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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.