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.
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.
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: