Potty Train a 21- Month-Old Toddler in 3 Days or Less
Why I Decided to Potty Train So Young
I first started thinking about potty training my toddler daughter when she was around 16 months old. I searched the internet for tips and suggestions that would actually work, all while being completely terrified at how much work it would really be.
At first, I figured I would introduce potty training at 18 months, just to see how she responded. Each month crept by, and I kept thinking, "I don't think she's ready for this." However, I found out it was really ME that wasn't quite ready.
I was pregnant with another child, due right around the time of my toddler's 2nd birthday, and I had this lingering thought that it would be amazing to have just 1 child in diapers—not 2. Not to mention it would be a whole lot cheaper.
Finally, as she got closer and closer to 21 months, I just decided to bite the bullet and give potty training a shot. What did I have to lose?
Where Do I Start?
First off, you need to decide if your toddler is ready for potty training.
The down and dirty short version is that your child may be ready for potty training if they:
- Can stay dry for up to two hours at a time or during naps
- Can sit quietly for a few minutes
- Shows interest in the bathroom functions (i.e. flushing toilet, joins you in the bathroom)
- Tells you when they go in their diaper (has words for each bodily function)
- Doesn't like a wet or dirty diaper
- Follows directions
In my case, my toddler only checked off a few of these boxes. She showed interest in the potty at a very young age (which is why I first wanted to start at 18 months) and she was very good about knowing when she went and telling me afterward. I was most concerned about the fact that she rarely, if ever, woke up from a nap dry. I decided at 21 months to just go for it.
Initially, I was so scared that she would completely reject potty training and come to hate the potty altogether, which clearly I did not want. However, even though she did not completely fit the above criteria, she fit enough of them that I was confident she was ready. The real question was, was I?
What is the Best Age for Potty Training?
Some experts say the best time to start potty training is when the child is between ages 2 1/2 and 3. Much of this reasoning seems to be that toddlers tend to be afraid of going #2 on the potty, leading to chronic constipation, accidents, or urinary tract infections, according to Dr. Steve Hodges.
Some studies, like this one reported on North Carolina Health News, state that potty training before age 2 leads to children with smaller bladders. The theory is that children's bladders continue to grow as long as they remain in diapers. Removing the diaper and introducing potty training causes this growth to stop.
ABC News reports that the ideal age to potty train is between 27 and 32 months, or more simply, when the child is ready, aka the child-oriented approach. Otherwise, parents risk prolonging the process by starting too soon.
I heavily weighed the pros and cons of potty training early and continued to come to the same conclusion: I felt my daughter was ready to try. I entered the potty training process with the thought that if the first day does not go well, I can stop and try again in a few months. This relieved a lot of stress and made me feel better about the whole situation.
After many nights of internet research, I decided to try the 3 Day Potty Training Boot Camp method, which was known to work on children before they turn 2 in just 3 days. Some people have even reported success as young as 18 months. This sounded ideal and I was ready to jump right in.
What age do you think is the right age for potty training?
So Why Not Just Use Pull-Ups?
Disclaimer: You may find you still need to use diapers or a training pant (Pull-Ups) during naps and at bedtime.
With the advent of advanced diaper technology, many people associate Pull Ups with potty training. Pull Ups are a diaper-like training pant designed to be pulled up and down and features velcro sides for easy removal. Pull Ups states that their product allows children to develop self confidence with potty training by pulling up and down pants on their own. However, here are my thoughts on Pull Ups:
A diaper is a diaper and when parents use Pull Ups to aid with potty training, they are essentially putting a diaper back on their child. Pull Ups are designed:
- To not leak
- To absorb liquid
What is the difference between a Pull Up and a diaper? Not much except it's easier to pull up the diaper pant instead of laying your toddler down to change them.
With that said, a Pull Up can be a very effective tool to use during naps and/or bedtime, and many children, especially those beginning potty training between 18 months and 2 years old, are just not quite ready for full day and nighttime potty training.
Pull-Ups are designed to allow the parent or the child to pull down their Pull-Up, which is useful when taking your child to the potty before going to sleep. They are also designed to look more like underwear versus a diaper, and your child may notice. In fact, their commercials use the tagline: "I'm a Big Kid Now." They also have incorporated designs on the front that change color when a child urinates in them, which may make toddlers more aware that they are going.
However, there are many instances where parents report their child winds up resorting to using Pull-Ups exactly as a diaper; now you are back to square one.
My personal opinion is that Pull-Ups are just a more convenient diaper, and I knew I did not want to use them for potty training, with the exception of naps and bedtime.
What Do I Need to Get Started?
First and foremost, you need to commit to a full 3 days to sit and watch your child like a hawk. Regardless of when you choose, it must be a minimum of 3 consecutive days.
You also need to commit to NOT putting a diaper on your child, with the exception of naps and bedtime. Otherwise, any progress you have made will most likely dissipate and you will be restarting the clock on your 3 days of potty training.
These are supplies I found absolutely vital when potty training my 21 month old and highly recommend to all parents when starting potty training, regardless of the child's age.
- Potty Training Seat / Ring / Toilet Seat Reducer AND a Travel/Fold Up Potty Seat
I was not planning on using a child sized potty for two reasons: 1) It is more confusing to the child when you go to put them on an adult sized toilet; 2) I knew I would be leaving the house with my toddler in the very near future and if she was not using an adult toilet, what would I do then?
For the at-home potty seat, I found a super cute padded Minnie Mouse seat that she loved very similar to on Amazon (feel free to find one in your child's favorite character for added incentive). For the fold-up travel potty seat, I found this one, and it works very well. More detail on this later. this Graco seat
I used 4 "girl" pairs and found them absolutely necessary for at least the first 2 weeks of potty training. These training pants are designed to help minimize leaks (vs. underwear) because they feature a PEVA waterproof liner underneath a terry cloth absorbent liner.
- 1-2 old-school plastic waterproof pants
These are especially great for the first few car rides to go over underwear or Gerber training pants.
- At least 10 or more pairs of underwear, in your child's favorite characters
You will go through underwear...a lot of underwear. So stock up now with a minimum of 10 pairs.
- Flushable toddler wipes
For cleaning up #2 - nuff said. This is especially important once they start going #2 on the potty.
- M&M's (or your child's favorite treat)
I am not ashamed to admit that I did initially reward my child for using the potty. It worked well for us, but may not work for everyone and/or you may not agree with it.
- A sense of humor
Absolutely essentially when dealing with a toddler. Chances are, you already have this!
Potty Training Boot Camp: Preparation
Before starting potty training, I highly recommend a few days to a week's worth of "talking up" the idea of potty training to your child, and what exactly going on the potty means. Make sure to tell them that very soon they will be going on the potty and will not be wearing diapers anymore.
I used the countdown method with my daughter. For example, each day I would tell you, you have X many days you start going on the big girl potty.
I also took my daughter with me when I needed to use the potty and talked about how she would be using the potty too.
I should also mention that for several months I had routinely been flushing my daughter's #2 mess in the toilet and talking about how poo-poo goes in the potty. I firmly believe this helped her not to be afraid of going poop on the toilet. She always came with me and liked flushing.
These are just a few ways you can get them on board and (somewhat) prepared for potty training.
Potty Training Boot Camp: Day 1
Today's the day, time to start potty training! Are you as scared as I was? I figured at the very least, she would have a few accidents, refuse the potty, and I'd be cleaning up a lot of pee on the floor. Luckily I have hardwoods.
First thing today, you will get them out of bed, remove their diaper, remind them that today they will be going on the potty (use whatever words you prefer; we use pee-pee and poo-poo in our house).
Put on a shirt and perhaps some socks (some people really like baby leg warmers for potty training), and leave their bottom completely bare. Yep, they will spend today mostly naked (or completely naked if you, or they, prefer).
At this point, you will start watching the clock - or if it's more convenient, set a timer. Every 15-20 minutes, you will announce it's time to go potty. It is very important not to ask them if they have to go potty. 9 times out of 10 they will say no. March them (or take them) to the bathroom, put them on their potty seat, and say "Let's go potty; try and go pee-pee."
In my experience, your child will look at you like, what on earth am I doing up here and what am I supposed to be doing? Have them sit for as long they will let you, and then put them down, say "tell me when you have to go pee-pee," and let them scamper off. Re-start your timer. At this time, you may also want to mention the reward and the fact that if/when they go pee-pee on the potty, they will get an M&M. This adds some incentive.
Watch your child like a hawk. Many parents like to facilitate the pee process by increasing their child's liquids to increase the number of times their child has to pee. I did not do this and just let my child have her normal amount of liquid.
Sometime soon, your child will have a pee accident on the floor. It is very important that when they do have an accident, you:
- Announce that they went pee-pee
- State that they had an accident and pee-pee (or poo-poo if that's the case) goes in the potty
- NEVER say that "it's ok" - this will only confuse the child down the road and make them think it's ok to go on the floor - which you do NOT want
- Put the child on the potty, even though they just went (you never know if they have truly finished)
- Have the child help clean up (as much as they can - I cleaned up most but gave my daughter one paper towel sheet)
- Re-start your timer
It is essential that you work hard to "catch" your child in the act of peeing and try to get them on the potty. At some point today, this will happen and they will pee on the potty, which is the main reason why you are taking them every 15-20 minutes. In my daughter's case, she finally peed on the potty after three accidents on the floor.
Basically, you will re-start this whole scenario every time they have an accident. As the day goes on, your child should eventually catch on and start going on the potty. BUT the key is to continue taking them every 15-20 minutes the first day. They don't yet understand that they need to tell you they have to go. This takes some time.
By the end of today, you should have made some really good progress. In my case, I continued taking my daughter every 20 minutes and she did not have another accident for the rest of the day.
Potty Training Boot Camp: Day 2
If day 1 went well, day 2 starts off very similarly to day 1, with one exception: put some kind of easy to pull down pants on your child. Do NOT put underwear on yet. This may confuse your child. However, they need to get used to the feeling of pants (especially if you ever want to leave the house). With my daughter, we used soft and comfy leggings.
Day 2 will be very similar to day 1, except today, you will also work on lengthening your timer. Instead of taking your child every 15-20 minutes, work your way up to 30 minutes today.
Additionally, attempt to take a very short outing from your house, whether it's a short walk down the street or a quick stroll down the block.
On day 2, I actually took my daughter to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things. I sat her on the potty before we left, put on a pair of Gerber training pants with plastic pants on top, brought several change of clothes, and hoped for the best. I took her to the potty when we got to Wal-Mart, and took her again before we left. She got to experience a public toilet for the first time (and did great!) and did not have an accident at all. I put her on the potty as soon as we got home as well.
A note on public toilets: I always played up and tried to make the sound of a very loud public toilet like a game or something fun to my daughter. Many kids get scared at how loud these toilets flush - and some parents find that covering up the sensor works well. However, by using public flushing sounds in a playful manner, my daughter now thinks it's funny and exciting that public toilets are so loud.
By day 2, your child should have made significant progress, and will hopefully have made it to at least 30 minutes between potty trips.
Potty Training Boot Camp: Day 3
Day 3 will be very similar to day 2, BUT today you will be putting your child in underwear, along with easy to pull down pants. When you put on the underwear, it is very important to tell your child to keep their undies dry (more specifically, the character on their underwear). In my case, I stressed to keep MInnie Mouse or Anna or Elsa dry, and to tell me when she had to go pee-pee.
Today you will be working your timer up to 45 minutes between trips to the potty (within reason; you may find that you know your child has to go sooner than this). For example, regardless of the last time my daughter goes potty, I always take her again before and after a meal.
Also, try another outing with your child, as long as Day 2 went well and you are feeling confident. Just remember to take them before and after (and during if necessary) your outing.
Your child may continue to have an accident here or there. Chances are, and in our case, your child may start to realize what they are doing and let you know. Sometimes this happens as they are going, and sometimes before. Little underwear accidents that your child is able to stop and make it to the toilet, we call dribbles. I don't consider this an accident. We change her undies and move on. These accidents still happen every now and then, but the important thing to note is that your child is telling you what is happening.
By the end of day 3, your child should be much more confident in their success and you should be too!
What About Poop?
So it's been 3 days and your child seems to have mastered peeing on the potty, but what about poop?
Catching your child going #2 can be quite tricky. It is much more difficult than pee simply because it doesn't happen as often. If your child tends to poop at the same time each day, you might be in luck. Some of us aren't so lucky and you need to look for the signs that they have to poop.
My daughter makes some interesting faces (as I'm sure we all do) when going #2. I started really paying attention to her behavior, her demeanor, and most importantly, I found out that if she was a little gassy, most likely she had to poop soon.
All I had to do was catch her at the right time, which proved to be difficult. However, I found that reading on the potty when it seemed like she had to go, was the best way to catch the right moment. Eventually, it clicked for her and she started going on the potty. A reward of two M&M's also helped.
With that said, while she rarely has pee accidents, she still has some poop accidents, and we are working on it.
Potty Training Boot Camp: Beyond Day 3
If the 3 Day Potty Training Boot Camp method was successful, enjoy diaper free days - on one condition. Even though your child may be telling you they have to go pee-pee, continue to take them fairly regularly. Consistently think about the last time they went and whether they need to go.
As you tread further and become more confident in your child, start asking them whether they need to go - but remember that you know best. Even if they say no, sometimes you know they really need to go.
Your child will have accidents every now and then. Continue to let them know that pee-pee and poo-poo go in the potty. It gets easier the further you go.
I will say that even being several months potty trained, my daughter still has accidents every now and then, but typically no more than 1-2 times per week.
If the 3 day method did not work for you, stop. If your child is not making significant progress, go back to diapers and try again in a few months when they may be more receptive.
Finding the right time to potty train is tricky and some children have a very small window. Some children are much more resistant to the idea. You need to do what is best for your child and if potty training is not working, stop, step back, and try again later.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2016 Asahi Eveleth