Life Hacks · Parenthood

My 5 Favorite Potty Training Tricks

Let’s just get this out on the table now. Potty training sucks. It takes all the fun out of raising a tiny dictator and turns it into…well, poop. If you’re lucky. I used to be hopeful about potty training. My mom told me I potty trained in a night when I was my son’s age. She said all it took was me peeing my pants at night one time to motivate me enough to use the toilet. I’ve heard all sorts of similar stories from parents. In an online mom-group, I read a ton of success stories that filled me with confidence in that we’d be 100% potty trained in no time!

On the advice of MANY other moms, I read a highly recommended potty training book. This book was well written and suggested a method that aligned with my own thoughts and feelings about PT (potty training). Better yet, it made me believe that it would only take us a week to fully day train! I was willing to split up day and night training if we’d only need a week. That sounds great!

Me- genuinely wondering if we’ll ever be done with potty training.

When I first read the PT book, I was 8 months pregnant with our second kid. Looking forward to the future, I knew my toddler would be just about the right age to start PT when the baby arrived. My husband and I both read the book to make sure that we were on the same page with the training method. I read the book twice to make sure all the rules stuck in my mind. We schooled Grandma and Grandpa on our chosen method since we’d be living with them during this big life change. We bought the travel potty, the potty seats, flushable wipes, a couple of potty-related kid’s books, and enough puppy wee-wee pads to blanket the entire house multiple times.

We hid the entire living room floor in the wee-wee pads and covered the couch in towels. Potty training was upon us. But we knew we wanted to focus on it after the baby arrived. At the end of my pregnancy, I was so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be mobile enough to help my son to the potty over and over. We also knew that once I had the baby, my husband would be on paternity leave, giving us one more person to help. We were so hopeful. What was a week of our time to focus on such an important step in our lives?

As I write this, we’re over 6 months into our potty training journey. Yup. You read that right. 6 freaking months. And we’re still not done yet. I’m not writing this to tell you HOW to potty train. I’m not writing this to tell you which method is best. And I’m sure as heck not writing this to tell you that potty training is easy, fast, or terribly convenient. I’m writing this to tell you that potty training is freaking hard no matter which age you start or how smart your little genius is. But over the last six months, we’ve tried many different methods, tricks and hacks and I’m writing this to tell you which of those tricks worked for us.

1- REWARD SYSTEM

The potty training method that I chose to follow expressly discourages a reward system. But hey, we’re a family of rebels and our parenting motto is “Whatever Works!” because we all get to a point sometimes when it’s more about just getting things done. We didn’t start out our training with a reward system in place. Again, we started this adventure as hopeful parents. Weeks into our PT journey when we were deep in discouragement, we decided to give rewards a try. We started PTing in the fall so we had tons of pre and post Halloween candy at our disposal. One of my favorites that I kept stocked in the house was candy corn. Love it or hate it, most kids don’t care. It’s a special, sweet treat. Our rule was one corn for a pee and two corn for a poop. For a time, it was a great motivator. You could substitute a different food treat in place of candy. I’ve also heard of people using potty charts with stickers given as a reward. If you’re not opposed to a reward system, test out the things that motivate your child.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

The last thing I want to mention about this method is that it did NOT completely ruin our PT results. This singular trick is not the reason we’re still struggling to get to 100% trained. The reward system worked well for our kid, for a time. We were actually able to quit the reward system cold turkey because we eventually ran out of candy corn when it went out of season. Thankfully, our toddler is pretty flexible to rule changes like that, and after asking multiple times finally gave up and accepted the fact that he didn’t need a reward to use the toilet. This method helped transition us from the little, portable potty to the big toilet. So, I consider it a small win in the long game.

2- BATH CRAYONS

These were an item that we already had laying around from bath time. Bath crayons are washable crayons that can be used on the walls of a shower or bath tub. We found that they work great on the glass doors of the shower in the bathroom we mainly use for PT. Many times we found ourselves stuck in the bathroom with a stubborn toddler parked on the potty waiting for results. We were spending anywhere between 10-30 minutes in the bathroom with our son who refused to go on command even when we knew he needed to. So, what do you do to pass the time? We’ve read books, watched videos with him on our phones, or just sat and memorized the back of the shampoo bottle. But once we figured out we could use the bath crayons, we opened a whole new world of bathroom entertainment.

These are the bath crayons we use. They’ve come in handy so many times in our PT journey.

We used the bathtime crayons to draw on the glass shower door immediately adjacent to the toilet. We worked on our ABC’s, colors, numbers, etc. But the most helpful was learning new words. I would write a new word on the door that was related to our training, regardless of how long the word was. Our favorite word was “COOPERATE” which was written above definitions like “to help” and “work together.” While my son sat, trapped and bored on the toilet, I would read the big word to him and give him a little explanation and story to define it. My son amazed me when we came back after only doing this a couple of times. He not only remembered all the words (not quite site reading but more memorization) and had a grasp of what those things meant. This helped us a lot in our journey because my son is BIG on communication.

I was also able to use the crayons to draw or write things my son was interested in and create stories around those to help him learn concepts like “focusing” thanks to something Cookie Monster once said, team members “obeying” the direction of the captain on a football team thanks to his love of the Seahawks, and I also fabricated a story about how Stormtroopers have to “communicate” to Darth Vader when they need to go potty. That one might not be canon, but it worked for us! You know your kid best. Use these tools to your advantage when helping them learn about the PT process. And if you don’t have a shower door to draw on you can always just use regular paper and tape it to a wall and use regular crayons or markers. Time to get creative in the bathroom!

The shower door is a great opportunity to learn new things since we spend so much time in the bathroom while potty training. Here, we learn words we commonly use plus new words that can help us in our PT journey. Right now our big word of the week is “communicate” which has been a big speed bump for us.

You can also use the bath crayons (or dry erase markers) to draw on the inside of the toilet seat. If your child is having a hard time focusing on staying on the toilet, you can flip them around backwards (facing the toilet seat) and let them draw on it to pass the time. This worked for us for a while and made for some interesting bathroom art to surprise the next unsuspecting toilet user. Click HERE for a link to the bath crayons we use. These ones work really well and also wipe off without a lot of effort. We found them for a few dollars at Walmart and I don’t make any money off this recommendation.

3- TALLY MARKS

While we’re on the subject of the bath crayons, I want to mention one of our latest tricks. We’ve started writing a tally mark on the shower door for every pee and poop made without an accident. Unfortunately, when there is an accident, we erase that line of tally marks and start over. We started this idea without a solid plan for it. We weren’t offering a specific reward or punishment. We just wanted to build into practice the idea that the tally marks hold value.

It’s hard to get a good picture of it but this is our crude tally mark portion of the shower door. Obviously, we’ve had a recent set-back in the pee department.

Recently, after another big accident-related set back, I impulsively offered ice cream as a reward for accumulating 40 tally marks. In the past, my son has only hit 36 tally marks without an accident as his personal record, and he’s never had ice cream in his two and a half years on this planet. So, I’m not sure if it means a darn thing to him, but I’m willing to try it. For science! And for ice cream! Because we all know Momma Bear is going to get some of that ice cream too for her hard work.

Alternatively to the tally marks providing a reward, they can also provide a means of understanding hard work lost. When we have an “accident” (and, to be clear, these are hardly accidents at this point because my son knows the rules, knows our routines and still refuses to use the toilet without prompting) we erase all of the accumulated tally marks for either pee or poop depending on the accident type. When we do this, we make sure to stress that these tallies are valuable and that we’re disappointed to have to erase them. I do see that my son is starting to understand their value, and losing them finally has some significance to him. I am curious to see WHEN (because I remain hopeful) my son reaches 40 tally marks, if getting ice cream makes a positive impact on him in terms of motivations. Stay tuned in for an update!

4- TAKING SOMETHING SPECIAL

This trick came to me on a whim. We had been struggling for weeks to get my son into the bathroom at our prompting (based on his regular and predictable pee schedule), and every time we even mentioned the word “bathroom” it became a massive fight. It became increasingly difficult to keep our composure and creative a positive experience. At one point, before prompting for a bathroom break, I decided that I was not going to use my usual verbal prompt. Instead, I would ask him these words exactly: “What are we taking with us?” I didn’t give him any warning, or any context for the words’ meaning, but I would get up and start to suggest specific toys or items in the room to “take with us.” Then, once he had selected the items, we would carry them to the bathroom (without any resistance, surprisingly), and find a place for them on the bathroom counter while we did our business. It worked! And it still works!

Today’s “chosen” few consists of some magnet tiles, a horse, a spider, a dog toy, and Mommy’s hair clip. Whatever works.

Every time we use this method, we take something different. We’ve taken every toy, some more than once. We’ve taken really obscure objects from different rooms in the house. We’ve even taken random pieces of paper, ads from the mail, or small bits of (what I consider) trash. There have been very few items that I have said “no” to taking with us. Because remember, WHATEVER WORKS. Sometimes we take a specific toy to “show” it how we go potty like a big kid. Or we take a specific book to read. It’s really about the novelty of getting to choose (almost) anything to take with us. Most of the time my son puts the items on the counter and completely forgets about them while we’re taking care of business! This method is probably my favorite.

5- RESPONSIBILITIES

This PT trick has been an interesting one for us. We started working these responsibilities early into our routine. At first, we were having to help our toddler with every step because he was still in that physically awkward phase where things like pushing his pants down was too difficult for his little fingers. Slowly, over many MANY repetitions, he’s been able to take over the responsibility of moving his step-stool, putting up the toilet seat, placing the potty seat on top of the toilet seat, pushing down his own pants, sitting down on the potty seat without assistance, flushing the toilet, writing the tally mark on the shower door, and moving his step-stool to the sink for hand washing.

“Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better WHY we’re potty training.”

All of these things are steps towards his potty independence. All of these learned routines have saved me a lot of work. Having these responsibilities has helped him understand better why we’re potty training. The latest responsibility we’ve given him is to pee standing up. This one seems to be particularly special. For months, we offered it to him as an optional change but he kept refusing. We didn’t push it because we wanted him to feel ready. Thankfully, he found that peeing standing up “like Daddy” was a very special privilege, and it has been the most successful milestone we’ve had in months. I know this particular responsibility doesn’t work for girls, so once we get to the potty training age with my daughter, I’ll let you know what new methods we come up with.

Overall, potty training has been an uphill battle for us. We’re still not through it. But these 5 methods have helped get us through different stages and learn new things about what our toddler needs and how to communicate with him. I don’t expect anyone reading this to need or use all of these tricks. Hopefully, you’ll only need one or two. But I wanted to compile them all in one place so that you can keep them in your parenting “tool kit” and only use what you need. I’d love to hear about any other methods, tricks or hacks that have worked for your family. Please feel free to add a comment or two to this post and share your PT wins or struggles with the Average Momma Bear family.

Cleaning and Organizing · Life Hacks

Cleaning Hack: Dirty Stroller

I wouldn’t call myself cheap, but I appreciate a bargain. Especially when it comes to equipment and clothing for my children. I still end up spending plenty on them, but when I can save a few bucks here and there, it means I can splurge on the more fun stuff.

Getting hand-me-downs and re-gifts is a great place to start when you’re expecting a child, but as you get further in, you start to realize how much stuff you actually need for a baby. Of course, there are some things that are more of a luxury and not a necessity. But there are some items that end up on every baby registry or wishlist. A stroller is one of them.

When I found out I was pregnant with my second baby, I started to think about what life would look like with a newborn AND a toddler. How do I keep track of both of them at the same time when we’re out and about? How do I get both of them from one place to another outside of a vehicle? It all started to sound overwhelming, but I was determined to make the transition from one to two as easy on myself as possible. I struggled with anxiety when I became a mom the first time, and I was intent on preventing a repeat situation.

Dreaming of a Two-Seater

I told myself years ago (before I had kids) that I never wanted to have to juggle a double-stroller. Well, that bit of pride went right out the window when I discovered multi-function strollers. They now have double strollers (for two children) that convert into different seating functions. You can have two seats for toddler-sized kids, or two spots for baby carriers (good for twins), a spot for an older kid to stand and hold on, or any variation of those options.

My bargain stroller almost totally clean!

Since I love a bargain, I was determined not to pay full price for one of these luxury baby vehicles. I saw how the stroller I had for my first child got beat up, used heavily, and tossed around, and this made me less excited to sink several hundred dollars into something that received that much wear and tear. So, I started bargain shopping.

Thankfully, there are as many people trying to get rid of their old child-rearing gear as there are trying to buy it, so I had plenty of options to choose from. Once I narrowed down the make and model of the stroller I wanted (based on reviews I read on new ones combined with input from other moms), I jumped on the Facebook Marketplace and searched my surrounding area for the stroller I wanted.

I lucked out and found one for a fraction of the cost of a new one. It was practically free! I knew this most likely meant that it had some wear and tear, but at the price they were asking, I could hardly be picky. Once I picked up the item, I found that it wasn’t so much wear and tear that I should have been concerned about but more dirt and grime. Yuck! I know kids are messy, stinky, sticky, icky, cute, little creatures but this stroller had seen some action!

I had seen some Pinterest post months before about soaking a stroller in a bathtub filled with water and soap, but I wasn’t quite willing to submerge my stroller in water. Plus, I wanted to be able to let it dry out completely, which seemed tricky when washing it inside the house. Luckily, I was pregnant with an end-of-summer baby so I had great weather for my experiment.

The Nitty and Not-so-Gritty

I decided to wash my not-so-new stroller like I used to wash my car. (I say “used to” because I just go through the car wash now…I don’t have the time or energy to wash my own car anymore.) I cleaned the stroller in my driveway with a hose fixed with a spray nozzle that had multiple spray options. Here’s the breakdown of my method:

Scrub brushes like this make the job easier.
  1. Open up stroller completely and remove any loose debris. Turn it upside down and shake it out if need be. Vacuum it out! There are a lot of methods that could work for this part.
  2. Remove anything on the stroller that you don’t want getting wet. This could be any bags or extra things hanging off the stroller that don’t need cleaning.
  3. Open/extend all canopies as they will also be getting a scrub down and need to be easily accessible.
  4. Get a hose hooked up to water, preferably with a spray nozzle that offers at least one higher pressure setting.
  5. Spray the heck out of that stroller. Get every nook and cranny. Use the high pressure setting to blast stains and grimy surfaces. *Watch out for flying fishy crackers!*
  6. Using regular dish soap and a scrubby brush (I used the kind I use on dishes, and it worked fabulously), scrub every surface of that stroller until you get a decent lather all over.
  7. Using the high pressure hose setting, spray off all of the soapy surfaces until water runs clear.
  8. Check surfaces for any necessary re-scrubbing.
  9. Once stroller is clean of soap and dirt, leave in a warm, dry area or in the sun to dry.
  10. ***Don’t leave the stroller in the sun too long because some material colors could fade. Make sure to spin the stroller around every 15 minutes or so to speed up drying in the sun. Also, don’t leave a wet stroller in a warm, dark place or you could cause mold to grow on it. Similarly, don’t fold up the stroller if it is wet or even damp for the same reason. Fold it up once the material surfaces are COMPLETELY dry.***

You may need to go over some sections more than once. Seriously, kids are gross! But so much fun, amirite?! I purposely used just regular dish soap for this task because it is a mild detergent. I’m sure you could use something else, but I wouldn’t suggest it. You don’t know how some cleaners could affect the integrity of the stroller’s surfaces. You wouldn’t want to weaken materials or corrode the stroller’s moving parts.

This process took me maybe 30 minutes to complete, and it changed something that was garage-sale-quality into consignment-shop-quality for only minimal effort and no extra money. This process could be used on things like playpens, baby seats, high chairs, etc. But you SHOULD NOT use this process on car seats, as car seats have very strict rules on cleaning so that their structural integrity and safety are not compromised. Please do your research or ask a qualified car seat safety specialist for the proper methods of cleaning a car seat.

Beauty · Life Hacks

Super Thick Hair Hack

It seems to be common that if you were born with a certain type of hair, you end up wishing you could change it. I’ve heard this said for almost every hair type. If you have complaints about your hair, I can almost guarantee that there is someone out there in the world wishing their hair was exactly like yours.

Fine-haired people wish their hair was thicker or had more body. Thick-haired people wish they had fine, manageable hair. Straight-haired people wish for curls, and curly-haired people want to straighten their hair. I remember that when I was a kid, many girls were jealous of my long, thick braid. My mom kept my hair in a braid to protect it from getting tangled, since she had been letting it grow my entire life. I was blessed with thick hair, but let me assure you, this is as much a curse as it is a blessing.

“I was blessed with thick hair, but let me assure you, this is as much a curse as it is a blessing.”

I’ve met many hairdressers who express their envy of my thick hair but also curse it once they find out how long it takes just to blow-dry it. And changing the color or adding highlights? Fuhgettaboutit. All of this may sound like a big, stupid humble brag to many of you, but I assure you, there’s another point.

A couple years ago I found a solution to my thick hair curse. Every summer I spend several months feeling miserable from the heat. My hair has always acted like a scarf on my neck and a knit hat on my head all year round. That might be okay in winter, but during the summer it is pure torture. And keeping my hair in a ponytail or bun for months at a time gets really boring and doesn’t let my scalp breathe.

After dealing with this for years, I decided that I would shave off all of my hair from about the top of my ears down. This allowed me to get rid of half of my hair but also gave me the option to hide the undercut beneath my regular length hair.

Postpartum Hair Loss

On a side note, I was a bit concerned about postpartum hair loss with this haircut. I did not have my head shaved during my first pregnancy, but after I had my first baby I ended up losing a lot of hair. My hair started thinning out along my hairline, and I got bald spots near the sides of my forehead. I just did my best to ignore it or cover it up until it started to grow back. When I became pregnant the second time while having the undercut, I was afraid that I would have to deal with the same type of hair loss as with the first. Luckily, it seemed that my hormones were more forgiving after having my second child. Plus, my hair was lighter and easier to manage because of the undercut. And since I was pregnant in the summer, it was also very helpful in keeping me cooler than normal.

Here are the pros and cons I have discovered to getting an undercut.

UNDERCUT PROS:

  • Much cooler head temperature.
  • With my hair up, I can feel a breeze on my skin.
  • My hair dries a lot faster.
  • My hair sits straighter and flatter.
  • Getting my hair colored takes half the time that it used to, and it is usually cheaper!
  • Hats fit me better!
  • I have a very versatile style between up and down looks.
  • I can get my undercut shaved at a salon for cheap or do it myself for free.
  • Styling my hair takes a fraction of the time that it used to.

UNDERCUT CONS:

  • The breeze can be a little cold on my scalp in the winter.
  • If I ever want to grow it back out again, it will take a long time to catch up with the rest of my hair.
  • Keeping my undercut shaved regularly becomes a challenge with my fast growing hair.
  • If I dye my undercut, my hair will grow out with a very small section of color on it.
  • My long hair likes to velcro to my shaved undercut when I’m trying to separate the two.

Conclusion

I would recommend this type of hair cut for anyone looking to stay low maintenance while also being able to have fun with hair styles. I don’t do a lot with the styling because I rarely have the time since becoming a mom. But this cut allows me to hide the undercut for a softer and more feminine look while also giving me the flexibility of pulling it back or up to reveal the shaved parts for a more playful and edgy look. If you’re not willing to commit to cutting off half your hair and not being able to grow it back quickly then definitely avoid this type of cut. Below are picture examples of the simple ways I have worn my hair while having the undercut.