enough to make using the potty more appealing.**

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