How I Gently Potty Trained Our Two Year Old

potty learning edit 1

I’m typically an attachment parenting, Montessori-type momma but after a quick internet search on “Montessori potty training” and “gentle potty learning,” I realized I missed the boat in age requirements.  Apparently, anything after age two is considered potty training, not potty learning. Whoops. My son was already 26 months. So, I searched Amazon for resources and found a book called Potty Training in 3 Days that was free. Free sounded like a pretty reasonable price to me, so I downloaded it and began to read. In all honesty, I didn’t read the whole thing. Halfway through, I realized a few things. 1) This book was not written by a mother, but rather a “potty training expert.” Okkkkay red flag. 2) She believes children are manipulative (but I really believe her method manipulates children, not the other way around). So, halfway through the book, I gave up. It did, however, leave me with enough information and motivation to get started finding my own unique method to potty training. I scoured the internet for natural and gentle approaches to potty training and gleaned enough information and ideas here and there to piece together a potty training/learning method that worked for us. Here is my advice based on the unique combination of tips that allowed me to potty train my son in one weekend. I don’t guarantee that your child will be potty trained in one weekend if you take my advice. Just use what resonates with YOU and leave the rest. Your child will potty train at their own pace and there’s no need to rush it.

Before You Get Started – Your Mindset and Shopping List:

  1. Potty training is totally natural and normal (which is why Montessori and natural parenting teaches you NOT to treat it like a big deal) but my mommy brain just screams “Oh my gosh my baby is growing up!” It is a big deal and a big transition to go from diapers to a potty and, in my thinking, that deserves a celebration! So, I tried to treat it both ways. I didn’t withhold my excitement when he used the potty for the first (or third… or eleventh) time. I kept my reaction as natural as possible. And for us, excitement (not necessarily over the top) was natural for this new skill.  I was equally as excited when my son crawled and walked and talked for the first time, though all these things are natural parts of growing up, too.
  2. Make potty a constant conversation. Read lots of new, special books about potty training before you start.  Keep them close to you the days you start potty training. We also watched the Daniel Tiger episode Prince Wednesday Goes to the Potty on repeat, pretty much. My son was obsessed with the episode for about a week before we started training. On the day of training, I found a Bear in the Big Blue House potty episode and he loved that, too. Make the whole potty training weekend all about potty. Our favorite books are:
    • The Potty Book for Boys and The Potty Book for Girls by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
      • These books are essentially the same book with either a boy or girl main character. They do a really fantastic job of explaining the potty journey from diaper to underwear and all the bumps that occur in between, as well as the reasons why it’s better to be in underwear. The whole book rhymes, too which is a major plus. It is pretty long, which is good for keeping their attention while they sit and wait on the potty.
    • Potty by Leslie Petricelli (unisex)
      • This book is mainly illustrated, with comic book type interjections. My children love it and spend lots of time staring at the pictures, as if coming up with the story line in their head as they go along. Very cute.
    • The Potty Train by David Hochman (boys)
      • Now, this is my least favorite of all the potty books we have, but my son loves it. Maybe it’s the engaging illustrations or maybe it’s the trains. I don’t know, but he wants to read it again and again. It’s short and sweet.
    • Diapers are not Forever by Elizabeth Verdick (unisex)
      • This book speaks directly to the child, rather than using a story to explain potty training. Both of my kids love this and read it again, and again, and again.
    • Princess Potty by Samantha Berger (girls)
      • My daughter absolutely loved this book. It’s a very cute, girly depiction of potty training that enchanted her (and me). It’s like a fairy tale version of potty training, complete with a happily ever after. It also included a paper crown and stickers, which we never really used for it’s purpose but nevertheless was fun to have.
    • Pirate Potty by Samantha Berger (boys)
      • This book did not disappoint! It was just as adorable as the girl version my daughter had. It tells an adorable story of a little pirate boy and surprised me with its wittiness. It included a pirate hat to adorn with stickers, which is always an appreciated bonus!
  3. Invest in lots of training pants and underwear. I had about 10 pairs of Under the Nile training underwear from my daughter’s potty training days. I also had about 6 pairs of Carter’s underwear on hand. The night before we started potty training, we went to Target and my son picked out some Paw Patrol underwear. He loves Paw Patrol.
  4. Stock up on juice, water, milk, salty snacks that will make your kid thirsty and juicy snacks like watermelon and cucumber that will fill up their bladders. The more chances your child has to use the potty, the faster this process will go.
  5. Stickers. Yes, it’s a reward. But, we needed the rewards to get started. My son is strong willed. He won’t do anything unless it’s his idea. Well, I learned that bribes work, too. I didn’t have a hard and fast rule about when he was awarded a sticker. Sometimes it was like “Hey, I’ll give you a sticker if you sit on the potty” or “Yay you went potty!!! Do you want a sticker?” I never made the reward an expectation so I didn’t have to wean him from wanting a reward later, when going to the potty became a normal aspect of life. I just used the rewards to get us started and I didn’t withhold the stickers even if he didn’t comply. It was more of a bonus.
  6. We use a Baby Bjorn Smart Potty. I like that it is close to the ground for my son to be in an optimal position for relieving himself. It is also super easy to clean because of its simple design. I have heard great things about the Baby Bjorn toilet trainer, if you choose to use the toilet from the get go. That one doesn’t slide around on the seat and it fits most toilets.

How to Get Started

  1. Pick a weekend or a couple days in a row where you’ll have some extra hands around the house. You’ll want extra hands to help with siblings, cooking, and cleaning while you follow your child around and don’t take your eyes off them for a couple of days. It is honestly exhausting, but it’ll pay off!
  2. Once the diapers are gone, they’re gone.  Go through the house with your child and throw them all away together (or pretend to throw them away but donate or save for another child). This way, when your child asks for diapers, you can honestly remind them that there are no more diapers. Buy different diapers than your regular ones for nighttime, like a nighttime training pant.
  3. I don’t recommend going bare bottomed. Training underwear allow them to feel wetness. And wetness is a very good teacher. This is why, again, you’ll need to invest in a lot of underwear. Every so often, feel the underwear with the back of your hand. If it’s dry, say “You’re still dry!” and if it’s wet say “It’s wet! You went pee in your undies. Let’s change them and next time, put your pee in the potty.”
  4. Start by using training pants during the day and diapers at naps, outings and nighttime. Then, as your child is ready, take away diapers at outings, then naps, then nighttime. We whittled away the diapers altogether within the first three days. I was confident that if we went out, the Under the Nile training pants would catch any accidents. My son took the training weekend to quit naps so that wasn’t an issue for us, but on the second night, we offered my son a diaper before bed and he said “No! I wear undies!” and fell asleep. He nursed 5 times that night and still woke up dry. The night before this, he had a full diaper when he woke up in the morning. I am now of the opinion that if you put your child in a diaper, the diaper will be used. Nighttime accidents will happen, but they’re just that – accidents.

How to Speak Potty

  1. Explain EVERYTHING. Better yet, show them. Show them how you go potty in the toilet. Tell them how they’ll be using their very own potty, too. I even took wet and dry undies and let him feel both. I explained “These undies are dry. These are wet. Dry undies are comfortable and wet undies feel cold and icky! So, keep your undies dry! You do this by putting all your pee in the potty!”
  2. Don’t get personal about it. Be very matter of fact. Say things like “It is time to go potty” and “You need to sit on the potty for one minute” instead of involving yourself: “Let’s go potty,” or asking your child questions: “Do you need to go potty now?” If they still refuse, give them options: “Would you like to go potty on the blue or pink potty/upstairs or downstairs/while reading a book or singing a song?”
  3. Do NOT under any circumstance leave your child alone. This is when accidents happen! Looks for signs your child needs to go potty – grabbing, dancing, getting upset for no reason, crossing legs – you’ll get familiar with your child’s unique signs. Although you’ll want to be super alert and aware of your child the first few days, don’t offer the potty to your child too frequently. You don’t pee every 30 minutes, neither should your child. You’ll get a feel for how long your child can go in between going potty, keeping in mind how much your child has had to eat or drink. You don’t want your child to be trained to pee every 30 minutes nor do you want your child to be interrupted from playing/learning so frequently by potty training that they develop negative feelings about going to the potty.
  4. Accidents will happen. It is important not to get emotionally involved in this. Stay calm. “It looks like you had an accident. Your undies are wet because you peed in them. Let’s change your undies and clean up. Next time, put all of your pee in the potty so your undies stay dry. Dry undies are much more comfortable than wet undies.” Whatever you say, keep it short and sweet. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to say all these things. Then, take your time changing them. Sit them on the potty to see if they have to go a little more. Then, when you put new undies on them, remind them “Dry undies! MUCH more comfortable.” You may go half the day or longer before any pee goes in the potty at all. That’s fine. Persevere. Remember, you threw out all the diapers and there’s no going back. Your child is learning what it feels like each time they have an accident.
  5. It’s a big change to go from peeing anywhere and anytime you want to going potty on a potty in a bathroom. To ease that transition, for the first couple days, we kept the potty nearby, in whatever room we were playing in. I even (gasp!) let my son set his potty down right in front of the T.V. I paused the show in one minute increments so he could concentrate on what he was doing. This was short term only. I’m talking just the first day or MAYBE two. At times when the potty isn’t being used, it is kept in the bathroom. That way, your child knows where the potty is SUPPOSED to be and that removing it from it’s usual location is an exception to the norm. I do NOT recommend keeping a potty in other rooms than the bathroom full time. I also don’t recommend doing this if your child is fine sitting in the bathroom for a while. This was a last-resort, rule-breaking exception for us. But, it worked and it didn’t do any damage.
  6. Again, it’s a big transition. Let your child help as much or as little as they want. Some kids thrive on “I do it myself.” They want to pull their undies down, sit down, wipe, dump the potty, flush the toilet, and wash their hands with minimal intervention. Some kids will want your help as much as possible.  Follow your child’s lead, moving towards independence.
  7. More than anything, ADAPT! Do what works for YOUR CHILD. You’re the mom and you know best. Trust your instincts. Trust your child. Trust them when they tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Don’t force them. This is a special time and may also be a rough time for them. Be gentle. Love them. Have fun. Let it roll. Remember that this too shall pass. In just a couple days, things will be easier. Don’t give up or you’ll just put you and your child through this again at a later time.

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