Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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Spring Potty Training

Dear Debbie,

I want to potty train my child by this summer. What do you suggest?
-Diapered-out in the Midwest

Strip him down and head outside. Potty training, nakedness, and the great outdoors go hand in hand. Peeing outside is extraordinarily exciting to toddlers. And accidents are easier to hose off the driveway than to clean off the carpet.

Here’s my plan for stress-free potty training:

Get Ready:

Pick a long weekend, when the weather is nice, or at least 3 days when you’ll be home a lot. Give your child notice. “Next week we stop using diapers. You’re a big kid and can use the potty like a grown-up.” No bribes. No big explanations. If you make it a big deal, he’ll think it’s a big deal. And get a good book. You’ll be in a lawn chair for awhile.

Days 1-3.

Put the kid and the potty chair outside. Strip him from the waist down. Tell him he should “run, run” to the potty chair when he has to go. He’ll have accidents, but he’ll notice them right away. Respond quickly, “oh, there’s potty…run, run to your potty chair. Good job.” No hysterics on your part. Stay matter-of-fact. He can go with you to put the potty into the toilet and flush by himself. Continue this for as much of each day as possible. Letting your child purposely pee outside (on a tree, in the grass) is fun, too, and still teaches your child to recognize when he has to go.

Day 4.

Once he’s mastered getting to the toilet outside, move your play inside. Keep him half-naked. Keep the potty chair right in the middle of where he’s playing – kitchen, family room, etc. Not quite ready to come inside? Stay out for a few more days, if there’s still no improvement, wait a month (or 3) and try again.

Still successful? Move the potty chair into the bathroom. Practice running to the bathroom before he has to go (“wheee, let’s run, run to the bathroom”) so that 1) he learns where the chair is and 2) running to the bathroom seems fun, not a chore.

Once you have that down, put on some clothes (just underwear to start). Practice undressing quickly. A contest works well, “can you pull down your underwear before I count to 5?” Then move to pants or skirts with easy elastic waists. Hold off on buttons, belts, etc. for a while.

A few notes:

In the first week, put on his diaper or pull-up for sleep, outings, and meal-times. At this point, all potty training is outside. If he insists on underwear, take him to the bathroom every hour.

Praise and rewards. Praise is a great tool, when used carefully. Identify what he did well. “You went pee-pee in the potty. That’s what I call responsible. Let’s do that next time, too.” But keep it specific and instructional. If you act like he’s done something extraordinary, he’ll find the process overwhelming and intimidating. He’s learning a basic life skill. Congratulate him and move on.

You should be well on your way to a potty-trained toddler. Good luck. Keep me posted!! Feel free to email questions on this or any topic to:
[email protected].


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