Potty training can begin long before your child sits on one. Learn how to start preparing for potty training with these 8 simple tips.
It’s that time: Your child has now reached an age that, for many other kids, means she might be interested in potty training.
Perhaps you’ve already given potty training a try, only for her to completely dismiss it. You’ve watched online videos and bought potty training accessories—with zero luck. So, you decided to wait and try again later, hoping this time she gets the hang of using the potty.
You might even have a deadline in mind, from the first day of preschool to a new baby on the way. Having a potty-trained child by then would make things so much easier and more convenient.
Either way, you’re ready to start fresh, this time with a clean slate to avoid the power struggles and messy potty accidents you’d rather avoid.
So—besides plenty of patience—what do you need to do to prepare for potty training? What signs of readiness should you look for?
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8 simple ways to start preparing for potty training
“I did yellow!” my two-year-old said today. He was referring to having used the potty first thing in the morning. So far my twin boys have been using the potty, thanks to encouraging its use months ago.
But despite being twins, the two couldn’t be more different with their potty use. One asks to use the potty while the other will only do so when his brother does. One doesn’t like peeing and pooping in his diaper. Meanwhile, his brother won’t bother to tell us his diaper has had poop for the last 30 minutes.
Still, even with their different interests in the potty, both have used it with success.
I truly believe that one of the reasons potty training “works” for some and not for others is the preparation that goes beforehand. Introducing the potty starts long before you begin potty training, whether you try the three-day method or take a more gradual approach.
Preparing for potty training can make the difference between a reluctant toddler to one who can finally be diaper-free and ditch the pull-ups. And thankfully, this preparation is much simpler than you might think.
Below, I share the steps I took to transition to the big changes that potty training methods can bring:
1. Introduce the potty
The first step is to simply buy a potty and bring it home. Introduce it to your child in a casual and playful manner, not something she should feel anxious or worried about.
You might even leave it out and let her start the conversation and be curious about it. Allow her to practice sitting on it to form positive associations with the potty chair.
I also recommend keeping the potty and the step stool in the bathroom, rather than as a seat she can sit on anywhere at home. Unless you’re okay with her peeing and pooping everywhere (and you might, that’s okay), it’s best to set expectations and avoid mixed messages.
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2. Have your child sit on the potty
With your toddler now familiar with the potty, start suggesting that he sit on it from time to time.
He doesn’t have to remove his clothes or diaper—even sitting on it fully dressed can crumble any hesitation he might have about the potty. Don’t make a big deal if he doesn’t want to sit without his clothes on.
But if he does sit on it undressed, it’s also okay if nothing comes out. Some days, my kids would sit on the potty for several minutes without a diaper, even if no urine ever trickled out—and that’s okay. Get your child used to the potty seat so that it won’t feel so foreign to him when the time comes to use it.
If he’s not too keen on sitting, set a timer so he knows that he won’t be on the potty forever. And to encourage him to actually pee something out, offer plenty of liquids to make peeing easier.
Anytime you mention using the potty, do so in an encouraging and positive way. You don’t want to scare him or build anxiety about this new way of peeing or pooping. Instead, treat it like an exciting next step or something to explore.
Incorporating the potty into your routine can also make it as regular as your other daily tasks. Potty use won’t seem strange, but rather something ordinary he always does.
3. Discuss how pee and poop come out of bodies
When you’ve been wearing diapers all your life, the biggest hurdle for toddlers to overcome can be the shock of seeing their pee and poop. Even the very act of peeing and pooping in a potty is pretty different from going in a diaper.
This is a good time to explain your child’s bodily functions. Talk about how pee comes out in front and the poop from the back. That this is his body’s way of staying clean inside. And reassure him that this—however new it may be to him—is normal for everybody.
Let him know that he had always been peeing and pooping this stuff out—it’s just that it had been going on the diapers. Now that he’s a big boy, he can practice getting it out into the toilet directly.
4. Take your child with you to the bathroom
One of the best ways to start preparing for potty training is to take your child with you when you use the bathroom. Depending on your comfort level, you could bring her with you inside while you pee, whether at home or in a stall at a public restroom.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea, you can show her your pee and poop in the toilet after the fact. It might seem gross, but it’s these little things that can better introduce her to using the potty. She realizes that potties and toilets don’t seem so strange when her mom uses them, too.
Use this as a chance to wash your hands in the sink and develop that habit. That way, she gets to see what you do after using the potty, making it more normal when she has to do the same.
5. Buy undies
Nothing can inspire the potty training process more than getting to use underpants. Introduce undies in a fun yet casual way, mentioning that you get to wear undies since you use the toilet bowl. And more importantly, she gets to wear undies herself and can even help pick some out from the store.
To make undies and training pants even more exciting, see if you can find a few pairs with her favorite characters. Sometimes brand names can make for good motivation!
Besides undies, you can also buy bottoms with an elastic waist as part of your potty training process. Explain that the stretchy pants or shorts can help her pull them up and down more easily. And lastly, include some flushable wipes, which can feel similar to the baby wipes she had been used to than toilet paper.
6. Read books about the potty
Children’s books are a fantastic way to discuss topics that might be difficult to understand, including using the potty. By reading other characters in familiar situations, your child can draw connections to her potty use. Include books about the potty in your regular reading schedule.
Even if she doesn’t “get” potty training yet, reading about it is enough to introduce her to the concept. Take a look at these potty training books for toddlers I recommend.
7. Empty a poopy diaper into the toilet
All his life, your child’s poop had gone straight from the diaper to the trash. No wonder it can be hard to understand why he’s supposed to poop in the potty now.
One simple way to get the message across is to dump the poop from the diaper into the toilet. Let him know that this is where poop can go instead of diapers. That people don’t have to wear diapers because they can poop straight into the toilet.
This is easier with a “solid” poop than a messy one, but whenever you can, dump the poop into the toilet before tossing the diaper in the trash.
8. Praise your child for progress
Potty training success isn’t just about your child finally peeing or pooping in a potty. Every little bit of progress is worthy of praise.
Maybe he tells you he has a dirty diaper or that he has to pee. Perhaps he finally agreed to sit on the potty, even if he insisted on keeping his clothes on. Even if he doesn’t say he has to pee or poop, praise the fact that he told you that he already had a bowel movement.
The more you can acknowledge his progress and accomplishments, the more confident and bolstered he can feel to keep going.
And try not to have a deadline for potty training. Maybe you want him potty trained so he can attend preschool or before your upcoming vacation. But not all kids follow the same timeline with potty training. Some express interest as early as a year old, while others take several years more to master it.
9. Don’t make your child feel bad about accidents
Accidents will happen, no doubt. Even when you’re not potty training, you’ll see your share of pee that didn’t make it in the toilet. Maybe your child hasn’t had accidents but one day spoiled his whole outfit.
It’s easy to show our disappointment, but remember his overall progress. A few accidents, even consecutive ones, don’t wipe out the times he did well.
Or perhaps he’s had nothing but accidents. Same thing: don’t make him feel bad or that he did something wrong. Instead, explain that accidents happen. Then, teach him what he needs to do to better avoid it in the future.
Potty training—or as I like to say, potty practice—isn’t an overnight success. Preparation takes place long before potty training in a gradual way to help kids master the skill.
Start by buying a potty and allowing your child to be curious about it. Have her gradually start sitting on the potty, even if she still has her clothes on. Take her with you when you use the bathroom, explaining that pee and poop go down the toilet. Empty her poopy diapers into the toilet as well.
Buy big-kid underwear, especially with characters she loves, to motivate her to ditch diapers. Read children’s books about potty training so she can see how other characters handle potty training. And finally, praise her for the progress she’s made, however simple those steps may be.
In due time, she can be ready to stop using diapers, especially after preparing for potty training all this time.
Get more potty training tips and tricks:
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Potty Training
- How to Potty Train a Toddler in 3 Days
- The Importance of Creating Toddler Routines
- Potty Training Twins: The Ultimate Guide
- How Many Potty Training Accidents Are Normal?
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