Potty Training :: In The Trenches


Potty Training In the Trenches - Columbia SC Moms Blog

As a daycare provider, nanny and child care consultant, I’ve seen kids totally own toilet training and I’ve witnessed kids (and parents) retreat. As a stay-at-home mom, I now spend my days with my own little trooper. Tim’s my almost 3- year-old and I’m currently tasked with leading him to toilet training triumph.

In my experience, two questions are paramount to timely success.

Am I ready? Is my child?

These questions seem easy enough to answer. Right? Well, even in my mom-of-a-toddler-haze I know that what’s below the surface of these seemingly simple questions are answers that may save me (and you) from embarking on Mission Impossible.

Mental Preparedness

Our little ones will soon graduate to underwear! Exciting. Check! Cheaper. Check! I repeat, OUR BABIES (who may be 4, but are still our babies) aren’t going to need us to change them ANYMORE.

OH… there’s that feeling that we’re walking through an emotional minefield.

Let’s be really honest with ourselves. Potty training is intimidating. Some moms feel overwhelmed and under confident. The hype about sure-fire “weekend boot camps,” although intriguing, can raise concern about the state the carpets will be in by Monday. Other moms are less than enthusiastic. They begin the process with only one foot in, secretly harboring reservations about their little recruit leaving babyhood in the dust.

I began asking myself if I was ready around the time Tim turned 2.

My answer was a resounding no.

I decided to wait for a few good reasons (only one was selfish). Child care experience affords a person tactical insight. I am blessed with in-the-field, special-ops training. Having worked closely alongside dozens of moms and dads before earning my own rank as mom, I’ve had many opportunities to see what worked and what didn’t for other families. As a (then) showered, well-slept, objective person (non-mom), I had the ability to come up with creative suggestions that helped streamline routines and make life easier.

Mostly because of my experience with other people’s kids, I decided to start strategizing around Tim’s second birthday instead of actively training him. I consider this the soft launch of Tim’s potty training. Eight months passed before I began the active training portion of the process.

You’re thinking, EIGHT MONTHS?! Affirmative! It was a long while before the big PULL-UPS AWAY WHILE WE’RE AWAKE DURING THE DAY announcement (which was two weeks ago).

Guess who’s going to be a big kid now?

Making Strategic Decisions of When and How to Start

Last spring, my mom visited and we took a trip to an expensive baby boutique. She bought Tim a Bjorn toddler potty. We kept it out in the living room, so it wouldn’t seem foreign. He was excited about his fancy, green chair with a detachable hat.

We moved it into the bathroom after a couple of weeks because he was showing interest in flushing the big potty for us and we wanted him to start associating his practice potty and the toilet. We told him he could use his little potty, just like mommy and daddy use theirs. He actually did successfully go a few times, on his, especially before bath time. We of course made a big deal of celebrating with singing, high fives and hugs. He was stoked to help us dump/flush the contents into the big potty.

When Tim turned 2, I made two other strategic decisions. I asked my husband to remove the changing topper from Tim’s bureau and I completely stopped buying diapers.

Since then, he has been in Pull-Ups. He was happy to practice pulling them up and down at changes and months of doing so translated to solid dexterity with elastic-waisted undies. Though Pull-Ups are slightly more expensive, they are so worth the cost for an active child who is excited to help and practice motor skills.

About a month after we made these changes, Tim consistently started seeking privacy when he had to go. My husband and I added some books about potty training into the rotation. (Tim has quite a library!)

A few more weeks went by and we moved our family across the country because my husband was promoted. We settled into our new home slowly because we traveled to two out-of-state weddings and had family stay for a couple of weeks, all shortly after we moved in. We eventually unpacked everything, including the Bjorn potty and huge library of books.

potty books
Just some of the many helpful potty books out there.

He consistently went off for privacy when he had to go in his Pull-Ups and even began telling us in late Fall, “I need a new Pull-Up!” whenever he did. We started talking more specifically about what happens from where and within a short amount of time he would tell us, correctly, what happened in his Pull-Up. He mastered pulling his Pull-Ups up and down and could just about dress himself, entirely, by Christmas.

After the excitement of having more of our family stay with us for a couple weeks at the end of December, I decided it was time to revisit the all-important question, Am I Ready? Clearly, my child was.

He was prepared for active duty. By January, I felt I was too. We were settled, the holidays had passed and I had eight more months of changing my baby. I missed out on twelve months-worth of changes, smiles, feedings and snuggles at the beginning of his life because we weren’t matched for adoption until just after our son’s first birthday. I didn’t feel that I could rush away care that I wanted to give. (Like I said, only one of my reasons for halting active training was selfish.) We all have emotional baggage of one kind or another. I was finally ready to rid myself of that heavy weight and move forward on a new adventure with Tim.

It’s my responsibility to be my son’s “Army-of-one” for most of the week because my husband works long hours to provide for our family and Tim is our only child. Kids with older siblings or in daycare settings have the example and encouragement of other children celebrating victory in the bathroom.

If it’s just you and your kiddo, then it’s important to recognize that your supply of enthusiasm will be the sole, shared source. 

There will be times when your child is tired, not feeling well or is simply focused on other important tasks (like finding sticks in the yard that are just the right size, to build a house for an unspecified critter to live in) when you’re looking at your watch knowing it’s been about 40 minutes since they’ve tried to go. So when I started by asking myself if I was ready, I was really asking myself if I was excited. Positive perseverance is the name of the game.

Abandoning life as you know it until your kiddo’s skills are (at least fairly) solid sounds fun right? I started actively teaching Tim and here’s how it went:

Active Duty :: How Potty Training REALLY Went

Day 1:

Family trip to the store to buy mini boxer briefs! We talked up how much they looked just like daddy’s (you’re welcome for this info drop, Jordan.) Tim held the packs on the way home, helped me get them into the laundry, and then folded them (as neatly as Tim can fold.) We found a special place in his drawer for them to hang out.

I also bought some other specialized equipment, including;

  • A second practice potty for $10 at Target, by Little Loo, to make my life easier. We have a two story house so the Little Loo stays upstairs and makes its rounds from Tim’s room to our playroom and into the bathroom to be cleaned, as needed.
  • I also grabbed two Prince Lion Heart toddler seat covers to make our adult sized toilets more comfortable for Tim. They have suction cups underneath so they stay secure and have a foam-like texture. They travel well, too!

Day 2:

Each time my husband or I went to the bathroom, we made an announcement to Tim and said, something to the extent of “I feel like I have to go use the potty!” We also talked about how comfortable our dry underpants are!

Motivation for my little recruit included special treats like:

  • pretzels
  • breakfast bars
  • animal crackers
  • homemade muffins

I divided them into easy-to-grab goodie bags because the way to my little soldier’s heart is through his stomach. (He gets that from his dad. I was a sticker-reward kid myself!) I stored the treat bags in a clear container in a prominent spot on the kitchen counter.

Tim kept asking about the treats container and I told him exactly how to earn one! (I only reward successful missions, not attempts.) If your child responds well to sticker charts, then consider saving some money by making your own stickers. Cut out magazine photos of things that interest your child and use double stick tape on the back or cut shapes out of washi tape. They’re a cool visual collection of your kiddo’s potty training success, like badges earned!

Day 3:

Same as Day 2, only Tim started announcing to me, “I’m peeing!” as he would go in his Pull-Up. I put out beach towels (Tim is my California baby so playing “Day At The Beach” was not a hard sell) to prepare the barracks for accidents, especially in our playroom which is carpeted.

Easy clean-up is key!

I also rearranged our furniture so that we’d have lots of room to play around his practice potty chair, downstairs, where we have wood floors. We got out the best bins of toys and made some cool setups before bed (to play with in the morning).

Day 4:

Cue the megaphone squeak! My BIG “Pull-Ups Away During The Day” announcement. We started the day by tossing out his Pull-Up and then we completely abandoned life as we knew it!

I made a game out of saying, “Hydrate, Son!” We kept full sippy cups in each room; brought the practice potty everywhere we went and familiarized ourselves with sitting on the big potty with the Prince Lion Heart kid seat covers.

Tim sat on one of the various seats EVERY 45 minutes (plus anytime he felt like it.) Now you have to figure, if your kiddo is up at 7, has a two hour nap and goes to bed around 8… you’re looking at around 16 attempts. Make sure you have a defense planned to strike back at boredom.

Tim loves music so one of our boredom busters was him strumming my guitar while he sat on his practice potty. He even started singing his own lyrics (with his pants around his ankles) which made the whole scene even more memorable.

potty training - Columbia SC Moms Blog
Having an activity for your child to do while on the potty that he loves was helpful for us. This kept him occupied while he was trying to go during 45 minute scheduled increments.

It was a slow start in the morning with a couple of accidents, but by the afternoon he had successfully peed on the potty TWICE! I celebrated each time he went and I MEAN CELEBRATED! Of course it’s important to wait on the screaming and clapping until he’s done going, as to not interrupt his flow. (Pun intended.) I scooped him right off his feet each time and we danced.

I repeatedly replenished the easy to grab goodie bags and Tim was always happy to find new surprises. I tried to keep the treats healthy-ish because he was choosing quite a few each day.

Other mess hall menu items included: soup, watermelon slices, orange segments, homemade popsicles, fresh squeezed lemonade, cut up cucumbers and tomatoes. (Just think high water content and make it fun for everyone!)

Day 5:

There were only two accidents all day and Tim successfully did EVERYTHING on the potty! He was so happy and I was so impressed! The trickiest thing for him was starting to pee in his boxers, but he was great at stopping and getting to the potty to finish.

In the evening, Tim was excited to greet his dad! He shouted, “Daddy, come watch me do a stand up pee just like you!” He ran into the bathroom lifted the seat and went. I thought I was going to eventually need to throw Cheerios in a potty for target practice, but the kid was a natural! The 5 ½ inch growth spurt he had last year could not be put to better use.

A little while later, we enjoyed some riveting dinner conversation about the logistics of urinating. Tim wanted to know medical terms and as we were cleaning up he told us to, “Drink some water so you can store up some pee in your bladder!”

Days 6-10:

Speaking of medical explanations, we found ourselves looking for one in the infirmary (pediatric urgent care) to explain our little guy’s sudden and extreme 103.9 degree fever. Just when I felt like we were in the trenches with learning to use the potty, Tim was diagnosed with a serious, flu-like virus. Days of medicine, snuggles, rocking and sleeping went by. I put away all of our training gear and didn’t mention potty training at all. Tim slowly started recovering as another bomb was dropped. Our dog was diagnosed with a tumor on his heart and had a lengthy stay in emergency care. We rallied as best we could.

Day 11:

Tim was so excited to have his best buddy home from the Emergency Vet Clinic and he was finally feeling much better himself. We all spent some quiet time with our dog, Nautica, recovering. I got out our potty training equipment, which Tim was actually happy to see! I told him that he could start wearing underpants and using the potty again, whenever he wanted and he actually got right to it. By bedtime, he had done EVERYTHING on the potty, just like he had the week before!

Day 12:

There were less trying moments and I noticed myself truly enjoying the potty training regimen with Tim. After all, I’d rather be in the trenches with him than anyone else. His uniform for the better part of most days, was a shirt and underwear to make life easier. Less mini briefs were ending up in the laundry room, so I knew we were making real progress!

I announced the (for now) retirement of our diaper bag to my smiling son. Together, we packed a cool travel backpack for going-on-the-go(complete with Clorox wipes).

Tim was already less focused on the treat rewards. Sometimes after our celebrations (which are still a wildly entertaining spectacle), he just goes back to whatever he was doing without asking to choose something from the goodie container.

Day 13:

Tim woke up and as soon as I shuffled into the room, he took off his pajama pants and Pull-Up. He sat right down on his practice potty (which I bring into his room with us while we’re reading at night so it’s readily available the next day) and he peed. He successfully went three more times before lunch! We played outside in our backyard in the afternoon and he peed on the potty, right when we came in about an hour later. His ability to start going right away was great reassurance to me that he was getting really comfortable and that we were finally into a rhythm. I actually forgot that he was in underwear while we were playing outside.

Day 14:

We ran two errands in dry underpants! When we got home, Tim hustled into the bathroom. I let the dogs outside so they could pee too. Tim was running through the house shouting, “Yay, I did my peeeeeeee!” when I was hurrying to use the bathroom next. I was just thinking to myself that the leader of the pack having an accident would be a blow to morale, when I went to sit AND fell into the toilet because Tim left the seat up… I don’t think I’ve ever had such a big smile on my face.

Washing Hands
Tim loves using his step stool so he can operate the sink and wash his hands as independently as he uses the potty!

Hopefully your training experience will involve lots of good, very little bad and even less ugly (as in, war waged on the absorbent surfaces in your home.) To all you moms headed into bathrooms with toddlers, we salute you!

What potty training advice would you add?

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Victoria Tyman and her husband, Jordan, are blessed to have called most of the major regions of this beautiful country, home. For Victoria, being a full-time mom is both a career and hobby, in one. She writes during extended naps to kill time, when the house is clean. Her dogs are rescues that she fell in love with on Petfinder.com. Originally from New England, she enjoys coastal life and exploring outdoors. No matter where her family is living, they root for Boston teams (Go Bruins!) She does less animal welfare work, in the trenches, these days but seizes as many opportunities as possible to strengthen awareness and respect for creatures both great and small. Victoria was a nanny for many years, as well as a Sunday school teacher and loves volunteering as a guide for kids at nature preserves.


  1. What a big accomplishment for both of you! Congrats! Potty training is on the horizon for us – now I definitely have a battle plan for the upcoming war on diapers 😉


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