Once a child can stay dry through a nap (and you have to be pretty prompt, once they wake up, for a diaper check to be of any help in figuring this out!), they are developing enough physically to be able to be potty-trained. There are similar signs that they are mentally ready: they may ask why you use The Big Potty and they don’t, or they may begin to dislike the feeling of a wet diaper. It’s useless to even attempt training until a child has reached maturity in both departments, because it’s doomed to failure. Their little parts just aren’t ready until they’re ready, and if you jump the gun it will only disappoint both of you and make the next attempt harder.
When one of my kids showed signs of being ready to graduate from the Padded Bottom set, I’d prepare more carefully than any general going into battle. I’d do it during the summer so the kid wouldn’t be encumbered by more clothes than necessary when it came time to Do Business – they don’t always get a lot of warning at first! I’d block out a whole week when we had NOTHING else going on – no visitors, no shopping trips, no traveling. I’d lay in a stock of potty-related library books (Everybody Poops is a fun example). I’d stash a jar of bribes in the bathroom cupboard (more on that in a minute). I’d make a list of every single person the child knew: family member, friend, TV character or grocery store clerk.
I’d warn my poor husband and store some pre-made dinners in the freezer.
The day before Basic Training Week began, I would take the child to the store. With much excitement and respect, I’d explain that since they were becoming a big girl or boy, they were old enough to learn to use the potty! Since, starting tomorrow, they were not going to be needing diapers anymore, obviously we would need to get them some Big Girl or Boy underpants. I let them pick out whatever they wanted (I never bothered with training pants – they’re ugly and bulky and you have to change them when they’re wet, anyway) and bought at least 15 pairs. (You could get by with less but I didn’t want to be running the washer and dryer ALL day.)
A word about equipment: I have tried potty chairs, the toilet itself and the toilet with a clamp-on toddler seat with about equal degrees of success. It really depended on the child in question. One of them was a little nervous about falling into the big toilet and another didn’t think the potty chair was very stable and wouldn’t sit down on it. My personal preference was for the toddler seat that fits inside the regular toilet seat – I didn’t much like going through the extra step of having to empty and clean the little bowl on the potty chair. Not to mention the fact that it teaches the kid to carry a bowl of pee through the house.
Now the key to this method is that you must be relaxed, cheerful, and proud of the work your child is doing. It’s a lot for them to coordinate, recognizing the urge not only in time to Get There but to get there in time to shuck pants and sit down, and you won’t help anything if you’re uptight about it. When The Big Day dawns, greet your child cheerfully in the morning and congratulate them – this week they’re going to learn to use the potty like the other big people do! Bring them a bag and make a ceremony of putting all the diapers in the bag, sealing it and giving it away “so that people who are still babies can use it.” (Store the bag in the attic if you’re going to have more babies yourself, or put it in the trunk of your car to drop off at a thrift store or a women’s shelter later. Just get it out of the house!)
Make another ceremony out of putting on the first pair of Big Kid underwear. Dress them in that and a t-shirt – maybe sandals, maybe not. You want them to be able to manage their clothing as easily as possible at this point. Take the child into the bathroom and show them how to pull down their pants and sit on the toilet. Don’t make them sit there longer than they want to or it will become a power struggle; however, the longer they do sit there the more likely it is that their business will do itself, so stay with them. You might have books you will only read to them in the bathroom, or songs you will sing there – my oldest daughter would sit on the pot quite happily as long as we could sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” Whatever works for the two of you.
Take your child to the potty when they wake up, after each meal, and every hour or so otherwise. When they can tell you “I gotta go!” get them there fast and praise them for knowing they needed to go, even if they don’t quite make it in time. When they do make it – and they will! – give them a treat. Yup, it’s bribery, plain and simple. Once they connect going in the potty to getting an M&M, you’re halfway there. (If you’re worrying about whether you’ll have to buy stock in the Mars company, don’t be. When training week is over you can explain that the treats were only for learning purposes. For some reason kids accept this explanation.)
Since I was running a toilet training Boot Camp, I did poop AND pee, day AND night all at once. Some people start with diapers at night and concentrate on keeping the kid dry during the day, but I couldn’t see going through it more than once.
Oh yes, the list. I tried not to turn the kids’ day into a Bathroom Gulag, so bodily functions weren’t ALL I talked about – we still watched movies and played games (didn’t take walks, though). Still, I had lots of positive reinforcement ready to throw in there when it seemed appropriate. While we were sitting in the bathroom, I’d casually mention a few of the people the kid knew who used the big potty. “Did you know that Susan on Sesame Street uses the big-girl potty? So does Grandma! She’ll be so proud of you!” “Your friend Krista’s little sister is a baby so she can’t use the potty yet. When she’s a big girl like you are, she’ll learn too.” Charts are good too, with gold stars or stickers for every successful attempt. Everyone does better when they can see their progress.
It is very, very easy to get little boys to pee in the toilet. Just toss a Cheerio into the water. They’ll train themselves in a day trying to sink the thing.
It’s also easier to train successive children than it was to train the first one because they will want to emulate the oldest.
Resign yourself to the fact that you’re not going to go anywhere or do anything for the duration of this week. There will be some accidents, especially in the beginning, but just be matter-of-fact about it – “that’s okay, it takes practice to learn anything new!” – and show them how to strip off the wet underwear, put it in the washing machine and put on a new pair. (Probably you should lay in a stock of carpet spot-remover during your preparation phase, and if you have any of the waterproof crib pads left from their baby days, haul ‘em out again and use them on the kid’s bed and favorite spot on the couch or floor unless you want to be doing a LOT of laundry.)
Wiping is something to think about, too. Show your child how to crumple 4 or 5 squares of toilet paper (otherwise they’ll take the whole roll) and wipe from front to back, repeating until the paper comes back clean. Hint: This will never happen. You will still have to do follow-up poop wiping for a couple of years. That’s okay. It’s better than diapers.
When the week is up, celebrate! Go out to a movie or an ice-cream parlor, or have a toddler-fancy dinner at home with candlelight. There will still be accidents, sure; boys in particularly may occasionally wet the bed until their plumbing finishes developing at 9 or 10. What the hell, you sometimes pee yourself when you laugh too hard, right? Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even Susan on Sesame Street. The point is: You’re both free!