Ahh yes, it’s that time! Something that we as moms so look forward to, and absolutely dread all at the same time. The defining moment when your little tot becomes a big kid toddler, and isn’t a baby anymore. Sigh. It really is bittersweet. I feel like this is one of those highly controversial motherhood topics – when to start, how to do it, what is right versus wrong, and so on. The main point I want you to take away from this post, is that there is no set way to do it, there is no right or wrong, and everyone’s experience will be their own. This is merely our experience, and what worked for us, but that does not mean it will work for you.
Mila started showing signs of interest and awareness for potty training around 16 months. I purchased the book Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowaki around that time and started to do a little research. I thought she was a little too young at that time to start, but I started to at least mentally prepare myself. One of the main concepts of the book, is that if you (the parents) are feeling apprehensive and not ready, they will feel that energy too, which I firmly believe – in many aspects of life and learning. The other big concept addressed in this book is that once you decide to start, you have to fully commit. You have to tell yourself and your tot that “we are doing this”, and there is no going back. You have to go all in. So if that means you take a little extra time to mentally prepare yourself, like I did, then do it! Keep in mind, as this book highlights and research suggests, if you wait until after the age of three, you are opening up a whole new realm of struggles and set backs. According to Glowacki, the prime time to start is between 18-24 months, which I have to agree with.
At Mila’s 18 month well-baby physical I talked to her pediatrician about potty training, explained that she had been showing interest, and asked for his opinion, whether or not she was too young, and he said if she is showing interest then GO FOR IT! I waited another week or two until I had a few consecutive days off from work, which just so happened to be the first week of January (new year, new undies!), and we went for it! It may seem crazy, but holiday breaks and school vacations seem like the perfect time to start because most people have some time off to dedicate themselves to this daunting task, hunker down, and really commit to it, which is key.
I stayed home with Mila for basically an entire week, hardly leaving the house to make sure we were consistent and to give her the opportunity to succeed. I had her butt naked from the waist down for the whole first week. For the first few days, there were essentially no warning signs, when she had to go it would just come out. I would immediately scoop her up mid-pee or poop, and run her over to her little potty chair which we kept right in the living room for a while. Then I eventually moved it into the bathroom, but honestly not for a good few weeks or so.
We tried to make it as fun as possible, which included sitting there for long periods of time before nap or bedtime, distracted by snacks, books, kindle, whatever… until she would go potty. And then once she did, we celebrated! Even if we only got one drop of pee into the potty, we would celebrate! She got an M&M and a celebration for every success no matter how small. We had a lot of messes to clean up, the dogs ate poop off the floor, but instead of focusing on cleaning up the mess immediately, we focused on celebrating her potty success. The mess could wait. My go-to phrase for misses and accidents was “Oh you had an accident, that’s okay, accidents happen! Next time we will get it in the potty!” Recently when one of our dogs vomited on the floor she said “Oh Zali had an accident, that’s okay, accidents happen!” 😆 It was the cutest thing. She also says it if she spills, so clearly that phrase has stuck and it worked well for us.
After that week, she was what we considered to be potty trained at home, with little to no accidents. I would still put a diaper on her for naps/bedtime, long car rides, or if we had hours of errands to do. I would say the rest of potty training (out in public, car rides longer than an hour, etc) took about a month to get down consistently with little to no accidents. They won’t be able to consciously learn how to hold their business for any duration for a little while, it doesn’t happen over night, or at least not at that age, not for us. The Maine girl in me taught her to “pop a squat” early on, so that if we were on an adventure, or not near a bathroom, she could comfortably go anywhere, without regressing with an accident. You could certainly also just bring the little potty with you, which I do see people do, but the thought of carrying around a bulky toilet, sanitizing it on the go, etc just wasn’t my jam.
A few unexpected roadblocks we ran into was my fear of germs in public bathrooms (their little hands are all up in everything trying to balance) and her fear for the automatic flushers. She was terrified of them and started to refuse to go in public about a month in. So what we did was purchase these massive disposable seat protectors, with fun designs that ended up being a comfort thing for her, and a germ barrier for Mama’s peace of mind. To this day she doesn’t love the flushers but I just let her go out of the stall first, and flush after.
At age three now, she just recently became consistently accident free during naps and bedtime, so we were still using pull-ups just for sleep for a long while after being completely day-time potty trained. Ultimately, every kid is different and what worked for us may not work for you, or even for our youngest daughter one day. The take home message here though is whenever you decide to potty train, and however, fully commit to it and be consistent. If you have any tips and tricks that you swore by, I’d love for you to share them in the comments below, in hopes they may help some other Mamas on their potty training journey too!