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First-Time Mom Potty Training Experience – What Worked, What Didn’t

We’ve just finished up potty training my oldest, and I have so much to say on the topic. Now, I say we just finished up because I mean we have completed the hardest part of it: the initial goodbye to diapers, learning to know when you have to go, and then making it to the potty in time. We definitely still have some hurdles ahead of us in the potty training world, the big part is behind us. We’re about 2 weeks in (when I write this, but I’m sure by the time it’s published we’ll be further along) At this point, he knows when he has to go and goes to the potty to go. He also holds it and can get to the potty every time he has to go. We haven’t had any accidents since about day 6 (although I’m sure we will have some).

Quick Disclaimer: Certainly “mostly potty training” one child doesn’t make me any type of expert in the field. But, I did find some things that really helped me, and some things didn’t. And I wanted to share that experience here in hopes that even maybe one little nugget of wisdom can help someone else. I think it goes without saying that every family and kid is different. I just want to share our experience. Maybe some of it will be helpful to your situation, maybe some won’t. At the end of the day, you gotta trust your own mom intuition.

What Potty Training Method Did We Use?

I read the “Oh Crap, Potty Training Book.” I had heard about this book a million times and wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I actually really liked her approach. I found she laid everything out in a very no-bullshit way while also still giving you grace and compassion as a parent. I won’t lie, when she suggested “if you’re someone who occasionally enjoys a drink, go ahead and put wine in your cereal the first morning,” I was like, OK, I can get on board with this lady. While I can’t say I shared every single parenting philosophy she said, I also find no parenting book should be taken as an “all or nothing” approach anyways. Like I said in the above disclaimer, you read these books, you take what works for you, and at the end of the day, use your own intuition.

All that being said, I do really suggest the “Oh Crap, Potty Training Book,” if you’re getting ready to get started. I think it gives you a good outline and the tools and mindset you need to get started.

In general, the method looked like this:

  • Pick a day to start potty training. On this day diapers are done. There is no turning back, flip-flopping with diapers will just confuse your kid.
  • Clear your schedule for a week. You will want to be home or very close to home the first few days. You don’t want the social pressure of having to get somewhere on time the first week or two. (She has a chapter on how this works with daycare)
  • At the very beginning (first 1-3 days), the kid has NO pants. This allows you to know immediately when they are about to go, or going, to the bathroom and can get them to the potty. Then, she has a series of “phases” for adding pants back into the mix as well as going out for longer periods of time from the house.

One thing I really liked about the book is she stressed that using the potty was something we teach our kids. We teach our kids to walk, to sing their ABCs, to wash their bodies in the tub, to kick a ball, and this is nothing different. We give it this big scary word “POTTY TRAINING,” but really it’s just something else we teach our kids. I really liked looking at it that way.

Knowing We Were Ready To Start

You hear a lot about people saying a kid is “ready” to potty train. But…like…how the heck do you know they are ready??? I should note in the “Oh Crap, Potty Training Book,” she actually suggests waiting until a kid is “ready,” is BS (which I sort of disagree with, more on that in a second) Either way, how do you know it’s time to start? How do you know they are ready and you are ready?

We potty trained Miles at 33 months. In the book she suggests 20-30 months being the “ideal,” time, but I really believe every family and kid is different. I knew Miles wasn’t ready before 2 years old, and then I didn’t want to spring it on him right before we brought home his baby sister, I was worried things might regress in the craziness of newborn life. I also didn’t want to attempt to potty train WITH a newborn. Lastly, I’ve shared with you before that Miles was a late talker (long story short he had barely a handful of words at 2 years old, then between 28-32 months his language just EXPLODED and he suddenly caught right up in a matter of weeks). But, I truly didn’t feel he had the oral language necessary to potty train much earlier than we started. Finally, in July we started Miles back in daycare. I knew the social aspect of him seeing other kids using the potty would help pique his interest. I felt this was the prime time. He definitely wasn’t saying “mom I’m ready to use the potty,” by any means, but I knew he had everything necessary: he had the language necessary, the interest, and with his baby sister 6 months old now, we could totally swing it.

Now, everyone talks about the KID being ready for potty training but nothing I had ever heard really talked about the PARENTS being ready, and I truly found this to be just as important. Prior to reading the “Oh Crap, Potty Training Book,” the process of potty training seemed like this HUGE cloud looming over me. I feel like every parent just talks about how completely disastrous it was. I very rarely heard a positive story about it, which of course made me dread it even more! The one thing I really liked about the book is I felt she did a really good job getting you, the parent, in the right headspace for this task. She reminds you how important it is that you are calm about the process, and overall just made me feel confident about doing it. She also talked about how the process can actually be very rewarding if you let it because it gives you a lot of insight into how your kid learns and thinks. And, that can actually be a very exciting process. But, overall, the idea that you have to be 100% on board before starting is really drilled into the book. And, I found that helpful and important. In our experience, the first day or two went fine, but days 3-4 were really hard. I can definitely see where it might be a spot I wanted to give up. And, the more I looked into potty training, I read that it is super common to see a regression around this time and many parents throw in the towel. But, because I was prepared, and committed, I stuck with it, and literally on day 5 things CLICKED for Miles and he was pretty much 90% potty trained after that. If I had turned back we would have missed that ah-ha moment.

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Before You Start

Leading up to the big start day, we started telling Miles his diapers were going to go away. We didn’t really focus on the POTTY so much but just saying that diapers were going away. If he seemed interested I would say “and then I’ll teach you to use the potty,” but that was about it.

We also read all the potty books! I’ll link them below. Miles loves books and really connects with them. So we read tons of potty books. I really think it helped him get a good grasp of the concept of what was happening. Here’s what I’ll say about potty books, there is A LOT. Haha. So, you can find some that you think would best interest your child. Miles actually really likes realistic, to-the-facts books, so I got some that were more simple “how to use the potty” or “ready to use the potty” books. But, they have funny ones, whimsical ones, etc. So, take a little time to find the ones you think your kid would resonate with.

How the First Few Days Looked

Like previously mentioned, we used the “Oh Crap, Potty Training Book,” and I’m not going to rewrite the whole book here. I also want to respect my son’s privacy and not blast his peeing and pooping stories across the internet. But, I do want to give you a general idea of how our first few days looked. Like I said before, days 1-2 went about how you’d expect, days 3-4 were kinda tricky (and I’ll share why later, but it was mostly my fault), and day 5 things CLICKED.

Day 1-2: These days are all just about catching your child as they are about to go. You’re looking for a signal, most kids have some sign they have the go. Some kids go very quickly after this first sign, some hold it. Miles, as it turns out, has a bladder of steel and can hold it for an impressive amount of time. This made it a little hard at first. But, in the long run his ability to hold it has been very helpful! When your kid goes or looks as if they are about to go, you prompt them to sit on the potty. We honestly carried our potty around with us from upstairs to down to outside and I picked him up mid-pee once or twice to get him there in time. You do what you gotta do. For us, these days went about how I expected. Usually, I knew when he was gonna go. He was willing to sit on the potty but there was some feelings of being unsure when it came to actually GOING on the potty.

Day 3-4: Like I said, these days were the hardest. And looking back I really think they were hard because of ME and not Miles. Miles was very aware that he now needed to use the potty, but was still not too sure about it, so he’d really hold it to avoid it. This led to me starting to get a little too on top of him about the potty. I found myself getting anxious about that and, in turn, I think that anxious feeling trickled down to Miles. I found myself saying things like “we can do that AFTER you use the potty,” and sort of putting the pressure on him to go. This is totally fine language to use once they are potty trained, but in these initial few days it put way too much pressure on Miles to “perform.” He started to push against me even more, and we ended up in a little bit of a clash. I also found he was becoming MORE and MORE nervous about using the actual potty, and I felt like things were regressing. What did I do wrong?!

Day 5: The night of day 4 I knew I needed help. One of the best things I’ve learned as a mom is that I’m not a professional on all things kids just because I have kids. It’s why I’m a big advocate for sleep coaches. I’m not a professional on baby sleep but there are people out there who are. Letting them help me help my babies sleep has been a game-changer. So, when I felt like potty training was slipping through my fingers my first thought was “I need help from a professional!!” And yes, there are people who specialize in potty training. A lot of them actually. I ended up booking two 30-minute consultations with Jenny Phelps and holy guacamole it was the best $115 I spent. I had a call with her the next morning and she basically told me kind of what I already knew “you’re over-prompting him to use the potty and so he’s building up this huge pressure in his head to use it which is just making him resist it more from stress.” I knew this was true but really needed someone to say it. She gave me a ton of helpful tips and the right language to use. She basically told me to “lay off him” a bit. I could prompt him by saying “it looks like you need to use the potty let’s go sit,” but if he said “no” to just let it go. I would respond with something like “Ok, that’s fine I trust you to go to your potty when it’s time, it’s right here.”

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One other big thing she said was to stop celebrating the potty so much. Leading up to this when Miles did use the potty it was this big to do. I cheered him on and really celebrated. She mentioned how this probably just added extra pressure to “perform” on his part, which I totally had never considered. Instead, she suggested just meeting his level of excitement, if he was AMPED you can be AMPED, otherwise just use simple language like “You went on the potty, I bet you feel better!” and leave it at that. She gave me a lot of other little pointers and I truly can’t recommend her enough. It was really he best money spent in the potty training experience. So, I implemented her new methods immediately and within 2 hours Miles told me “I’m ready to sit,” then went to the potty by himself and peed!

Day 5-14: The rest of the days really progressed like this. When I noticed Miles had to use the bathroom I’d say, “looks like you have to use the potty it’s right here when you’re ready.” And, then I leave the rest to him. From pretty much that day on he has initiated every time he has to pee and hasn’t had a single accident. Sure, he still holds it sometimes or runs to the potty to have a false alarm only to announce, “nope not ready yet!” a few times before actually going. And, I’m sure there will still be some accidents before he’s totally done, Bbut, the hard bit of the initial potty training is done.

My Biggest Take Aways

The Langauge You use

I found one of the most important things in potty training way the way I said things. Like I said, the little change of “oh you have to use the potty let’s go sit now!” to “it looks like you have to pee, the potty is here when you’re ready,” was NIGHT AND DAY for Miles. It took the pressure off, and instilled him with the confidence. The other thing was the language I used after he went potty, like I mentioned earlier. The first few days it was all “YAY! You did it! I bet you feel so proud! That was SOOOO GREAT!” This seems really nice, but for Miles it was just putting too much importance on it, and then led to him feeling pressure to “perform” again for the praise. I swapped this for “great, you used the potty do you feel better” or “good job, let’s go flush it!”

I also found using words to make it feel more collaborative at the beginning helped. Instead of “you’re going to potty train” or “you’re going to use the potty now,” I used things like “I’m going to teach you to use the potty,” which had more of the feeling of we’re in this together. It’s something we’re learning together just like we learn colors or our ABCs.

Do Your Best to Stay Chill About It

Potty training is one of those things, as parents, we stress TF out over. We have all heard horror stories. We’re worried we’re going to do it wrong and it’ll all backfire. And, I think there’s some social pressure around it too. The more I was able to stay chill and relaxed about it, the better it went. This is why I think clearing your schedule for the first 1-2 weeks is good (minus daycare). It takes the pressure off you to have them potty trained in time to go to some event or pressuring them to go potty before music class. The more pressure you can remove from you and them the better.

Also, know that accidents will happen. In some cases, the accidents can actually end up speeding you along to the end goal quicker.

Let me be clear, I wasn’t a model student in this regard. I definitely cried out of frustration and impatience, and possibly had a glass of wine at lunch the third day. But, maybe you can learn from my mistakes. Definitely a big part of Miles finally getting it was me letting go of a feeling of needing to try to control it and just chilling out a bit. Going for the walk knowing he might have an accident or saying “whatever dude, when you’re ready,” instead of saying “OK I can tell you need to pee, please go sit on the potty!”

It’s Actually a Great Learning Experience for You, Too (and dare I say enjoyable!)

Yes, your child is the one here learning to use the potty. But, it’s actually a really great opportunity for you to learn about your child. I gained a lot of insight into how Miles’ brain works and thinks when he’s learning and tackling something new. They were things I already knew about him, but I suddenly felt like I had better insights into the types of environments he tends to excel in, and ways to encourage and talk to him without over-pressuring. If you go into potty training with that lens it’s super helpful. It’s not you and the potty against them. It’s you working with them, and that’s so much easier! Plus, it can be really helpful and beneficial to get some new insights on ways your kid learns and succeeds!

Don’t get me wrong, I had moments of frustration and a little panic in our first few days. I maybe had a glass of wine on day 2 with my lunch and cried on day 3. But, overall I actually found the process, dare I say, enjoyable. It was really special watching Miles learn this new thing. It was so insightful to see him experience and then overcome a fear. It was really interesting to see him overcome something he was afraid of and how he processed it, how he acted when he felt proud, and so on. I think if you allow yourself to step back a little from the whole “omg this is potty training and scary,” and instead look at it as “my child is learning a big new thing.”