Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Potty Training, Cider Mill Style


Over the past week-and-a-half, Sophia successfully potty trained! Whether we were lucky or whether we did something right—I’m guessing it was a little bit of both—I can say that in a single week, my three-year-old not only made it through the day but also slept through the night without a single accident, and now does both consistently without incident.

Every child is different, and I’m not going to be foolhardy enough to think the same tactics will necessarily even be successful with James in a couple years’ time. However, on the chance that you’re a soon-to-be-potty-training parent and your little one might share similar traits to my Sophia, here is the recipe we used for quick potty training success without tears in our home:


1 child’s potty training chair
1-2 packs of underwear
1 bag of Skittles or other never-before-had and sure-to-be-relished treat

a dash of patience
a big smile
a generous scoop of encouragement


  1. Keep an eye out for your opportunity! Step one is extremely important. Basically, what you’re doing is keeping an eye (and and ear) out for the cue that your child is ready to potty train. If you push them before their time, you are not likely to meet with success. Similarly, experts say that if you wait too long and don’t heed your child’s cues, you may find it extremely difficult for them to train successfully in the future. So, what are you looking out for? For us, it was things like Sophia starting to ask questions when someone else went to the bathroom. “Is that the toilet, Mama? Do you use the toilet paper to wipe the pee-pee?” She also started noticing when she had gone or needed to go potty and which function she was performing. For example, “Daddy, I went pee-pee. I need a diaper change,” became something we heard for a couple of days in a row.
  2. A short period of anticipation helps to build excitement and a drive to succeed in your child. For us, the anticipation period was built in because our daughter is so petite, we had to order her panties online; they don’t stock her size in the store. During this time, we talked with Sophia about what a big girl she was becoming and made the idea of potty training sound super-exciting, but warned her that it might be a challenge—after all, what better way to encourage a child to rise to a challenge than to set one? It also gives the child leeway to fail at first without losing face; there’s no shame in messing up something that you know is supposed to be difficult at first. We bought our pack of Skittles and set them in the cupboard. When Sophia asked for them, we’d say, “Nope. These are just for potty training. When you go on your potty, then you’ll get a Skittle. These are Big Girl Skittles.” By the time the panties arrived five days later, she was chomping at the bit.
  3. Cue your child periodically for the first few days. For the first several days of potty training, I watched Sophia carefully. If she showed any signs that she might have to go (pulling at her dress or panties or squirming where she sat) or if I thought it had been a reasonable amount of time between trips to the bathroom (about an hour), I would ask her if she needed to use the potty and encourage her to try if she seemed hesitant to answer. This was to keep her alert to the signals her body was giving her. Notice that, when training begins, your child will likely have to go more frequently than they will once they have trained. This is because they are building the capacity and awareness to be able to “hold it,” something they never had to do in diapers.
  4. Anticipate accidents. Do not expect your child to go out of the house for any length of time without a diaper until you have a couple successful training days under your belt (without accidents). In addition, do anticipate accidents at home. If you have a white rug that you don’t want an accident on, make that room off limits for a few days. Keep extra sheets or some chuck pads around when you start night training. Be prepared to do an extra load of laundry if your child does not have many extra changes of clothes. Basically what you’re doing here is making sure that you can remain calm and positive in the face of an accident. Nothing is more discouraging to a young child than knowing he or she has unwittingly made Mama or Daddy upset. If you anticipate an accident and prepare yourself for that possibility, you’re more likely to be able to face an accident with a patient smile and words that build up rather than tear down.
  5. Provide incentive. Some parents find the use of treats and other incentives to be manipulative. I disagree, and here is why: Yes, ultimately, a child should do something for it’s own sake. But, think about how often even adults can be so cerebral and motivated in their own efforts. You work overtime either because you want to earn extra money or because you’re afraid of losing your job. You don’t do it just because it should be done, for kicks. Now, I would not ever recommend the threat of disciplinary methods as a means of potty training. The child must be corrected by means of encouragement only. Give a child a solid, tangible (because young children are not cerebral) incentive for potty training, and you will go a long way toward effecting the desired results.
  6. It is worth saying again: Do not use any disciplinary methods or means of punishment during your training. Remember that what you take for granted (bodily continence) is something entirely new to your child, something that he or she may, in fact, not be ready for at the time you desire them to potty train. This is why step #1 is so vital. Remember that no matter how upset you may be to do another load of laundry, your child in no way meant to cause you this upset, and to vent your frustration on your child will only worsen matters. You are teaching your child a new skill, not correcting a bad habit. Be encouraging, and do not punish for mistakes.
  7. Communicate with your child. Throughout the training process, be sure to take your child’s emotional “temperature.” See how she or he is feeling about successes and mistakes. Ask your child if he or she feels ready to wear panties (or big boy undies) during nap. After two or three successful naps with underwear, ask if your child is ready to try going overnight without diapers. If there are setbacks, talk to your child about them. Let your child know that you do not necessarily have to continue with the latest challenge (perhaps, naps without diapers) and that he or she may choose if they would like to try again or wait a few days before trying. Remember that your child is processing something entirely new and may want and need this communication in order to sort out his or her thoughts and feelings.

Follow these steps and you should find that in a short time you are beginning to wean your child off of the incentive (we went through only one bag of Skittles). At the completion of training, you should be able to leave the house and your child should be able to nap without diapers. However, some children struggle with nighttime bedwetting for years, and this may require more time or the help of your pediatrician or another professional who has more knowledge of how to help a child through this particular difficulty.

Additionally, while your child may be trained in the familiar environment of your home, he or she may still be uncomfortable using a “big potty” in an unfamiliar bathroom. You might consider carrying around a diaper or an extra pair of underwear when you go out until you are assured that your child will be able to successfully use a strange toilet.

For those of you who have already potty-trained your little ones (possibly many little ones), how did you do it? What methods and tools did you find successful? What would you have done differently?


  1. In my country of birth, children were potty trained very early, which of course meant that methods were different and used more conditioning than communication. Potty training would begin as soon as the child could sit. Mothers were VERY motivated to potty-train as early as possible because all they had available was flatfold cloth diapers. Basically by one year old *mama* would be "potty-trained" to catch all the peepee and poopies, which saved her a lot of laundry, and by two years old the child was to use potty on his/her own.

    Here in Israel children are usually potty-trained using methods along the lines of what you suggest, and normally after the age of 2. I think Shira might actually be ready to try potty training soon, however, I didn't make serious attempts at it yet because I've read that potty-training works better when you're in a settled routine and not when you're about to have a new baby any day. :o)

  2. This comment is rather late, but I too started to introduce the potty occasionally once they could walk. What I did with mine was try the underwear-and-check-lots method, which failed miserably, so I switched to cloth training pants and pull-on covers so they could feel wet and gross but were still largely contained (clothes etc. got damp but not dripping wet) and took them to the bathroom after meals or naps and before bed. Any other time was up to them and those accidents didn't count. Yes, it took a lot longer than your way, but they caught on just fine and we didn't have to worry about forgetting or waiting too long to take them. Besides, I could never figure out when they had to go just by "cues," even every half hour we had more misses than hits. But when they got better at knowing themselves, they were warned that if they had an accident because they just didn't want to stop playing a game/watching movies we would keep going but they would have to miss however long it took to clean up, but if they said they had to go we would stop and wait for them. That seemed to curb the laziness aspect.

  3. Right on. And its improtant to remember that all kids are different. For example, with our oldest, it was harder to train her, she needed to go, but did not want to leave what she was doing to actually go! Lots of patients and moving a mortable potty outside with her (it was summer) was a huge help. Then out middle child woke up one day, said "I need to go potty" and has gone since. She still has an accident or two when she waits to long, but is trained. All on her own. I am curious how it will go with our son (he is just two)! I have heard that boys are harder...and having grown up in a house full of girls. :) Thank God for my husband! :)


  4. Hm. I have four boys. Three of them are supposed to be potty trained and were...for awhile. My oldest is eight and has had some night and even a coupla day time accidents lately, after being trained for like 3-4 years...my second one is six and was dry nearly every night for 6 months, then all of a sudden he started peeing the bed, nearly every night for the last 6 months...Don't get it...My four year old finally potty trained this summer and does pretty well, with the occasional accident at night or daytime, but not all the time...I already do cloth diapers for my baby(who is 2 and nowhere near ready to train that I can tell...), and a pile of wet stinking sheets that need washing is rather frustrating, especially when you have only enough sheets to sheet each bed once...hard to be patient and not express disappointment...I've tried to be nonchalant and simply say, "Oh well, you know what to do--go strip your bed and take care of your clothes." What I don't understand is when they pee because they won't stop playing to go. I know that we shouldn't discipline for "accidents", but if the accident is really caused by laziness, and lack of consideration for mommy(who has to clean it up), I have wondered if there should be some sort of consequence. In fact, at times, when it appears to be laziness, we tell them,"if you can't take the time to go when you need to go, you can lose 10 minutes of play time after the fact(of an accident)." But the older ones were trained and now seem to be losing ground....sigh...


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