Learning how to potty train a toddler can be challenging. Take out the guesswork with these easy potty training tips, tricks, and methods to follow.
The first time my toddler peed in the potty, I had no idea how to clean it up. As in, I didn’t even know I was supposed to flush the pee down the toilet (don’t ask where I ended up disposing it).
I had been so nonchalant about potty training, only going so far as at least buying a potty. But I was pretty clueless about how to actually start potty training, so that when my toddler actually peed a few drops into the potty, I didn’t know what to do.
And I wish I could say the rest of potty training went without a hitch after those initial tinkles. Instead, after three kids, I learned from many mistakes about how to potty train a toddler, many more accidents, and, admittedly, regretful arguments.
If you’re here, I’m sure you can relate.
Maybe, like me, you don’t know when to start potty training, much less how. You want to review a few different ideas and see what sounds like a good fit for you and your child.
Or maybe you could get your toddler to sit on the potty for a few minutes, but he won’t actually do anything. Of course, the minute he stands up, he starts peeing… all over the floor. Perhaps he won’t even sit on the potty (at least without a diaper), kicking and screaming if you so much as mention it.
Maybe yet, you’re convinced he shows all the signs of potty training readiness, and get frustrated when he won’t actually use it. Nothing you try is working and you don’t know what to do anymore.
How to potty train a toddler
Below are the tips I wish I knew when I was in your shoes. We’ll go over tactical ways to get your toddler to actually use the darn potty, as well as neat hacks to try when he simply refuses. But more important, I want you to focus more on your mindset about potty training, and the “big picture” goals you have for your toddler.
Because at the end of the day, you want your toddler to be able to use the potty, right? Well, spoiler alert: he will, no doubt. I have yet to see a kindergartener not use the toilet all by himself. So relax and stay calm, because successful potty training starts… with you.
So, let’s get started!
1. Only start potty training if your toddler wants to
Here’s the thing with potty training: it’s actually supposed to be easy. Yup, despite what you heard, potty training should never be an “issue” between you and your toddler. That is, when he’s ready and willing.
You see, none of what you do matters if he’s not willing. Potty training is one of the few things kids have absolute control over. So much so that once he’s ready, potty training should be a piece of cake.
So, how do you know if your toddler wants to potty train?
- He’s interested in potty training. You don’t have to “force” anything on him, from sitting on the potty to trying new undies.
- He tells you when he has to use the potty or needs a diaper change. He might mention it before he has to go, or even if he’s already gone in his diapers. In short, he’s aware of his bodily functions and wants to try the potty as an alternative to diapers.
- He’s predictable. You know pretty much when he pees and poops, like after naps or before meals.
- He can pull his pants up and down. After all, he has to learn to do this himself to use the potty independently.
Most important, potty readiness is like a “light bulb moment,” where everything just “clicks” when he’s ready and willing. He has to want to use the potty for potty training to work—signs of readiness aren’t enough.
And if he’s not, it’s certainly not worth the fight. He shouldn’t throw a fit about potty training—that’s your first and clearest clue that he’s not ready. Simply try again, even as little as a week later, and gauge his reaction then.
2. Give your toddler potty training tools and gear
The first and biggest part of potty training is up to your toddler. That is, his willingness to give it a try. The other part is up to you: creating a potty training environment.
After all, you can’t expect a toddler to purchase his own potty or borrow potty training books at the library. Instead, this is where you come in. You can provide the tools and environment to make potty training successful. For instance, you can:
- Buy and introduce a potty to your toddler. Without any pressure or expectations, explain that he can use this potty to pee and poop. Place it in the bathroom, so he associates potty use with going to the bathroom.
- Read potty training books (I list several potty training books for toddlers here) and watch videos online. This will help him understand that all kids learn to eventually use the potty. Give him things to do while he sits on the potty to help him relax.
- Ditch the diapers and pull-ups completely and put him in undies. He’ll feel the discomfort of accidents more with using undies rather than diapers, or he won’t want to soil his fun new undies. Either way, hopefully he’ll be more willing to give the potty a chance.
- Give him books and toys he can play with while sitting on the potty. This will help him relax and focus less on passing bowel movements. Give him a doll or stuffed animal that he can “teach” to use the potty. We often learn best by teaching what we ourselves are trying to learn!
3. Create a potty training action plan
A solid action plan can also help you learn how to potty train a toddler. While you won’t find a one-size-fits-all method, you can try different ways to fit potty training into your life:
- Keep your toddler bare-bottom. Using the three-day potty training method, keep your toddler bare-bottom at home, so that he can be better aware of his need to pee and poop. Set aside three days and commit to following through with the plan for smooth potty training.
- Take him to the potty frequently. Another method is to set your timer for every hour or two and take your toddler to the potty. Keep him in undies and have him sit frequently enough that he just might pee or poop.
- Use the potty after regular parts of the day. Weave potty training into your daily life by taking him to the potty after common tasks and events. You might sit him down after a nap, first thing in the morning, or after meals, for instance. The best times to take him are when you notice he tends to pee or poop in his diapers.
- Offer lots of water. If he struggles with using the potty, help him along by offering plenty of water. A fun sippy cup will encourage him to drink often throughout the day. And temporarily avoid the “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) that can constipate him.
- Tell him when you’re going to the potty. Give him a sense of belonging and community by reminding him that we all use the potty. We all had to learn to ditch diapers and eventually sit on a potty or toilet to pee and poop. You might even take him with you when you use the bathroom to demystify the whole process.
4. Provide support and encouragement
Rewards and bribes are often tied with potty training, especially when parents see an immediate change in their toddlers. After all, who can resist an M&M if it means sitting on a potty?
Except I disagree. As I’ve said, potty training should be easy—no bribes or typical rewards necessary. Bribing encourages external rewards like new toys, rather than internal rewards like the pride of a job well done.
I learned this all too well when I hung a “pee pee poster” outside our bathroom wall. Each time my toddler peed in the potty, I drew a bright yellow star to mark his progress. Except after a while, these stars began to lose their luster. So much so that he regressed, the appeal of new stars no longer an incentive.
But the minute I took the poster down, he began to use the potty once more. So, what are a few ways you can provide support and encouragement?
- Offer simple praise, especially for first-time milestones. A high-five, quick dance, and “You did it!” are enough to let your toddler know he’s on the right track. That said, don’t overdo it each time he pees if he’s been doing it for weeks on end. Instead, look for milestones and progress.
- Focus on progress, not perfection. We assume that potty training success means an accident-free potty experience. But many steps had to be taken for that “success” to happen, steps that need to be recognized. So, acknowledge your toddler not just for peeing and pooping in the potty, but for the progress he makes. Maybe he told you he needed to go or at least tried to sit on the potty. These steps in the right direction are worth your attention, too.
- Let him “overhear” your praise. Mention his progress to someone else, loud enough that he can hear. You might say to your partner, “Oh, guess what? He peed in the potty three times today! And he even washed his hands without me asking.”
- Expect accidents. Accidents are inevitable, in the beginning and after it seems like your toddler should’ve gotten potty training down by now. They’re going to happen more with poop than with pee. Stay calm by “factoring in” accidents from the get-go, knowing that they’re part of the process.
- Focus on staying calm. Getting upset—whether about accidents or your toddler’s refusal—can lead to regression, shame, and confusion. Instead, respond with a matter-of-fact demeanor, or at least stay neutral. Yup, even when he’s been having accidents galore or you feel pressured to get him potty trained. Staying calm sets the tone and makes your toddler more likely to take to potty training.
Despite the challenges of potty training, it all boils down to this: potty training should be easy. And the only way it’ll be easy is when your toddler is willing and ready to give it a try. If he continues to fight you about it, let it go until another time—the power struggles are likely keeping his defenses up.
Think of potty training as a combination of two things: your toddler’s willingness, and your support. When he’s eager to potty train, you can then provide the resources and environment to help him succeed and do his best.
Give potty training a shot. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you can both stay calm, eager, and willing to keep going. Yes, even if at first you have no idea how to clean pee from a potty.
Get more tips on how to potty train a toddler:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Won’t Poop on the Potty
- Your Toddler Refuses to Sit on the Potty? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry
- How to Respond to Your Toddler’s Poop Anxiety
- Secrets to Fixing Potty Training Accidents
- How to Potty Train Gradually
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