20 Top tips for toilet training

This is our sixth week diaper-free. We got here via the ‘3-day method’. The idea (in case you missed my previous posts) is you take 3 days up front to really show them the ropes and that makes it easier in the long term. The site I read said they should get to ‘no accidents’ in two weeks. Nica took 4 weeks to have her first 100% successful potty-use day. Now, at week six we have still only had about 5 absolutely ‘dry days’ (as in the legs and the trousers stay dry – all pee/poop goes in the potty). But I am pretty proud of her progress nonetheless. The process has not been as quick or as linear as I hoped but she did truly get the gist of it as early as day 1 (when she walked, spontaneously, to the potty to do a poo).

So, here, I am sharing. This is not a ‘how to’ – I leave that to the experts – but these are some of the tricks and tips that have helped me along the way:

  1. Do the 3-day start-up. Really, it makes so much sense to give them those days of 100% consistent messaging: “pee and poop go in the potty”. If you dabble… they probably will, too. Just saying.
  2. Give lots of liquids on those first 3 days so they really get to feel a sense of having a FULL bladder often and can practice going often. No need to over-do it or give them unhealthy beverages, but do give them a drink they like. Coconut water, carrot juice or very diluted grape juice work for my daughter. Plus being well hydrated is a good thing, anyway.
  3. Always have a potty at hand. Usually the easiest way is to have several potties, one for each space they play in. We have two and make sure one is always visible and easy to run to, for her.
  4. Keep the actual potty-chairs simple. Peeing and pooping, relieving ourselves is its own reward. You shouldn’t need it to be singing or shaped like a football – ‘cos in that case they are getting interested in the song and the decoration which are actually distracting from the simple feelings they are learning about in their body, in my view. Chose a potty that they can easily sit themselves on, too. We like the basic Bjorn ones, for example
  5. If this is an option, let your kid chose the potty. I would say, chose a nice, simple range you like and let them pick the colour.
  6. Let your child chose some underwear that they really like (and are motivated to keep clean and dry) and/or gift them some with their favourite character or of their favourite colour. I usually avoid the commercial stuff but… DD loves HelloKitty so I just had to get the cute little H&M HelloKitty p@nties when I found them. Adorable!
  7. Be consistent. Pick a method and stick with it. In our case our rule is ‘all pee and poop go in the potty’. I can really see how reinforcing this (with our actions and movements) is really helpful. If we let even one pee on the carpet go by without re-messaging, it can be a floodgate, so to speak. It is NEVER about shaming her, though, of course. In fact I rely as little as possible on words but I do always pick her up and sit her on the potty if I see her peeing, even if I catch it mid- or late-stream. I try and get even one drop in the potty so we can call it a win. This signals to her our absolute commitment to keeping it in the potty and that pee does not go on the carpet. With that, I always say ‘pee goes in the potty’. But I make sure it is clear that accidents are okay, normal and forgivable, too. There is never any drama over a ‘spill’. We save the excitement for the successes – even then, though, I usually just describe what happened without labelling it good or bad, etc “you felt the urge to pee, so you walked over and peed in the potty” – that kind of thing. But sometimes I do let my own spontaneous and genuine enthusiasm bubble over.
  8. The potty is only for pee and poop. Don’t let it be used for anything else. Consistency is very important here, too. And teach them how to use it properly, from the start (not with clothes on or anything like that). We sit on the potty bare-butt to pee – anything else can start to create unhelpful associations.
  9. Make sure you and your potty training partner(s) are on the same page. No shaming, no rewards, no ‘good jobs’, whatever rules you adopt, keep the emotional message clear. And I personally really think every poo and pee should be greeted with the same basic response. It is not some pees on the potty, some on the floor or any other variation there upon…
  10. Watching parents go is a great way to start inspiring potty use. Just leave the door open and let them wander in. Talk them through the process, gently without value judgements (it is not better or worse to use the potty over nappies, really, just different; it is also not the mark of a ‘big kid’ as their are kids bigger than DD that use diapers and some younger ones that don’t).
  11. Learning from peers can be even more inspirational to little ones. Let them watch their siblings, cousins or little friends go on the potty and talk them through it as they do (‘hey, Jonny is peeing in the potty, now, see?’)
  12. If you don’t have access to peers on demand, try videos. I just went on YouTube and saw what was there. This one worked really well for Nica. She’ll tell me how she saw Elmo use the potty. [Why do all toddlers find themselves inexorably drawn to Elmo, even the TV-free ones?]
  13. Books are also great for sharing that this is the way we do it. I went to the library and brought home an armful (whilst still keeping it light and letting her pick if/when she wanted to read them). We like this one where he goes through the process of deciding where he has to go (which is a big one for DD who sometimes even says out loud ‘shall I pee on the floor?’ and then looks at me with a sly grin and says ‘noooo!’).
  14. Weave it into their stories. Nica loves me to tell her stories, ideally about her and her day. Now, occasionally (again not too heavy handedly, I hope) I sprinkle in some examples of either a) appropriate potty usage and/or b) her refusing the potty ‘cos she isn’t ready followed by an example of a time when she does successfully pee in the potty. This is important as it reaffirms that she is in charge of the process and can say ‘no’ when she doesn’t want to go yet and she can signal when she does want to go. It reminds her in words that she is in control of the process.
  15. Respect the nos and the refusals, if/when they come. If your kid is anything as self-assured as mine, they’ll let you know in no uncertain times when they don’t have to go or don’t want to go. Let them. This is their process. For me it is not about catching as many pees as possible. I am playing a long-game. The ideal is for her to want to go in the potty and the first step to that, in my book, if I really want it to be intrinsically driven, is to let her have autonomy and chose if or when to go. I let her drive it.
  16. Emphasise learning to sense the urge. I think this is a really important one. This body-awareness is the main thing they are learning (if you potty train at this age). I am convinced Nica didn’t know she peed until we went diaper-free. It was just not a sensation she had ever stopped to give meaning to. Now she knows and that is what she is really learning to tune into – especially when busy, absorbed with play or nervous because she is in new surroundings or with new people.
  17. Emphasise staying dry: keeping legs, trousers, floor dry. This one also really works well for DD. It is something concrete that we can focus on. ‘Hey, your trousers are still dry after a whole outing’ or ‘you went in the potty, so your legs are still all dry’. She clearly likes staying dry so it is something she relates to positively, too.
  18. Nudity sells. Toddlers love being naked, remember. It is a great seller to say ‘because you can use the potty now, you can go naked at home’. If there are smaller babies around who haven’t potty trained yet, you might even contrast, perhaps: ‘remember, before you learned to use the potty, you had to be in diapers all day and couldn’t go naked, either’.
  19. Let’s pee together’. This was one of the best pieces of advice I got when I was struggling with ‘cueing’ Nica to pee: “Pee with her.” It works well, often, say before leaving the house, to say ‘let’s go do our last pee before we leave, together’ and we take her potty to the toilet and each take a seat and do our thing. It works when her dad does it, too.
  20. Put yourself in their shoes. What would make you WANT to pee in a potty (rather than on the floor/in nature?) This little thought-experiment really worked for me. I won’t even tell you what came up for me (though much of it is peppered in this post). The real benefit comes from you doing it for yourself and imagining what would make you want to go in a potty rather than a diaper or on the floor, if you were a kid (both such easy options). And we are not looking for solutions that work just once. And you don’t want them to get hooked on praise or smarties (‘cos frankly they already want those things and if potty is just a means to that end you may not have achieved much). What you want is for them to want to eliminate in a potty for its own sake, that is the end goal. What would make you want that? Go!
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Do you have any tips and tricks you would add to this list? What has really worked in gently and respectfully potty training your kids?

16 thoughts on “20 Top tips for toilet training

    • Hey Clare,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. I love your blog. Your last post is still echoing inside me – let’s see if it starts any landslides of thoughts to share on my blog, too :)

      Ahh, ‘readiness’…. I guess the big question would be what do you mean by ‘ready’? This word can certainly polarise people when it comes to potty learning. Did you read this post http://ecsimplified.com/elimination_communication-myth-it-will-psychologically-damage-my-baby-to-start-toilet-training-this-early/? I have kind of been pursusade by my EC friends and by the literature on world practices that there is not a ‘too early’ when it comes to potty training. My own husband is Chinese and was on the potty as an infant (from around 6 months) and that is completely normal in that culture. I have heard no stories of maladjusment or bedwetting in his family nor have I ever heard that China has a problem with children in this area, have you? It is also common in parts of Africa, Eastern Europe and India.

      The pattern I do see emerging (as I mentioned to Jen), just from speaking to moms in real life, here on the blog and in the LEM facebook community it seems you really see ECers and other early potty trainers celebrating their methods as successful. I have also heard from earnest, gentle parents who tell me they waited until their kids literally asked to use the potty and ditch the diapers. But that comes much later – when kids are at least 3 if not 4 or older. So if you start before 27 months or so you’ll probably be alright and if you start after 3 (when they are ‘ready’) you might well be home and dry (so to speak), too. It is the people who started when their kids were around 2.5 that come back with the real horror stories, right? So it seems to me, even though this is purely and completely anecdotal at this point, that it is not so much that older kids are ready as “don’t potty train a two year old unless you are up for a big ol’ power struggle”. Does that fit in with your experience, too?

      I will say, though, that honestly (steeped as I now am in an EC-ish point of view), to assume that kids need to consciously understand and be able to discuss pottying before they can do it seems a little surprising and even weird. I mean we don’t wait for kids to ask for food with words to start feeding them solids, right? But we do move with them, we watch and we ‘dance’ to their rythm. I think it can be the same way with potty training and so it is the world over that parents learn to read babies cues and help them pee or poo, diaper-free as soon as they can sit up and sometimes even sooner. And those kids seem perfectly able and ready… but hey, as I keep saying I am no expert. I am learning as I go and I am learning the most through this extended dialogue with you all, on various channels.

      Thank you Clare and thank you all,

  1. Thank you for your generous offering. We are just beginning the process of THINKING about potty training and I see your posts as essential to creating a foundation of knowledge from which to build. You are conscious pioneers!!! Thank you thank you thank you!


    • Thanks. I hardly think I offer a very safe and solid foundation though. This was kind of meant for people already working on it or who had read a bit and wanted to know the inside scoop from somebody who had been trying some of the techniques.

      I am coming more and more round to the thought that it is all in the timing. For most kids, the important thing is to not start after about 27-ish months. At about 2.5 kids most often go through the important and necessary stage of discovering and exploring individuation, separation and flexing their will. This is not a time to make pottying an issue, imo. It seems parents who do it before report succes and parents who wait till much later (at least 3 if not 4) often have success, it is the 2.5ers that often come back with the horror stories… but this is purely anecdotal at this point, so yes, keep reading. Good luck my friendly cross-country co-pioneers :)

  2. I love your list (except number 3 — I’m big on water and ixnay on the uicejay :) ).

    I so, so, so agree with you about bribery and also the potty not being a toy. I was reading this website yesterday (http://ohcrappottytraining.com/blog/the-major-roadblocks-to-potty-training-success/) and I was like “yes yes yes…!” Finally, someone else sees the weirdness (and counter-productiveness) of “getting used to the potty” by putting it out to play with or sitting on it with clothes. That is just weird…and dare I say…kind of gross?

    And I just don’t get the potties that sing. My toilet doesn’t sing, or buzz or twinkle, or fake flush. Okay, so the talking Japanese toilets are kind of cool, but those are functional :)

    I like number 12 a lot too. Putting yourself in their shoes and think about where the internal motivation is.

    I think one of the pitfalls of starting toileting really late (other than not realizing that diapers are parent induced) and letting them choose is that…well…they may choose to go in their pants! One shouldn’t provide a choice they aren’t willing to follow through on!

    • Hmm… I’d love to debate you on the 3rd point… if only I knew what ‘ ixnay on the uicejay’ – hahah. Thinking your key board tilted then. Also suspect you don’t live in a small flat with white carpet ,if having a potty at hand doesn’t strike you as sensible.

      Yeah, the bribery would just be so out of kilter with everything we do in our parenting. I would be very sad if that were the only route :( And yes I saw that video too and until then didn’t realise everybody didn’t think like me, you know? I assumed everybody would treat the potty as a potty and ensure their kids understood its use… apparently not. Did you buy her e-book? I am really curious about it. But I should say I did put the potty out weeks before and let it just be there. I also did that with sippy cups and other objects I was introducing, so this seemed just fine and normal to me. Is that a contradiction?

      Hahahah – I totally agree with not providing a choice unless you are willing to follow through on it (and have said so elsewhere) but hadn’t thought of it quite that way before. You are soooo right. Lol.

      • ahh, latin had not occurred to me. I honestly thought it was a typo – lol. How plebe-ey do I feel? :p

        Yes, this site is intersting. Very visual. I like it and might re-post it on fb. Indeed, DD didn’t have any juice for the first year and then at first it was mostly carrot (dilluted) or coconut (also dilluted). Then, at around 18 months she discovered apple juice. I mix it in at a rate of 9 parts water, 1 part juice – no exageration (so it is a tenth of the ‘sugar’ content pictured here). And yes, you are right it is sweet, of course. But I would say the issue I have with this picture is that it shows it all in lumps of processed white sugar. The sugar in apple juice is of course of a different chemical composition, it is fructose, which is sweeter but less harmful to the body. Okay, actually that last bit is hugely controversial, I know, the alkaline people, for example will tell you ALL sugar is acid-forming. Fine. True. But fructose is, for example, less likely to cause cavities. My point is this cute article breaks down the quantity of sugars in each beverage (which is very important information) but does not distinguish between qualities and not all sugars are equal, in my view.

        Still, I am probably saying all this because I feel a little guilty that I slid off the ‘perfect diet’ wagon on this one…. but at the same time, I feel okay with this level of compromise for our family, at this time. Ask me again in a year. Maybe I will have gone pure green or something like that. Who knows?

        As a friend of mine says ‘we all have our comfortable level of hypocrisy’ or in this case we all have our comfortable level of introducing unhealthy stuffs. Our diets aren’t perfect

      • I haven’t bought the ebook; not in my budget right now.

        You know it never occurred to me to put things out to sit as an introduction. If I had something I just gave it or put it as a reminder for *myself* to give it that day or the next. I had no thought or concerns about it. Occasionally I would have a toy out she was just a wee bit too small for, but kept it there because I knew it would be used very soon and I would try it now and then or find a use for it in a way she could manage.

        Maybe it is how each person sees the object? My mom told me one day that my 4-5mo LO sitting on my lap would “hurt herself with that” . And I responded, “With a spoon!?” It was a rather big tablespoon with a thick metal spoon part and thick wooden handle. She had *rattles* that were more questionable. LOL I did give her a sippy to play with, but to me it was a toy (it was colorful and had her name on it) we used only open cups of various sizes and straws no sippys (but that’s another post LOL)

        I did have the bjorn out in the bathroom not used right away, but would periodically test for size and comfort as she grew so I could transition from the tupperware bowl comfortably for us both. I didn’t put it out to get used to, kwim?

        I guess I don’t understand why put the potty out just to introduce if it won’t be used right away? What is the advantage/purpose? See, too me, an introduction involves interacting with the object in some way with its intended use.

  3. Thanks for these posts. Like you, I’ve been looking online for testimonials about if this 3 day thing works. I’ve just finished day 2, with my 2 year old twin boys. We’ve done a lot of EC since they were 3 months old. But I noticed that they decreased their use over the past couple months, even though they TOTALLY understand when they need to go. We just never pushed the issue. I think it was still wise to try EC, b/c 1) they understood their bodily functions and 2) we used likely half the diapers we would have without it! However, since they understand, I don’t want them to think that potty or diaper is acceptable! I want them to know potty is where “it” goes!

    I appreciate the tips and moral support! How is it going now? Totally accident free? Or still periodic incidents?

    Thanks again,
    Pregnant, Mama of twins,

  4. Pingback: Two and potty trained: a real world review of how the ’3-day’ method worked for us « Loving Earth Mama

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