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Potty Training Boot Camp

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There are various methods of potty training, but with my children, Potty Training Boot Camp was the trick. It’s a plan that requires total commitment for a few days, but can reap the great reward of helping your child achieve “potty-trained” status in a matter of days.

What You’ll Need:

  • a clear schedule for at least 2-3 days
  • a child’s potty
  • cotton training pants or underwear
  • small incentives or rewards of some kind
  • a kitchen timer

1. Clear the schedule. Boot camp requires that you stay at home except for emergencies. No trips to the grocery, the mall, or the park. Success requires that your child be able to access his potty in a matter of seconds when the need to go strikes, and being strapped into a car seat or in a shopping cart on the back side of Target doesn’t allow that. If you’re a working mom, try a long weekend for boot camp. Make sure you have the groceries and other essentials you’ll need to stay put before you kick it off.

2. Explain the plan. Explain to your child that you’re going to be practicing going to the potty today. He gets to wear big-kid underwear, and every time he hears the kitchen timer beep, it’s time to sit on the potty—whether he thinks he needs to go or not. If he goes to the potty and promptly sits and tries to “go,” he’ll receive a small reward (like a sticker, a single M&M, or lavish praise). If he’s actually able to “go,” he’ll get a bigger reward!

3. Set the timer. If your child has never eliminated sitting on the toilet before, “catching” him or her at the right moment will be the first big challenge. You’re far more likely to have them sitting in the right spot when the urge strikes if they sit on the potty frequently. Start by setting the kitchen timer for 15-minute intervals, to remind you and your child that it’s “potty time.” If your child is successful staying dry—and even manages to “go” on the potty occasionally—for several hours, gradually increase the time between attempts. Bump it up to 20 or 30 minutes and eventually as long as an hour. If your child starts having accidents in the longer intervals, immediately move back to 15 minute gaps and start over.

4. Keep the potty handy. When we did potty training boot camp at our house, the little plastic potty was moved to the playroom—right in the middle of the playtime action, so getting to it when needed was super-quick! If this seems less than sanitary to you, cover the floor beneath with some plastic, break out the Clorox wipes and remember—It’s only for a couple of days.

5. Drink up. While it may seem counter-intuitive to juice up a kid you’re trying to keep dry, it actually helps. If your child is drinking a lot, she’ll need to go more, and will have more successful trips to the potty, rather than sitting repeatedly with no results—which are frustrating for everyone.

6. No diapers allowed. This is another big reason to stay at home. While accidents in cotton underwear are far messier and tougher to clean up, it’s an important part of helping your child to become uncomfortable with the feeling of wetting or soiling herself. Diapers actually work against this natural incentive for getting to the toilet by keeping toddlers so dry and comfy they hardly even realize they’ve “gone” sometimes. Older moms will tell you that children of the cloth-diaper generations potty trained earlier for this very reason.

7. Nighttime compromise. Even boot camp enthusiasts will tell you that it may be some time after daytime toilet training is achieved before staying dry all night happens. For this reason, disposable underpants are a decent compromise at night, as least for a time.

8. Stay the course. Once your child achieves 80-90% reliability with staying dry in cotton underwear, resist the urge to go back and forth between those and diapers or pull-ups for convenience’s sake. It will confuse your child and delay the achievement of full potty training. Sure, this will make for some scary errands the first few days after boot camp, and an occasional mad dash through the department store in an effort to make it to the ladies room in time, but you can do it! Just keep an extra pair of kid undies and pants in your car for that time when you don’t make it.

9. Take two. So you followed the plan and got nowhere? It’s probably because your toddler just isn’t ready yet. Break out the diapers, don’t sweat it, and try again in a few months.

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.


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