Potty training – Getting started

The last time, we discussed about some ways to know if your child is ready for potty training. As earlier pointed out, it is both an unnerving and daunting exercise for parents irrespective of their level of experience with children. However be reassured that it is not an impossible task..

Once you have established that it is time to start the potty training, you are on your way to getting started with the actual exercise. Today we will focus on some ideas and ways to begin. For more information about ways to know if your child is ready for potty training, click here


(1) Buy a potty if you do not have one already. A regular one will do. However let your child’s individual need be the guide. I will personally suggest putting the potty in any room that is comfortable for your child. The living room may be preferred initially. Some children prefer the safety of their bedrooms. For some families, leaving the potty beside the family loo helps the child associate passing motions with the potty. The key is to observe your child and do what you find easiest for them. Remember there are no rules. You are in charge of the whole process.

You can decorate the potty area with things your own child normally finds attractive. Stickers of favourite toys or characters may draw them to the potty area. The aim is to initially get your child to be drawn to the potty area. It doesn’t matter if they do not actually use it correctly at first- that comes with time. Just initially encourage your child to be familiar with the potty to help burst any fears and if possible stop them having any potty related anxiety.

(2) Patience – You will need to be patient with your child as soon as you decide to embark on this journey. Children become easily scared and discouraged by rebukes and short tempers. Your child might erroneously associate your constant frustration as a reinforcement of their failure. I find that children tend to be drawn more to activities that generate pleasure to them (who doesn’t ?).  When they feel unsure about your response they may tend to hold in the wee. I feel children function better with praise .

You cannot possibly give what you don’t have. If you are really stressed, it is unlikely that you will be patient enough to ignore accidents (which characteristically tend to occur at the start of potty training). Try to stay calm. Your disposition matters a lot. Imagine if you had a boss who seemed to pick on every error you made, you will find yourself scared of trying out error – prone tasks. However, a more reassuring boss around you may mean that you become confident enough to attempt more difficult tasks leading to more learning opportunities. Remember that your child is a little person (person being the operative word). This is one reason why it may not be a good idea to feel pressured into potty training just because you feel your child is long overdue. Do not forget that it is a journey for both of you not just your child. You also have to be ready.

(3)Use a suitable reward system I will encourage you to use the same reward system you normally use. The existing type familiar to your child will do. Potty training is not different from any other learning activity that you have engaged your child in. Just relax and do not over complicate things by creating a new way to reward your child’s success. I am a firm believer in consistency especially where kids are concerned. Children get easily confused when things keep changing. A suitable reward system ensures that your child’s focus is distracted from the difficulty of learning to use the potty. It will not disrupt the process. This is one of the pitfalls I find with using sweets, chocolates and biscuits as rewards. They keep the child properly focused on earning them with each successful potty use. However for some children, they create a craving that supersedes the learning intended causing distress to the children when they are withdrawn. There is also the risk of tooth decay amongst others.  However, if you’re sure you can control your child then go for it. If that is what you use for your child, let me not stop you

(4) Look for cues and signs – During this entire process you have to keep looking for ways to encourage your child to use the potty regularly. You can achieve this firstly by looking for cues & signs and secondly by anticipating the need for the loo. Every child has their own way of acting when they need the loo. You can determine your child’s style by observing closely. Just before they need the toilet, there may be a pattern that emerges. Some children wriggle their bottoms when they need the toilet (common amongst girls) while others pull at their trousers endlessly (in the case of boys). In general some children squeeze their faces, stamp their feet in frustration and pout their lips in an odd way. In extreme cases, some children cry.

All these gestures and actions are just the child’s way of expressing how inconveniencing the need for the loo feels (mainly depriving them of their play).  Once a particular pattern is noticed, use this as a way to lovingly remind your child to use the potty.

Anticipation will be your way of predicting when your child may most likely need the potty.  For example if it has been a while since the last toilet use, you can give a subtle reminder. If you are on your way out, you can encourage your child to use the loo first. Also, after having lots of drinks, it may be a good idea to remind your child to use the loo.

(5) Reassurance – Always bear in mind that children like to make play their priority. This usually means that they either forget to use the loo or ignore the urge to use the loo leading to accidents. Let these accidents not be too surprising. It’s a good idea not to get angry but to reassure your child. Let your child know that accidents are normal after all we all make mistakes. Encourage your child to listen to his/her body in future. Constantly encouraging your child will help him/her see your interference for what it is- a subtle reminder to help and not to rebuke.

Just like us, children do not like to constantly be wrong. Accidents may stress them out and make them feel very incapable. Your priority is to reinforce positivity. Tell your child that s/he can try again. There will be another chance to do better. Let your child know that s/he is learning and that it takes time to master proper toilet use. Do not forget to always reassure your child that you are not angry with him/her.

(6) Invest in good potty friendly clothes – This is vital to potty training-success. You do not want your child struggling to undo the buttons or untie the waistbands just before going to the loo or potty. This is a major reason for potty accidents. It is even more frustrating for the child because the accident tends to happen just beside the potty. Purchasing elasticated trousers and skirts that can easily be pulled up and down independently by little hands are priceless at this stage. Having a few of these will reduce stress on you and your child allowing you focus on the task at hand.

(7) Encourage good habits – right from the start even when you are the one doing all the loo business for your child start introducing  the good habits you will like them to adopt during loo time. You can encourage them to wash their hands in order to inculcate good hygiene habits right from the start. Hand –washing will also help your child associate hand washing with using the toilet when the time comes. Proper hand washing is known to help reduce picking up infections from the loo area. As we all know, while your home may sparkle, you cannot guarantee the sanitary level in any other loo apart from yours.

(8) Be consistent – try to be consistent with your child. Too many rules can confuse children. If a potty is being used let it be used always. Try to avoid the potty today, diaper tomorrow style. A pull-up style diaper may be a good idea at this stage. Pull-ups are usually worn like pants/briefs. This can be useful especially when going outdoors or when you begin to feel frustrated about constant accidents. Children learn very quickly when you stick with a consistent pattern. However, if you keep changing what they need to do, they get confused and this can lead to failure in the potty-training process. The key is consistence not only with the potty use itself but also in pulling the briefs (cloth or diaper) up and down.

(9) Stop if it’s not working – If you find you are using the diaper more, perhaps your child is not yet ready and you need to consider stopping. You can restart after a few weeks. It helps things settle down moreover, a few weeks may bring with some extra development and maturity to your child. Children’s brains develop daily. This is bound to have a positive impact. It may even be that the constant return to diaper use is because, you are tired or haven’t got enough time to concentrate on the process. Perhaps you find you are missing all the cues and are beating yourself up about it. Remember there are no rules. It’s your child and nobody else’s. You do not need anybody’s permission to stop if you are your child are not ready. It’s ok to stop until you feel more in control emotionally and psychologically. You must always remember that it’s a journey that you both must be ready for and there is actually no hurry!

After all the above steps,  If the potty training  process works for you and your child, start getting ready to buy a step stool or baby toilet seat to help your child start getting ready to use the family toilet. Although you have come this far, there are still other things to be aware of. As we said, it’s a process; therefore, all children get to different stages at different times. Do not be too hard on either of you. There are a few things to bear in mind. Some of these can be expected to happen later as time goes on. Next time we will look into these. For now please share with us some more tips you found useful during your child’s potty training process. Thank you for reading!


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