How to Teach a Toddler to Use the Potty

The other day I was talking to the mom of a toddler about potty training. And I realized that I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject, and those run counter to a lot of the common advice. Much of the common advice seems designed to be about what makes the process super FAST, and not about what is developmentally realistic.

My advice is to do it when they are ready and show interest, and back off when they’re not. I am very much NOT a fan on the sudden change/expecting it to work perfectly from the start approach. It’s just too much to expect from a toddler!

Let them dabble in it while they learn the skills, and if they don’t naturally shift from diapers to the potty within a few months, THEN push them towards full time then after they have the skills mastered.

Tasks a Toddler Needs to Learn

Hint: it’s a lot!

  • Recognizing the need
  • Controlling their bladder and bowels
  • Remembering how to get to the bathroom
  • Pulling down their pants
  • Sitting on the right spot, lining up with the opening
  • Or standing and aiming
  • Voluntarily releasing into the toilet
  • Wiping
  • Pulling up their pants
  • Flushing
  • Washing their hands

You want to avoid getting caught up in a drawn out power struggle. You’ll never win – it is the toddler’s body after all, so they have more control!

I personally think if it only works if you don’t have to constantly remind or put them on the potty. Then YOU are the trained one, not them. Obviously you have to remind sometimes, but try and remind in a way that helps them recognize their own signs.

I recommend not talking about their waste as “yucky” or “stinky” – toddlers can’t always tell the difference between them and what they’ve done, and they’re proud of using the potty! So keep it positive.

I think rewards can be a great way to motivate. I always started out with rewards just for using the potty, then slowly shift to rewards for remembering to do it herself, then to rewards for remembering to flush, then just for remembering to wash hands!

It’s a lot to learn, so have patience with them while they learn!

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