Potty Training Tips That Actually Work

Toilet training your toddler can be fast and easy…

If you have all the tools and know-how!

As a behavior analyst and a mom of three, I have had a lot of experience with toilet training!  Recently, I toilet trained my 19 month old!  

Want to learn all the tricks and tips?

Read on to find out how to toilet train your toddler.  I’ll start at the very beginning, with toilet readiness signs, and go the whole way through all the info you need to get your child peeing on the potty in no time! Let’s get started!

Prior to toilet training, make sure your child is showing signs of readiness.

Some toileting readiness signs to look for:

  • Is your child dry for some periods of time, or is their diaper always wet?
    • A dry diaper shows that your child is holding their urine for periods of time. This is essential for potty training.
  • Is your child aware of when they go to the bathroom?
    • If your child hides when they pee or poop, they are aware of it. This is a sign of readiness.
    • Additionally, if your child tells you that they have to pee, or that they just went in their diaper, they may be ready to toilet train.
  • Is your child interested in their toilet?
    • If your child is interested when you use the restroom, wants to sit on the toilet, or shows other signs of being interested in the toilet, they may be ready to toilet train.
  • Is your child dry after nap?
    • This means that they are able to hold their urine.  Is your child dry at night?
    • This is NOT essential for toilet training, but definitely helpful!

Once you determine if your child is ready to potty train, it is time to gather your supplies!

Here is a list of recommended items to have on hand:

A mini toilet.

Some people really love have a mini toilet for their child to use, and for good reason. A small child can always have access to a mini toilet, whether or not the parent is there at the moment they have to go. Personally, I don’t prefer them. My children are pretty much stuck to me like glue, so there has never been a time when we needed to have a mini toilet for them to use because I can take them immediately. Plus, if I can avoid cleaning pee or poop out of a small basin, I would like to do that!

If I was going to use a mini toilet though, this Amazon best seller looks like the real thing!

A toilet ring.

In lieu of a mini toilet, I typically use a toilet ring for my children. They make the toilet seat a little bit smaller so that the child doesn’t feel like they are going to fall in. This is more important than it sounds. A child needs to feel really comfortable before they use the toilet to pee or poop, so try your best to help them feel physically secure.

This toilet ring seat comes HIGHLY REVIEWED (it seriously must be amazing, with that many 5 star reviews). It suctions to the actual toilet seat AND comes with a hook to hang in on the side of your toilet for easy storage.

Or, if you prefer, this one even comes with a stool attached!

A stool.

Along those same lines, a stool has a lot of uses when toilet training. First, a child can use it to get onto the toilet when they are a little more independent at toileting. Second, you can put the stool under their feet so they have something to push off of when they poop (more on this later). Third, your child can stand on it to wash their hands when they’re done. May as well start those good habits now, right? And last, if it isn’t being used for anything else, you can sit on it while you are in the restroom with your child!

This stool is slip resistant, which comes in handy in the bathroom!

Rewards.

This is the MOST important thing you need for toilet training.

You need to have something that your child REALLY wants. Not just something they like, something that they NEEEEEEED. For example, when I was toilet training my youngest, I purchased M&Ms and gummy bears to use as a treat. I would show her them prior to sitting her on the toilet and ask, “Do you want one?” She would yell, “YEAH!” I would put her on and tell her to go potty, and she would immediately pitch a fit and try to throw the treat that I was holding in my hand. Clearly, M&Ms and gummy bears were not enough to get her to use the toilet. I’ll tell you what actually worked later on!

Some great prizes (or “reinforcers” in behavior analyst speak)

  • small candies that the child can have one or two of (ex. M&Ms, gummies, Skittles, etc.)
  • a piece of a favorite cookie (not the whole thing – your child will “satiate,” or become uninterested because they are getting enough of them)
  • a prize box where they can choose a small treat. This one comes with 50 toys in it, and could be used for toy storage later.
  • a sticker chart when they get a big prize when they get all of the stickers
    • A note about a sticker chart. Your child needs to be a certain developmental age before a sticker chart will work. It requires the child to be able to understand that stickers mean something, and that a filling up a whole chart means they can get the big prize. My 19 month old would not have understood this. A sticker would not have been rewarding for her, because she would not have understood the significance. So make sure your child is at least 2 before introducing one of these.
This sticker chart for boys is super cute!
I love this princess sticker chart set!

Once you have your toilet accessories and prizes sorted out, you’re ready to begin!

Before we move on though, I need to tell you one more thing about rewards. Your child can ONLY get their reward when they pee or poop on the potty. This will make them want it! So, if your child’s favorite thing is yogurt drops, but for one reason or another, this is the only thing your child will eat right now, don’t use yogurt drops as a reward because your child may starve.

So here are the nuts and bolts of toilet training a toddler.

Step 1 – Collect your data.

The first step of toilet training a toddler is learning their rhythm. For a few days before actually beginning, take note of when your child typically eliminates. Most people will naturally pee after a meal and after waking up (its called the gastrocolic reflex). This reflex provides us with great information about when we should put our toddlers on the toilet. A second time kids pee is when they drink. My daughter would almost always pee a little bit when she drank something. Knowing this, when I put her on the toilet and she wasn’t going, I would give her a drink and oftentimes, it would work! (Other times, she would pee on the kitchen chair at dinner after taking a drink… you can’t win them all.)

Also, since you’re already watching your child closely, look for what they are doing when they pee. Do they stop what they are doing and look at you with a little bit of panic in their eyes? Do they hide? Do they pull at their diaper? Do they tell you that they peed? All of this is valuable information to have for later when you are actually toilet training them.

For poop, I suggest actually writing down when your child is pooping. Is it every evening around 6pm? Right after breakfast and then again after nap? Write it down so you really know the times, so you can use that information later.

Step 2 – Get them comfortable with the toilet.

Begin by getting your child comfortable sitting on the toilet. Set them on it once in a while when they show interest. Make it a fun experience, and praise them profusely for sitting on it. I recommend sitting your child on the toilet before or after the bath, because they are already naked, and this will get them used to being on it without pants. I started doing this with my 19 month old about a week or so prior to actually toilet training her.

During this same period of time, stop anything that you may be doing to make changing their diaper a fun time. If you usually sing them a song, or play with their toes, skip doing this. We don’t want diaper changing to be a preferred time, so be very neutral when doing so. No smiles, kisses, snuggles, songs, tickles, etc. during diaper changes from here on out.

Another great way to get your child comfortable with the toilet is to read them books or let them watch a video about using the toilet. I like to do this for a week or two prior to beginning toilet training, and also continue it while they are still learning.

Check out this list of great toilet training books and videos!

Step 3 – Choose your start day.

When choosing your day to actually start, you need to find a day where you can stay at home all day with your child (or as much as possible). If you work full time, start on a Saturday so you have two days when you can be home with them. Even better, do it on a Friday of a three day weekend, or on the first day of a vacation week (I know… there is nothing you’d rather do on a vacation week…). Whenever you choose, make sure that you clear your schedule, and you can devote the whole day to just being with your toddler in close proximity (in the same room).

Step 4 – Lose the diaper.

Scary, right? It is, but its the best way for a child to understand when they are peeing.

On the day you’re actually beginning to toilet train your toddler, lose the diaper. A diaper wicks the moisture away from the skin, making peeing almost a non-event for a toddler. In contrast, having wet pants or pee running down your leg is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Get your child out of their diaper and let them run around naked or with just underwear and pants that are easy to pull up and down (no buttons, snaps, zippers, etc.).

Step 5 – Schedule Train Your Toddler.

On the day that you choose to start toilet training, you are going to have your toddler go to the bathroom on a schedule. They should be sitting on the toilet at least every hour, and in shorter increments if the “data” you collected last week showed that they pee more frequently than every hour.

As a general rule of thumb, if the child pees on the toilet, wait about an hour before setting them on it again. If they don’t pee when you sit them on the toilet, wait just 15 minutes or so until you put them on again.  

So let’s get started!

When your child wakes up, take their diaper off and put them on the toilet immediately. As I mentioned earlier, people have reflexes to urinate upon waking, so capitalize on this and sit your child on the toilet. As you’re walking there, say something like, “Potty!” so they begin to learn the language regarding what they’re doing. This will teach them to say, “Potty” when they have to go to the bathroom.

Hopefully, you’ve had some time to get them used to sitting on the toilet and they won’t balk at this. If they are fussing or trying to get off the toilet, use distraction methods to keep them on and happy. This may mean singing their favorite song, reading them a book, or even letting them hold an ipad while they sit. Also, give them a sippy cup to see if taking a drink gets things moving. In conversation, remind them that they will get a treat if they pee. Make sure they know what the treat is for extra motivation.

If your child pees, give PROFUSE praise, and immediately give them their reward.

If your child doesn’t pee, give them a few minutes of play time (with you RIGHT there to watch for signs of beginning to pee), and then sit them back on the toilet. I recommend waiting about 15-20 minutes before sitting them on the toilet again. Sooner than this may result in a tantrum, and any longer may result in an accident.

If your child has an accident, say something like, “Oh no!” and bring them to the toilet. Sit them on the toilet and say something like, “Pee goes in the potty! Put the pee in the potty!” If they get ANY pee in the toilet now, even if it is just a dribble, give them their reward. At this point, we are rewarding ANY success. If nothing happens, wipe up their legs and put them back in fresh underwear and pants (or let them run naked again if you prefer). Clean up the mess, and even let them help if you want. Make sure it is not a fun time though. We want the toddler to understand that going in the potty is FUN and having an accident is NO FUN.

From here on out, use a schedule of when to put the child on the toilet.

If your child just urinated, wait an hour and then put them on the toilet.

If they didn’t urinate, wait only 15-20 minutes and put them on again.

Since we want to have LOTS of opportunities for success, you may want to push fluids during this time. Give them water or milk to drink so they have to pee frequently. The more times that your toddler has to pee, the more chances for a reward they have. The more time the are rewarded, the stronger the connection between “peeing on the potty and getting something I love” will be!

What’s next?

At this point, you’re taking your child to the bathroom and hopefully seeing some success. Remember to really praise and reward the successes, even if just a little bit of pee gets into the toilet. Also, remember to keep your child on their schedule! They probably aren’t going to start requesting to go to the bathroom right away, so it is up to you to take them there frequently.

What to do if your child is having lots of accidents…

If your child is still having accidents, you need to look at a few things.

Rethink the schedule.

First, are you taking your child to the bathroom enough? Do you need to take them every half hour instead or every hour? Figure out the timing schedule that works for your child.

Rethink the reward.

Second, does your child really want the reward you are offering. As I mentioned above, at first, I was giving my 19 month old M&Ms for going on the potty. She likes M&Ms, but she was not willing to WORK for them. She was still having accidents (on my floor, since we were doing the naked method), though she would stop partway through the accident and say, “Pee Pee!” in a distressed voice because she didn’t like having the pee on her legs. This would give me a chance to take her to the restroom and for her finish on the toilet, and then to reward her for the little bit of pee in the toilet. But I had to figure out her “currency,” or what she was willing to WORK for, to get her to go completely on the toilet.

Want to know what it was? Mother Goose Club on Netflix. I try not to let my kids watch much TV (you can read here to find out why), so watching Mother Goose Club is a real treat for her. So, I started to tell her, “Go pee pee on the potty and get Mother Goose!” and she would! After she peed, I would immediately turn on Mother Goose Club and let her watch 5-10 minutes of it.

A quick note about rewards.

Earlier, I mentioned “satiation.” The reason I only let her watch 5-10 minutes of Mother Goose is because I wanted her to keep wanting to watch it. Here is an example of how this works. Let’s say that you love chocolate. Every hour, you eat chocolate. Sounds great, right? Well, sort of. Don’t you think you might get sick of chocolate if you ate it every hour? It at least wouldn’t hold the same value for you. This is why you can only let your child get a little bit of a reward, and not a huge reward every time they pee. Just a taste, to keep them wanting more!

And one more thing. Since Mother Goose Club was her reward for peeing on the potty, she did not get it any other time of the day. That means, no Mother Goose Club when I need to get a shower, or when I need to clean the house quickly, or when I’m at a restaurant and need her to sit quietly for a few minutes. And the same goes for food treats. They should ONLY get them when they pee on the potty.

Step 6 – Requesting To Use the Toilet.

At some point, using the toilet should transfer from you bringing them to the toilet, to them asking to use it. This took about 7 days for my 19 month old. Just about the time that I started to get nervous that she was just too young to request the toilet, she said, “Pee pee!” Hooray!

If your child doesn’t request, don’t worry. They will get there. For now, you can keep them on a schedule, but remember to say, “Potty!” or whatever your language is for using the toilet while you’re bringing them there. You can also have them repeat it so they get practice saying it on the way to the toilet.  

Some practical tips.

If your child is NEVER dry at night, you can keep them in a diaper then. Some kids will not be dry at night for a long time after they can use the toilet during the day. This may be physiological and not behavioral. Don’t punish your child if they pee at night. Their little bodies just may not be able to hold it, or be able to wake up when they are going. Give them time, and they’ll figure it out most likely.

On the other side of things though, some kids will be able to do all of this at once. On the day we started toilet training, my daughter, who always peed at night, decided she was done wearing a diaper and wouldn’t even let me put one on her at night (in her sleep she would fight me… she’s pretty iron-willed…). So, I let her sleep without a diaper and she only had ONE accident that first night. She’s been dry, and requesting to use the toilet around 5am, every night since then.

And last, while the naked method works great in the house, when you go out, you may want to put your child is a pull up. When you get back home, take if off immediately. For my daughter, I put her in one after she was consistently telling me that she had to use the potty because she wasn’t poop trained yet (and my husband couldn’t handle one more poop on the floor… fun times). My daughter did not revert to using the diaper to pee, and it really did help with poop training. When she would poop in her diaper, I would try to catch her immediately. This way, I could take her to the toilet to finish. The first few times, it didn’t work. She would refuse to poop on the toilet, wait until I put a new pull up on her and finish in there. But, as the pee training came along, so did the poop training.  I caught her once, mid poop, put the poop from the pull up into the toilet and sat her on it.  She fussed for a minute, and then settled down to business. It was scary for her, but she did it!  

Speaking of poop, what do we do about it?

Remember that data you took?  This will tell you the times to put your child on the toilet to poop.  Try to have them on the toilet around those times so they have the best chance for success.  

Additionally, try to get your child as comfortable as possible.  Pooping in the potty for the first time can be scary for kids.  Having a stool under their feet for them to push off of can make them more comfortable.  

Now, if your child just won’t poop on the toilet, you have a few options. First, get a better reward for poop. Since poop doesn’t happen as often a pee, you can use a bigger reward. Second, always put their poop in the toilet, even if it is on the floor or in their diaper. Pick it up, and bring it and your toddler over to the toilet, and then let them see you put it in while saying something like, “Poop goes in the potty!”

If your child starts to go and you catch them and put them on the toilet, and a little bit of poop falls off of them into the toilet, PRAISE IT LIKE CRAZY! We want them to know that poop on the potty means praise and rewards, even if they don’t actually poop in it the first time or two.

One last word about rewards.

After your child is consistently peeing in the potty, begin to give the rewards less frequently. This is called “fading the reinforcement.” You want to do this gradually.

For example, for the first week or so of toilet training, my daughter ALWAYS got her reward. But after she was consistently not having accidents, I started to skip letting her watch Mother Goose Club after one or two times of going in the potty each day. Instead, I would give her an M&M so she was still getting somewhat of a reward, but not her highest reward each time. Then after a few days, I began only letting her watch Mother Goose Club after 3 or 4 times of going in the potty, per day. I continued to drop the number of times that she was getting Mother Goose Club per day, after each few days. Doing this gradually makes it barely noticeable for your child. And, it allows you to normalize going on the toilet.

So, until you have consistent success (2 or 3 days of no accidents), your child should get their reward 100% of the time.

For the next three or four days of going in the potty, give them their reward for around 80% of the times they go on the potty.

If they maintain no accidents, again reduce the percent of the time that they get a reward to around 60% for a few days.

Continue this until they are just going on the potty on the regular without receiving a reward.

If your child starts to have accidents again during this fading, you have dropped the reinforcement percentage too fast. Reintroduce the rewards for every success and fade them out on a slower schedule (maybe every week or so).

So now that you know everything you need to know about toilet training your toddler, get to work!

I hope that this method brings you TONS of success! If so, let me know below! If it doesn’t, let me know that too! I’d love to give you tips or advice on your specific issues!

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Potty Training Tips for Toddlers

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