Written by: Caroline Meyer

Potty training doesn’t have to be a time for headbutting with your child. This is a big step towards your little one being able to do things for themselves. They can gain confidence as they start the steps leading from being babies to being children with their own ideas and personalities. While every child is different, there are a few tried and tested ways to help make the experience easier for both parents and toddlers. 

Stay focussed 

Potty training will be demanding of your time and attention. You will need to be quite observant to get an idea of when your child needs to go. You will need to limit your distractions and be ready to take them to the bathroom at any point. You can also try taking them with you and having them sit on the potty when you go. You may be lucky and establish a routine early on. Just know that the more you multi-task in the early stages of potty training, the longer it is going to take. When you notice or even think they may be ready to go, tell them you are taking them to the potty, and then do so. Don’t ask if they want to go as the answer will more than likely be “No”.  

Offer a challenge 

You can race them to the bathroom. You can offer choices between the small potty or the toilet (big potty). If you are using the bathroom together, challenge them to do what they need to before you finish. Judge what works for you and your little one so they learn to hold it until they get to the potty and so that going to the bathroom does not become an unpleasant situation for everyone involved. You want to develop a good attitude about using the potty instead of it being a battle of wills. 

Remove the anxiety 

Sitting on the potty can be stressful for a little one. The anxiety may also result in them being unable to release. Allow them to sing songs, blow bubbles or even just chat to you. This will often cause them to relax enough to allow the sphincters to release.  

Don’t offer alternatives 

If you offer your toddler a diaper for pooping and use the potty for urination only, they will not learn to stop using diapers until they are quite a bit older. If they are able to know the feeling and ask for a diaper, they can use the potty instead. Offering alternatives will only make things more difficult and take a lot longer. Using a diaper for pooping is a bad habit that needs to be broken as soon as possible if you have already been doing this. 

Rewards not bribes 

You should not be bribing your little ones to use the potty.  You can however, offer rewards. Have a star or sticker chart and a clear jar containing a small reward such as a little toy or something they enjoy. Show them that they need to get a certain number of stickers to reach the reward level and give the reward only once the row of stars is filled up. Keep this to a reasonable number of stars per reward (around 5 to 10) so that they don’t become despondent. For some little ones, the sticker is a reward itself. Try and avoid using sweets and sugary treats as a reward as far as possible.  

Teaching toilet paper 

You will have to assist with toilet paper use for quite some time until they learn to wipe well on their own. Measure the toilet paper use right from the start, even when you are doing the wiping so they can learn. Draw or mark the toilet paper at 4 or 5 blocks, show them how to tear it off and let them do it. This will help prevent a toilet blocked with paper or unspooled toilet paper all over the bathroom.  

A stool for the big toilet 

If your little one is using the big toilet (with a toddler seat) instead of a potty, you will need to equip them with a stool. They will use the stool to help them get up on to the seat. If they need to poop, they can also use the stool to brace against. It also relieves some of the feeling of falling off and is more comfortable. 

Teach good hygiene 

Teach your toddler about flushing and washing up afterwards. If they are using a potty, you need to empty it into the toilet. You can let your toddler flush afterwards. If they are using the big toilet, you can allow them to flush once they are done as well. Let them move the stool to the basin so they can wash up. Make it fun so they want to wash their hands after they go. Sing a song, use fun soaps or handwash and let them wash their hands themselves. If they cannot reach the water, get an extender or make your own. If it is fun and not uncomfortable, it is more likely they will wash their hands than if it becomes a chore. 

Don’t rush it 

Potty training can take a week of constant monitoring and sometimes even longer for the habits to set in. Don’t get frustrated and don’t try and rush it. Just keep at it and it will eventually kick in. Once they get it, it all becomes worthwhile. 

Make it more fun 

Using the toilet can be made more fun by allowing the toddler to sit backwards, facing the toilet seat and allowing them to draw and colour on the seat with washable markers. You can check the markers for wash-ability on the seat first. Sitting backwards actually reduces accidental sprays and makes doing their business more fun. Wash the seat after they are done so it is ready for next time. You can also provide a book to read while on the potty. This will also help keep them focussed on the task at hand instead of popping off the potty to do other things. 

Out of the home 

While you are potty training, you may not be at home all the time. If the child goes to a caregiver for some time during the day, explain that you are potty training and allow them to continue where you left off. It is best to start on a weekend, so the child has at least 2 days of potty training before they go to someone else. You can take a travel seat with you for use at public toilets or friends’ homes or a portable potty with disposable bags to use in places where a toilet may not immediately be available. Try and keep the training unbroken over a period of 5 to 7 days to get the habits set in place. 

Don’t start too early. You toddler needs to be able to recognise the feeling of needing to use the bathroom and should be able to indicate to you in some way that they need to go. If you start too soon, this can lead to frustration and stress for both of you. Once the habits are in place, you can finally say goodbye to the diapers and your toddler can wear big girl or boy underwear instead.