Updated: Feb 2
Alright moms and dads! Go ahead and do the jig. You are about to enter one of the most exciting segments of your parenting journey. The segment when you no longer need to wipe a poopy booty on your toddler who thinks diaper-changing-time is actually time to flop around like a fish as fast as you can. When you no longer need to ensure you have enough diapers in the car when you venture out for the day. The time when you say goodbye to the panicked trips to Target on Saturday after realizing you almost missed the diaper sale for your favorite brand!
As with every phase of parenting, potty training time can sneak up on you rather quickly. And although it may seem a little daunting, potty training really does not need be a stressful time. I like to think of potty training as a phase of life rather than an individual event.
Check out the three stages of potty training and my tips for mastering each stage.
* Although I have ages listed for each stage, every child is different. These ages are guidelines meant to give you an idea of when to begin each stage. One of the best things you can do, especially when moving on to stages 2 and 3, is to wait until your child is ready. Waiting for your child's readiness will save both you and your child frustration, tears, and quitting.
Stage 1: Familiarize With the Potty
Age: 18-24 months
It would be silly to think that our kiddos could easily transition from going potty in a diaper to going potty on the toilet without first being introduced to the toilet. Just like it would have been silly to think that our kiddos could transition from a bottle to a sippy cup without some no-pressure practice time.
Introduce a Potty
I prefer a potty ring that sits on top of a real toilet. Why? Well, my main motivator is because there is no part of me that wants to manually dispose of pee or poop from a little potty that sits on the floor. My own personal preferences aside, I think the potty rings better prepare kiddos for the ultimate goal, which is sitting on a real toilet to go to the bathroom. I prefer as few transitions as possible. If you first introduce a potty that sits on the floor, you have to then then later introduce the big potty that they will use for the rest of their lives. If you can get away without the extra step, why not.
I used this potty ring for both of my kids and it has been great.
Create an Informal Schedule
Choose a time of the day that you can easily put your kiddo on the potty. Once a day is great during this stage. Keep in mind that this should be a stress-free process. If you forget, are running out of the door one morning, or only plan to do this every other day, no worries! It is not so much about the exact frequency as it is about getting into a routine so you all remember to do it, and so your little one gets comfortable with sitting on the potty by doing so on a regular basis as part of a regular routine.
Sample Informal Schedule (pick 1, or 2 at most)…
Before you put him in the tub every day (or however often you bathe your kiddo)
Each morning when changing into his clothes for the day
Each night before putting on PJs
Does it matter if he actually pees while sitting on the potty? No, it does not matter if he simply sits there or if he actually pees. One day he will accidently pee (it may be months before this happens!), you will all do the biggest potty dance ever, and he will then know what he is supposed to do on the potty, what it feels like, and have had his first practice at it. Otherwise let him sit there for as short or as long as he wants.
Any extra times your little one asks to use the potty is a win! If he ever asks to use the potty, praise him for asking, and go ahead and sit him on there.
Stage 2: Get Down to Business
Age: 2-2.5 years
Once your kiddo is able to tell you that she has to go potty most of the time, she is ready to move on to Stage 2. This stage is about being more intentional.
A More Formal Schedule
This is the stage right before you ditch the diaper, so you will want to be more intentional with getting her onto the potty frequently throughout the day and encouraging her to tell you if she has to go.
Sample "More Formal" Schedule (4-5x/day)
Each morning after waking - when taking off overnight diaper
After mid-morning snack
Before nap time
After waking from nap
Before putting on PJs at bedtime
Toot to Poop
If you hear her toot (or show a sign that she may have to poop) encourage her to sit on the potty! Half the battle of learning to poop on the potty is actually sitting on the potty when she has to poop. Additionally, if your little one poops around the same time most days, encourage her to sit on the potty around those times.
Stage 3: Bye-Bye Diapers
Age: 2.5+ years
#1 Tip for Success
Wait until both you and your kiddo are ready to take the plunge!
How do you know if your kiddo is ready? If he is telling you he has to go to the potty at least three times a day, and willingly sits on the potty any other times you ask, you are looking good!
What about pooping? Some kiddos have a hard time with pooping on the potty, however most kids are able to poop without much difficulty if they are prompted at ideal times (see above suggestions on when to prompt in the Toot to Poop section). If your kiddo will poop on the potty when you prompt them, or even better, will go on his own, you have the all clear to make the switch from diapers to underwear!
You must also be ready for the commitment. If there is anything that would prevent you from sticking with underwear or tempt you to put diapers on randomly, then you are not ready for the switch. Going back and forth between diapers and underwear when it is/is not convenient or do-able for your family is confusing and will surly make it harder for your little one to be as committed as he wants to be. With the confusion, he will have more accidents which can be demoralizing to everyone in the family. For the best chance at an easy transition, be sure to wait until both you and your kiddo are ready for the switch.
Take a trip to the store with your little one to pick out some super special underwear. If your kiddo picks out his new underwear and is so excited to wear it that he can't wait until the special day, allow him to put his underwear overtop of his diaper! This will allow his excitement to carry on for a few days until you are ready for the switch.
"No Pee-Pee On Mickey!"
Allow the underwear to help you! If your kiddo picks out Mickey Mouse underwear... tell him "no pee pee on Mickey!" Kids think this is hilarious, and it helps them to understand what will happen if they don't go pee pee on the potty!
Make the Switch
Choose a weekend (or any two day stretch) when you can be committed to being at home much of the day or in a position to easily access the potty if you are out of the house. When your kiddo wakes up that morning, take off the overnight diaper, go potty, and go straight for the underwear! If your kiddo prefers to be naked (with no underwear), that is fine too.
Put your kiddo on the potty at least every hour. If you notice that he has an accident at the 45 minute mark, then put him on the potty every 45 minutes. Frequent prompting may seem tedious, but is critical the first two days, and is best done for about a week. Over the week you will notice that your kiddo is able to go a little longer without peeing and you can begin to stretch that time out slowly. Increase the amount of time you wait before prompting to sit on the potty by 15 minutes at a time.
Your excitement and enthusiasm are the most important positive reward you can offer to your child. If your kiddo is not super interested in potty training, you may consider either delaying Stage 3 until he is ready, or incentivizing with other small rewards (stamps, stickers, art supplies, small treats, special activities).
Don't Worry About Bedtime
Plan to use diapers/pullups far long after your kiddo is potty trained. Typically kiddos are not ready for underwear overnight until about age 4. A topic for another day...
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Coach
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Counselor, and Coach for parents of babies and toddlers. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies and toddlers as owner and Coach for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 6), and Veronica (age 4). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.
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