Christine Koh

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I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Potty Training How To

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What a difference a week makes.

Whether it was my shift in attitude, the time/learning factor, or an interaction between the two, Week 2 of potty training was a complete reversal from the previous week’s soggy adventures. With one or no accidents per day, a subsequent decrease in laundry, and longer stretches between potty visits, it finally feels as if the axis around which our life is spinning is moving from the bathroom.

We’re not out of the woods yet, but while it’s fresh on my mind (and since I have received some inquiries about the methods behind our madness) the following is our collection of potty training tips to date. Readers, if you have additional tips, post a comment!

Step 1 – Set Up Camp:

1. In the bathroom: potty chair or attachment seat/step stool (we use the Bjorn system), diapering supplies (for pre-nap/bedtime change following potty attempt), books and/or toys, basket with changes of pants, thick cotton underpants, and socks.

2. In the laundry room: bucket, rubber gloves, and Borax (or baking soda) for handling soiled underwear.

3. In the car: Kiddopotamus Piddle Pad

Step 2 – Readiness:

Rushing potty training isn’t good for anyone. Check for signs of toilet training readiness before proceeding.

Step 3 – Doing It:

1. Stay close to home initially; there will be lots of accidents. By the end of the second week we were more confident in being out for a couple of hours, but we also made sure we went places where we could easily access bathrooms. We didn’t have a portable potty seat; instead I laid down a paper seat liner or tissues, squatted, and held Laurel around the waist and let her plant her feet on my legs. And we double washed our hands after using public restrooms!

2. Use thick cotton underpants (e.g., Gerber training pants; we got ours at Babies R Us), which are less confusing than pull ups. Cotton training pants still get soaked through during an accident, but they at least absorb a little more than regular underpants and your child will know they are wet. We bought 6 pairs of regular cotton and 2 pairs of cotton with the vinyl cover; the latter provided extra protection but were bulky and Laurel didn't care for them. In the first week we did laundry daily; by Week 2 we were down to our regular laundry pattern.

3. Think about verbiage. Most people refer to the training pants as “big kid pants,” which worked fine for us, but we also read that if there’s a new baby in the house you may want to refer to training pants as “special pants” given that preschoolers may resist referrals to becoming a big kid when they see all the attention the baby gets.

4. Dress your child in loose fitting pull up pants (i.e., no overalls or dresses, where they can’t see what they’re doing). If you feel that you’re on the brink of an accident pull down your child's pants for him/her; otherwise, encourage your child to manage their pants independently.

5. Every 30 or so minutes, say “It’s time to go to the potty” not “Do you have to go to the potty?” At the beginning the child won’t know that they have to go; they need to learn the sensation of pressure and release and develop control. So at the beginning, the idea is to just visit the potty frequently and hopefully time it so they actually pee while on the potty. We found it good to head to the potty 15-30 minutes after Laurel had something to drink, depending on quantity of intake. As they gain more control, the timing will stretch out considerably.

6. Before you head to the potty assure your child that they can come back to their activity right after the potty visit. Kids are very concerned about losing their spot doing an activity. Laurel never pees so fast as when there is a painting project waiting on the other end of a potty visit!

7. Once you are done on the potty, encourage your child’s efforts (e.g., “Good for you!”). Some people like to build in incentives (e.g., a chart with different stickers for a pee or poop) but we followed our preschool’s protocol of not giving incentives other than kind words. And we did so whether or not Laurel made something in the toilet to encourage her to keep trying.

8. Wash hands after you are done! Encourage good hygiene!

9. Use a diaper at nap and bedtime; this will help them feel free to “let go” with BM’s and avoid constipation.

10. When there is an accident, gently point it out to your child (if they haven’t already identified it), then change them and point out how nice it feels to be dry. You’ll need to do this repeatedly at the beginning and then they’ll learn. Sometimes they’ll say they have to go to the potty when the accident already has happened.

11. Be patient with your child and yourself. And if you get to a point where you both are frustrated and your child is actively resisting the process, back off for a few weeks, and try again when everyone is calmer. They’ll definitely get the hang of it eventually.

**It usually takes children longer to let go of BM's in the potty (we had one unexpected BM in the potty last week; otherwise Laurel saves them for the diaper); we'll report back with any wisdom we gather on that front when we get there!


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