Potty learning is such a huge part of toddlerdom, and of parenting! How many parents have I heard say that they just can’t handle or just aren’t looking forward to potty training another child? Many! So, while I’ve talked about our method of potty learning before, I think it is worth revisiting, since Elliott is now potty learning.
I’d like to talk more about the nitty gritty of the process we employ this time around. I think that articles like my last one, and this fabulous one that I read on Natural Parents Network last week, have a lot of great informative tips, sometimes people really need a step by step process of how someone else has done something.
My process with Sofi was not good. She was ready just before 2 years old, and I was massively pregnant with Walter, overwhelmed, and not ready to do it with her. So, I kept her in diapers to not have to clean up in the house. I was too hot to go outside with her, so I kept her inside. I was too big to reach over and get her diapers on and off easily, so I put off taking her to the potty. Consequently, she learned to poop on the potty just before 2, and has done that consistently since. However, she was almost 3 before she was actually ready to try full time potty use again, and it was a lot more nerve wracking for all of us involved.
So, when Walter decided he was ready, although the initial timing wasn’t good for me (he decided to potty learn on a trip from MO to OH, just me and the kids, for my grandfather’s funeral), I didn’t brush him off like I had Sofi. I jumped right in and got to work! He potty learned so easily and effortlessly that I am using that same process again with Elliott and it is going just as smoothly. Instead of potty learning being a process akin to pulling teeth for us, we are all enjoying it.
The method I’ve used with the boys looks like this:
1. Wait until the child is showing some interest. Otherwise, it is going to be a battle.
2. When the child is interested, begin showing him or her where the appropriate place to go is. For us, we have a little potty chair, a potty ring for the adult potty, and we let them go in the grass outside.
3. When the child asks to try to use the potty, take him or her to the potty, or other acceptable place.
4. When the child is able to ask and go in the designated area a few times, start giving the child a bit of bottomless time each day. Without a diaper, the child will really begin to understand when he or she is going. Use this as a gauge to see how well the child is able to make it to the designated area, consistently. If he or she isn’t able to get it to where it goes, consistently, then he or she is probably not yet ready for this project. MANY children will be interested before they are ready to do it full time. Trying to force a child to go because he or she is interested is a losing battle, and it can make all kinds of problems in other areas of your time together. I highly recommend waiting a little longer for the child to be ready. Forcing can actually cause it to take longer for the child to be out of diapers/using the potty all of the time.
5. If the child is consistently going in the same place, it is time to leave them diaperless most of the time. For us, at this stage, we take off Elliott’s diaper first thing in the morning when he wakes up. He is diaperless all morning. When he goes down for a nap, we put a diaper back on him, or if we are going out somewhere, he usually gets a diaper. Then, he is diaperless for the afternoon, and gets a diaper again at bedtime. So, he is basically diaperless unless he is sleeping, or we are out of the house. And when I say diaperless, I mean what we refer to as “nakey bakey” at our house, which means naked bottom.
6. When the child is not using his or her diaper, even when away from the house, and is asking to go to the potty instead, he or she is probably ready for regular bottoms away from home. Some people opt for trainers, some skip straight to the regular underpants. With Sofi, we tried desperately to find trainers that actually absorbed liquid, as the Gerber training pants did not. We finally bought her some from Amazon, but she was really through the need for them by the time we found them. Walter did not like the constriction of trainers, so he went straight into boxers. Elliott is almost to this point and occasionally wears his boxers as well.
7. When the child is wearing underpants away from home without having accidents almost all of the time, and is able to remember to stop what he or she is doing at home to go to the designated area to go almost all of the time, he or she is probably ready for underpants at home, too. The problems with underpants from the beginning, in my experience, are a few. First of all, it is much faster to make it to the potty with nothing on the child’s bottom to get in the way. Second, the feeling of having something next to the skin often lets a child forget that it isn’t a diaper. Not having anything there is a new sensation that helps them to keep remembering to stop and go to the designated area when the urge comes. And when the habit of going potty is formed, putting bottoms back on doesn’t seem to confuse like it does when the child is first learning.
The next step is night time, and it is almost a separate ball game. A child who can go on the potty all of the time during the day is not necessarily ready for being diaperless at night. However, some children could go without a diaper at night long before they are ready to go without during the day. This is another area where it is really best to let the child lead and go with what the child needs. If your child is trying not to wet his or her diaper, and can’t control it, there is no point arguing. Many children do not develop this ability until they are in elementary school. No amount of coercion, punishment, bribery, or sticker charts is going to change the amount of control a person has over his or her body. Better to just keep using a diaper at night for a while longer. Some children aren’t quite old enough to be capable of communicating the concept of staying dry all night. If that is the case, just keep that diaper on at night.
But, if you have a child who is still wearing diapers at night, it is important that this is the ONLY time the child wears diapers. As soon as the child is up in the morning, the diaper should come off. This was one of our struggles with Sofi, as well. If we didn’t take the diaper off right away when she woke up, it left her confused. When the urge hit, she had to consciously remember whether she was in a diaper and could just go ahead and go, or whether she was in underpants and she needed to stop and go to the potty. Often, she would simply forget to think about it, and we would have an accident. When we finally got consistent about taking that diaper off as soon as she was awake, she stopped having accidents very quickly afterward.
On the other side of that coin, you may have a child like Walter, who had learned by about 6 months that he hated to be wet at night and he could hold it until he was ready to be changed. If this is the case, go right ahead and lose the diaper at night as soon as the child is doing well going to the potty! This will also help to solidify for the child that the diapers are done.
It is a good idea to protect the mattress somehow when there is a little one potty learning, as well. There are vinyl mattress protectors available in most stores that carry bedding. These go under the sheets and keep the mattress dry if the child does have an accident. We don’t like the off-gassing of the chemicals from these types of plastics – especially where our children sleep – so we opt for wool blankets under the sheets. These offer a high level of moisture protection for the mattress as well. Fleece fabric is another good alternative. If you place it with the fluffy side down against the mattress, it will help to keep the liquid off the mattress.
And the last thing that I am going to say about our process is this; cloth diapering makes potty learning so much easier. So much easier, in fact, that I would recommend to parents who are working on potty learning that they purchase enough cloth diapers for a few days (which should not be very many, if your child is ready for potty learning). Disposable diapers pull the liquid away from the child so that he or she can’t really make the connection between production and being uncomfortable. It just takes a while for that feeling of wetness to be present in a disposable. But in a cloth diaper, the child knows right away what has happened. This is especially true if you are using flats or prefolds without some type of lining between it and the child. Prefolds (used with plastic pants) typically cost between 1 or 2 dollars each. To buy 7 or so of these types of diapers, even just for potty learning, is just as cost effective as buying a package of Pull-Up style diapers that are popular for potty learning. Plus, the cloth diapers are a one time expense where disposable potty learning diapers are going to be a recurring expense.
And, that is our entire process for potty learning! What would you add? Or what is different about your potty learning process?