10 Techniques to Toilet Training

"Parents can lead their children to the potty, but they can’t make them pee!" - Kelly Matzen

“Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.” —Old Potty Training Song

Many moms and dads are not experiencing relief when their child resists potty training. With the pressure and responsibility to have children toilet trained by preschool, the wet laundry piling up and the cost of pull-ups eating away at the weekly budget, it’s no wonder many parents feel like they’re ready to flush those unsuccessful potty training techniques down the toilet! I receive at least one email a week from a mom in the parenting “deep end” asking for potty training parenting tip suggestions.

Before we begin, I invite you to remember this one potty training fact: Parents can lead their children to the potty, but they can’t make them pee! ;-)

Keeping this in mind, I invite you to take a look at my top 10 techniques for toilet training even the most stubborn children.

1. Timing is Everything – The more your child initiates and takes responsibility for their own potty training, the quicker toilet training will be.  Before you start the process, ask yourself if this really is the best time for your child. Does your child really want it or just you? If you are pushing potty training because you fear they won’t be ready for preschool, or you are embarrassed (because it seems that all the other kids their age are already trained!), or you are simply tired of diapers—then you are headed for a series of toilet training problems and frustrations.

2. Have Faith that Your Child Will be Potty Trained – Potty training is one, of many, important skills preschoolers learn. They all do learn it, but each child has their own potty training agenda and timing. Have faith! It’s just a matter of time.

3. Stay Away from Cute, External Rewards – The more you make potty training into a game, the more your child will see it as a game. Cute toilet training ideas (like sticker charts for when children “go”, floating Cheerios into the bowl and having boys aim for it, putting food coloring into the bowl and having your child get excited about watching the color change) often only confuses the issue—especially when the potty training gimmicks lose their appeal. Although, rewards can provide temporary motivation, once they lose their appeal they can quickly backfire and then potty training turns into a battle of wills, where you lose. The rewards of potty training should be internal: your child should feel good about learning something new. By all means, encourage your child when he or she remembers with a simple, “Great job!”. Your basic encouragement is all that is needed for success, not rewards.

4. Stick with Your Decision to Forgo Diapers and Pull-ups– My belief is that pull-ups that soak up the uncomfortable wet feeling can actually prolong potty training. One of the children in my life became so comfortable with pull-ups that he was wearing them well into the school years for night accidents. Accidents will happen, but the more your child wants to be potty trained, the less accidents you will encounter. When kids aren’t given the opportunity to continually experience the natural discomfort that comes from wet clothes (and potty training has become a power struggle!), they have no pottry training incentive. Consider putting a protective waterproof sheet around their mattress, but stay away from soaker pads and pull-ups once you have made the shift.

5. Make Potty Training Comfortable – A big person toilet for a small bum can be a scary thing. Use training potties, potty seats, or have your child face the toilet when sitting on the throne so they can sit comfortably.

6. Let Go of Constant Reminders and Prodding – The more you make toilet training a big deal, the more your child will fight you. If you are taking all the responsibility for your child to remember to go, there will be no reason for them to remember. When it comes to potty training, the best reminder comes from your child’s own bladder—not you! And when your child forgets or doesn’t listen to their bladder, the pee running down their leg is their next best reminder. ;-)

7. Have Your Child Help Clean Up When Accidents Happen – Accidents happen and are a part of the natural process of potty training. Don’t make a big deal out of accidents. Instead deal with the accident by cleaning it up together. Have your child be responsible for finding dry clothes and put the wet ones in the washer.

8. Give Your Child More Responsibilities Around the House – The more confidence your child feels, the more they will embrace learning any new skill (including potty training). Look for tasks that your preschooler can be responsible for and thank her for what she does. Involving your child in the upkeep of your home is one of the best things you can do for him (see chapter eight of my book, When You’re About To Go Off The Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You to learn more about how chores can boost your child’s self-esteem).

9. Make Potty Training a Natural Part of Life – Let your child see you go to the bathroom and casually point out when you see an older child go to the bathroom. Make comments like, “When you are older, and are ready for potty training, you too will go the toilet and will wear underwear just like everyone else.” Stay clear of potty lectures and at story time include a few potty training books like our favourites: The Potty Book for Boys and The Potty Book for Girls by Alyssa Capucilli.

10. Again, I repeat, Timing is Everything When it Comes to Toilet Training – The less pressure from you, the smoother it will be. Make certain your child is really showing signs of being able to be trained (i.e. they are consistently waking up with a dry diaper, are telling you when they are peeing or pooping in their diaper or are asking you to be trained). If you are unsure if they are ready, then simply tell them, “When you are ready to be potty trained, and sit on the toilet like mommy does, just let me know and we will begin.”

Potty training is one, of the many, skills your child gets to learn, perfect and become responsible for. When you support your child in listening to the natural cues of their own body, you will empower him or her with life-long skills. And if you choose to use the above 10 techniques to toilet training, you’ll find that potty training becomes a process—rather than a power struggle—with a happy ending.


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