Potty training doesn’t always happen in a matter of days or weeks. Gradual potty training can be a more relaxed and effective method for your child.
The three-day potty training method doesn’t work for every child. Parents still give it a try, especially with how well it seems to work for everyone else. But those three days can come and go with children still in diapers.
Potty training, like many milestones, makes us wonder whether our kids will ever get it. But, like my kids’ pediatrician told us, you won’t see kindergarteners in diapers. It will happen.
Still, that doesn’t make it easier when we expect our kids to be potty trained in three days and they aren’t.
I potty trained my eldest in three days, but I didn’t do the same with my twins. In fact, I don’t think I ever “started” potty training them. The learning process was such a slow approach I knew I had to share it with other parents who wanted something similar.
How to implement gradual potty training
With gradual potty training, the “start” and “end” dates are a blur. You won’t have an official potty training day, and you won’t feel like your child has mastered it 100% by a certain time.
Instead, it starts early with preparing for potty training. You’ll do things like let your child sit on the potty fully-clothed, and read books about the potty.
Give your child an opportunity to wear undies
Seems simple, right? Your child will better understand how to use the potty when he doesn’t have the crutch of his diapers. At home, put him in undies and explain he’ll pee in the potty, not his undies. Show examples of older siblings doing the same, and that he can have a chance to try it himself.
Get the right gear
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Potty training doesn’t need fancy equipment. But you do need the items that work for your child. You’ll also need to come equipped with items to make potty training easier for everyone.
I suggest starting with a floor potty like this one:
It’s messier to clean, but much easier for your child to sit and stand on his own. Down the line, you can get a potty that goes over a regular toilet seat like this one:
Your child won’t be able to sit on it as easily and it might feel daunting to him. But it’s much easier to clean and transitions well to a regular potty. This seat will also need a bathroom step so he can climb on and off.
- Change of clothes
- Plastic bag (to put trash or soiled clothes in)
- Diapers or pull ups
- Diaper wipes
- Sanitizer wipes (keep these handy in your bathroom as well)
- Hand sanitizer
Use the potty at regular or opportune times
At many preschools including my twins’, teachers will set aside a time to use the potty. The kids line up at regular times of the day, whether they asked to use the potty or not. This makes it much easier on teachers who have several students to care for. But it’s also a useful practice even at home.
Start with mornings and evenings. Take your child to the potty right after waking up. Then try again before bath time and pajamas. I also like to take my kids before we leave the house. Set regular times throughout the day to take your child to the potty.
Then, you’ll notice patterns with your child and find optimal times to take him. For instance, one of my twins will almost always poop a few minutes after breakfast. He’s so consistent, I now take him to the potty at 7:45am every morning.
Look for cues
Remember when your child was a baby and you looked for sleep cues? Though hit or miss, they helped you decide when he was sleepy or not.
Cues also work when you potty train gradually.
Look for signs that show your child needs to use the potty. Maybe that’s him running to the corner for privacy because he feels the urge to poop. Or his face looks anxious and he tiptoes back to his room. Maybe it’s when he’s hopping around doing your typical pee-pee dance.
These cues reveal opportunities to take him to the potty. They also show your child what he can do should he feel these signs again.
Don’t use rewards
I’m one of those few parents who don’t use rewards during potty training. Praise, yes, but don’t use toys, stickers or other privileges as a means to get your child to use the potty. Rewards don’t work in the long run and establish bad habits.
Instead, celebrate every effort and success, no matter how small. Your child will see that using the potty is a challenge he can overcome. He’ll feel proud of his accomplishments and use that as his internal motivation to keep going—not the stickers hanging on the wall.
Praise your child
Done correctly, praise shows your child the result you want to happen. Obvious reasons to praise include peeing and pooping in the potty. But you’ll also want to praise your child for other less obvious achievements.
Let’s say your child told you he had to pee. You both ran to the potty, except not fast enough: he peed all over his undies instead.
Your first reaction might be to lecture, or perhaps show disappointment he didn’t pee in the potty. Instead, praise him for telling you he had to pee. After all, isn’t that an accomplishment in itself?
Even if all these actions resulted in a potty accident, praise your child for:
- Telling you he has to pee or poop
- Going to the bathroom by himself
- Pulling his pants and undies down
- Wearing undies
- Giving potty training a chance
Your child will have accidents. You won’t be able to avoid it. He might leave a heavy puddle of pee on the couch. He might poop at the park and you’re forced to change him in the van and throw his soiled clothes away. He might even have an accident right after you asked him if he needs to use the potty.
The examples above? They’ve all happened with my kids.
Get comfortable with accidents. Don’t think of them as failures on either your or your child’s part. They’re inevitable and happens to the brightest kids and most organized moms.
Expecting accidents reminds you not give him grief when they happen. It also welcomes more opportunity for your child to wear undies when you’re not afraid of potential accidents.
Wait a week if your child is hesitant
If at any time your child feels upset about the process, postpone it for a week.
Potty training should not feel like punishment. He might feel anxious or cautious, but he should also look forward to it. If at any time he cries or you feel like you’re forcing him, stop. Wait a week, then try again.
And most important…
Set aside your expectations and frustrations
This isn’t about you. Deadlines or expectations of when your child should be potty trained add to the pressure. Instead, accept your child’s timeline.
Feeling stressed can translate to a power struggle between you two. And when that happens, he’ll feel less inclined to use the potty when he knows it’s such a hot topic. The thing holding him back wouldn’t even be his own developmental stages. It’d be how potty training has become a contested issue.
Instead, relax. Distance yourself from potty training and don’t take it personally. It’s not something to argue about. The more carefree and encouraging you can be, the more inclined he’ll be to give it a shot.
I’ve potty trained both ways: over the weekend and over several months. The result? All three kids now use the potty.
Set aside any pressure to potty train within a given time frame. You don’t have to follow a quick path to potty training if it doesn’t feel comfortable or it doesn’t work for you. You’re not doomed because your child still isn’t potty trained after a weekend. Even the three-day potty system still includes accidents down the line.
But with gradual potty training, you base the process on your child’s timeline, not yours.
Your child will learn how to use the potty, even if it takes a little longer. You won’t be packing diapers in his kindergarten bag, after all.
Get more potty training tips:
- How to Potty Train a Toddler (Without the Power Struggles)
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Preparing for Potty Training
- 8 Simple Ways to Prepare for Potty Training
- How to Potty Train a Toddler in 3 Days
- Toddler Routines: How to Structure Your Day
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