Potty in 5-4-3-2-1!

surprised potty baby

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Potty training (or when and how) can leave you with more questions than answers. I can say that because I have been there too.

When helping our child achieve a developmental milestone, I believe in: SIMPLE. CONSISTENT. POSITIVE.

Every kiddo is different, so when it comes to potty training, chances are you are NOT going to find a “one size fits all” plan.

Here are five of my favorite strategies for pottying success:

1. The potty party. If you've got a toddler, chances are they are starting to catch on to the fun a party can be. When you've seen signs your child is ready to begin the pottying process, it may be time to plan a potty party. Here are the basics. Decorate your bathroom for fun (SIMPLE – streamers, a balloon or two). Make the bathroom a fun place to be. Save their favorite books for potty time. Make up potty songs. Cheer on your superstar.  Remember, every effort is a good effort. Celebrate appropriately (i.e. think stickers vs. sweets). This party may go on for days, or even weeks, so let the good times roll!

2. The prize. If your child is motivated by the thought of a new toy/book/puzzle, this may be the right tool to help with potty success. In order to use this method, your child needs to be able to understand an “if/then” reward system (“if you do this, then you get that”). First, talk to your child about going on the potty. Tell them how proud you are of them, that they're growing just right, and it's time they start to pee and poop on the potty. Next, you're off to identify something special they can have for their efforts in using the potty. You must also share that they will be working to EARN this reward. Finally, the prize is selected. It comes home and is placed in a visible spot. Each time your child has success, a small rock (or other similiar item) is placed a small jar. The prize is rewarded when the jar is filled. Be sure to make the goal obtainable within 1-2 days.

3. M&Ms. Yes, I did say “think stickers vs. sweets,” but sometimes sweets DO work. I'm not a big fan of giving sweet treats to young children, but I have to admit, sometimes it is a good motivator. If this is your child, you may want to try the M&M method. It's simple. One M&M for each pee success on the potty. Two M&M's for each bowel movement. The reward is given AFTER washing hands, of course!

4. New undies. Not much can make a toddler feel like a big girl or boy than brand new undies. If possible, involve your little one in the selection process. Wash them up and let them wear them with pride. Sometimes, simply feeling proud of their growth and development – oh, and their new underwear – is all it takes for potty success. When training, keep your kiddo in their undies as often as possible (vs. continuing to use diapers and sometimes using undies).  Note: Many children may continue to wear a diaper/pull-up overnight, even after they have mastered using the toilet during the day. This IS okay.

5. Have them help. Going potty is about children learning how to control and take care of their bodies.  Even young toddlers can begin to help with the fastening/unfastening of their diapers. As potty discovery begins, it's appropriate to have the child help with all aspects of caring for their body. For the older toddler and/or preschooler who refuses to use the potty, this MAY be the solution you need. They simply must know that it is no longer mom or dad's job to take care of their poops and pees, but it is also part of THEIR job. The process of having a young child help care for themselves may become a battle of wills. Just keep your cool and use your softest, kindest voice of support. After a few times, and perhaps a few tears, most children will begin to help and even take pride in caring for themselves. Of course, cleaning up from poops and pees will soon grow old and the anticipated outcome will be that the child will choose to eliminate in the toilet vs. their underwear.


Whatever method you choose, keep it positive. Try to remember how you feel when learning a new skill. Like you, your child may feel unsure, scared, and a bit nervous. Going to the potty is BIG stuff!

Although it may take a little time and perhaps a different strategy or two, over time, there will be potty success in your bathroom too.

Good luck!

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Potty in 5-4-3-2-1!

Jeannie Fleming-Gifford is a mama to one little lady, freelance writer, and the director of education for a non-profit community school of the arts. Graduating with a B.A. in Music and a M.A. in Child Development, Jeannie began her career in quality child development programs as a teacher, then moved into creative administrative roles with science centers, symphony orchestras and arts programs. Owner of 170+ year old house, Jeannie loves living in small town America where walks to the park and ... More

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