Soon that dreaded day will arrive; the day you start potty training your child. Let’s face it no one wants their child to start school in nappies and this thought would literally give me night sweats. So how do you know when it is the right time to start? To be honest, like most parents we winged it a little but there was a little method to our madness.
Look for the Signs
All kids will be different at mastering potty training. One of my NCT mum’s kids was dry by day at 18 months whilst another friend’s child is nowhere near ready to start at 3 years old. Girls and boys can also vary in how early they can start, however, this article will be based on my experiences with my daughter. So, when are they ready? A common age for children to begin potty training is somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3 years old and there will be ‘signs’ to look for the baby books assured us. Signs such as drier nappies during the day indicating better bladder control, predictable bowel movements, an interest in the toilet/potty and a general desire to do away with the nappies and wear ‘big kid pants’. At 27 months old our daughter had started to show some of these signs, so we took it as a reliable cue to give it a go!
Choose a Start Date
As our daughter was starting pre-school after the Christmas holiday we decided to give ourselves a 4-week window to help her master potty training. We had recently returned from a holiday abroad and had a relatively quiet Christmas with no other trips away planned. It is important that you avoid starting potty training before a holiday away from home as the change in routine is likely to distract them and undo any progress. Working parents, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that if your child attends a nursery then these total martyrs can start the process for you (if you are happy for them to do so of course). The bad news is that you won’t escape all the dirty work as you will need to continue training at home. Some parents use annual leave to nail potty training, probably the least enjoyable and relaxing way to spend your time but needs must. Stay at home parents, get those hawk eyes ready and prepare to say goodbye to the outside world for a few days (although it will feel a lot longer!). I strongly recommend an alcoholic reward at the end of each day, or earlier as you see fit!
You have a start date, so next up is getting all the potty-training paraphernalia together. My checklist looked a bit like this:
- Potty – we chose a fairly standard potty but with the added benefit that you could pour the contents easily into the loo. We also thought we would be clever and got two potties; one for upstairs and one for downstairs in case we got caught out, which we still did….a lot
- Toilet seat cover – a staple purchase to stop their little bottoms disappearing down the loo…can you think of anything more terrifying for a toddler??
- Bathroom step – an essential for handwashing at the sink and getting on to the toilet
- Rewards chart – there are plenty of chart and sticker packs for potty training, worth a try, our daughter lost interest after about a week, so potty stickers now join the rest of the crap in the craft box, but others have found them very successful
- Chocolate buttons – BEST BRIBERY TOOL EVER
- Potty book – we bought Princess Polly an undeniably effective potty-training storybook with a cheer button to offer praise for potty use. Said button was eventually pressed to death just for fun but a nice story nevertheless
- Pants/change of clothes – you will need a mountain of spare clothes and I recommend opting for dresses or baggy trousers, so you can whip them up/down quickly
- Disposable waterproof padded sheets – to preserve the car seat and sofa enough said
- Entertainment – Netflix/DVDs/iPad games, basically anything to offset that soul-sucking cabin fever that will be your life. We introduced Frozen to our daughter during the potty-training stage and the song ‘Let it Go’ has a very different meaning in our house
- Wine/Gin/anything above 10% proof– unless of course, you are teetotal (hats off to you) an adult reward is compulsory
Well as first day’s go it went pretty smoothly (don’t worry this gloating is short lived). We decided to go for the ‘naked below the waist’ approach to start with as I had read somewhere that the sensation of wee running down the legs would be unpleasant enough to urge them to use the potty more quickly. And it did work for our daughter as she completely freaked out at her first proper accident, cue plenty of tears and a chocolate button. After this I became helicopter parent extraordinaire following her around all day, plonking her on the potty every 30 minutes. We had a couple of successes, no more tears, lots of cheer button pressing and a few more chocolate buttons. I did, however, feel an enormous sense of relief handing the responsibility back to the trusty night nappy and slinking back downstairs to have my much-deserved wine at the end of the day.
My success of day 1 was over, the next few days were simply vile. The potty became public enemy number one for my daughter who decided she was terrified of her mother running at her every few minutes with a big piece of pink plastic. Accidents were numerous, my laundry basket was erupting, and I was running out of chocolate buttons and wine but too scared to venture out to the shops. There were lots of tears from both of us and I thought I had made a horrible mistake starting potty training at all. Then it happened, the calm after the storm. We turned a corner around day 4 as she sought out the potty herself one morning and didn’t wee on my carpet, result! We had dry big girl pants all day! It wasn’t a perfect transition we still had occasional accidents, normally when she was too distracted when playing, but something just clicked in her head. Like long-distance runners, you just need to push through that wall of pain during the first few days/weeks. However, if you aren’t seeing any progress and your little one is showing resistance, fear or anxiety then it is time to take a break and accept they just aren’t ready yet. Leave it a few months and give it another bash.
My daughter found doing a poo on the potty to be the hardest part of potty training. She just couldn’t relax enough to go and was starting to get blocked up, so I conceded and allowed her to do the deed in a nappy which was immediately discarded and replaced with her big girl pants. I’d happily accept this halfway success over a trip to the doctors to deal with chronic constipation. Poo accidents are just unpleasant, but they will happen so buy a stockpile of pants and just keep on with the gentle encouragement until they start to relax. Maybe consider a bigger bribery tool too. It did take us a while before we could persuade her to go in the potty or the loo so don’t despair this seems to be very normal.
I’m not alone in saying that most parents will develop varying degrees of ‘The Fear’ about leaving the house with your child first time sans nappy. The best advice I can give is to try and encourage them to go before you leave the house. Failing this then don’t go too far, a trip to see a friend, the local shops or better still a park (anywhere with bushes) is probably your best bet. Laden yourself with wipes, a complete change of clothes and if feeling adventurous and attempting to go further afield then a Potette is a brilliant piece of kit. This potty is lightweight, foldable (nice and easy to carry around) and uses leakproof and disposable liners which deal with the panic when your child announces they suddenly need a number two and you are nowhere near a public loo to dispose of their not-so-little gift!
Dry at Night
Being dry at night is another hurdle your child will need to face and again there is no set age they will master this aspect of potty training. It is generally expected that 3 or 4-year olds will wear night nappies or pull up pants and bed wetting is still very common in children up to 5 years of age. Two years on from being dry in the day we are still working on night time dryness with our daughter. We all know she will get there when she feels ready.
Good luck with your potty-training journey, accept accidents are a given and your house might periodically smell a bit of poo and wee but above all try not to get stressed out. Positive reinforce, patience and lots of cuddles will make the experience better for everyone. And most importantly start potty training when your child seems ready, not when everyone else thinks you should.