Potty Training: When to start, what you need, how to do it, and setting your child up for as few disasters as possible

Two weeks ago, Dr. B (our resident early development specialist) did a post about how to tell when your child is ready for potty training. I determined that Mazzy’s got at least another year before I start spending all day, every day cleaning crap out of the tile grout in my bathroom. Other people felt it was time and asked if Dr. B could give a “how to potty train” seminar.

You asked, she answered. Today, Dr. B breaks down potty training into four easy-to-follow lessons. Lesson #1? Invest in Lysol.


Potty training can be anxiety provoking for many parents, especially when everyone has an opinion on how and when to start. First, make sure your child is ready and then make sure YOU are ready to deal with messy accidents. Bathroom trips must become your #1 priority (even if it means finding the nearest restroom the second after you get onto the highway for a five hour road trip).

Below are ten items recommended to help you in the potty training process.

1. A potty chair or toilet adaptor: to make the seat child-sized.

2. A step stool: Your child’s feet should be able to touch the floor or fully supported to assist with bowel movements.

3. Diapers with color changing strips: Helps you track your child’s regular toileting habits before you start training.

4. Training pants (e.g., pull-ups): Use when your child is first getting introduced to the potty. They are less absorbent than diapers which will increase your child’s discomfort when they are soiled as well as their motivation to use the toilet.

5. Easily removable clothing: Clothing should be quick and easy for your child to pull up and down independently (e.g., clothing with elastic waist bands or velcro).

6. Underwear: Try to find underwear with your child’s favorite cartoon characters.

7. Plastic cover for bed and protective barriers for other items such as car seats, couches, carpet, etc. to avoid getting damaged by accidents.

8. Good cleaning supplies (e.g., carpet cleaner and stain removers): You’ll find out soon enough.

9. Teaching items: Potty training books and dolls that pee can help you teach the steps.

10. Stickers: Use for extra motivation as well as to praise your child when they make a step foward in training.  


1. Switch to training pants and clothes that are quick and easy to pull up and down and let your child practice pulling down the training pants and sitting on the toilet.

2. Determine when your child typically goes. You can use diapers with color changing strips to help you. Children typically need to go 15 to 30 minutes after meals.

3. Motivate your child by going with them to buy the potty and “big boy/girl” underwear. Decorate the potty using stickers and let your child help you set it down in the bathroom.

4. Start training at a good time for your child and the family. Don’t start training if your family is going through any changes such as an upcoming trip, new baby, moving, or changes in childcare arrangements. Instead, hold off until you have more time to be committed to the process and there is more stability in your child’s schedule.


1. Teach your child how to a) recognize the feeling when they need to go; b) tell you when they need to go; c) pull pants up and down; d) sit on the potty; e) wipe properly; f) throw away or flush the toilet paper, and g) wash hands.

2. Teach boys to sit on the toilet first. When toilet training is established, you can begin working on standing to pee which will take some target practice.

3. Let your child watch you go to the bathroom and verbalize the steps as you go.

4. Use books and dolls that pee as teaching tools and post pictures of the steps in the bathroom.

5. Help your child recognize the signs that he/she needs to go by catching your child’s signals (e.g., red face, squatting, or vocalizations) and then saying, “go potty” to help your child make the connection.


1. Take your child to the potty at predictable times: Use your child’s natural tendency to go to create a training schedule and toileting routine. If your child’s times are inconsistent, you can also sit them on the toilet every 30 to 45 minutes and then do dry pants checks at 15 minute intervals.

2. Sit and wait: Tell your child to sit on the toilet for a few minutes and try to go. Don’t make them sit longer than a few minutes which can result in power struggles and resistance to use the toilet. Don’t force your child to go, but don’t ask him/her either. When you ask, it implies that your child has a choice and their answer will probably be “no.” Instead say, “It is time to go potty.”

3. Make the process fun: Use encouragement and praise to reward your child’s efforts without putting too much pressure on them to perform. If your child is easily discouraged or responds well to stickers or rewards, create a sticker chart and have them place small stickers on the chart each time they try and big stickers each time they try and successfully go.

4. Switch from diapers to underwear: Make the switch when your child is able to stay dry, is able to correctly tell you before he/she has to go, and is able to use the toilet independently for at least a few days. Starting earlier may result in more frustration and accidents. Once you put your child in underwear at home, stick with it and don’t send mixed messages by putting on diapers for your own convenience when you leave the house.

5. Nighttime training: Start with underwear during the day before using underwear at night. When training is completely established during the day, you can begin nighttime training. Use a plastic covering on the mattress for easier clean up and protection. Teach your child what to do if they have to go at night or have an accident during the night.

6. Responding to accidents: Accidents are inevitable part of the process. Remain calm and don’t get angry. Review the steps with your child if you think it will help and do not punish them or show disappointment. Instead, tell your child it was an accident and remind them of the progress they have made toward going to the potty like a big kid. Also, remember to always carry an extra change of clothes when you leave the house.

7. Be consistent across settings: If you are training your child at home, make sure the same approach is being used in child care.

Finally, if the process is not going smoothly and your child is resisting training, he/she may not be emotionally or behaviorally ready. Pushing a child who does not want to be trained can make the situation worse, delay training, and lead to other toileting and behavioral problems. Instead, relax and break this negative cycle by postponing training and returning to it at a later date.

Best of luck!
— Dr. B

Dr. B has a PHD in school psychology and specializes in early development. If you have a question for Dr. B, please email me at myshort@mommyshorts.com.