Ahh feel that warm summer breeze? The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there is laughter abound! The summer is synonymous with popsicles, warm weather, sandy toes and in my world...toilet training!
Since it’s one of the questions I am asked most frequently I figured I’d offer my two cents; but first, a warning...there a million and one ways to do this. What I am offering is an account of what has worked for me. At any given time I have 5-10 clients working on toileting goals—I am by no means a know-it-all, but I have been there and done that with kids that other professionals have vehemently declared “he/she is NOT ready”. So though I understand why "readiness signs" are an important developmental consideration they may not be the best indicator of when it's go-time (especially in our kids with more nuanced needs).
I have toilet trained neurotypical kids, kids with complex profiles and multiple diagnoses, kids who were 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8...you get the idea.
Here are my top 10 tips to getting it done!
1. Lose the pulls ups. No really---throw them out. Your wallet will thank you, and your journey to diaper freedom will be much easier.
Kids need consistency. It’s really important that you jump in with both feet. The only exception is at the very start of the process (there is an expiration date on this allowance) when I would say it is OK (not ideal, just OK) to put a pull up on when transitioning.
For example, for the first 1-2 weeks of toileting you may, if you must, put a pull up on to get in the car, or to hop on public transit. This is a short term plan and should be faded out as soon as possible and is only a viable option if you absolutely have to go somewhere.
2. Plan to focus ONLY on toilet training for a set period of time and get comfy because your kid may not be on your time table. One of the best ways to achieve consistency is to plan to stay home for as a long as it takes to develop a toileting routine without diapers. If you plan to stay home, go in the backyard, walk to the park, etc. (i.e. not in the car or go on public transit) you’re setting yourself up not to need pull ups even for transitions. Consistency is EVERYTHING!
3. Get a timer! Get a timer from the dollar store, or use Siri, and plan to start with bathroom trips every 20 minutes. Sit for 5-10 minutes and then re-set the timer. Once you're having fewer accidents, move to 30 minute trips, 40 minute trips and so on until you're nearing the 1.5 hour mark.
Timers will help you stay on track with your trips and help you monitor the duration of your trips—you don’t want to spend too long on the potty because you want toilet trips to be purposeful.
4. Buy brand new potty toys (and plan to throw them out after—yuck) Run to the dollar store and invest in some small toys or books to keep your little one interested on the potty. You could use an IPAD or other device if your child is somewhat resistant to the process and needs a better pay off for sitting.
Just remember—the toy shouldn’t be too distracting or you’ll end up with play time on the potty rather than trying to pee. Also remember to target this one step at a time—yes, you want your trips to be purposeful (see above) but you also want the potty to be a fun experience, or at the very least not a scary experience. Toys will help with this. Your first goal is likely not going to be peeing on the potty, but rather getting comfy with the routine of stopping play, going into the bathroom and going through the motions...
5. Think about motivation I hear parents scoffing...bribery eh? You behaviourists LOVE your bribery, am I right?
Laugh if you will, but the evidence strongly supports using positive reinforcement in place of punishment. Instead of punishing accidents, focus on reinforcing positive steps in the right direction. If you think getting a paycheque is bribery to show up to work then I guess reinforcement is too.
Reinforcement takes many forms and will vary from kid to kid. Think about high motivators that are not widely available but that get “used up” quickly so there is incentive to perform again. Think about using bubbles, tiny edible treats (if that’s your thing), stories, special songs you sing, social games (round and round the garden, and so on).
The bigger the accomplishment the bigger the pay off should be. Think of your potty toys as reinforcement for sitting nicely, and your small easy to use up reinforcement for going to the potty (as in, they don’t get it for effort they get it for actually peeing). You may w
ant to bring out the big reinforcers for the trickiest behaviours of all....#2 in the potty and ASKING to use the potty. (See #6 and #9)
6. BMs in the potty are a tough nut to crack!
In all my years doing toileting BMs are the trickiest. Can’t really say why except that they happen less frequently (once per day, if you’re lucky) rather than multiple times a day so catching them is harder and it just generally takes longer—so prepare yourself now.
You don’t need any special protocol for teaching BMs in the potty—just keep on keeping on. Remember that when your child has an accident (BM specifically) they should see you put the poop in the toilet; creating the association is important.
Unfortunately for boys this process often takes even longer —where girls sit to pee (and maybe some boys during the initial stages) boys sometimes stand which further complicates the process (and makes it potentially messy--you've been warned).
7. Accidents happen Here’s the thing, toilet training is about the learning process just like any other skill and accidents, like errors, will happen. The way you respond to accidents is important.
Here is your cheat sheet.
-You’re not mad, in fact you’re neutral about accidents. “You wet your pants, now you’ll have to change” (simple cause and effect without emotion) -The child should be responsible for as much of the changing process as he/she is capable of. Be firm on this. The more he/she has to work, the less he/she will want to repeat the process. This is a natural consequence so no need to add any finger waving or "no!" -Change in the bathroom; that’s where pee (and poop) goes -Always finish with washing hands and re-set the timer and re-set your (hidden) emotional response because "no worries, we'll try again soon!"
8. Water water water! The more you drink, the more you pee, the more chances to practice (and succeed) you get. Whenever your child sits on the potty, have them drink (I know cringe..but trust me); make water and other liquids readily available all day long and encourage lots and lots of drinking.
9. Asking to pee and peeing on the potty are different skills.
When your child pees on the potty consistently and doesn’t have accidents this is a wonderful accomplishment—it’s not being potty trained though!
To be considered potty trained your child has to be able to independently request the washroom (using whatever modality they rely on...words, sign, gestures, etc.). Remember that peeing and being accident free is a separate skill from requesting to use the bathroom; independently finding their way to the bathroom when they need to is also NOT the same thing as asking to use the bathroom.
Asking to use the bathroom is a really important self-help skill. Every time you go to the bathroom model the request! Choose whatever language feels comfortable for you and stick to it (“I need to pee” “I need to use the restroom” “I need the washroom” etc.)
10. This takes time! You can look up methods like the 3-day-method that rely on many of the principles noted in here (and others), and no discredit to those methods that have worked for a lot of people! BUT and it’s a big BUT...it’s normal for toileting to take longer than 3 days. Some get lucky, and other’s struggle. Wherever you are in the process know that you will get this!
Remember, like all learning—this will come naturally for some, and less naturally for others. If you’ve tried these methods and others and are
getting frustrated ask for help! This list is a basic and very general guideline. There are more intensive, and evidence based, ways to teach this skill (like all skills) and many kids need an individualized plan.
Don’t give up...a diaper free existence is within reach!!!