Tools & Tips from late-blooming potty training. | Enrychment

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tools & Tips from late-blooming potty training.

Before I say a single word on the topic of potty training, let me say - I am no expert. My son is 3 years and 3 months old, and has only been potty trained for 8 days. But just in case you're like me, and feel (or felt) like you will (would) be convincing your 25 year old son to wear underwear on his wedding day, here's what worked & didn't work for us.

Potty Seats

WHAT DIDN'T WORK: 3-in-1 Potty Seat

While this seat is inexpensive ($20) and kinda cool in a versatile, transformer kinda way, it didn't work very well for us. I had Luke try this potty in it's stand-alone version (as pictured) in the beginning, but decided I'd rather have him trained ON the potty so there wouldn't be a second step to learn eventually. That was the nice thing about this seat - after making this decision, it didn't go to waste, because the top snaps off & attaches to your toilet seat. The bottom flips over and becomes a step stool. While nice to have a toddler-sized seat and handles to boot, my picky kid didn't like how cold the seat was. It's smooth plastic (not unlike a normal toilet seat), and all winter long he'd throw a fit about using it because of how chilly it was. It also has no pee-shield abilities (a MUST for boys). If you want something for multiple uses, though - it's a good seat. And it didn't totally go to waste on us - we use the bottom as a stool in one bathroom so we can free up his actual stool for the other bathroom.

WHAT WORKED: Soft Potty Seat

When I realized that one of my son's biggest aversions to the potty was the temperature of the seat, I knew we needed to invest in one of these squishy-topped seats. We went to Target and let him pick one out - he went with a Cars seat (though it's not this exact one). He likes that it has handles, it came with a potty hook so you can hang it on the side of the tank, and MY favorite feature - the pee shield. It's a pliable rubber piece that you attach to the front of the seat and makes little boy pee go where it should! The 3-in-1 potty completely lacked this feature, and he would often cry that he missed his target and got pee on the floor (yuck). It's lightweight, easy for him to manage himself, and only $13! He has another version of this at his grandparent's house that even has a button for race-car noises, which makes potty-ing more fun for him, and extremely annoying for us. :)

BONUS: Fold-up Travel Potty Seat

My friend told me about this amazing invention, and the first chance I had to make a trip to Babies R Us, I picked one up (you can also get this on Amazon for the same price). It's only $10, and I like it SO MUCH I might get a couple so I have them in various places. They fold up to about a 6x6 space and are super simple to slip into a purse or diaper bag (keep the bag it comes in to make for sanitary travel!). They fit over any toilet (at a relative's house or in a public bathroom, which I am a total germaphobe about!) and turn it into a toddler-friendly size. No messing with toilet seat covers or toilet paper on the seat, no arguments over being scared to get on a too-big potty - it's fabulous! Of course, there's no pee shield, and it's not the squishy comfy seat at home, but this makes the scary out-of-the-house trips with a newly-trained toddler so much easier!


WHAT DIDN'T WORK: "He'll get there in due time"  So many people told me that forcing the issue would backfire, so I always made it a point to tread lightly. As he aged, I got more and more restless, and I picked up a book on how to potty train boys specifically. Even this book reinforced this method, and described a "special breed" of child that would require more care and a "hands off" approach. This special breed was the definition of my child! So I talked about the potty often, brought him to it to try, rewarded him for tiny accomplishments, and worded things in a "you're in charge" kind of way. I wasn't very forceful about it - I just let him take the reigns, and more often than not he chose to ignore them completely. While I'm glad that I have been patient with him, it wasn't producing results. I'm happy I didn't cause him any "trauma" over it, but eventually it became clear that this approach wouldn't work, unless I was willing to wait until he was 5 or something. At which point he may have been so utterly set in his ways, he'd need psychological help or something!

WHAT WORKED: 3 Day Potty Training  After trying a little harder to get Luke on the potty and having a few successes, I realized that instead of him making progress - it was ME who made progress. I was simply recognizing his cues and then whisking him off to do his business in a different location. He wasn't required to communicate with me, relocate to the bathroom on his own, keep his diaper dry - nothing. He was able to keep on doing what he always did, and then get a sticker & praise for doing absolutely nothing different. I was reinforcing behavior I didn't want. Hello! Because nothing else seemed to work, hubs & I decided it was time to get tough. I'd been given a copy of the ebook for the 3 day potty training method, so I opened that up, read through it, took some notes, and after stocking up on supplies - we started it on a Sunday. Neither of us expected this to only take 3 days - we were expecting (even welcoming!) a 1-2 week process. But guess what. IT TOOK 3 DAYS! And I'm talking, able to leave the house and run errands in underwear, trained. I HIGHLY recommend this method! Rather than go into excruciating detail, I'll give you the basics:

1. On day 1, over breakfast, explain to your child that you won't be using diapers any more and it's time for big kid undies. Then make a show of throwing out their diapers (this is a method no-no, but we only had him throw out 1, "the last diaper", and hid the rest so we could have them when his little brother grows into them), and put them in undies. No pants, shorts, dresses or skirts. They can wear a shirt, but nothing on the bottom but undies. This is so you can both immediately notice accidents.

2. All day long, say "Tell me when you have to go potty". We made a point to say it every 15 minutes, and we BOTH said it. It has to be said in this form, or something similar, so that they get the feeling that THEY are the ones in control, AND that you trust them to tell you. Don't ask if they want to/need to go.

3. Set up a reward system for successes and SHOWER them with love and praise for every tiny effort they make.

4. Constantly remind them "it's your job to keep your underwear dry" and congratulate them every now and then for keeping their underwear dry.

5. When they have an accident, say things like "yuck" or "looks like you forgot to keep your underwear dry, remember to tell me next time"...and then move on. Don't shame them, don't make them feel bad, and if they already feel bad - love on them.

Those are the basics, though there's a lot more detail in the ebook!


Our system was pretty simple. I know many people say "don't reward with food", but, whatever - our kid responds to treats, and it worked. And it wasn't ALL food rewards.

First, I made a 3-day chart (I fully expected to end up making more, but this was all we needed in the end!). Each time he had a success on the potty, he got to put a sticker in the box for the day. When he filled up a box with stickers, he earned a toy. We didn't give him a specific number of stickers he needed to earn because he's a tricky one - he would have reached that number & then went in his undies for the rest of the day!

Additionally, every time he peed on the potty he got 3 M&M's with his sticker (see, nothing excessive), and every time he pooped he earned a small little debbie cake (they were mini ones that came 2 to a package, and it was no more than once a day).

This way, he was getting seemingly showered for each success (a little treat, a sticker, praise and cheers), and they eventually amounted to bigger prizes. The prizes were just less than $10 toys we let him pick out at Target. He picked a matchbox car, a toy that shoots little spinny ring things, and a toy lightsabre.

Tips & Lessons Learned

  • Have lots of undies on hand, but no need to go overboard. I don't remember the exact amount, but I think I recall reading that you need 30 pairs of undies in the 3day ebook. We had 18, and I don't think we got through them all in 2 days. Yes, there were accidents the first two days, but they weren't constant, and running them through the wash wasn't a problem. It is a good idea to let your child pick them out, though, because Luke chose Thomas, Super Hero, Star Wars & Yo Gabba Gabba ones, and he LOVED seeing who was on his butt that he had to keep clean ;)

  • I fully expected there to be accidents even after we had multiple days without incident, but that doesn't mean they weren't frustrating even so! It may seem like your child has a set back, but it's actually progress. Once they have the basics down, they start experimenting with control and limits. They want to see how long they can go without a trip to the potty, and what really happens if they just decide to pee in their jeans! Two or three accidents later, they'll get it.

  • I decided that putting him in pull-ups when going out in public could cause set back. He would most likely see this as a "freebie" and try to hold it until we were in public and "allowed" to go in his pants. So I risked it. Was it terrifying? You bet. I had to sketch out a whole game plan for every possible scenario before I finally did it. Being completely organized helped ME feel in control. And I had to accept that embarrassment for me would = experience for him, and I was willing to do that for our success! If you're curious, my plans for our outings are: never leave the house without a change of undies & pants, always have a travel potty on hand, put a small, thin, blanket in his car seat to help protect it from accidents, keep open communication with him about it, and if he has an accident mid-shopping, check out where you are (because I'd feel worse abandoning a full cart than making people hear my kid cry for 5 minutes) and go back for what you need the next day.

  • The in-car travel potty isn't really necessary. We were gifted one, so we have it, but not only have we never used it - I don't see us needing to use it. It's basically a fold up, free-standing structure that utilizes large ziplock baggies. Your child can use it in the trunk area of your car, and then you toss out the baggie when they're done. A little gross? Yeah. And with the fold-up travel potty I raved about above, there's no reason to avoid a toilet in whatever public place you're visiting.

  • A good praise tip is to call up Grandma and Grandpa and let your potty trainee tell them their "big news" after a successful trip to the potty. It reinforces the idea that this is a big share-worthy deal, and increases their pride. It's also a good idea to let them overhear you talking about how proud you are of their progress to others!

  • Don't be afraid of sleeps, and don't resort to pull-ups! Maybe it's because I have a baby and I'm already up 1-3 times a night, but I don't see what the big deal is if we need to get up & change sheets if Luke has an accident. And maybe I'm spoiled in saying this, because he has only had ONE in-bed accident since we started training, but even if he wet the bed every night, I'd just change his sheets and move on. My thought behind this is - if we gave him a "freebie" every night, wouldn't he just start holding it until bedtime? Kids are smart, they'll figure it out. And chances are, they won't want to sleep in their pee forever - they'll figure it out sooner rather than later! Make sure you've got a least one clean sheet every night (preferably more), don't let them drink a lot right before bed, and give them a bunch of reminders of what they should do if they need to go.

  • Tell them in a matter-of-fact, non-threatening way that if they poop in their underwear, you'll have to throw it out. This isn't meant to be a scare tactic, it's a simple fact - if he were to poop in his underwear, I would throw it out. I'm not scrubbing that!! Since he was invested in his undies (he picked them all out and loves them all!) he does not like that idea in the least. It helps that he has an aversion to throwing ANYTHING out (he doesn't even like it when I throw out a wrapper from a snack!). It's worked like a charm, because he hasn't gone in his underwear ONCE since quitting diapers!

Because of the above, we said goodbye to diapers faster than I ever imagined possible! Not goodbye-goodbye, because we have an 8 month old - but see ya later size 5's! Monday morning, we woke up to the sound of Luke taking himself to the potty straight out of bed! That was such a rewarding moment!

One final note - Luke is older than the average potty trainee. He was easier to reason with and explain things to because of how verbal & comprehensive he is at this age. The same may not be true for younger children. However, the method we used claims that the "ideal age" is 22 months, so you never know! Luke is 16 months older than that (yikes!) and I feel like his high level of success and immediate self-action (taking himself to the potty) is because of his age. I couldn't picture him at 22 months, setting up his potty seat and stool and climbing onto the toilet to do it all himself! So adjust your expectations accordingly! :)


  1. Ohh this post has been so helpful. I've been trying to read everything on potty training. B will be 3 in July. He seems willing and interested in the potty but hates when I bring out the underwear. He goes screaming. I'm thinking of trying maybe those boxer briefs? Anyways your post was really helpful and has motivated me to try a little more with him! I haven't been very pushy with him over the whole thing and I think I might need to be! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Hope you have a great rest of your weekend.

  2. Nice write up. We survived three daughters and our granddaughter is now going through the process. Enjoy your SITS Day.

  3. Great post! I love it when you cover all the bases and even show products that worked and didn't. Even though kids are different, it's great to see what worked for you. Maybe some mommie will have the same success from your story. Congrats on a nice job!!

  4. My youngest is almost 3 and a half. He's got the pee part down, but not the poop part. He's been wearing underwear for the past two weeks, and even though he has occasionally poop accidents, I'm pleased with where he is in the process. I've asked his day care teachers to take him to the potty every evening at 5 because he always seems to poop right before I pick him up at 5:15.