Potty training is one of the most challenging parts of raising a toddler. As parents, we’re not trained on how to teach a child to do something that comes so natural to us. So when it’s time to potty train, you may be confused by all the conflicting advice out there on what is the best way to transition your child out of diapers.
The mistakes and tips I compiled here are based on what I learned along the way and will benefit any parent trying to toilet train their child. In this post, you’ll learn the basics of potty training as well as all the common potty training mistakes that you should avoid.
When I potty trained my first child, I made some of the biggest potty training mistakes a parent could make. These mistakes led to one failed potty training attempt after another. As time went on, my daughter became more stubborn and resisted going to the bathroom, and I became more desperate. It took almost a year to fully potty train her. Below, I’ll let you in on what I would have done differently if I could do it over again.
What is Toilet Training?
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Toilet training (aka “potty training”) is the process of teaching your child to pee or poop in the toilet. Your child would be considered fully potty trained when they realize on their own that they need to go and need little to no help using the toilet.
There’s two parts to potty training, bladder control and using the toilet. Usually a child will learn how to control their bladder and stay dry in the daytime long before they’re able to stay dry all night.
Here are some engaging books to teach your child more about potty training:
- Potty Time with Elmo by PI Kids
- Let’s Go to the Potty by Allison Jandu
- The New Potty by Gina and Mercery Mayer
For parents who want a step-by-step roadmap on how to potty train, I highly recommend checking out Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki. Parents rave out this book and swear by the potty training strategies in it.
When Should I Start Potty Training?
Potty training can take a long time. How long it takes to fully potty train varies from child to child.
According to HealthyChildren.org, on average children start showing signs of potty training readiness between 18 to 24 months of age. But it could be well after their 3rd birthday that they become fully potty trained.
My daughter started showing signs of readiness around 2.5 years old, but wasn’t fully potty trained until about a year later (which as I mentioned above was likely our fault).
No matter when you decide to start potty training, there are some key things you want to avoid if you want to set your child up for potty training success.
Most Common Potty Training Mistakes
Below are the most common potty training mistakes that parents often make unknowingly. By understanding these pitfalls and learning how to avoid them, you can ensure a smoother and more successful potty training experience for both you and your little one.
1. Potty training before your child is ready.
Before potty training starts, it’s important that your child shows you they are ready. While it’s true that using the toilet is a new skill a child learns, your child’s development and maturity also plays a factor. If you start them too early, then they might become resistant and the potty training process will take much longer.
While there is no “perfect time” to start potty training, here are some signs of potty training readiness to look out for:
- They show interest in using the toilet. Your child might do this by following you or other family members to the bathroom, trying to mimic using the “big kid” toilet, asking for their own potty, etc.
- They are aware when they are wetting/soiling themselves. They might explicitly tell you when they did “pee-pee” in their diaper or start hiding in corners or other rooms when they are having a bowel movement.
- They stay dry for long stretches of time. Sometimes, like my daughter, your child will start waking up with dry diapers from naps or in the morning. But if they are staying dry during the day for a few hours, that is also a good sign towards potty training readiness.
- They try to remove their own diaper or insist that you take it off. Your child may start to get upset or annoyed if they are wet or soiled and will immediately try to remove their diaper or ask you to change them.
- Their bowel movements are becoming more predictable. For example, your child might have a bowel movement every morning after breakfast.
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2. Starting potty training on a busy weekend or during major changes.
For your best chance at success, start potty training on a weekend where you don’t have a bunch of plans or have to leave the house. If you can stay home and hold off any visitors coming over for a few days, you can focus more on potty training and your child will be more relaxed and agreeable.
Potty training during or shortly after a major change, like moving to a new house, starting a new school, or after the birth of a new sibling is also a big no-no. Your child needs time to process these changes and adjust before moving on to another major transition.
I tried to potty train my daughter a few weeks after moving into a new house while I was pregnant with my second child and I think you can guess how that went…
3. Putting too much pressure on your child.
Putting too much pressure on your child is about the worst thing you can do (it was my #1 mistake in potty training my child) and can lead to a battle of wills.
Avoid power struggles, shaming, or punishing for accidents. The potty training experience is already such a stressful time for your child. There is no need to give them a hard time for the occasional accident.
A good idea is to use rewards and other incentives to encourage going in the toilet. For example, sticker charts, candy, and toys make great incentives.
You may also want to avoid over-celebrating and making a big deal when they do go, as it has the same effect of making your child feel pressured into toileting. Just keep a positive attitude, and calmly praise your child in moments of success.
4. Not getting everyone on the same page.
Once you decide your plan of action for potty training, share it with your spouse, siblings, nanny, grandparents and any other caretakers that might be involved. Make sure they are on the same page and answer any questions they have.
Stress the importance of consistency for successful potty training. There is nothing worse than making progress with your child at home only to have them regress when they go to grandma’s house.
If your child goes to daycare, they can be a huge help. Once I involved my daughter’s teacher and came up with a plan together, my daughter made huge leaps of progress. There’s also the added motivation of being around other potty trained kids your child can learn from.
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5. Not feeding your child enough fiber.
If your child is not getting enough fiber, it might be harder for them to poop and can become constipated. And if they have a painful experience trying to have a bowel movement, they may refuse to poop for long periods of time out of fear of repeating that negative experience.
This can lead to “stool toileting refusal,” and start a vicious cycle where your child holds it in for days at a time. As you can imagine, this can really throw a wrench into potty training (my daughter didn’t poop for an entire week once!).
The important thing is to make sure your child has enough fiber in their diet, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, to keep their stool soft and easy to pass. If you have a really picky eater, you can try fiber gummy supplements. I used these delicious kid-friendly fiber supplements along with a probiotic multivitamin for my daughter that made her regular in no time.
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6. Giving your child the iPad to sit on the toilet.
Giving my daughter the iPad definitely got her to sit and stay on the toilet. The problem was that she was just sitting there for long periods of time, not focusing on pooping and just watching her shows. Sometimes she would say she had to go poop just so she could get the iPad.
I quickly learned that was not the right thing to do, and stopped giving her the iPad during potty time. It’s better to let your child sit on the potty and focus on what they have to do. And realistically, if you’re out and about, you’re not going to give them a tablet or your phone in a public bathroom, so it’s better to be consistent and not give them a tablet for potty time at home. Which brings me to my next big mistake…
7. Not being consistent.
There are lots of different ways to potty train a child. You can start with training diapers (“pull-ups”) or go straight to regular underwear. You can start with a small toilet or use a potty chair. You can do a strict 3-day training or a slower transition over a few months.
Whatever your plan may be for potty training, make sure you and everyone else involved is consistent. Going back and forth between pull-ups and cotton underwear will only confuse your child and make them more resistant to the transition.
8. Not being prepared.
It’s a really unpleasant experience if you leave your house with your potty-training child without having a set of extra clothes in case they have an accident. Accidents can and will happen, so make sure if you’re going out that you bring everything you need with you, including extra clothes, a portable potty seat if your child uses one, and cleaning supplies.
It’s also a good idea to have your child use the bathroom before leaving the house and ensuring that wherever you’re going there will be an accessible bathroom for your child to use.
9. Not taking a break and starting over.
Sometimes potty training just isn’t working out. Perhaps your child was doing well for a few weeks, then a big change happened and they regressed. Or perhaps your child is resisting so much they begin to hold their stool often. If that’s the case, you may want to re-think whether your child is really ready to potty train and would benefit from a break.
After months of trying to potty train my daughter to no avail, I finally gave up and put her back in pull-ups. I did this for a few weeks, then coordinated with her daycare on a start-over plan for potty-training. That second go-around was just what she needed for it to finally “click.” I think once the pressure was off, she was much more willing to try using the potty herself.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Potty Training
Potty training is a challenge that many parents struggle with. Don’t make the mistake of beating yourself up and thinking you’re in any way failing if your child doesn’t potty train overnight. It’s a process that can take up to a year to fully complete and every child’s potty training journey is different. Trust that with a lot of patience, your child will get there in time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Potty Training
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