Potty Training Guidebook

Valorie Delp
potty training

Many parents, even experienced ones, dread the potty training phase. However, it doesn't have to be months of potty accidents, power struggles and incessant cleaning. Potty training is as much developmental as it is actual training. While it won't happen magically by itself, it will happen, and parents who keep this in mind tend to find the experience less frustrating.

Setting the Stage for (Almost) Effortless Potty Training

Before you even start, there are a few things you can do to set the stage for potty training. You want your child to be able to understand the process and have the communication skills he needs to express himself during said process. Therefore, the most important part of the potty training process is to make sure that your child is ready to potty train.


Don't underestimate the need for good timing when you start to potty train. When you begin to think about potty training, think about your family's schedule for the next three months. If you foresee vacations, major holidays, or being unusually busy, it's better to wait until things are a bit calmer. It's important in the beginning that you be able to start out at home and be available to help make several trips to the bathroom each day.


Potty training is a developmental skill, and as such, it happens at different ages for everyone. It's important to really contemplate whether or not your child is ready for potty training. If you can say yes to the following, chances are good that he is ready to start potty training:

  • Shows an interest in the potty
  • Is able to follow instructions
  • Stays dry for about two hours during the day
  • Doesn't like to be in a dirty diaper

Best Practices

There is no one way to potty train a child. In fact, if you have multiple children, you will probably find that one thing works better with one child than it does with the other. Since potty training is as much developmental as it is good training, savvy moms tend to employ a variety of techniques to get the job done.

Ditch the Diaper

diaper and potty
Don't switch between diapers and the potty.

One of the best ways to help your child associate the feeling of a full bladder with the act of urinating is to ditch the diaper. Some parents go straight to underwear while others let their children run around bottomless. Either method works, and most kids who are potty training quickly associate that urge to go to the potty with the act itself. If your child seems totally unbothered by urine running down his legs, chances are that you've started potty training too early, and you're going to want to wait a bit.

Clear Your Schedule

One of the best things you can do to get off on the right foot is to plan on staying home a few days when you officially start. You'll want to be around to take regular potty breaks and really reinforce good hygiene habits. In addition, many children are afraid of public toilets and won't go. If you're home when you start, you can do things like let your child run around bottomless, and spend the day talking about toilet functions. Along with clearing your schedule, think about major life events that are happening. If you're expecting a baby, for example, don't decide to start training the month before the baby is due. Many children regress after a major life event.

Talk About It

It is not unusual for children to want to discuss the act of going to the bathroom in detail. It is okay to do so and while it might not be your favorite thing to do in public, discussing pooping and peeing can help your child overcome fears. Also, by showing your child that there is no question he cannot ask you, you are also showing your child that it is okay to talk about his body and things that are going on with it.

Schedule Potty Breaks

Scheduling potty breaks to just sit on the toilet and 'try' can be very helpful in establishing the routine. Some children will learn to associate sitting on the toilet with going to the bathroom and begin to do it on their own accord. For children who don't quite have the connection between a full bladder and the need to empty it, sitting on the toilet can be the reminder that helps them avoid accidents. If you are desperate to help things along, consider giving your child lots to drink and then taking regularly scheduled potty breaks every hour or so. Initially, this requires a lot of time and effort, but eventually your child will go in the potty.

Downplay Accidents

If there is one thing you can count on while potty training, it's that there will be accidents. Your response to these accidents is key. The best way to respond to an accident is to acknowledge that it happened and needs to be cleaned (depending on the mess, you can even have your child help you); then to take your child, sit on the toilet for a little bit, and go through the routine of washing hands, pulling up pants, etc. Above all, you want to avoid making your child feel badly about having an accident and you want to avoid your child getting into a habit of having them on purpose. Recognizing but not giving a lot of attention to them will accomplish both purposes.

Make It Fun

Your child will be much more likely to cooperate in a scheduled potty break if you are not dragging him away from something he wants to do towards the monotony of just sitting on the toilet. You also want him to be willing to sit there long enough for something to happen. Bring books, favorite toys that are easily washed, or music into the bathroom. Plan on sitting in there with him while he does his business so that you can help him wipe properly, pull up his pants and wash his hands.

Teach the Whole Routine

Be sure and teach the whole routine every single time your child goes potty, whether he makes it to the toilet or not. Even if he just sits on the toilet, have your child wipe, flush, wash his hands, and pull up his pants. Teaching good potty habits early on will not only reinforce consistency but will be his first lessons in health!

What Not to Do

Are you trying to potty train and finding yourself frustrated? Maybe you're making these classic mistakes.

Don't Get Angry

power struggle
Don't engage in a power struggle.

The nature of potty training is to go two step forwards and one step back. If your child has an accident (and chances are good that he will), simply help him clean it up and move on. Never shame him or make him feel badly about not making it to the toilet in time. Giving your child confidence to try new things by not drawing attention to his failures will serve you best in the end.

Treat Day and Night Differently

It is not at all uncommon for children to be completely dry during the day and not at all at night. In fact, nighttime dryness can come years after a child is potty trained. So if your little one seems to be having trouble staying dry at night, stop washing sheets and let him sleep in a pull-up. When he is able to wake up to urinate, he typically will. You can also help minimize nighttime accidents by not allowing your child to have a drink before bed.

Be Consistent

Consistency is extremely important when you're potty training. Whether you're talking about your pottying schedule, how you treat accidents or a song you sing while washing hands, do it the same every single time. If you think about it, potty training requires a long list of skills. Consistency reinforces those skills so that they are second nature.

Don't Bribe

Many well-meaning parents sometimes attempt to bribe children with treats for going potty. This is a one-way road to power struggles and problems. Children, even toddlers, are very smart and it is not unheard of for a child to withhold their urine or feces for a bigger treat. If you want to put a sticker on a chart, or stamp your child's hand to acknowledge a job well done, that is fine. However, don't go down the road of associating a treat such as a lollipop with successful toileting.

Don't Ignore Fears

Some children are afraid of letting their poop and potty flush down the toilet. Whether they are afraid that they too will get sucked down in the toilet or whether they just hate to see something that is a part of them go down, offer reassurance. Never tell them their fears are silly or unfounded. Sometimes you can distract children from their fears, but never force your child to just 'suck it up.'

Don't Be Afraid to Stop

It is okay to stop potty training if your child resists. Some children are simply not ready, and others really desire to have control over pottying. Whatever the issues are, if you find that your child is resisting your efforts, it's okay to back off and revisit in a few months. With that said, you don't want to switch gears every few days. If you stop actively trying to potty train, do so for at least a months. Keep some elements of the pottying routine in place when you back off such as pulling up pants after a diaper change or washing hands. This helps keep the mindset of the pottying routine in place.

Don't Start too Early

Remember that potty training by a certain age is not a badge of honor among parents. There is no prize for finishing the task earlier, and it is okay to wait until your child is older. The most important indicators for starting the training process are determined by where your child is developmentally as opposed to some timeline. Waiting until you are sure that your child is ready is a great way to ensure successful and relatively painless potty training.

Things You Can Buy

potty seat
A potty seat makes the toilet more accessible.

Every child is different, and there is no one way to train your child. You don't have to buy anything to potty train your child. However, there are a wealth of resources out there that might make your life easier.

  • Potty seat - This fits over the top of the toilet so that your child can sit more comfortably.
  • Potty chair - A separate chair for little ones to go potty into. Make sure that when your child is finished using it, you still go through the rest of the routine of flushing and washing hands.
  • Rewards - Think of things like stickers or a stamp on the hand. A simple reward for following the routine, trying or successfully completing a potty task can be helpful.
  • Potty training tablets - Put a tablet into the toilet and when your child uses the potty, it may fizz or make the water change colors. The idea is that it gives your child something fun to do.
  • Timer - If you are scheduling potty breaks, use a timer to help your little one know when it's time to get up.
  • Training underwear - These are thicker underwear that help contain leaks before they ruin clothes. However, it's not a diaper, and your child and his clothing will feel wet if there is an accident.
  • Tinkle targets (or piddlers) - These are targets that you put into the toilet so that your boy can aim for them. The idea is it helps reduce messes along the floor and wall near the toilet.

When to See a Doctor

Typically there is nothing wrong with a child who takes a little longer to potty train. Experts say that most children are trained by 36 months and take between three to six months to achieve consistent success during the day. If you have concerns that your child is taking longer, you should talk to your pediatrician.

Potty Training Guidebook