When my oldest was a baby, I thought I was interested in early potty training. Others would tell me that early potty training trains parents not children. I didn’t care! If I had to remind him every hour for a year, I would have done it to get the poop in the potty. Unfortunately, my child wasn’t interested. We tried potty training when he was about 20 months old. In one morning, I think he peed in five places, none of them the toilet. We surrendered. Turns out we aren’t early potty trainers. Potty training can be one of the most vexing parenting tasks. Its got all the elements for an ugly struggle – mess, odor, mess, control issues and did I mention mess? The calmest of parents can be sent into a tizzy with a car seat full of pee. So what does work?

Find your kid’s sweet spot. Some kids are motivated by m&ms or jellybeans. Some kids are motivated by a dance class or going to preschool. Find your kids motivation and work with it.

Wait till they are physically ready. This is about both learning and readiness. If your child hasn’t figured out how to keep pee in, no amount of stickers is necessarily going to change that. Look for your child to tell you when they are soiled, even better, tell you beforehand. Watch for them to stay dry for longer periods of time and develop patterns of eliminating. Its a plus for everyone if they can at least help with dressing and undressing as well as hand washing.

Prep, prep, prep – Read books about potty. Sing songs about potty. Take your child into the potty with you (mine never had to be asked!). Watch potty movies. Many families swear by the Elmo movie. Put the potty chair in the bathroom. Its all about making the potty routine familiar and safe.

Pick a good time. Some of this is obvious. Avoid the week before the new baby is due, Christmas, and long car trips. More specifically, I think you need a few solid days with NOTHING else to do. It takes the stress off you and your child when you aren’t worrying about them peeing on the floor at Target.

Dive in! Put on the underwear and go for it. I personally think Pull Ups slow the process for most kids. They feel way to much like diapers. They are great for long car trips, naps, bedtime, etc but not for general use. Trap your kid in a fairly safe part of the house, push the drinks and snacks and spend the day practicing and hopefully having some success. Ask your child to try on a fairly frequent schedule – every hour to 90 minutes and definitely after meals. Don’t force, but don’t hesitate to bribe. If you are having lots of accidents in underwear, try totally naked from the waist down.

Know when to jump ship. If two to three days in, most of the pee and poop are still on the floor, its time to surrender. One of two things is true, you’re kid isn’t mature enough yet or your child doesn’t want to be potty trained yet. You can’t really change either. Elimination is on the list of three things you can’t make your child do. (The others are eat and sleep). Continuing to push when you kid isn’t ready is frustrating for both of you. Continuing to push when your kids doesn’t want to go becomes a control struggle that gets uglier and uglier. Put the diapers back on and try again in a month.

Repeat after me…this too shall pass.

At my house, potty success took three tries. The first was our very brief attempt at less than 2 years old. The second was around 2 years 3 months and a few months before his baby brother was due. It went better with a few successes, but he quickly became stressed and resistant and we bailed again. Try three was at 2 years 9 months. In four days, it was done, and he hasn’t had an accident since. I promise this success will come to your house eventually too! Good luck and happy flushing 🙂

Amy Knapitsch, MD

– Amy is a pediatrician in Kansas City, MO. She’s proud to be married to a great SAHD and Mom of two boys