How to potty train your toddler with patience and fun

Watch for signs your child is ready, then move ahead with no pressure and fun rewards. Find out how to potty train motivated toddlers in a weekend and what to do about regression.

Before you begin to learn how to potty train your toddler, consider when to start toilet training. The child having dry diapers and the ability to pull up and down their pants are some key starting points.

Waiting until your toddler is ready will make the “how” of potty training go more smoothly.

“Some kids are going to take a month or two. Some kids are just more resistant, and they’re going to need that extra time. That’s totally fine. If you make it a positive experience, that’s the most important thing,” Stephen K. Johnson, M.D., a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Springhurst, said during a recent episode of the Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness podcast “Parenting with You.”

Potty training works best when parents, caregivers and babysitters are consistent in their approach.

How to potty train

To get a toddler comfortable with going to the potty, first let them sit for a while without worrying if they need to go to the bathroom, according to Dr. Johnson. They can look at a book, or you can sing a song with them.

“One of the best times to put a child on the potty is when you’re running the bath, and they can just sit there. They’re like, ‘Oh, bath time is so relaxing,’” Dr. Johnson said.

If a toddler goes to the bathroom while they are sitting on the potty, make them feel good about it: Sing a song, give them a sticker, or offer some other positive reinforcement.

“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but what you’re looking for is for them to get excited and feel good about the experience,” Dr. Johnson said.

He recommended against using food, however, as a reward.

One way to get toddlers in the habit of going to the potty is to put them on the potty every couple of hours.

Switching toddlers from diapers or disposable, pull-up training pants to underwear lets them know when they’re urinating or defecating. With absorbent training pants or diapers, they don’t feel it as much.

You might be able to potty train in a weekend.

“There are some strategies that really work for kids who are kind of very motivated to use the potty, like picking two or three days and just going no diapers, no underwear, offering a lot of drinks to make sure they’re having the opportunity to go to the bathroom, and sometimes those kids will get the hang of it by the end of the weekend,” Dr. Johnson said.

Toddlers usually feel comfortable peeing in the potty before they’re ready to poop there.

Potty training can occur on a full-sized toilet or small potty. Some children are afraid to sit on the toilet and are more comfortable with the small potty. Other toddlers see older siblings or parents using the toilet and want to use it, too. The important thing is for a toddler’s feet to touch the ground or a stool when they are going to the bathroom, according to Dr. Johnson.

When boys are first potty training, it’s easier if they’re sitting down, according to Dr. Johnson.

Don’t expect the transition from diapers or disposable underwear to the potty to go perfectly.

“Accidents will happen, and when an accident happens, just be really matter-of-fact about it: ‘Okay, we didn’t make it to the potty. We’ll try again next time,’” Dr. Johnson said. “As long as you keep it positive, you can’t go wrong.”

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Toddlers can appear to be potty trained and then revert to old behaviors. Regression frequently happens with the arrival of a new sibling. Usually, this does not warrant a visit to the pediatrician.

“If the regression involves a lot of aggression, especially toward the new sibling, or if there’s significant loss of language, I would definitely want to get in with a pediatrician,” said Dr. Johnson, who was a pediatric psychologist before becoming a pediatrician.

To make potty training more fun, parents can put a few drops of food coloring in the potty. The toddler can see it change color when they urinate. Reading your toddler books on the subject also can help, as can dolls that can “go” in the potty after drinking, according to Dr. Johnson.