Little Kids

Potty training tips that work

Ditching diapers is often a prerequisite for preschool, but toilet training with a deadline isn’t fun for anyone. Here are some tips to help with the transition.

By Lisa van de Geyn
Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

“I’m in potty hell,” says mom of two Sarah Bloomer*.

Still trying to toilet train her son, Taylor*, who turned three last April, she’s at her wits’ end, especially since her daughter, Holly*, now six, was rid of her diapers by her third birthday. “Taylor doesn’t seem to understand that he has to use the toilet all the time — once or twice just doesn’t cut it. It’s sporadic and he outright refuses to sit on the toilet,” she says. With Holly, rewarding her with a combination of sticker charts, Smarties and certain coveted toys seemed to work. “But Taylor couldn’t care less.”

I first started toilet training my oldest, Addyson, when she was 22 months, two months before her little sister’s arrival. But by the time Peyton was born, Addyson had only peed on the potty twice, so I decided to wait until she was ready to use the toilet full-time. Little did I know that two years — and $150 in bribes and rewards — later, I’d still be waiting for an almost-four-year-old Addyson to say adios to her diapers so she could start junior kindergarten.

Where we live, kids start JK at three or four years old, and since most schools don’t allow diapers in the classroom, there is a potty training crunch time that can become a stressful pain in the backside for parents.

“The most common reason that kids have a hard time toilet training is that they’re just not ready yet,” says Ayisha Kurji, a general paediatrician and assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. “Most kids are trained between two and four years old. Girls tend to train a little earlier than boys,” she says. (There are several theories why — most have to do with girls maturing faster than boys, and that girls only have to learn one position for doing their business.)

Kurji says if your kid shows signs of readiness to train — staying steady while sitting on the potty, a desire to be independent, the ability to stay dry for several hours at a time, and being able to let you know about their need to pee with gestures or words — the process takes about three to six months. If you’re potty training a boy, and teaching him how to pee standing up, try tossing in a few pieces of cereal as floating targets. This encourages him to aim into the toilet (instead of the bathroom floor!).


Kurji recommends training in steps: “Allow the child to watch mom, dad or older siblings use the toilet, and start with letting them sit on the potty fully dressed,” she says. “Then get them to sit unclothed after changing a wet or soiled diaper. Then try multiple times a day for a few minutes without wearing a diaper, and finally progress to a schedule.”

If you’re at work during the day, many daycares work on potty training kids, and are often successful, especially since kids will be watching peers use the toilet and will want to follow suit. Of course, there’s also the running-around-naked-all-weekend-long idea, which we tried after our paediatrician suggested it. You’ll only want to try this technique outdoors when it’s nice out, or if your home isn’t carpeted. (Believe me.)

If training becomes a struggle (including tears and tantrums), Kurji says it’s OK to take a break for a month or two. “Battles can make things worse. The child can go back to diapers without punishment. But if you’ve tried multiple attempts, or the child is older than four, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your doctor,” she says.

The good news, for us, is that Addyson mastered number one on the toilet four weeks before school started. When we put pressure on for her to try a number two, she begged us for a diaper. (And we caved.) Just when I thought she’d never poop on the potty, she finally did a job (as my grandmother used to say) about two weeks before JK. I immediately updated my Facebook status with this: “MY WEEKEND IS COMPLETE. ADDY POOPED ON THE POTTY! Could not be more thrilled, and have never been more excited to wipe a bum.”


*Names have been changed.

A version of this article appeared in our November 2012 issue with the headline "Life of the Potty," pp. 90.

Want more toilet training advice? Check out this helpful video.

This article was originally published on Oct 24, 2012

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