Potty training can be the worst. But it's also a chance for your toddler to grow, gain confidence, and have some quality time with mom or dad. Ahead, some tips to survive the experience.
1. Focus as much as possible on your child.
This is not a situation for multitasking, Jamie Glowacki, author of Oh Crap! Potty Training, tells GoodHousekeeping.com. "Watch your child very closely for the first couple days to see when they're ready to go." That can be hard, she admits, but she encourages parents to consider it a bonding experience. "Give this your full attention," she says. "I see parents posting about having trouble potty training or how bored they are stuck in the bathroom, and all I can think is, 'Well, you're on Facebook.' It can be hard, but give your child as much of your attention as you can during this time. It will pay off."
2. Never ask "Do you need to potty?"
That's Glowacki's cardinal rule to avoiding a power struggle. Instead, she prompts children with a statement, a choice or a challenge:
"A statement is 'Come, let's potty.' Or, 'It's time to go potty now.'
A choice is, 'Would you like to go first or should I?' Or, 'Do you want to go in the big potty or the little potty?'
And a challenge is great for little stinkers: 'I'll race you to the bathroom.' Or 'I wonder if you know how to potty now?'"
Hey, whatever it takes to teach a kid healthy attitudes about the bathroom — and the self-control to hold it until they're at the toilet.
3. Solve stage fright with Play-Doh.
"Poop is the hardest thing about potty training," Glowacki says. "There's a lot of fear and anxiety around it. Kids sit and they can't release." To help, Glowacki has a list of things to try, the first of which is Play-Doh. Sometimes, a child needs to see what pooping looks like. The best (admittedly gross way) is Play-Doh. She also suggests having a child blow bubbles or sing a song. "Singing loosens the lips, which loosens the sphincter, just like in childbirth," she says.
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4. Don't offer a diaper for poop.
Sometimes, an otherwise potty-trained child will request a diaper when it's time for No. 2. Try not to give in, Glowacki says. "It's a habit. A child who can request a diaper is aware of the feeling. They want the conditions to be right for them. They have some fear and anxiety and they don't know what to do. You need to work through that."
5. Use a coffee filter to make messes easier to clean up.
Once your little one does poop, you're left to dispose of the mess. ("Oh, fun!" said no parent ever.) Make it easier with this tip from Mama Frankenstein: Set a coffee filter in the potty, so all you need to do is pop the filter into the diaper pail. Boom.
6. Keep their eyes on the prize.
Some kids work well with a reward system. To potty train her tricky toddler, Laura Rossi of My So-Called Sensory Life motivated him with a clear jar filled with prizes, like Matchbox Cars, that he got to pick from each time he pooped. Make sure you let your child see, touch, and discuss the jar, Rossi adds. Then leave it where the child can see — and associate it with going potty.
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7. Deploy sugar with caution.
Experts will tell you not to bribe your toddler with sweets. Other parents will tell you that the time will come when you'll have to bribe your toddler with sweets.
8. Track progress on a chart.
If your kid loves to have a goal, create a chart and make it a game. (This is a great way to keep track for the prize jar too.)
9. Measure the toilet paper.
If there's one part of potty training that kids love, it's unspooling the toilet paper. To keep them from clogging the pipes, blogger Amanda suggests making a colorful line on the wall to show how much toilet paper they should really use. (She marked hers at five squares down.)
10. Grab a stool.
When kids use an adult-size toilet, make sure they have a stool for their feet. Not only will it help them get up onto the seat, it'll be something for them to brace against if they have to poop. Plus, it's generally more comfortable.
11. Make washing up fun.
Sure, you've gotten your kid to go on the toilet. But the next challenge? Getting your kid to remember to wash his or her hands. To help, blogger Sarah at Must Have Mom made Lego soap. She removed the label of a clear soap bottle, added in Legos and voila! An enticing soap bottle. If Legos aren't your kid's thing, she says it also works with Barbie shoes, beads, or glitter.
12. Make sure they can reach the water!
You can buy a fun faucet extender, or make your own out of an empty shampoo or soap bottle. Kids love that it looks like a little water slide.
13. Keep an open mind about timing.
There's a pervasive culture that says potty training takes three days, explains Glowacki. But the first three are just getting a child comfortable — long-term potty training usually takes 7-10 days to sink in, if not longer. If you put a time limit on it, you put pressure on your child and that will backfire," she says. So don't be too hard on yourself — or your kid. Accidents happen, just stock up on undies.
14. Make it a coloring activity.
To keep bored kids on the ivory throne long enough, give them washable or dry erase markers and let them color on the lid. (First, test markers on a small area of the lid to make sure they wipe off.) An added bonus: Turing kids backwards means less likelihood of sprays and messes.
15. Memorize this song.
16. So get some good reading material. It will keep your kid sitting on the potty (instead of bopping around elsewhere in the bathroom). Try Potty, Potty Power, or P is for Potty, which stars everybody's favorite toddler, Elmo.
17. Be prepared for when you're on the go.
Once you've mastered the potty skills at home, you've got to bring them into the real world. Depending on your destination, some extra gear might help. You might want to buy a foldable travel seat cover to make a public toilet smaller for little kids, or a portable potty that comes with disposable bags you can use if you find yourself in an situation where there are no public bathrooms at hand.
By Asher Fogle and Marisa LaScala