How do I potty train?

Teaching a kid this basic life skill can be unbelievably frustrating. Here are four potty training strategies that work!
Illustration: Stephanie Baxter

Illustration: Stephanie Baxter

With the help of Marvin Gans, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Toronto, we’ve put together four toilet-training strategies to help you on this journey.

Booty camp
How it works: Devote a weekend to diaper-free training. The idea is that she’ll need to put that pee and poop somewhere, so why not in the potty?

How to prep: Stock up on fun underwear—and paper towels. Be sure you’re well rested so you’ll have lots of patience for a weekend of coaching, cleanups and, hopefully, celebration.

What to expect: Lots of accidents, and some frustration, are very likely.

Time frame: If all goes according to plan, she’ll be day trained by Sunday night.

Is it right for you? Easily frustrated or distracted toddlers might not take to this method, but if your child is motivated to wear big-kid underwear, this may mean short-term chaos for big-time gain.

Slow & steady
How it works: Watch for signs of readiness and follow your child’s lead to introduce the potty.

How to prep: Set up a potty in the bathroom or living room. Get some potty-training books and DVDs to introduce the idea.

What to expect: Toddlers are curious copycats, so he may want to watch you use the toilet before he tries it. He may love sitting on a potty, but not do much more, or pee once and then not again for a while.

Time frame: Some kids will be quick learners, but because you’re not pushing it, his interest might come and go. It could take months to say goodbye to his training pants for good.

Is it right for you? If neither of you is sweating extra time in diapers, you’ll both do well with this approach.

Deadline
How it works: You keep a laser focus on the end goal and use strategies consistently all day, every day to beat the clock.

How to prep: Switch to cotton underwear and let her know you’ll be going to the potty regularly all day. Create a bathroom chart to track her triumphs, so you can celebrate every deposit with a star or sticker.

What to expect: If your training has been sporadic, she may rebel at first, so keep the tone light but firm, and focus on the successes. Be prepared to up the ante with extra rewards.

Time frame: A dedicated effort can help toddlers ditch their diapers within about two weeks.

Is it right for you? Yes, if you can stay cool—even as D-day approaches—and ensure it’s a positive experience.

Rewards
How it works: This method relies on rewards to entice your child to use the potty.

How to prep: Stock up on stuff that’ll motivate him; a two-tiered rewards system works well. For example, he gets a sticker on the potty chart every time he tells you he has to go or makes it to the potty on time, then gets a bigger reward—like a small toy—when he collects five stickers.

What to expect: You should see steady progress, as long as he’s sufficiently enticed by his rewards.

Time frame: You should be diaper-free within a few weeks.

Is it right for you? Most kids get the hang of a bribery system and are very enthusiastic about it; it’s just a matter of whether or not you’re comfortable doling out daily prizes.

A version of this article appeared in our April 2015 issue with the headline, “Your top 10 most googled parenting questions”, p. 67. 

Read more:
Potty training: 7 experts tips from daycare teachers
Toddler tips: From potty training to public bathrooms
Potty training: Establishing bathroom habits

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