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The stress-free way to potty train your toddler

Girl sitting in a diaper

When my youngest hit toddlerhood, I was reluctant to start potty training.

In hindsight, I realized I had been too quick with my oldest and it created a long, disjointed experience. With my secondborn, I was a little less trigger-happy. But the time by third came around, I made the conscious choice to postpone potty training until his readiness was impossible to ignore. Because I am in school full-time and work part-time, I wanted the closest thing to a stress-free experience as possible.

Before we get into my best suggestions, here are some general toliet training starter tips.

What age should you potty train?

At three months shy of three, we started potty training our third. And, honestly, it was the smoothest toilet training experience we’ve had. Whether it’s walking, peeing on the potty, or reading fluently, parents (myself included) need to remember that earlier doesn’t necessarily mean better.

That said, according to WebMD, some children are ready to potty train as early as 18 months while others aren’t ready until age 3.

Look for signs of readiness

Signs of potty training readiness infographic

Signs of potty training readiness include the child:
  • is able to sit on the potty unassisted,
  • communicates when he has to go to the potty or has a dirty diaper,
  • hides to go pee or poo,
  • has a dry diaper for at least two hours,
  • copies you going to the bathroom,
  • follows basic instruction well,
  • wakes up from naps with a dry diaper,
  • can pull down her pants with little to no help,
  • but most importantly, shows interest in potty training. 

Potty training your toddler is an important milestone as a parent and for your child. If you’ve noticed that your child is showing signs that they might be ready to start potty training. Unfortunately, there is no golden rule for when or how you should potty train your toddler. Each time I potty trained my three kids, there were new methods other parents were suggesting. The truths are that:

  1. the experience will be unique for every parent and every toddler.
  2. as long as there is no medical reason, every child will be potty trained in time.

Despite these truths, there are some things you can do to make this experience as stress-free as possible.

Buy a cheap potty or two and be flexible about where you put it.

When we started potty training with all three of my kids, we would move the potty into the playroom or basement to make it accessible. As they got better with using the toliet, moved it back to the bathroom.

Here are some parent-backed guidelines for how to potty train your toddler.

Make it a positive experience.

Using a toilet instead of a diaper can either be exciting or stressful and even scary experience for some children. One crucial step for potty training your toddler is to make sure it’s enjoyable. Make sure to let your toddler know the benefits of using the bathroom. Social stories are a great way to help guide her through this developmental milestone. 

Related reading: How to use social stories to teach and guide your child

Buying big boy/ girl undies can feel really special as can taking out books about potty training from the library.

Read books about potty training.

Reading books about potty training acts as a template for what is to come. Many of them follow the same framework. It’s nerve-wracking, then the child tries, he has accidents, but then he gets it right more and more.

Related reading: The Best Books for Potty Training Toddlers

Go all in with a couple of exceptions.

For parents, it can also be stressful to move from diapers to underwear. However, one Montessori teacher and early childhood specialist says waffling from underwear to diapers creates inconsistency and confusion. Unfortunately, this leads to more accidents over the long term. If you’re worried about the car, however, Harrison says to throw on a diaper or pull-up removing it immediately after getting to your destination.

Naptime and nighttime dryness will take longer and therefore may be another time you choose to use a diaper or pull-up. When my son started waking from naps with a dry, we ditched the pull-up. But night time he still isn’t there.

Pay attention and teach them and watch for signals.

Avoiding bathroom accidents is a huge part of switching from diapers to a toilet. As a parent, you are likely better at knowing your child’s signs than she is. For instance, my daughter used to hide when she needed to go poo. And my youngest son has a very noticeable expression. Help your child recognize the signals of when he needs to use the bathroom and encourage him to still sit on the potty after an accident to reinforce the connection between having to go to the bathroom and going to the bathroom.

It can also help to set a timer between attempts on the potty.

Celebrate the small wins. 

Encourage your toddler to make strides towards being a big kid. Praise him for sitting on the potty and any time he tries to go pee or poo. 

Be patient with them.

Scolding your child or shaming them for not using the bathroom will only leave them feeling defeated, and you feel disappointed. Even toddlers who are enthusiastic about potty training can still take weeks to master it fully. Don’t try to nag your toddler into using the bathroom, instead use words of encouragement and avoid scolding whenever possible.

Related reading: How to Conquer Your Toddler’s Potty Training Regression

Approach accidents in a matter-of-fact way.

A director of special needs education once told me, “Punishing and scolding potty accidents ruins motivation and ultimately leads to more accidents.” 

Instead, adopt an “accidents happen” approach. Because, let’s be honest, they will happen.

Even though my third is potty trained now. He still has the occasional accident. When they happen, I usually say, “Oh. Accidents happen.” Sometimes I ask what happened. For instance, I will ask if he was having too much fun playing or if he forgot he needed to pee. I always ask, “What do you need to do next time?” As we clean up, we sing the chorus of the Daniel Tiger potty song.

“If you have to go potty, STOP and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”

A final note.

There is no one-size-fits all way of potty training. In my experience and research, the best approach is to be flexible, praise wins and be matter-of-fact about accidents.

Hopefully, this post has left you feeling more confident about preparing your toddler for potty training season! Whether this is your first child to go through potty training or your memory of what you did with your last child is a little fuzzy, these tips will help you start potty training your toddler.

More great articles for parenting toddlers

How to Conquer Your Toddler’s Potty Training Regression

10+ Tips for Mitigating Difficult Toddler Behaviour

The Best Books for Potty Training Toddlers

How to stop toddler hitting without the use of punishment

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