Top 5 Potty Training Mistakes to Avoid

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I’ve potty trained four children (so far), and have possibly learned more than my children in the process! Here are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid:

Don’t be unrealistic. Start with a blank slate, if at all possible. Try to forget those “rules” you’ve always heard. “Girls are easier than boys,” or “Children should be trained by two” or “Using cloth diapers will help them train earlier.” Be careful about establishing timelines (“he’s going to be trained by the time the baby comes”) because you might be setting yourself up for quite a letdown when your toddler doesn’t fall in line. Begin with reasonable, realistic expectations and be flexible with goals. If they train fast and easy, super!! (Lucky you). If not, at least you won’t be crushed and think something is wrong with you or your child.

Don’t pin all your hopes on advice. Be prepared for lots of ideas when your toddler enters this phase. You’ll be told that diaper-free time is THE way to go. Or perhaps candy bribes. Or having your child help clean up the messes with you. “Buying them special underwear or a fun potty always worked for mine” a friend might say. Unfortunately, every child is different and there’s not really a one-size-fits-all approach to potty training. I wish it was that easy! Thankfully, mothers are intuitive and inventive; given time they will discover their child’s motivator, and this will ultimately be the key to success. So take advice for just what it is – ideas you can try out, but not perfect solutions to the problem. It just might be that YOU will come up with the perfect answer. So don’t place too much hope on “surefire” solutions that other parents offer. You’ll just get more frustrated if those methods don’t work.

Don’t buy too much stuff because as mentioned above, you won’t know what’s working until you’ve allowed time for trial and error. I remember purchasing several packs of the Gerber underwear for Benjamin because someone told me they were “the best” for potty training. Little did I know he would be the hardest of all my children to train (he wasn’t done until after his 4th birthday). He had so many accidents every day for such a long time that I quickly put the “big boy underwear” away. I had to order expensive custom, super-absorbent trainers. In fact, we never even used the Gerber underwear. He was so thrilled when the big day came that he went straight from his puffy cloth trainers to white briefs just like his Daddy! A friend of mine purchased a colorful and quite expensive potty chair that played music and sounds and seemed like a toddler’s dream. Too bad both of her children were scared of the thing and refused to sit on it! That potty ended up in a closet….and then made its way into the next yard sale. 

NOTE: Many have asked if there’s a certain trainer I recommend. For the active learner (who’s going to the potty regularly but still having some accidents) my favorites are the economical knitted Imagine trainer from Nicki’s (aff). They are soft and comfy, look like underwear, but have a hidden layer of PUL. They will catch a small accident, but if you’re not quick, will eventually wick through to clothes. I used these heavily as our main day trainer. They do seem to run small, probably because the knitted material shrinks a bit. Only one side of the Imagine trainers snaps open and closed; this is to make them look more like “real” underwear. They are tiny little snaps, different from the round Kam-type snaps you usually see on diapers, and once in a blue moon one or two of them will come undone, but this hasn’t been a deal-breaker for me. I like them, I like the price, and they’ve been well-received by our toddlers. If you are looking for an overnight trainer, then I would recommend a pocket trainer, like Snap-EZ, Happy Heinys or Kissluvs.

imaginetrainer3

I also really like the Bububibi trainers which snap open on both sides, have a bamboo inner and a soft minky exterior. They are one of the lowest priced on the market (under $10)  but work great. Like the Imagine trainer, they are easy to get up and down, will catch a small accident and are easy to get off when there’s a big mess inside. Another cheap alternative is the side-snapping Sunbaby pocket trainer.

bubu

Don’t forget that personality is key. A child’s temperament greatly affects the whole potty training experience. Confident, type-A (i.e. choleric) children might thrive on being given challenges or even taking dares (“Let’s see if you can keep your pants dry while you are playing this morning!”) Thoughtful and introspective toddlers who are prone to worry (i.e. melancholic) will benefit from frequent praise and encouragement and be ultra sensitive to any kind of negativity or disapproval from you. Happy-go-lucky types that flit from one thing to another (i.e. sanguine) are going to be so busy playing that potty training might become a boring, mundane interruption. So you might have to make it SUPER FUN for these free spirits! And last of all, the laid-back, careful and peace-loving (i.e. phlegmatic) children just aren’t going to see what the big rush is. Number two messes and puddles on the floor? Hmmm, not really a big deal for them. Learning to use the potty? Can we put that off another day? The slow and methodical phlegmatic needs more motivation than all the other personalities. This is the child you’ll have to kindly and gently “light a fire” underneath, or they may put it off until it’s time to go to school.

Don’t lose patience and don’t take it personally! Young potty learners will do things that you will become convinced are meant to drive you to drink. They will make messes right on the floor. They will run and hide when it’s time to go. They will sit on the potty for thirty minutes and then have an accident as they walk out of the bathroom. They will miss and spray the bathroom walls, floor and furniture. They will create more dirty laundry than ten newborn babies. They will regress just when you’ve put away all their diapers and patted everyone on the back for a job well done. And when you think your patience has been tested to the limit, a few adventurous toddlers will want to put their hands in it, create art with it and quite possibly try to ingest it! So pray for patience; you’ll need loads of it. And try not to take all this personally, although it will be tempting some days to think they are doing all this to punish you for making them eat vegetables.

If you have a late trainer like we did, it might help to invest in some potty training aids like mattress toppers and PUL-backed sheets.

What have you learned from potty training your children? Here are some more potty training posts I’m sharing as part of the Real Diaper Association’s School of Cloth:

 

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  1. What nice tips! My son’s daycare said they were going to try to start potty training him! I’m so nervous! I basically have no idea what to do since this is my first.

      • As an employee of a child care provider, we really want the work load to of potty training needs to be even. Potty training starts at home on a weekend, then we continue to help and potty train during the day or at night. We use praise and encouragement. It should not all be left to the child care providers and their employees

        • I agree! Sometimes, when there’s too much pressure on the provider they may push the child before he/she is ready (as described in another mother’s story above). This is understandable because diapering is time consuming. Everyone working together is the ideal situation! ~Anne

    • When my son started daycare they said the same to me about two weeks in. I knew he wasnt ready but they kept saying he wants to wear big boy pants. So I sent nappies and big boy pants in and every day he came with wet clothes. After three days he was terrified to go to daycare. I had to tell them not to potty train him as he wasnt ready. It took two weeks to like going to daycare again. Now six months later we have just started and he is doing great all by himself. If you think your son is not ready dont push it there is no rush. My son is my third and the oldest to be trained. He is 3 an a half now. Goodluck!

      • That’s too bad they were trying to push him too soon. Some children are really sensitive to the whole process, and just like your son, they will react by withdrawing. I’m glad you had the wisdom to give him a break and work with him when he was truly ready! ~Anne

    • I potty train in my daycare all the time with great success. The child has to be ready. The parent has to be following through at home and no more diapers once we start. (except for sleeping)

  2. very good tips……i think people get too caught up in getting their kid potty trained “first” and comparing themselves to others and it becomes a miserable experience…..it will happen! You won’t have a 16 year old in diapers.

    • Peer pressure is definitely a factor. It always “seems” like everyone else’s child is potty training successfully when yours isn’t, but in reality most families face some type of challenge or delay along the way. ~Anne

      • Thank you so much for this article! I have an extremely intelligent little girl who just turned 2 1/2 and happens to also be extremely resistant in the potty training department. I’m also the only one in my circle of mom friends with children the same age to not be diaper free. It’s so frustrating that their children mastered the potty by 14 months, 18 months or 2 years old and here we are still cleaning up messes every other hour and putting diapers on when we leave the house. I know we’ll be diaper free soon, but it’s hard to not compare myself to other moms and my child to theirs.

        • I went through the very same thought processes with my late trainer, Sarah, and it is very disheartening at times. It’s like everyone else is just blowing past you. You wonder “is it me, or is it my child?” Since it obviously doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence, the reasons can be many. Timing, lack of motivation, lack of interest, etc. You’ll find out what it is in time and she’ll achieve success! ~Anne

        • One thing I realized potty training my first, was at 18 months I was trained to get her to the potty help her up wipe and help her down. We had accidents if I missed an interval. Mommy was trained, my sweet girl would just go if I got her there at a time she needed to go 🙂 Now I’m potty training #3 and she count care less! I hit it hard at their 3rd bday. (I’m not a fan of accident clean up)

  3. We tried putting our son on the potty a few times per day for several months with only “accidental” successes. It seemed like he was ready because he could hold his urine often for 5+ hours (despite wearing diapers), even doing the potty dance WHILE sitting on the toilet. After a party when he was 25mo old we had a bunch of chocolates left over and he asked for one. I told him that he could have one for going pee pee on the potty, two for poop. WOW WAS THAT FAST! Since the following day, he’s had only ~two accidents at home in undies and usually keeps his Grovia pull-ups dry when we’re out (even naps and long drives). I completely agree that it’s about finding the right motivator for each child. For better or worse, our son really wanted that chocolate. After a few weeks we switched to stickers for pee and food treats are only for poop.

  4. One of the best articles I’ve read on the awful subject of potty training. My first child was a nightmare to potty train. It took years! I was pressured by all my friends who used the 3 day method at 2 yrs. It was so frustrating for me and he didn’t care. In the end it finally just clicked, he was 4. And he never looked back. He is almost 6 and still wears a pull up at night. We have worked so hard to help him stay dry but he is just a deep sleeper and I have accepted the fact that he will stay dry when he is ready. My daughter was a totally different story, potty trained in 5 days at 25 months old. Every child is different and they respond to different motivators and there is no such thing as a fool proof method. Children are unique in every way and they all learn differently.

    • Thanks so much, Rachel! That sounds an awful lot like our experience with our 4-year-old boy. To this day, I still don’t know what the “issue” was – maybe my pregnancy at the time? But it really taught me to take each child as he comes, especially when it comes to potty training – because that’s ultimately in their control. ~Anne

  5. It really doesn’t have to do with intelligence. My 3 year old is potty trained now no problem but he can’t count to ten, has no interest in his letters and reads with me only reluctantly. My friend’s almost 3 year has started teaching himself to read and can count a million numbers but won’t go in the toilet. I don’t think either is smarter, just different. Interests determine a lot at this age.

  6. I wish I had read this weeks ago! Definitely the most encouraging and insightful perspective on potty training I have read…especially the part about the different approaches/motivations for different personality types. Far more helpful than a 1, 2, 3-step plan. We’re in the thick of it right now with my 3 year old boy and it’s going MUCH better than I imagined it would, but of course, still not perfect. I’ve tried not to read too much because I’m totally aware that my kid is unlike anyone else in the world and is not as predictable as most people would think a 3 year old to be. Our family is different. Our situation is different. So naturally there will simply not be that one perfect formula. We’ll just have to create our own.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words, Katey! I definitely learned these things over the years, as I paid more attention to my children and less to things like time frames and all the so-called “rules.” All the best as you continue teaching your son! ~Anne

  7. My son , who is now 9, had sensory issues as a tot and I didn’t recognize all of them. I did realize during our potty training phase (the second time) that he just had no clue what “wet” felt like. He would sit in his wet undies and not even know that it was an issue. I think it was the 4th attempt – spaced months apart – that things hit home and he finally “got” it. The number one key (no pun intended) is definitely Patience… and lots of it! Yes, he still has some sensory issues, but he’s a potty pro!

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  11. The only thing anyone needs to keep in m ok nd iach child does at different rates of speed. Those parents who clail their 18 month old child is potty trained is sadly deluding themselves. The child is not trained…tje parents are trsined to tske tje c

  12. What I want to know is how to even get started. My (don’t judge) 16 mo is showing many signs that she’s ready (which doesn’t surprise me as she’s done everything but grow in her teeth early). She will point to her diaper and tell me if she’s either going to poopie or pee pee, and it’s a good 5 minute warning for #1 and maybe a bit longer than that depending on the consistency of #2. One night i didn’t put too much stock in her warning of #2, wanting to get her bath done and yup…she pooped in the bath.

    I got one of those inserts for the toilet seat, but she freaks out whenever I sit and hold her up on it. She isn’t afraid of it any other time, so I figure it’s because she’s so petite and it’s so big. I’m looking around for a little potty seat, but that’s all I know to do lol. I have no idea how to start this process. This is not a subject that was covered in my Child Development classes in college!

    Any advice for the first time potty training mom?

    • Sounds like she’s definitely showing signs of being interested and aware of the process, Jaime! However, if she’s younger and smaller, then that is another consideration. If a child is not able to pull pants up or down, or is too “petite” for the potty, then you might not push it too much yet. I like your idea of buying a separate little potty chair. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, just a place that’s small and low to the ground that she can go to when interested or giving cues. You might also consider letting her wear a diaper or training pants with a very loose (almost baggy) fit; this helps her get them on/off easier in the beginning. ~Anne

    • As far as the fear of sitting on the toilet, make sure she sees you go, then she will get the idea it’s ok. I’ve found out incredibly helpful for my youngest to see his big brothers go potty, then he wants to try too! Actually he just trained on the toilet, because that’s how everyone else goes. It’s been great when out in public, he has no problem using other toilets. Good luck!

    • I found a Pourty potty for my daughter when I was looking for something small and easy to clean. It sounds like it may be perfect for your petite little one! They’re very inexpensive too!

  13. How refreshing. This is prob some of the best, stress free, potty training advice I have seen. Thank you for recognising the intellect of mothers and the diversity of children

  14. Our first son was so difficult. He way half potty trained by 2 1/2 but he didn’t like going number 2 in the potty. So eventually we started making him change and clean himself it worked like a charm 🙂 potty charts with stickers also helped. He’s 4 1/2 now and starting school soon. With a baby brother on the way. Good luck moms and dads.

  15. I let the kids run naked and if there is an accident, they help clean it up. I think making it relaxing and give them the control helps more than anything else. I’ve potty trained 5 kids and all were “trained” when they were ready. No fights, no tears, no treats, just allowed them the space to do it when they were ready.

    • Thanks for sharing your advice and experience, Angela! Sounds like your family has got the whole thing down to an art (smile). ~Anne

  16. Any advice for handling pity training while you are out of the house? My son won’t sit (or stand) on an adult toilet in a public place. How do I continue with potty training when we leave the house?

    • My 3 year old son did not like using public potties either. I discovered it was because of a couple of loud flushes in the past, and so we took steps to fix this (i.e. I would let him leave the stall before flushing or tell him “this potty is very quiet.”). Try to find the exact reason why your son won’t use the adult toilets and then you can go from there. There’s almost certainly a reason that he is fearful or anxious. Keep me posted! ~Anne

  17. Thank you so much for this article. My son who will be three at the end of the month is slowly starting to potty train. We are going at his rate, and I don’t care if he is four by the time he is trained. Just means he will skip junior kindergarten if is he isn’t fully trained by next fall.

  18. These tips are bogus. Potty training is easy. Take it from someone who works with children & has helped train dozens of kids. It’s the parents who complicate things by switching from diapers/pullups to undies & back again, repeatedly. In all my years of working with kids, I have seen only a couple who had real issues that prevented them from being successfully trained, and that was addressed accordingly. Loving consistency is the key to everything in parenting

    • Neka, I think you’re setting up a straw man to attack here because you charge parents with complicating things by switching from diapers to underwear and back again, when no parent here (me included) has indicated that we are doing this. ~Anne

    • Its very different in a childcare setting where they see other children going to the toilet and you and the other staff are trained in this area to teach children to toilet train. Please be easy on parents who have never experienced toilet training and are just looking for tips to help.
      I have worked in childcare for ten years and are now about to start toilet training my 2 year old. And ive found It is a completely different ball game at home. All children are different and different ways / ideas can help this process along. Unfortunately life isn’t as consistent as it is in childcare.

  19. Hi
    My son is nearly 4..really I tried my best…he do his potty in nappy. Whenever I tell him to go to toilet, he starts to crying
    What should I do

    • Sunita, has he had any bad experiences while on the toilet, or while learning? Sometimes they cry or become fearful if they have a negative association. ~Anne

  20. I started potty training my son when he turned 3 and I waited until then because I took cures from him to let me know that he was ready. I believe we should give children that choice instead of saying”oh you’ve turned 2/3, you should be able to go to the potty on your own now”. He was potty trained in about two weeks with no overnight accidents at all! I am now potty training my daughter who is 2 and a half and taking the same approach of letting her be the one to dictate the pace, she’s had far more accidents than her brother did but that’s ok and it’s been week over a month that we started the training and that’s ok too. I also opted to keep using regular diapers for this, or jus t using unies during the day and diapers at night until they’ve gone at least two whole weekswaking up with a dry diaper and going to the potty first thing in the morning them they can start sleeping in their underwear. No fancy or expensive trainers or pull ups needed.

  21. Hi! My son is 3 years old. Potty training has been an on going nightmare! And I am looking for any advice that can assist us. My son is blind and has only started speaking recently. He ‘performs’ if you put him on the toilet, but doesn’t ask to go to the toilet. What can I do to encourage him to ask to go to the toilet? He is quite happy to ‘wee’ and ‘poo’ in his underpants…

    • This is definitely a special challenge, Rose-Lee! Having never potty trained a blind child, I don’t have any tried-and-true advice to offer. However, I do have an observation to share. If he’s only just now speaking it might be too much to expect at this point for him to be giving verbal cues when he’s about to “go.” Your putting him on the toilet is a great start. Perhaps you could create a verbal cue (a word or phrase) that you could say each time you set him down on the potty. Hopefully, he’ll make the connection and begin to use this word or phrase when he anticipates going? You might also watch him throughout the day and when you suspect he might be about to “go” say the word or phrase to connect it with being back on the potty. ~Anne

  22. What I learned from the first part of your article is that you’ve got a bias against dads or are stuck in the past where parental duties are gender defined. As the stay at home dad of a two year old daughter, I took offense to your statement about mothers being intuitive. Would it have been hard to say “parents” are intuitive? Or do you genuinely think mothers are automatically better at this?

    • Hi Matt! Yes, I definitely think that men and women are created uniquely and differently and we have different gifts and abilities when it comes to parenting. And while I agree with you that these abilities are certainly not mutually exclusive to the genders, there is ample science to affirm what we’ve already known since the dawn of time: that certain traits are more predominate in one vs. the other. Viva la difference!! ~Anne

      • Then I am going to have to cross you and your blog off our list of helpful parent’s sites. It’s folks like you that keep our daughters subservient and foster some pretty callous attitudes in our boys.
        Before becoming a parent, I was a teacher for fifteen years. I have seen enough over time to know that you are wrong.
        Humans raise children. The gender does not matter. Your idea that there is science backing you up on this is bogus.

        • Wish you could meet my daughters, then. They would blow all your assertions out of the water! 🙂 My best wishes go with you! ~Anne

  23. How do you deal with a child who has no interest and you know is not ready, but he needs to be potty trained to go to preschool?

    • Find what motivates him! For every child it’s different; you can use the tips based on temperament that I talked about in the post. ~Anne

    • Choose a preschool that does not have a potty trained requirement. Usually that would be a child care center environment where they assist with training. Our center is very relaxed.

  24. Well, in my case, I don’t have much of a choice. Where I live if children aren’t potty trained by age 3, they won’t be qccepted in school. Luckily, my girl got there by 2 and a half. I still have a year to go with my boy…

  25. My daughter just turned 3. She is none of your personality types. She us stubborn hard headed and will do it in her own time apparently. ..
    We are going to resort to panties and rubber pants soon…

    Thanks for the advice!

    • Sounds like she would fit the Choleric temperament (although no child is 100% of any one profile). I wasn’t able to go into much detail in the post on each of the personality types, but usually “stubborn” and “hard-headed” go with the Type-A/choleric. This child always seems to know what’s best, even better than those older and wiser and with far more experience! Give her a clearly laid out potty training challenge (or dare) and see if she will meet it. But leave it up to her as how to implement it. ~Anne

  26. This is the best potty training article I have ever read. I totally tried to conform my child to a “tried-and-true” method. It didn’t work, I traumatized her and myself, and we (I) cleaned up accidents for six months on an almost daily basis. She wasn’t ready & the method was too rushed. Your article should be a public service announcement!

  27. My son is 2years and 9months old and he is not potty trained he dont want to be even what shall i do.he dont speak also

  28. Hi Anne,
    Great tips. But i am so discouraged right now. My younger one 3.4 years old is pee pee trained for the past 4 months. She goes dry straight for 14 hours, in the night too. But she refuses to go poop in the potty. I tried everything, bribing, encouraging, books, videos, potty chart, potty apps, colorful under pants, showing her big sister poop…everything….but nothing is working. If i leave her with no underpants, she holds it in, be it hours or days, but she refuses to go in the potty. I am afraid she will be constipated, which is why i am giving her easy diet and laxative but nothing is working. Please help. Thank you.

    • At this point, she is almost certainly picking up on your frustration with her refusal to go and is perhaps digging her heels in even more with retention. It can be a vicious cycle. To break it, do not pressure her or ask her to go for a few days. Don’t even mention #2. A couple of days of rest like this may help her re-set and start fresh. And when you do start again, continue to keep it low pressure. If she has an accident, don’t say a word – just clean it up and go about your day. If she’s completely ready and is willfully refusing, then it’s completely up to her at this point. So leave it up to her because she’s a big girl now. ~Anne

  29. Hi there…we have been working on potty training my 3yr 9mo daughter on and off for a year. 3 weeks ago we put her in undies and told her it was her job to get her peepee and poopoo into the potty because that’s where it belongs and that’s where it wants to go. She loves wearing her undies but has constant accidents and won’t tell us directly that she needs to go. She is physically capable of going by herself, definitely knows all of the steps, and just isn’t doing it. She has no fears of the potty…and uses a baby bjorn potty seat on top of the toilet with a step stool to reach. She loves singing songs about going to the potty and gets tiered rewards for sitting, peeing, and pooping. I just cannot figure out what will motivate her…we have done praise, toys, candy, and stickers, as well as cartoons for a reward. I’ve tried reminding her all day, setting a timer (which has been an epic fail because the timer goes off and she says no…I can’t physically hold her down on the potty for obvious emotional harm), and I’ve even tried not reminding her at all and just letting her be in charge. Any ideas? She starts preschool very soon and must be potty trained – no pull ups allowed!

    • April, since you’ve been working on this for so long, maybe it’s time for a break. Just keep letting her wear the big girl undies but don’t say anything about going to the potty for at least a few days. Don’t remind, don’t ask. When she has an accident, clean it up (let her help if she wants) but don’t say a word. Sounds like you’ve done everything you can do at this point as far as teaching and motivating. It’s truly up to her now and she doesn’t need anymore guidance at this point. ~Anne

  30. We’re starting a little late, but this is a battle I choose not to stress about. I think I should get some Imagine training pants. They seem to stand out to me more than most….

  31. I am trying to potty train my 2 1/2 yr old grand daughter. Boy is she not interested lol. I have tried everything and failed so far. I am now thinking, she is just not ready. Thank you for the tips.

  32. We have been gently trying to do potting for a few months now. My son is just not interested yet (I hope we are getting close, but still no luck). There are days that he does great and days that he won’t go at all. He is the kinda kid that would rather sit in a wet diaper or poopy diaper than stop playing. Until I can get him over that I think we are going to have a battle. We do give him M and M’s if he pees on the potty and praise him with lots of hugs and kisses and clapping. One day at a time in our house. He will be 2 years and 4 months next week. He is also going to be starting day care next week, I can only hope that this will be a good move for him and that if he sees the other kids going on the potty he will want to do it as well. Heres to hoping 🙂

    • Eden, personality really does come into play when it comes to potty training. There are some things you can do to motivate a child that’s sluggish about getting up to go. You can light a fire under him (and yourself) by letting him wear a big shirt but no undies while at home. Or put “real” underwear on him that’s not going to catch an “oops,” and he will know it. When he starts playing, set a timer and say when it beeps or rings he will have to stop playing, get up and try going to the potty. There’s a balance you have to reach between pushing too much and pushing too little. ~Anne

  33. I’m a single mom. I have fibromyalgia and am struggling. So not being fully trained at 5 is fine?

    • It makes sense to me, because a child needs guidance and support, and when Mom can’t provide both consistently because of a difficult circumstance, then potty training can definitely fall to the back burner. Just be patient, and maybe have a little talk with your child about how he/she could try taking more responsibility since you are dealing with a chronic condition. Prayers for you, Mary Ann! ~Anne