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Potty Training: 7 Lessons Learned

Cee has been wearing undies for six months, and I think I’ve drafted a potty post for each of those months. Each time, before I had a chance to edit and publish it, something would change, and the post would seem irrelevant. Potty training is truly one of the hardest things I’ve done as a parent, but not in any of the ways that I expected. I thought I’d finally share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. In other words, this post is mainly about my missteps and mistakes.

I write this knowing that your process, and the challenges that you face along the way, might be very different. Every kid is different, as is every parent. Like any two-year-old, Cee really wants to do things herself, but she is also a really sensitive kid. And as she’s been learning to use the potty, I’ve been learning more and more about her and how she ticks.

1. Begin when your child is ready.

Okay, I actually think that we got this part right. Cee started showing some interest in using the potty around 18 months. When she started daycare last fall, she jumped into the potty rotation with the bigger kids. By January, she was coming home at lunchtime in the same diaper (dry!) as when I dropped her off in the morning. And in February, after admiring her friends’ underwear, Cee told me that she wanted some too.

Cee was around 27 months when we made the switch to undies. Some would say that’s late, and some would say that’s early. I don’t think there’s a magic age, but I can’t imagine starting this process if Cee wasn’t interested in it. It’s been challenging enough as it is.

Of course, I did dig into the scientific literature to see if I could find some guidance on optimal timing and “methods.” But I think this is an area where the science is just not that helpful. Melinda Wenner Moyer recently wrote a review of scientific support for different methods of potty training at Slate, and she concluded that there’s decent support for parent-led and child-led and quick and gradual methods. This is true, but I also think that the potty training research is limited by the bias of the authors. Potty training is a culturally diverse practice, and a study conducted in a given place at a given time is always going to be framed by the norms of that place and time. Lacking good science, and considering that Cee is not interested in doing things just because I want her to, I waited until it was her bright idea to try going diaper-free. I began with the simple strategy of following her lead, praising her successes, and responding to accidents in a neutral way. Easy, right?

2. Ultimatums don’t work.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. I had what I considered to be very reasonable ideas about how often she should sit on the potty. At the very least, I thought she should sit on the potty before going to sleep and when she woke up in the morning or from a nap, plus anytime we were getting ready to leave the house. I thought that I could make these firm expectations, giving Cee a healthy framework for potty habits.

This didn’t work. Consider, for example, this common scenario:

Cee wakes up in the morning, dry. She declines to use the potty, and I let it go. At 10 AM, we get ready to go to the library.

Me: “Potty time, Cee!”

Cee: “I not need to go potty.”

Me: “We always sit on the potty before we leave the house.”

Cee: “But I not need to go potty.”

What does one do in this situation? Sometimes, I could tell her that we couldn’t leave the house until she sat on the potty. But what if we’re on our way to daycare so that I can get to campus to teach my class, and she decides she’d rather stay home?

One day, frustrated, I tried enforcing the “you have to sit on the potty before we leave the house” rule. I physically sat her down on the potty. She cried, looked at me as if I’d just lost all her trust, and of course, didn’t pee. I felt horrible. It was an all-time parenting low for me. I thought I’d done a good job of keeping things positive and low-pressure until this point, but that day set us back.

I’ve read that if your child resists using the potty, you should take a break and go back to diapers or pull-ups, but Cee protested this idea as well. And sometimes she did choose to wear a diaper, but it usually stayed dry and didn’t change her toilet habits.

This brings me to my next point.

3. Let go.

When I was 16, I spent a summer working in the 2-year-old room at a daycare center. As I remember it, most of my time was spent running kids to the toilet, wiping up messes, and changing soiled clothes. So when we started potty training, I thought that the hardest part about potty training would be the inconvenience and the mess.

I was wrong. Cee has had very few accidents from the start. The challenge has been that she doesn’t use the potty very often. When she does, it is because it is her idea, not mine. The hardest part of potty training for me has been the letting go. Cee has to be in control, for two reasons: 1) It’s her body. I can’t tell how full her bladder is or what sensations she’s feeling; and 2) She’s two, and two-year-olds don’t like to be told what to do.

At one point, when Cee was wearing dry undies all day but only peeing about twice a day, I was starting to feel really worried. I consulted with one of my favorite parenting bloggers, Lisa Sunbury. Here’s what she told me:

“No pressure. Cee will get it! She’s clearly in charge of this process and making choices that work for her, and you are wise not to pressure her too much or engage in a power struggle. I’ve seen many children hold their pee for long periods of time with no ill effect. This, in part, is what this process is about – learning to listen to, and control their own bodies. It’s harder for us to trust sometimes, because it’s not as visible a process, as say gross motor development. Just keep trusting Cee, and modeling.”

(Lisa’s post, Toilet Learning Made Easy, is also a useful resource.)

Company is always nice.

Company is always nice.

4. Stay observant.

I was trying hard to let go, but there was one thing that really worried me. I’d read an article on Babble last year entitled “The Dangers of Potty Training Too Early” by pediatric urologist Steve Hodges (author of the recent book “It’s No Accident”). Hodges sees kids with toileting problems in his clinic every day. It isn’t pretty, and it all starts with holding pee or poop. Kid holds pee in, and bladder walls thicken until it gets smaller and loses proper sensation. Add in constipation, and poop builds up, squeezes the bladder, and can even cause nerve damage, resulting in frequent accidents. I worried that Cee was a textbook case, destined for this medical spiral. So, I did what any reasonable parent would do. I called up Dr. Hodges.

“Well, do you see any signs that she’s purposefully holding her pee?” he asked.

I thought for a moment. Actually, no. No Michael Jackson potty dance, no curtsying, and rarely running to the bathroom at the last minute.

“She might just be a kid that doesn’t need to go that often,” Hodges replied.

Oh.

Hodges went on to tell me not to stress or hover over Cee too much, but to stay observant. A child who is holding pee or poop in an unhealthy way will show behavioral signs of this. It’s when this is ignored that things can go bad. Watch for signs that your child is holding pee or poop, frequent accidents, or constipation (potty dance, skid marks on underwear, and evidence that pooping is difficult or painful). Fiber can help with constipation, but if the problem persists, get help.

5. Model and talk.

Asking Cee to go rarely inspires a trip to the potty. Telling her to go never does. But if I say, “Gosh my bladder is full! I need to go to the bathroom!” then every once in a while, Cee will say, “Oh, I need to go, too!” We spend a lot of time hanging out in the bathroom together, and we talk a lot of potty talk in our house.

6. Make your child an active participant.

At one point in our process, we installed one of those nifty toilet seats with a drop-down child-sized seat. Cee had been using one at daycare, and I was tired of cleaning out the potty chair. Cee used the new toilet seat enthusiastically for a couple of days and agreed that we could put away the potty chair. But then, over the next week or so, she started resisting using the potty. After worrying and pondering solutions for a while, it finally occurred to me to ask her why she didn’t want to go to the potty. “I not like the toilet,” she told me. Easy fix, and we were back on track. I guess things were moving too fast for her, and it took asking her to figure that out.

6. Watch the “big kid” praise.

A month or so ago, Cee started asking to wear undies for nap and nighttime, and voilá, she was dry through the night and running to the potty on her own in the morning. I was genuinely so proud of her and I told her, “Wow, you are getting to be such a big girl!” But a couple of days later, she called me from her bedroom after nap, and I found her sitting on her bed, everything wet from pee. She looked at me sadly and said, “Mama, I’m not a big girl yet.”

Oh my goodness, that broke my heart. And surprised me. It hadn’t occurred to me that praise for progress on a skill that she hadn’t quite mastered might be flipped around to make her feel ashamed when she has a little setback. This was my reminder to give Cee time to feel her own pride in accomplishment, as it comes to her. She already knows that big kids use the potty, and she’s working on it, but what is the rush? (Check out this post from Janet Lansbury for more insight on toilet troubles and “big kid” praise.)

7. Focus on the long-term goal.

I’ve learned that potty training isn’t just about dry undies. That part came pretty easily to Cee. The challenging part has been the development of healthy potty habits, and the trick for me has been to foster and encourage without getting in the way. “The training is the easy part – it’s the follow-up that’s hard,” Dr. Hodges told me.

Helping children learn good potty habits is kind of like helping them learn good eating habits. Force-feeding veggies is bound to backfire. And I could hide a balanced meal in a milk shake every day and feel proud of Cee’s nutrient intake, but she’d be missing out on the chance to learn to like different kinds of foods and develop a healthy relationship with food. You might be able to speed-train your child to pee and poop on the potty, but that’s not the most important goal. The real goal is for a child to learn healthy and independent toilet habits, to be tuned in to her body’s signals and respond to them appropriately. Sometimes, if we focus too intensely on the short-term goals in parenting, we can end up compromising the long-term ones.

It’s been a long, bumpy road, but I think we’re almost there. Potty training for us has been a surprisingly delicate dance between Cee’s autonomy and initiative and careful parental guidance. I’ve learned a lot about Cee in the process, and just as much about myself as a parent.

Tell me about your potty training experiences. Was it easier or harder than you expected, and in what ways?

62 Comments
  1. My baby is 21 months and I just introduced the potty to her. When she wants to sit on it, she makes sure I sit on the big potty too. Even with her diaper on, she will sit on it. She watches me to see what comes out and then runs back to her potty. She even checks to see if there is anything in her potty (always nothing). For now, I want her to just understand what it is and get comfortable with it. She won’t pee on my command, although it is cute when she thinks she does. Great post.

    Like

    July 24, 2013
  2. Great blog post. My experiences with my kids was very similar. My son especially was a lot like your daughter and resisted any pushing. My problem was that his twin sister was ready before he was. He wanted to wear underwear like she did but wouldn’t try to go when I asked and then would have accidents that upset him. I had to stress that if he chose to wear underwear, then he was also choosing to go when I asked. He eventually choose to go back to diapers and trained a few months after she did. I found the book “Stress Free Potty Training” to be really helpful especially for dealing with different temperaments.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 24, 2013
    • Wow, I can see how this would be really challenging with twins! I’d imagine that you would need to really stay neutral as one child makes progress and the other doesn’t. I tried telling Cee that if she wanted to wear underwear that she had to go (or try to) after waking, before sleeping, and before we left the house. She just refused, and then it was back to the ultimatum question: do I hold her down to force a diaper on her? I wasn’t interested in that kind of battle, so I let it go – but of course I still carried around this anxiety about it, which I know Cee senses. I think that a lot of her resistance to working with me on this process just comes down to her developmental stage – she was physically ready and motivated to learn the potty, but she also very much wants to be autonomous in her actions.

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  3. Jane #

    My oldest daughter is now 4.5 and was ready to toilet train at 2. This was entirely child led and I was surprised. She continued to have some wee accidents when she simply forgot to go to the toilet (usually too busy playing). Fast forward 2.5 years she still has accidents in her underwear and is still wearing a nappy overnight. She can go a few nights without one but will invariably wet the bed on night 3 or 4.
    With daughter number 2 about to turn 2 and showing some interest in the potty I am apprehensive that it will go a similar way as number one but I am going to have to trust her. While the ongoing mess is frustrating on some days, it is all part of the process for them and part of life’s rich tapestry!

    Like

    July 24, 2013
  4. Gena #

    Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I are starting to put our action plan together but realize our plan means nothing without our daughter’s input! Even harder is to sync up our efforts with daycare’s, where she is the majority of her waking hours. And then there is the question of night vs day. She’s still in a crib so I don’t really want to night train and be running in there all night if/when she needs to get out and go. Suggestions?

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • I would definitely talk with your daycare provider, but don’t assume that you need to approach the potty in the same way. Throughout this process, Cee has always done better with going to the potty upon request at daycare. They really have to enforce the expectation that kids will go at transition times, because they need them to be somewhat synced if possible. Otherwise, they’d never be able to do anything without a potty stop. I think Cee jumps into that rotation more easily, because there’s less personal pressure on her, and all the kids are doing it. I thought I could adopt a similar sort of expectation that we try to go potty at major transitions, but it just didn’t work as well at home or between Cee and a parent. I have felt comfortable trusting that our daycare provider handles things appropriately according to her experience with the group setting. We’ve had different challenges at home.

      As for night training, I wouldn’t worry about it now! It takes some kids quite a while to be ready to go diaper-free at night. Begin working on using the potty during the day if she’s ready, and see how it goes. In our case, Cee was waking up with a dry diaper for several weeks before we started talking about trying undies at night (and then I waited for her tell me that she was ready for that, too).

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  5. My daughter finally wanted to use the potty regularly by 3 years old. We had some false starts, but when I told her that she was on charge of her pees and poops, it really worked.

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    July 24, 2013
    • “You’re in charge of your pees and poops.” I like that empowering language!

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  6. My son, who is about Cee’s age, started leading the process a few months ago. It’s been so surprising, because I thought boys typically don’t potty train until they’re older. His pull-ups are often dry all day and he usually goes potty when he needs to, and is sometimes dry in the morning. He often resists going when I suggest he pees in the morning, but then he tells me his diaper is wet and wants to change it right away. I figure he’s on the right path, and we’ll get there when he’s ready, so I don’t push it when I want him to use the potty. The stakes are a little lower since he’s usually in pull-ups! Sometimes, he asks to wear undies in the evenings, and he has only had a couple of accidents, so I’m thinking of having him wear undies more often. We keep a little potty chair in the living room and there’s also a ‘booster’ seat in the bathroom, so he can choose whether he wants to use the little potty or the big potty. Luckily, he always chooses the big potty for pooping!

    Like

    July 24, 2013
  7. mt #

    Thanks for sharing, and congrats to Cee! We bought our son a potty around 13 months, deciding to take the early but really gradual approach. I’d seen parents have to do the full court press right before kindergarten, and wanted to avoid that at all costs. I had planned to leave the potty in the bathroom and let my son get used to it, but soon after we bought it, my husband wanted to experiment with putting our son on it. My son definitely has a poop rhythm, so I thought, why not? To our delight, he began peeing and pooping on the potty within a few days! My husband and I high-fived and thought we were toilet training ninjas.

    And then. My son suddenly started holding his poop on the potty even though he had to go. When it got unbearable, he’d make a break for his diaper changing mat, which we keep on the floor of his room. As soon as he was diapered, he’d poop. So at just shy of 15 mos., my son can recognize the urge and poop where he wants to. That place just happens to be his diaper. We’ve laid off the potty for a bit since he’s still quite young, though we do hang out with him when he wants to sit on it, and let him observe us in the bathroom. Right now, I’m in no rush, just keeping an eye out for a signal from him indicating he’s ready to try again.

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    July 24, 2013
    • It’s so interesting how things can change so quickly. When Cee first started sitting on the potty, around 18 months, it was a fun and novel thing. When I started telling her that she needed to use it (since she was wearing undies and had no interest in going in a diaper), she started resisting. I think child-led is the path of least resistance, with the fewest battles. It sounds like your son is tuned into his body and having a chance to experiment with the potty, which is a good place to be at his age!

      Like

      July 24, 2013
      • Melissa #

        We were an early introducing family as well. Our daughter has had a potty available to her since she turned 1. I never intended for her to use it at that point, but just to see it as a regular item in the house. By 16 months, she was really into it. Using it every morning after waking up. Earning stickers for pee or poop in the potty… And then just shy of 18 months, she started a bizarre trend of telling us that she had to pee or poop, pulling at her pants (though not down much), but when placed in front of the potty without pants or a diaper on, she would cry and not sit on the potty. She very often ended up pooping or peeing on the floor, just in front of the potty because she didn’t want to sit down. While I know she’s young and we’d like to pull back a bit…she’s the one screaming “pee pee” and running toward the potty. It’s just that when push comes to shove and it’s time to “perform”, she doesn’t want to do it.

        Any suggestions are greatly appreciated, but I have a feeling this one is just going to be about time and patience…

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        December 7, 2015
  8. Wow, you really helped me with this post. I, too have stumbled with the potty seat on the big toilet (not a hit) and the “big kid” praise.

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • We talked about the big potty tonight, after no discussion of it for months. I casually mentioned to her that with the big potty she can just flush it herself, no need to call for help with dumping the potty chair. I think she was intrigued by the idea of that level of independence. But no more pressure from me – I just planted the seed:) The big kid praise thing completely took me off guard. Those words just came out of my mouth automatically without thinking what they might mean to her.

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  9. Thanks for this post! I too had many similar experiences with potty training my oldest daughter. She is 3 and was toilet learned (a term I seem to like better) officially at 31 months, even though we tried at 28 months. I too had read the article on Babble, and am impressed you contacted Dr. Hodges. Good to know what he said. My daughter is the same as C and can control her bladder for long periods of time. I feel you about the worry and anxiety it brings. I love this article too, because after my experience last August in attempting to potty train I was motived to start blogging too – mainly so my friends could learn from my mistakes in parenting, and join in learning about my success that could work for them. Its nothing amazing, but feel free to check out my potty training post – http://www.tendingthehoneycomb.com/wp/?p=364. I love how you use science in much of what you do. I am always so interested in the scientific evidence and studies behind parenting. Thanks again!!

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • I prefer the term “potty learning” as well – I certainly didn’t do much to train her – she resisted all of my attempts at it!

      I think Dr. Hodges sees the worst cases, kids whose toilet trouble have been ignored or dismissed for too long, so he is understandably committed to warning parents that this can happen. But all kids (and adults!) hold to some extent – it’s when it’s extreme and persistent that problems occur. I’m also trusting that as Cee gets a little older, gains a little more experience with the logistics of potty convenience, and it is clear to her that I respect her ability to make decisions about her body, she’ll start being more receptive to suggestions about using the potty preemptively, such as before we get in the car and before bedtime.

      Thanks for sharing your link – I’ll check it out!

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  10. Thanks for this post! I too had many similar experiences with potty training my oldest daughter. She is 3 and was toilet learned (a term I seem to like better) officially at 31 months, even though we tried at 28 months. I too had read the article on Babble, and am impressed you contacted Dr. Hodges. Good to know what he said. My daughter is the same as C and can control her bladder for long periods of time. I feel you about the worry and anxiety it brings. I love this article too, because after my experience last August in attempting to potty train I was motived to start blogging too – mainly so my friends could learn from my mistakes in parenting, and join in learning about my success that could work for them. Its nothing amazing, but feel free to check out my potty training post – http://www.tendingthehoneycomb.com/wp/?p=364

    Like

    July 24, 2013
  11. Robyn #

    I’d like to know what kind of positive praise that others give their child when there is success. I have used, “You’re such a big boy!” but am now realizing that might not be the best praise. Any suggestions?

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • I keep my praise subdued these days – a quick smile or high five is plenty for us. I’ve learned that a little praise goes a long way with Cee, and it is surprisingly easy to go overboard. But I do sometimes have the urge to say something more celebratory. For example, after the sad “big girl” incident, I adjusted my response to morning pees after a dry night to something like, “Yay for good morning pee!” or “Doesn’t it feel good to pee in the morning?!” I hope that’s more of a reflection on a universal human truth than a judgment (even a good one) on her performance.

      Like

      July 24, 2013
    • maggie #

      I have a 16 year old niece who moved in with us about the time my daughter was born. She said, rather wisely, you spent the first half of my life telling me to be a big girl and grow up faster, and now you are telling me not to grow up too quickly. Make up your mind!
      So with that in our heads, we use the phrase “Potty Master” and “Wow, you are getting so capable!” We also told our daughter that being a potty master wasn’t easy, and sometimes you got it and sometimes you had an accident, but the important thing is to learn to listen to that funny feeling htat says pee-pee is coming and know what to do when you hear it.

      Liked by 1 person

      July 29, 2013
  12. What a great post!

    None of my four kids have trained early or easily so for me the hardest thing has been letting go of comparison. It seems that toilet learning is the next big thing for a toddler, like sleeping through the night was when they were babies… and sometimes I feel like a total failure because my kids are not ready to even start to toilet train till they are closer to three, or older. Once I let go of the guilt associated with comparison and do what is right for my child things are much better… funny that! LOL

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • So true! I consider this one of the blessings of mixed-ages childcare. There is really only one kid close in age to Cee, and she and her parents have been relaxed about potty training, so I haven’t felt much pressure there. But yes, totally, it is really hard to let go of the comparison thing. I’m working on that in our swim class right now:)

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  13. Rachael #

    This is sooo familiar. Girl no 1 showed signs of being interested at 18 months. She was giving it a good go for a while, but then stopped after a tummy bug. It look till she was 3 to get her to pee on the toilet with any regularity. She’s nearly 4 and still goes for hours between pees and tends to save it up for night time. Nor will she poop in the toilet, no idea why not. She goes as soon as she wakes up in the morning. If you take the nappy off she’ll hold on for days and her behaviour is noticely worse. She’s a smart cookie and very sensitive and determined. Bribes and praises have no effect. Toilet training is the hardest job I done as a parent.

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • I didn’t bring up rewards in the post, but that is also one of the things that I struggled with. Lots of people recommended rewards to me after hearing about our experience. I was never comfortable with the idea – I really wanted Cee to learn to use the potty when she felt the need to go and the reward to be the feeling of accomplishment in taking care of her own body. But at some point, when she was really voiding infrequently, and I was stressed about it, I thought that maybe an incentive would help *me* take the pressure off and just make the potty fun and exciting again. So I tried it. We have these little farm animal stamps, and after a potty attempt, I’d let Cee stamp her hand with the animal of her choice. (I also thought this might be useful for helping us move our mornings along, as they were maddeningly snail-paced at that point.) It was a fun diversion and maybe motivated her to use the potty a few times, but then it didn’t change much. Her arm was covered in stamps for a week or so, and then she lost interest. Given my experience with her so far, I now know that rewards are not likely to be effective – particularly in the long-term – and might even backfire.

      Your daughter sounds a lot like Cee, and it seems like you are wise to wait to remove the diaper at night. Hang in there!

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  14. Children love to emulate their Mom and Pop’s behavior so be sure to give them plenty of opportunities to see you and your spouse going potty.

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    July 24, 2013
    • So true! We have done this from the beginning. She and her dad, in particular, get really excited about big poops! I actually try not to ask Cee to go to the potty anymore, given our experience, but I do announce to her whenever I go (which is often), and she usually at least comes to watch. I admit that I do someday look forward to some quiet time in the bathroom, but that’s still in the future.

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  15. mary #

    This is so timely! We’re in the throws of my son (30 months) potty training. We started about a month ago and at first there was no issue – I set out the potty and said “if you need to make a pee or poop you can do it in the potty” and voila! But then he didn’t quite make it and has had confidence issues since then. He doesn’t self-initiate going to the potty very much anymore and has a little pee accident about once a day (is that the unhealthy holding dr hodges was talking about?). We also traveled to visit family in that time and they made such a huge deal about his using the potty and used the phrase “big boy” a lot – so I think that’s just stuck in his head. This is definitely one of the most stressful things I’ve done as a parent and I’m terrified of causing my son to feel shame or have an unhealthy relationship to his body. Thank you for reminding me to let go and trust him.

    Like

    July 24, 2013
    • “This is definitely one of the most stressful things I’ve done as a parent and I’m terrified of causing my son to feel shame or have an unhealthy relationship to his body.” Me too.

      I can’t answer your question about holding except to ask the same thing Dr. Hodges did of me – does his behavior show that he’s making a physical effort to hold it in?

      Otherwise, my best advice is to wait and trust and try to relax. But I know all too well how hard that can be.

      Like

      July 24, 2013
  16. Charlena #

    Thanks for this post! My son turned 3 in May and we’ve tried to introduce potty training several times. Giving him rewards for his “accomplishments” only resulted in tears when he wasn’t able to do anything on the potty. We’ve relaxed our encouragement & tried to observe his patterns & routine and that has worked much better. He still doesn’t ask to go but he is getting the idea. We have a potty tracking chart that he stamps when he is done and he loves it. I’m just hoping it will become part of his routine & he’ll begin to recognize the signs his body is giving him on his own. I accept that it will be a long process & I’m ok with it.

    Like

    July 24, 2013
  17. Kristin #

    I can’t believe you fit this all into one post. I have a whole series about potty training on my website (based on when you start traveling with a potty trained child). Both of my girls were potty trained in two weeks, but now that I have a boy I feel like potty training will be a totally different experience. I am already feeling nervous about it, but at least it is about a year away. With the girls it was definitely important to wait until they were ready, no matter how ready I was for them to be out of diapers (it is a lot of work to be cloth diapering two kids at once).

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  18. Great info, getting ready to potty train #4 @22 mos.

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    July 25, 2013
  19. This is very true! Thank you so much for making this list and sharing it to us! A lot of moms will really be able to learn new and important things with this article. Great job!

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  20. Kasia #

    Wow, I’m so glad I came across your post.

    When my daughter was 21 months old I introduced her to potty training, believing she was showing signs of being ready. At the time, I basically took her diaper off and put undies on (cold turkey approach I guess). The idea was to observe her and run her to the potty when I would see her going in her undies. We bought a fairly bulky toilet seat, which I feel was our first set-back. My daughter is very petite, so sitting on it was probably terrifying. Our second set-back, and my biggest mistake, was me trying to hold her on the potty when she would resist. I thought she had to finish peeing on the toilet, and she’ll get used to the idea after she realized it’s not so scary at all. Was I ever wrong! Her reaction became more and more dramatic. We decided to get her a potty chair the next day, but I think she was just turned off at that point. We had her in undies for the next two weeks, with some progress and set-backs. By the third week she was holding her pee (well after reading your post maybe she’s wasn’t really holding it), which worried me a lot. She would have a big accident around dinner time, and not go till almost lunch time the next day. At that point we decided to give it a break. The daycare provider, my husband and I thought it was best to give it a break and try again in a little while.

    I haven’t mentioned I am expecting our second child, and a big part of me felt pressured to potty train my daughter before the new baby arrives. It has been about a month and a half since we took the break, my daughter will be 23 months in about a week. I am due to deliver in 2 months. At this point my daughter is wearing pull-ups all the time and we have not re-introduced potty training so far.

    I am not sure if we should give it one more try in the next couple weeks or wait a while till the little one is a few months old. I am worried that it may be too much stress on my daughter or myself before my second baby arrives. But, I do feel it would be so great to have that behind us before the big day. I don’t know what to do at this point.

    Thank you agin for your post, it really helped me understand what happened when we tried training the first time, and will definitely use your advice on our second try.

    Kasia.

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  21. Tara #

    Letting go of control was definitely the hardest part of potty training for me. With my oldest I eventually learned to back off and let her do things on her own time. I still would encourage her to sit on the potty, and praise her when she would go, but I stopped trying to push the issue if she wasn’t interested. And then one day, after a few weeks of that, she woke up and wanted to wear underwear and use the toilet and had very few accidents from then on. My second is almost 2 1/2 now and we haven’t really started anything yet. Occasionally she asks to sit on the potty, but hasn’t actually done anything on it yet.

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  22. That photo is ridiculously cute!! We’re several months (years?) away from the potty business…oh, that’ll be fun! 🙂

    Like

    July 25, 2013
  23. My girls are older at nine and five and from what I remember, they were totally different experiences. Surprisingly, I had more resistance from my second than my first child. Right now, my headache is “nighttime accidents” with my five year old. Any advice?

    Like

    July 26, 2013
  24. Miller was “poop” potty trained at 18months. We put a potty chair right in the living room, and he loved to sit there and read, and go “poopy”. Around 24 months he wanted more privacy and we moved the potty into the dining room (our bathroom is in the back of the house) in a corner. He began using his potty there for peeing too, and running out the front door to go also. Being able to pee outside is a blessing! Months later, we were still using diapers at night and for naps, and also long car rides. Now at 29 months, nearly 2.5, we haven’t worn diapers for an entire week, not at all!
    I always encouraged Mil to use his potty, and praised him (at first with chocolate chips) when he was successful. I never expected him to be completely potty trained at this age, most folks say that boys take longer to get the hang of it.
    As you said, Alice, every child is different, and I think we can all expect them to be potty trained by the time they leave for college….so no worries 🙂

    Like

    July 26, 2013
  25. This is a great post about the trials and tribulations of potty learning! When my first child was 2 years-old, I started teaching him to use the potty and it was a nightmare! He had shown interest and I selfishly wanted him to be trained before my second child was born. It took a good 6 months and WAY too much focus until the time that he became independent. With my second child, I waited for the magic age of “30 months,” and devoted a weekend to helping him to learn to be independent. I did the unthinkable! I used salty snack foods (to make him thirsty), juice and water to quench his thirst (high interest items we never had at home) and fill his bladder, and he was given a plastic egg (it was around Easter) to open with a goldfish or other little cracker inside when he was successful. We pretty much lived in the bathroom for the first day and by the second day he was completely independent, not asking for rewards and dry at night. The idea of extrinsic reinforcers for a difficult activity is not the worst thing in the world. If used properly, they become intermittent and then are removed. The child then experiences the intrinsic motivation of being independent. When you think about it, the world is full of extrinsic reinforcement: grades, test scores, school admissions, college entrance job offers, paychecks, etc. Hopefully, we end up feeling intrinsically reinforced for our efforts. I think I was so worried about doing things the “right way” that my first child suffered more than my second.

    Like

    July 26, 2013
  26. This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    Like

    July 31, 2013
  27. antonia garcia #

    I know I’m late to the party but just wanted to say this really struck a chord with me. I too read Dr Hodges essay on the dangers of potty training too early and it scared me when I saw my own son begin to hold. He’s 27 months old and day 2 of the 3 day potty bootcamp went badly wrong. He got very fed up with being asked to sit on the potty all day and pushed back. He woke up with a dry diaper though so I tried to remove his diaper shortly after waking and he got very upset with that and me trying to force him to sit on his potty when I could see he so desperately needed to go. Now I’ve taken a big step back having realized that he needs to be in control of his own bodily functions and no amount of pushing by me will help. He’s a very smart and sensitive child and I have to learn to let go, relax, back off!!

    Like

    March 6, 2014
  28. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought
    this post was good. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    Like

    July 24, 2014
  29. I can very much relate to the big kid phase! I’ve been potty training my kid for about a month, since he turned 18 months, and he’s doing well, but he has an occasional accident (mostly in the daycare). Yesterday he refused to go to the loo but I knew he should go because he drank a lot of water after his meal so I thought I would encourage him if I went first. But he came running to the bathroom, calling “peepee” and I said, hold it just for a second while I finish, but he already started peeing and made a big puddle on the floor. I said it was ok, it happens, but when he saw what he did, he started crying, like, really crying, inconsolably. I felt awful! 😦

    Like

    September 2, 2014
  30. Dee #

    What great insight! My daughter has been potty trained now for about 6 weeks and doing wonderful. Your daughters story actually seems similiar to mine but the last few days has also been holding in her pee. Times when she would always go like when she gets up and right before bed she tells me she doesn’t have to go which of course worried me the same way and I ended up doing the same things you listed here. My question is, I know the dr said maybe she doesn’t have to go that often but was Cee going frequently before the withholding started? My daughter was going every 1hr 1/2 – 2 hrs without fail before this strike and now sometimes can go 4-5 hrs?

    Like

    February 20, 2015
    • She always went infrequently, but maybe I should write an update… She actually did start having issues with constipation and maybe withholding around age 4. I’m still not sure why, and I still don’t know if I would do things differently, but now she goes every 1-2 hours now that we have that straightened out. My best advice is to encourage lots of water and fiber and model lots of potty! It still isn’t helpful to add pressure!

      Like

      February 20, 2015
      • Dee #

        Thank you so much for the reply, I’m at a loss because it seemed to come from nowhere and now is protesting only urinating at of course the most crucial times, before bed, as soon as she wakes up, before we leave the house etc. Lol I will take your advice and limit pressure although I have to admit I went back to rewarding during some desperate times 😁

        Like

        February 22, 2015
  31. Thank you for this! We are in the middle of exact what you describe here! How did you get over the hump? Our 26mo girl will hold it from preschool pick up until going back to school the next day! She takes off all her clothes and diaper at home all the time. Will sit on potty sometimes when SHE wants to, but also does a potty dance to hold it. Only a couple times has she done a little trickle in the potty but clearly she still needs to go. And the worst of it all is that she’s a total daddy’s girl and won’t let me help at all. My husband is definitely letting her take the lead, but we have no idea where this is going. I have no idea if we should spend every weekend at home, diaper free until she gets it? She is definitely ready and I fee like every time we put a diaper back on her it’s giving the wrong message. But also we hope she will go in the diaper to relieve herself if it’s been a long time. She almost always tells us right after she goes or even takes her diaper off. My husband and I keep arguing over this and I’m so frustrated. And she is definitely not totally happy with herself either especially when she has to go but won’t. Any insight is welcome! Thanks!

    Like

    March 27, 2015
    • The most important thing is to be sure that you aren’t putting ANY pressure on her, no matter what form it takes, especially since she’s holding. I can say this from experience, as I wrote in my post. And in hindsight, I do think that her holding was concerning, although I’m not sure what I could have done to prevent it, except that I must have exerted pressure on her, however subtle. The fact that your daughter is holding for so long plus doing a potty dance is worrisome to me. Is she in diapers at school? Do you have any idea why she pees at school but not at home? Just curious.

      She’s young, and while she clearly has the physical ability to hold her pee, she doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand the importance of going when she feels the urge. If I were in your shoes (knowing what I know now!), I would make diapers the default for now so that she knows she can pee anytime. Let her wear undies or go diaper free if she requests it, and model peeing in front of her and commenting on how it feels good to relieve yourself. There is really no rush to potty train and no gold medal for doing it earlier. I do think my daughter’s holding led to some chronic constipation issues that we didn’t really grasp until she started having accidents nearly 2 years later. Now that we’ve managed that, she goes MUCH more frequently, because I think she’s finally listening to her body.

      Like

      March 27, 2015
      • jackie #

        My 2.5 year old had a huge success on the potty last Friday. We made a big deal about it, which now reading these posts, was probably bad,, because she had 2 accidents after that and now holds in her pee for up to 18 hours at a time, and when she does go it is super traumatic because its so much pee, and has been overflowing when it was in a pull up or swim diaper(as we are in the middle of swim class.. another challenge with pee being held till we get to the water- she also wont go in a bath or pool because she does not want to get her toys or friends dirty). We have switched to diapers again, so that it won’t be a mess when she does pee.. but she still wants to hold it. I think we got her so pumped that she had success, that when she failed, she decided just NOT to pee. any insight on this?? She does the potty dance but says she does not want to pee, that she is holding it in. She also gets upset if she lets out a couple drops and then holds it again ,but wants her diaper changed.

        Like

        July 8, 2015
  32. Rooni #

    I am having a lot of trouble potty training my daughter who will turn 3 in June. I started with just taking away the diapers completely, no pull ups. I can get her to sit on the potty, but she will not pee or poo. Not sure if she is just holding it or just doesnt have to go. Eventually though she will pee herself. She started going only 2 or 3 times a day, so I got scared and went back to pull ups. Same thing is happening at daycare. She will sit for them, but will not go.

    Potty training has been a struggle from the beginning. She has never been interested. I can tell when she is about to poo, but will scream if i try to put her on the potty during that time. I cannot tell when she has to pee.

    I dont know if i should just keep trying to or completely back off. I dont know how to get her interested. she does not care about any incentives, rewards, praises etc. doesnt care about wearing underwear or choosing her own potty.

    she is a really smart girl, but has always been anxious about change unless it’s her idea. i just dont know how to trick her into thinking its her idea.

    any advice will help….

    Like

    March 30, 2015
    • I recommend really taking *any* pressure off. It isn’t worth a power struggle, and that is likely to just backfire. Don’t try to trick her into thinking it is her idea, let her come around to that herself. Trust me, she will. She’ll watch you and older kids around her and soon, she’ll want to be like them. She has plenty of time. I’d put her in pull-ups until she is motivated herself to try undies and sit on the potty a lot.

      Like

      March 30, 2015
      • Rooni #

        Thank you. Thats what i will do then, until she is interested herself. No other options i guess. hopefully its soon.

        Like

        March 31, 2015
  33. Annie #

    After reading your helpful post and a book that was recommended in the comments section here (Stress-free potty training: A common sense guide) everything just seemed to come together with potty training my 27mo old son. The book seems to be based on (some) empirical evidence and gives hints on training after identifying the personality type(s) of your child. Worth checking out for those of you still struggling. In retrospect we needed a different approach but overall we needed to back off and let him learn at his own pace.

    Like

    April 13, 2015
  34. Amy is not 31 month old and has just started potty training about a week a go. The first couple of days, she peed on herself. I used to get really upset and tell her “no peepy and no poopy in the underware” and “no more diapers” and should got excited and repeat after me. She has not gone in her undies since then but the problem now is that she does not go that many times during the day (especially in the daycare) and I have a feeling that she is holding it. I really don’t know what to do now.

    Like

    September 16, 2015
  35. Lisa #

    After a traumatic parent lead training experience with my now 12 year old, I insisted on letting the now 4 year old be in charge. She has decided wishing the last two months that she is potty trained (thank God) and still wears pull-ups at night. She has had a major setback in the last couple of days that’s been rather hard for all of us. She has dropped on her legs a couple of times when standing up and now doesn’t want to go potty at all and is refusing all liquids knowing that liquids contribute to peeing. We still breastfeed and now she is refusing to do that too. She also says her stomach hurts so we’ve taken her to the GP and are awaiting urine cultures. We took her to the ER and all tests are negative. I’m wondering if it is all psychological. Reading your article makes me realize that I do need to give the power back to her and be more encouraging. Thank you so much for providing me an additional ray of hope.

    Like

    February 22, 2016
    • This does sound like it could be behavioral, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. Holding pee and poop is definitely a concern. I would discuss the possibility of constipation (this can cause accidents, and further holding makes it worse) with her GP and highly recommend the book “It’s No Accident” by Steven Hodges. You definitely want your daughter to be empowered about controlling her own body, but if she’s severely constipated, you’ll want to address that to get her back on track.

      Like

      February 22, 2016
  36. Riya #

    My baby is now four years old she holds her pee and ask for diper n she do not go for potty. I tried every possible way to convience her to use toilet seat, baby pot for potty bur no success. I m really worried. Doctors suggested stop milk which i did but still mo success. She runs away into ghe another room m hold her potty so that i wont force her even to use diper. Its been 2 days now she has not went for potty. Please suggest i m really worried.

    Like

    May 6, 2016
  37. bonnie mullar #

    My son is 3. He started two weeks ago small potty, then went to big potty with ring. Well today he started standing up to pee.
    Before this we knew he wasn’t ready
    We did big boy underwear all day. Day 3 pottying like a pro. No pull ups even at night.
    Day 1 and 2 we did pull ups.
    Dry all night and he use to soak diapers. Pull ups at night.

    Like

    May 17, 2016

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