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Potty training: how we’ve approached it…

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Ahh potty training! It feels like one of the biggest parenting milestones in the early days. It can sometimes feel like a impossible, frustrating journey but a few things have worked really well for us. As a mamma of three children and educator, hopefully I can pass on some pearls of wisdom which might just work for you too.

I’m going to start by saying this: I’m not a paediatrician or a child psychologist – I come at this purely from the perspective of being a mother and teacher. I’m not trying to sell you any expensive schemes or even promise that what has worked for me, will work for you. You’ll also notice that we haven’t even mentioned a reward system! Here’s our approach broken down into steps…

1. Look out for signs that they are ready.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Child readiness plays a big part in the potty training journey so you need to look out for the signs. These may include:

  • Being able to walk to the potty
  • Frequently pulling down their nappy
  • Attempting to sit on the potty
  • Verbally asking to use the potty
  • General frustration at having to wear a nappy
  • Staying dry for longer periods of time – around 2 hours
  • Being able to understand directions

From around the age of two to three, your child is likely to express an interest in using the potty instead of wearing a nappy. The thing is, potty training is not a competition -there is no award for the kid who trained the fastest! Don’t be tempted to start just because others are but really look out for the signs instead.

Firstborn children have it slightly tougher, in my opinion, because they have no sibling to draw inspiration from but I would really recommend buying a potty at around the age of two to see what their response is. If your children are anything like mine, they probably follow you to the bathroom anyway – my youngest (now 18 months) currently likes sitting on the potty at any opportunity mainly because he has seen his big sister do it.

My experience has been this – my eldest was a little slower to grasp potty training because both he and I were learning the ropes. I can’t remember exactly how old he was, but likely closer to 3. My middle child wanted to starting wearing pants as soon as she saw that her newborn brother in nappies – she was 2.3 years at the time. My youngest is only 18 months and whilst he is sitting on the potty, I personally believe that it will be a least another year before we try properly.

2. Decide what to buy.

Think about the space in your home and decide which type of potty (or toilet seat) you are going to buy. I’ve personally always found a potty to be better than a toilet seat, in the early days at least. This is because they really need to be close to the potty when they are first learning – its a lot easier to be in the same room as the potty rather than having to make a mad dash to the bathroom! Our current potty is from IKEA and has a removable section, making it easier to clean up! It’s called the LOCKIG potty if you need to look it up.

A step stool is also a good idea – part of potty training should also mean good hygiene but most children can’t reach the sink all that easily! We also bought our stools from IKEA and opted for the FORSIKTIG – in fact, we have a few dotted about the house to make it easier for the youngest two to wash their hands.

Whilst I don’t actually recommend straying too far from home in the early days of potty training, a toilet seat is also an option that you might want to consider. It’s more compact that a potty so better for holidays. We actually bought ours from ALDI after realising Z was unable to sit on the toilet of our holiday rental!

3. Buy books.

There’s something about reading books that can help the whole toilet training concept click. The Pirate Pete’s Potty Book sealed the deal for my eldest and we then bought the Princess Polly Potty Book for Z. If you’re looking for some alternatives, you can find them in my Amazon affiliate store.

As you can see from the photo below, we also introduced a bit of bookish play to the proceedings with the help of Daisy the doll and a pink toy potty. This miniland doll (which is anatomically correct) really helped Z with the whole potty training process.

Daisy the doll.  Potty training

4. Let them choose their own pants.

Z’s first pants were emblazoned with Peppa Pig and friends – she chose them herself and she was so excited to wear them! Just the simple act of letting your child choose their own pants – featuring a favourite character or colours – helps them to feel more in control of their process. It was at this moment that Z really made the connection between being so ‘grown-up’ in her pants and seeing her newborn brother in a cumbersome nappy.

Whilst we’re on the subject, i’d personally recommend avoiding the ‘pull-up’ training pants wherever possible as they still feel like a nappy. They can be a good option on long journeys or at night time, but during the day pants will help your child understand when they should be heading for the potty because they will be able to feel the wetness if they have an accident.

5. Dedicate at least two weeks to this process.

Okay so I know that time might be precious and the idea of booking time off of work for potty training might seem pretty lame BUT you need to allow time for this process to work. Yes, there are schemes that promise potty training in three days but to be honest, that just heaps the pressure on everyone involved.

I was working full-time as a teacher when my firstborn went through potty training. I had noticed signs for a few weeks that he was ready and so during the Easter break (two weeks), I dedicated the whole time to the process. Have some games ready! Yes of course it would’ve been lovely to do lots of trips together and visit family but we need to bunker down and just do it. We stuck to the lounge room and back yard for two weeks and by the end, he had really got the hang of it – this is not to say that he never ever had an accident again, but he didn’t need nappies anymore.

My middle child went through the potty training process whilst I was at home with newborn baby E. Whilst potty training and the fourth trimester seem like a hellish combination, it did work at rather well because we were spending our time at home anyway.

If you can’t take time off from work, try sharing a week each with your partner or even see if your company will allow you to work from home? Hopefully as a society were are heading in the direction where such negotiations can be made!

6. Minimal clothing.

Part of the reason why being at home is best is because minimal clothing is really best for the first week at least. Let them run about in their vest and pants because it makes it easier for them to get to the potty quickly. Children need to learn what the urge to go to the toilet actually feels like, so in the beginning there will be a fair few accidents or near misses.

7. Patience is a virtue.

Some days it can feel like a personal attack if you have literally just asked your child if they need to go to the toilet, only for them to have an accident two minutes after saying no, but I promise you that it’s not deliberate. Scolding or shouting only shames the child and will likely slow down the whole process in the future. Simply say, ‘let’s try to get to the potty next time’ or ‘shall we try to make it to the potty next time?’

Being wet won’t be a pleasant experience for them so it is likely that the amount of accidents will decrease as they begin to understand what the uncomfortable feeling of needing to go to the toilet actually is.

8. Don’t deny water.

It seems logical to reduce the amount of water drunk to avoid accidents but I also think this doesn’t help in the long-run. It hasn’t been our experience, but I’ve often heard of children who find going for a poo on the potty a lot more challenging. Sometimes I wonder whether this is due to a reduction in the amount of water drunk, but like I’ve expressly said before, I’m not a doctor!

Allowing your child to drink their usual amount of water also helps them to understand that want comes in, must come out too!

9. Remind but don’t nag.

The temptation is to literally ask every 2 minutes if they need the toilet BUT it eventually becomes background noise that they will ignore! I reminded Z about the potty approximately every 30 minutes or so – I also looked out for typical signs that she needed to go. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the classic toddler ‘wee dance’ where they jiggle up and down on the spot or the impressive deep squat when it’s time for a poo!

From time to time, there will be accidents. These tend to happen in exciting and new situations – perhaps the grandparents are visiting or they’re on a play date. Again, if this happens swiftly move on with minim fuss.

10. Night-time is a whole different ball-game.

You’ve conquered daytime training – hooray! But what about the nights? We decided to treat these separately so Z would still wear pull-ups at night. We monitored closely and when she went a few weeks without a wet nappy, we switched over to pants instead.

To help ease the transition, Z had a last drink of water at least 30 minutes before bed. Going to the toilet would then be the last step in the bedtime routine before a couple of stories. We also kept a potty in her room so that if she did need to go, it was close enough for her – she’ll be four in December and has only woken once or twice in the night to go to the toilet.

When it’s time to seek help…

As mentioned in the introduction, these are the steps that have worked for us and our children. If you have been trying unsuccessfully for a while and you’re sure that your child is ready, then there might be a medical issue that needs looking in to.

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Sian Thomas

Sian Thomas

Sian is a trained teacher mama to three awesome children and wife to Greg. As a family of expats, they travel the world every couple of years for new adventures. Right now, they live in Vienna, Austria.

One thing Sian is super passionate about? Helping mums worldwide navigate the early years of parenthood.

You can join her on her brand new venture, This Playful Home, by visiting www.thisplayfulhome.com or clicking the email sign up button below!

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