5 Tips for Successful Potty Training

Potty-training can be an intimidating task, and parents often feel stuck about when and how to begin.  While a small percentage of children “potty train themselves” or toilet train with very little effort, most children benefit from the direction and support of their parents.  It is helpful to think of potty training like any other skill that a child learns – it happens most successfully in the context of supportive, patient, and prepared parents. 

Below are five tips to help make potty training a successful experience.


Look for signs of readiness.  When it comes to potty training, you want to take the lead from your child.  Look for signs of readiness (motor, cognitive, communication, and physical development).  Motor:  Your child should have some ability to dress/undress themselves with some assistance, and have the ability to squat to a sit without losing their balance. Cognitive:  Your child should demonstrate imitative behaviors (playing make-believe is a good clue they can do this!), and should be able to sit down or play quietly for about five minutes.  Communication:  Your child should be able to understand simple requests, be able to show you his or her needs with words, signs, or gestures (does not have to be formal speech), and has an understanding of what urine and bowel movements are. Physical Readiness: Your child should be able to stay dry for at least an hour or so, have an awareness of what the toilet is for, and have an awareness of being wet or soiled. Your child does not need to demonstrates ALL the signs of readiness before you begin potty training, but these provide an indication of things to look for if you are wondering if your child is ready.

Make sure YOU are ready. Potty training, particularly if you are going to follow a specific plan/protocol (which is a good idea, generally), requires effort and time on the part of the parents.  Before you begin a potty training plan, you want to make sure that you have the resources you need – namely, patience and time – to devote to the process.  If at all possible, particularly if you are going to undertake a time limited method (3-5 days), it might be helpful to have an extra set of hands to help around the house (or with other children), as the process requires a higher level of attention to your child as you carefully look out for cues that they need to use the potty.  If you are going through a stressful time, and your patience is running low, this isn’t the right time to potty train – you need to prepare for accidents and be able to handle them with love, positive reinforcement and patience.  Unfortunately, if you lose your patience, this can drag out the process.  Finally, you want to make sure that the “team” is on the same page!  All caregivers should be aware of the plan and ready to commit to following it. 


Pick a plan.  While I am not suggesting that there is ONE plan to choose when it comes to potty training, I would suggest that you pick A plan.  Like most things parenting-related, there is more than one way to accomplish the goal.  I suggest looking at various options and choosing a plan that feels right for you, and is a realistic strategy that you (and your family) can commit to.  The purpose and benefit of having a plan is that it allows you to be consistent, and it makes expectations and the process more clear for your child – which will undoubtedly improve your chances of success!  While a short-term, rip-the-Band-Aid-off approach like a 3-5 day training plan might not be right for everyone, many families have success with this approach because it allows for clearly defined expectations for your child, and the short time frame makes being consistent a bit easier on the parents versus being consistent over a longer period of time (it’s the tradeoff for an inconvenient and challenging few days!).


Tips and strategies while you are in the thick of it.  Below are a few things to remember while you are potty training:

  • The week before you start, make sure your child gets plenty of fiber, as children often try to withhold during training.  During training, push liquids in fun ways – a fun straw, ice, or a tasty beverage.  These strategies will give you more opportunities to try out the potty!

  • Get some books and discuss with our child what to expect. You want the process to be de-mystified and not mysterious (which for many kids = scary!).

  • A week before, try to chart your child’s potty behavior to see if you can delineate a pattern (this may make training easier because you have an idea of when opportunity may arise).

  • Make sure you have all the supplies you need (a little potty or potty seat, wet wipes, 20(!) or so pairs of underwear – and clear out (if possible) diapers and all training pants.

  • During training, look out for your child signs, and get them to the potty when you suspect that they are going, are about to go, or have already started going.  Even “finishing the job” in the potty is a success, even if it didn’t start there.

  • Once initially potty-trained, it might be helpful to bring supplies for outings or long car trips!



Make it POSITIVE.  Above all else, you want your child to learn through the process that 1) potty training is a positive thing; 2) going to the potty is something that will be celebrated and rewarded; and 3) how to communicate their need to go to the potty with you.  You want this to be a positive experience, so expectations might be relaxed during this time as you want to limit the need for lots of discipline.  Set-up your environment so this is as likely as possible, and try to relax during the process! Rewarding your child’s success is definitely something that can help motivate your child.  Note that the reward should be both something you are comfortable with and something that motivates your child.  It does not have to be tangible (it can be praise or a special activity), but many parents have great success with charts (keep them simple) and tangible rewards.



The above tips are meant to serve as a guide, and are not an exhaustive plan for potty training.  Remember, what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.