9 Things You Can Learn From My Potty-Training Saga

Ten years of changing my son’s diapers. Yep, that’s what I’ve been through. Max has special needs, and potty-training him was a long, long haul. His delays had something to do with it—but so did my own stumbling blocks.

All the toilet-training pros talk about a child being “ready” to train but the truth is, it’s equally important for the parent to be ready (and maybe even more so). Because if you’re not ready to commit, stay on top of your child, and do all the dirty work, it’s not going to go smoothly. It’s not going to even go at all.

As of this month, my son is finally potty trained. It’s a major milestone in his life, and mine. He’s still wearing Pull-ups at night, but he’s a devoted toilet-goer all day long. Stashing away his diapers was one of the happiest things I’ve done all year—ditto for stopping my scheduled monthly order from Amazon! (What will we do with all that money we’ll save?!)

This is exactly what you can learn from my potty-training saga to help you more easily potty train your own child—the key strategies, the props, the inspiration. More potty power to you!

Image source: Flickr/Manish Bansal

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  • Believe it: Kids go when they’re READY to go 1 of 9
    Believe it: Kids go when they're READY to go
    There is no magical age when kids are suddenly primed to go potty; it's all about their readiness level, and it's not something you can push or even force. Readiness isn't just about being physically ready; kids have to be emotionally prepared, too. My son Max was potty-trained at school for a good year before he regularly hit the potty in our house. "Max, don't you want to go potty at home?" I'd ask. "NO!" he'd declare. It took time for him to quit being codependent on me and my husband. Typical key signs a child is ready to go, per the American Academy of Pediatrics: A dry diaper for two-hour stretches during the day or after a nap; predictable poops; can follow simple instructions; indicates discomfort when a diaper is soiled; actually asks to use the toilet or potty; is into wearing underwear; internal toilet-training beeper goes off. (OK, I made that last part up, but wouldn't it be awesome?)

    Photo credit: flickr/Buster Benson
  • There’s a reason it’s called “training” 2 of 9
    There's a reason it's called "training"
    My husband and I made the mistake of thinking we could do potty training boot camp in one weekend, complete with shower curtains spread all over our floors to handle spills, inspirational potty books, and continuous loads of laundry. We literally did not leave the house for two days, our lives centered around the toilet. While Max dutifully tinkled a few times, come Monday and his weekday schedule, he went right back to his old Pull-up ways. It would be six more months before we dedicated another series of days to potty-training, which is what finally did the job (although he is still wearing UnderJams at night). Basically, you have to make potty training your job, and keep at it.

    Read about the top toilet-training mistakes here.

    Photo credit: flickr/make less noise
  • Have a potty-training posse 3 of 9
    Have a potty-training posse
    You want everyone in your chid's life to be potty-centric, including your partner, your child's teacher, your babysitter, your mailman (well, maybe not him). Max's teacher was, in fact, super-super-super helpful. She sent me encouraging emails, gave him props at school and generally motivated us. She was our potty-training patron saint. Find one!

    Photo credit: flickr/Reuben Strayer
  • Get the right props 4 of 9
    Get the right props
    My son is obsessed with the movies Cars 2. And so while we tried all sorts of potty gadgets, including a musical potty and fun decals to help his aim, it was a Cars 2 seat that best got Max in the potty mood. He picked it out himself online, and so it was more of a sure thing.

    Check out other fab toilet-training accessories here.

    Photo credit: amazon
  • Experiment to find the best motivation 5 of 9
    Experiment to find the best motivation
    I can still remember my motivation to potty-train as a kid: the promise of an oversize cookie. Max was more of a challenge. He loves purple, but even a bowl of purple treasures like a purple koosh ball and purple stickers with his name on them didn't tempt him. He could care less when I pointed out that his friends were going potty. He was somewhat intrigued by the promise of an electric ride-on car once he potty trained; I kept pictures up in the bathroom. Ultimately, though, what motivated Max to do the potty thing was that I set up a music stand in the bathroom, rested his ipad on it, and let him watch videos. Most experts say not to have distractions. But you know what? What works for your child works.

    Photo credit: flickr/Valentina Powers
  • Remember, not all kids want a fuss 6 of 9
    Remember, not all kids want a fuss
    This is another instance where going by the book doesn't necessarily apply. After Max peed in the potty, I had a habit of doing a potty dance that went something like "MAX WENT PEE-PEE IN THE POT-TY!" as I jumped up and down. (And if anyone ever videotaped me doing that, it could definitely be used as blackmail.) One day, Max looked at me and said, point blank, "NO YAY!" Turned out he didn't really appreciate my ebullience, and so I stifled my inner potty dancer and started saying, simply, "Good job." And for him, that was props enough.

    Photo credit: ebay
  • Be prepared to have the potty take over your life (sorry) 7 of 9
    Be prepared to have the potty take over your life (sorry)
    Once your kid is potty trained, the truth is you're not done yet because often kids are still working on the timing thing. So you could be in the middle of the mall, at the farthest possible spot from the bathrooms, when your kid announces "I have to go!" Sometimes, in the early post-potty-training stage, he won't make it. You quickly learn to ask about going potty before you leave the house, as you are driving, during dinner. You feel an uncontrollable urge to constantly talk about toilets; visions of potties will dance in your head while you are at work meetings. You are all potty, all the time. Rest assured, though, this too shall pass. So to speak.

    Photo credit: flickr/oddharmonic
  • You can never be too rich or too thin—or have too much kiddie underwear 8 of 9
    You can never be too rich or too thin—or have too much kiddie underwear
    You want to make toilet-training as easy as possible on everyone. Sometimes, it's better to toss the underwear than wash it, and I'm not getting into detail. Buy lots and lots of packages of underwear; they're worth it. Kohls.com has regular sales when you can get major discounts on undies or buy one package, get one free—not nearly as much fun as shopping for new shoes, but a necessity. Also key: Keep an emergency stash of clothes in the car trunk.

    Photo credit: Kohl's
  • Celebrate in style! 9 of 9
    Celebrate in style!
    While you may not choose to dress your child in diapers to commemorate successful potty training, a celebration is in order. Max ultimately decided he wanted a Cars 2 chair as his potty prize. We also had a nice dinner out, followed by ice-cream. And we were all seriously happy.

    See Babble's complete Potty Training Guide here.

    Photo credit: flickr/Dan & Susie Romer

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