Whole Parenting Family

Birth & Parenting Series (17): Potty Training by Reinforcement of the Positive

This is part 17 of our Birth & Parenting Series. Our other parts can be found on the front page under “Birth & Parenting Series” toward the bottom, or linked here.

Thanks to Liv for this guest post! She shares with us her method of potty training. Yes, you can train your young toddler with determination and the right tools–way to go, parents and way to go, little V.

I’ve had a great time potty training my 19 month old.  Yes, I know, “great” and “potty training” are not words often associated with each other.  So, for this reason, I feel obligated to share my experience with other parents.

Our approach was simple.  We put V in underwear.  When she peed (or pooped) in her pants, we took her to the bathroom, sat her on the potty if she was willing, changed her pants, and commented on how nice it is to be dry.  Within two and a half weeks she would occasionally go in the toilet, and within three weeks she was almost never wet; and more often than not pooped in the right place too!  I knew we’d have success sooner than later, but have been more than pleasantly surprised by how soon, and how easy, the whole process has been.

As a preschool teacher I’ve seen more than my fair share of two and half up to three and a half year olds still in diapers.  Of course, parents have all different reasons for this.  They may be intimidated by the process, just assume that their child should still be in diapers (they make them for practically all ages!), or even have their doctor telling them that “by four years old, he/she should just figure it out.”  I feel strongly that this shouldn’t be the case.  A two year old, and definitely a three year old, is very capable of many independent activities, including using the bathroom.  I know potty training is a daunting and ominous process in a child’s future.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Perhaps we have a child gifted in this particular area of development!  But what’s more likely is that we had a few key factors to help us in the process.

  1. Support.  Both my husband and I have been completely on the same potty training page.  My parents, V’s most frequent babysitters, followed our approach.  And most importantly, V’s teachers at Cathedral Hill Montessori have been 110% willing to change wet clothes, clean wet cots, and take her to the bathroom literally every 30 minutes.  This, I realize, could be a major roadblock to those of you who send your child to a daycare that has age limits on potty training.  My only advice to that problem is to talk to your child care provider and consider educating them on what’s possible.
  2. Consistency.  Once we put Vera in underwear, we never wavered (except at night).  When she naps at home, I’ve put a diaper cover over her undies to protect her mattress.  But other than that, we’ve been 100% underwear.  And because of that, V go the message —When I pee in my pants, I always feel wet.  Along those same lines, whenever she did (and still does occasionally) pee or poop we changed her clothes right away in the bathroom, talking to her about the process.  Same routine, every time, never letting her run around in wet pants.  It wasn’t long until she would let us know when she was wet because she quickly learned: dry is best.
  3. Good weather.  V spent the first 2 weeks mostly in a top and undies so it helped that it was warm out.  If the time comes for my next child in the dead of winter, I’ll still do it, but will be prepared to either crank up the heat or invest in a lot of pants.
  4. Lots of undies.  We’ve collected a large array of underwear.  Gerber, Carters, Lovable Friends, Blueberry, and an Etsy shop have all helped stock our supply.  Here’s my feedback on the brands.  Gerber and Lovable Friends have been great; easy to pull up, thick to soak up some, affordable, and cute (the most important part, right?!).  Carters are  a little more pricey, run small, but overall do the trick. Blueberry come in so many cute patterns and are a bit thicker, but unnecessarily expensive.  The Etsy shop I found is great. Handsewnbyme sews thick, super absorbent training pants.  I bought 5 pairs that I use for car rides and public outings because they will almost always soak up large amounts.  The shop owner was more than willing to sew the size and amount I needed, and even gave me fabric choices!  And the price was great.
  5. Accessible toilets, sinks, and places for dirty laundry.  This one’s pretty straight forward.  V made it clear that she preferred to sit on the real toilet, so we got potty seats for all our bathrooms.  Other children might like the child-sized potties.  To each their own.  Our bathroom routine always includes washing hands, so we needed stools at all the sinks.  And of course, a few extra laundry hampers are very helpful.
  6. Lots of trips to the bathroom.  Like I mentioned, V’s teachers at Cathedral Hill take her roughly every 30 minutes.  I can’t quite claim the same, but I do take her often.  When she wakes up, before we leave for school, when we get home, periodically throughout the evening, and right before bed.  Once we’re in the bathroom she can say (or shriek) “nnnooooo,” she can sit and try, or sit and go.  But no matter what, we do make lots of visits.
  7. Load up your diaper/potty bag.  When just beginning to potty train, it’s probably not the best time to head out on a road-trip.  But you also don’t need to be confined to the house.  To my surprise, the first thing V learned to do was to “hold it.”  She actually has yet to wet her pants in the car or a public place; I mean, who wants to pee their pants in front of a bunch of people, right?  But, just in case, I started carrying around a big ol’ diaper bag loaded with undies, clothes, wipes, a large wet bag, and even a towel in case of clean-up.  We still go out, but we’re always well prepared.
  8. No bribes.  Just verbal praise and love.  I have a friend who nannied for a boy who would only sit on the toilet with an iPad.  Thankfully for our child and our finances, we have not had to do that!  When V goes we all clap and congratulate her.  When she sits and tries, we thank her and give her a hug.  When she refuses, we say, “ok” and try again later.  We do have a few books in the bathroom and often sing songs to relax, but no material or edible rewards have been necessary.
  9. Patience!  You need this in general when living with a toddler, right?  Each time V needs a change and the floor needs a wipe, my husband and I keep a calm voice, never shaming or embarrassing our daughter.  If she pees her pants 3 times in a row thats just a little more laundry, no biggie.  If she refuses to sit on the potty (which she did for the first week or so), fine.  We try again later. After the first week, when we saw little improvement, we took a breath, and kept up with our plan.  We’ve had great success, but I know we’re still in the process, so staying patient, consistent, and supportive are key.

Last night V and I went out to dinner with a  friend.  After watching her chug glassful after glassful of water, I knew she was feeling uncomfortable.  I took her to the bathroom three times in less than an hour.  The first two times she refused to even sit.  On that third visit I hugged her and whispered, “Please try, V?  You’ll feel much better.”  She looked back at me, knowing she was loved, that she was safe in this strange place, that I was there to support her, and that yes, she would feel better.  She relaxed and went, ending with her regular “yyyaaaaaayyyy” and a clap of her hands, looking to me to  do the same.  We’re all so proud of our big girl.

Helpful photo shots to illustrate the training method:



  1. jenni on September 17, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Liv, this is such INSPIRING information and I’m going to pass this along to all my mommy buddies so they can get just as motivated and inspired as I am after reading about your fun potty training adventure! Thanks for sharing and way to go!! 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      Truly! It respects the child, but also helps guide them toward identifying their bodily needs. Totally inspirational!