I’ve gone round and round about whether or not to write this post. Potty training is such a sought-after topic and there are so many how-to’s and guides available. But the truth is, I potty trained all 4 of my kids before their second birthday, and people ask me how I did it. So I’m going to tell you. The following is 3300+ words of everything I believe you need to know for toddler toilet training success. All the toddler potty training tips you need to potty train by 2.
I’ll share how I potty trained all mine between 18-24 months and the toilet training troubles I see many moms run into.
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I read one article that stated, “a very small percentage of children will be potty trained before they are 24 months.” I found this interesting since all 4 of mine were (by my definition) fully potty trained by their second birthday. And while I’m no math genius, I believe that’s 100% (within my home?)
How difficult is potty training a child by age 2?
Well, it depends on your definition of difficult. It takes a lot of commitment, determination, confidence and follow through. It’s not, however, backbreaking, physically intense labor.
Unfortunately, we’d all agree that commitment and follow through are the parenting areas we all struggle with the most. This is the main reason many moms run into difficulties with toilet training.
There are matters you should be aware of before you start potty training. Being aware of these issues ahead of time will make you more likely to succeed, so it’s important we address them.
Often times, it’s the stumbling blocks we don’t know – we don’t know – that trip us up the most. So in the words below you’ll find:
All The Toddler Potty Training Tips You Need To Potty Train By 2
I’ll include the tips that I have experienced, those I’ve witnessed and those I’ve conquered – over the years.
Technical Potty Training Facts.
There is a literal/physical neural developmental pathway that connects in every child’s brain between 18 – 24 months (with the exception of some extreme special needs.) Before that pathway is physically connected peeing and pooping is a reflex. After it is formed, peeing and pooping is a voluntary action. Read more about your child’s brain development in this book.
For instance, before 24 months a child is peeing in pooping in a diaper because she has no choice. Her bladder is full, so it reflexively empties, and the diaper is there to catch it. After 24 months that same child has the cognitive ability to “hold it.” However, if she has not been trained what to do with it, she uses her diaper as a toilet.
Is Going Potty a Cognitive Function or Social Behavior?
Potty training a child as soon as that pathway is connected, means you are training a cognitive function. If you miss that window and train much later, you are then training a social behavior.
Social behaviors are more difficult to train than cognitive functions. Consider the difference between training your child to be polite vs. training her to walk. She wanted to walk. Her brain was already developing toward the function to walk. All you did was help and guide her to accomplish it.
Remember, how you’d stand her up on her feet and let go for a brief second to see what would happen. You’d sit on the floor across from someone else and encourage her to “go get that person.” And you’d hold her standing on your lap while she jumped up and down on your legs.
All these things were training her to walk! And once she learned how to walk, you expected her to do it, right? I mean… you didn’t go to the mall and allow her to crawl around on the floor. You let her walk as long as her legs held out.
The Two Potty Training Tools You Can’t Go Without
At the core of successful potty training are two potty training tools you must have. I want you to be aware of them right up front, so you can be considering them as you read through everything else.
- #1) A great understanding of how your child’s brain works.
- #2) A position of authority in your home.
Let’s talk first about how to determine if you are set up for successfully potty training your child by her second birthday and then proceeded on to how to do it if you are.
3 Things to Consider Before Potty Training.
- #1. Does your child regularly display first-time obedience?
If you told your child right now, without explanation, “Joe, sit criss-cross on the floor right now.” Would he do it? Or “You must put your blocks away, it’s time to be done building now.” Would he put them away right away, or throw himself on the floor? The answers to these questions are likely the same responses you’ll get when you potty train.
Need to work on first-time obedience? Read here.
- #2. Do you like to be out of the house a lot?
Kiddos being potty trained need access to a toilet right away, every second of the day. Running around, in and out of Target, play dates, and shopping will make potty training efforts fail from the get-go! The most successful potty training happens at home. Are you willing to stay home as much as possible for a few weeks, to set your child up for success?
- #3. Do you have a realistic definition of success?
Fully potty trained at 24 months does not mean your child will be able to sleep 12-hour stretches without peeing. It also does not mean accidents will never happen. And it does not mean your child should be able to pull her pants down by herself, climb on the potty all by herself (although that can certainly be taught,) or wash her hands by herself.
A realistic definition of fully potty trained by 24 months is: a child is diaper and pull-up free during all wake time hours. She can get to the potty, sit on the potty, use the potty, call for me when she’s done, and be given a little help to wash hands.
Did you answer yes to all of the above? Yes?… Ok! Let’s get to it.
My 8 Step Process For Toddler Potty Training By Age 2!
These are the exact steps I used to potty train all 4 of my children. Two boys, two girls, strong-willed, laid-back, HYPO-sensitive (means – literally doesn’t feel stimulation the same way you and I do – google it) and a wide range of personalities. The one thing they all have in common… first-time obedience and a relentless Mommy!
Part 1: Long Before The Second Birthday
- #1. Celebrate poop!
The second biggest problem I’ve seen moms face with potty training (the first being not having first-time obedience) is attempting to train a child who is insecure about his bodily functions. The child feels shy or embarrassed about it, so instead of coming to mom, he goes to a corner to hide while he uses his diaper.
From the moment my babies were born, I celebrated poop. “YAY!! You poopy-ed!,” I’d say. I’d clap my hands and do a happy dance. We don’t hide the need to poop in our home.
Remember being a kid at school and being embarrassed to use the bathroom because everyone would know? At my elementary school, the bathrooms were in the classroom. So, if you pooped, everyone would know when you opened the door!
I want my kids to have the following attitude about poop: “Everyone poops! It’s unhealthy for me to hold it in. And you’re crazy for being stupid about poop! If you are going to tease me about poop, you’re ignorant and you can go pack sand!” OK… so obviously I wouldn’t want them to say those things. BUT… I DO want that to be the attitude they carry regarding the matter.
Again, I say… celebrate poop!
- #2. Potty seat practice.
Somewhere between 9-12 months, I began sitting my baby on the potty. I used toilet seat adapters like this. Sitting my child on the potty while I read a book or played patty-cake allowed her to practice balance (good for her gross motor skills) and become familiar with the toilet.
I did this so my children weren’t nervous or scared of the toilet when the time came to train. It was “practice.” And in their minds, just another place to sit. Every once in a while they would put something in the potty while practicing. This offered a PERFECT opportunity to train them, that is exactly what is suppose to happen when they sit there!
I’d clap and praise a job well done either way.
- #3. Recognize signs of readiness.
This trips moms up, a lot. Signs of readiness are usually present but often missed. Like I mentioned above, the neural pathway the allows your child to “hold it” is there between the age of 18-24 months.
Has your child woken up dry from a nap? Yes?… The pathway has connected and he’s ready. Have you seen your child grab at his diaper right before peeing? Yes?… The pathway is there, he’s ready. Have you noticed her stopping a dribble when she’s without a diaper? Yes?… The pathway is there, she’s ready.
Part Two: What to Do When It’s Time to Do It
- #4. Have a small chat.
Kids under the age of 6 are cause and effect. This is why it’s my favorite age to train. Their cognitive abilities are budding, however, conceptual thinking is still far off. Your 2-year-old is: A action = B result.
Because of this, it’s not necessary or beneficial to spend a lot of time talking about what is going to happen and why. A simple: “It’s time to wear big boy undies. You must put your pee and poop in the potty now. I bought you some cool Super Wings underwear. Do NOT pee-pee on Jet!” Is all that is necessary. The fewer, more concise instructions you provide, the easier it is for your child to follow.
- #5. Let your child run around in his birthday suit!
(you know what this is, right? I hate using the other word online when referring to children)
Take away the diapers.
For a while, you will have to help your child take bottoms off and on. Don’t let this hinder your potty training efforts. She can learn as she goes. However, it’s easier in the beginning, if she doesn’t have to fool with bottoms at all. This also provides less security for her to pee in her pants. Make clear your expectation that she NOT pee or poop on the floor!
Instruct her to run to the potty as soon as she feels it coming and to call for you while she’s on her way!
- #6. Set a timer.
Day one: set a timer like this for every 45 minutes. Place your child on the potty every 45 minutes (see why it’s important to be at home?.) Your child should be drinking plenty of water throughout the day and have urine to put into the potty pretty much every time she sits down. (if not, then every other time)
Day two: set a timer for every hour. Repeat steps.
Day three: set a timer for every 90 minutes. Do not go longer than 90 minutes without requiring your child to sit on the potty. Once he has been 99% accident-free for 3 weeks, you can stop taking him and let him tell you when he needs to go.
- #7. Reward.
Incentives work. They just do. I’m a moderate to severely crunchy Mommy. So I’m not big on handing out candy on a regular basis. HOWEVER… for training purposes, few things are as powerful as a single MnM! For my first two children, I would keep a Tupperware container of MnM’s on the bathroom sink.
After my child put any amount of pee or poop in the potty, I would give him or her a single MnM. Because I don’t give out candy a lot, that single MnM was a big deal! Even if my child got one every single time she sat on the potty, that’s only a total of 12 MnM’s in a day. That’s not too much candy by most definitions.
If you allow your child a lot of candy, this may be less effective. Take the extra candy away while potty training or use something else.
Find a reward that speaks to your child. Some moms say charts, stars, stickers, etc work for them. When it comes to potty training, I believe a more immediate instant reward is necessary. Since you’re training a very young child, she will unlikely be able to comprehend a reward that she has to wait for. That sort of rewarding works better for other areas of child training.
- #8. Consequences.
Is it acceptable to punish a child while potty training? I believe the short answer is No. However, it’s not that simple. I have talked to moms on multiple occasions who face a problem like this: “My child has peed and pooped in the potty a few times. I know she is capable of doing it. However, many times, when I tell her it’s time to go potty. She refuses and runs away.”
What is happening in this scenario? Is this a potty training issue? No. This is an obedience issue. Address the heart of what’s going on. Stop worrying about potty training for a week or two. Get the ebook, read this post, and then come back to potty training when proper authority and order are regained.
**Important Toddler Potty Training FAQ!
- 1. What about sensory processing disorders?
Of my 4 children, 2 of them process stimulation differently than most other children. One of my children processes stimulation only slightly different than others, and one processes stimulation significantly different than others.
Both of these children were still able to potty training at 21 months old. I was acutely aware of their needs, so we worked on them intentionally. Children with these factors may take longer to come out of a pull up at nap and bedtime. They may struggle with bed wetting longer and have accidents more easily.
Those are important factors to remember, but they are not reasons to put off potty training. Many special needs children are able to potty train quite similarly to their peers. When I talk to a mom with a special needs toddler, who has successfully potty trained, it is easy to see all the child training efforts she has put into every other area of her child’s life. Therein lies her success!
- 2. What about regression and accidents.
At the risk of sounding sassy… What about it? Regression happens. Accidents happen. Just keep going. If you suspect your child is acting out of disobedience or rebellion with potty training, deal with it as such.
Work on the obedience issue + potty training at the same time. Deal with the accidents. Make certain your child understands your expectation and that she is completely capable of it. Use consequences only when absolutely necessary and be certain the consequences are tied to the rebellion and not the potty!
- 3. What are nap time and bedtime expectations?
I train my children to sleep for 12 hours at night. They do not vary from this until after their 10th birthday. There are billions of sleep-deprived children walking around the world, but zero slept-an-over-abundance children. I also train them not to get out of bed at night (at least in the beginning.) Read more about the importance of uninterrupted sleep here.
Two of my children never needed a pull up at nap time. Those same two children were able to stay dry ALL night long from the time they were 3 years old. Of the other two (those who process stimulation differently) 1 needed a pull up during nap time until 4 years old and one is 3 and still wearing a pull up at nap and night time.
Sometimes children need night time protection for several years. The point is to be working towards progress, instead of being complacent. *** Sensory processing challenges, including bed-wetting, can require long-term training. Be relentless for the betterment of your child!
- 4. Should I use an ‘on-the-floor-child-potty’ or an adapter for a regular toilet seat?
I think on-the-floor-child-potties like this are a waste of time. Your child will need to be able to use a regular toilet, so why train twice? If you choose to use a children’s potty, just know you will have to go through the steps later to teach him how to climb aboard a regular toilet and use it steadily.
I start out with an adapter seat like this. After a few weeks of using the potty correctly, I take the adapter away and teach my child how to balance on a regular toilet seat with knees far apart.
The decision is yours. I’ve made my case.
- 5. How do I potty train when I need to be out and about?
You will inevitably need to leave your house at some point while potty training. Even though you are making every effort to stay home to train your child, you’ll have to leave sometimes. When you do, make sure to track the time. It’s very easy to let time get away from you while you are driving.
- Go potty right before you leave the house.
- Go potty the minute you walk into a store.
- Set a timer on your phone and go potty every 45 minutes. (use 45 minutes regardless of how long you’ve been training… better safe than sorry)
- Bring a change of clothes but not a diaper! If you bring diapers, you’re going to use them. Don’t allow yourself the crutch. Take your child potty frequently. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but so worth the effort.
Toddler Potty Training In a Nutshell. Let’s Sum it Up!
Potty training any child takes persistence. Potty training a child between the ages of 18-24 months takes knowledge, commitment, understanding of your child’s cognition, persistence and determination.
Take into consideration the benefits of potty training your child by age 2. Once your child has reached his 2nd birthday, he’s knowingly using his diaper as a toilet. The longer you allow this, the more difficult you may find it to potty train later.
Do some math on the money you’ll save if you do not have to use diapers during the day, between 2-4 years old.
Lastly, it’s completely possible to potty train a child by 24 months. If not, there wouldn’t be so many moms writing about how they’ve done it. All with different children. However, regardless of how hard it is to potty train a child, doing it right away – as soon as your child is able – allows you to spend time training other more important lessons between 2-4 years old.
There are a lot of really significant things your child needs to be trained as she grows into a well-behaved child. Potty training should not hold her back. Get it done. Get it over. And move on to the areas of her life that will impact the world!