Disclaimer: We only have one child. These are ideas that worked for us! While they may not work for everyone, they’re worth a try.
There are three main strategies we used in teaching our son to use the toilet that were particularly effective:
The most unusual one is to start with nights. This is contrary to the advice in all the books, which is to get the toddler consistently using the toilet in the daytime before you even attempt anything at night. However, my friend Sharon Ross mentioned that the way she knew her two children were ready to start toilet training was that they started waking up with dry diapers, meaning they had enough bladder capacity to last all night. I began looking for this by checking Nick’s diaper first thing in the morning, instead of waiting until I felt alert enough to change it. Around 18 months, he began to be dry when I checked him (when I was awake but he was still sleeping) but would soak his diaper within a few minutes of waking.
At first I tried waking him a little earlier and setting him on the potty chair right away, but most mornings he got very upset about that; he didn’t understand why I was disrupting his comfortable awakening process by pulling off his clothes!
Meanwhile, I’d been hearing advice to let him go naked some of the time so it would be easy for him to observe his functions. Not only were we none too keen on the idea of cleaning up puddles from every household surface, but we have a hectic lifestyle with both parents working outside the home, and it was difficult to find any time when we felt that letting him run around without a diaper was feasible.
Suddenly, one evening I put these two ideas together and thought, “What if we give him diaper-free time at night?” It was summer, so he’d been sleeping in just a diaper anyway. I covered the bed with a poly-fleece blanket (read more about that on our household hints page) and placed nearby a stack of towels for clean-up and a stack of dry T-shirts for me. Honestly, I expected to wake up in a puddle every few hours.
We slept all night and had a dry bed in the morning. Subsequent nights, I found that Nicholas was not able to sleep through wetting the bed the way he could sleep through wetting a diaper–usually his crying would wake me before the puddle got on me! All I had to do was soak it up with a towel, throw that and the fleece in the laundry basket, and go back to sleep. He never wet the bed more than once in a night, and even that happened only once every week or two. In the mornings, sometimes he was willing to use the toilet, but more often he would nudge me awake, pat his crotch, and point to the diaper cabinet; I’d put on a diaper just long enough for him to use it, then put it in the pail and put him back to bed. Pretty soon he was “asking” for a diaper even if he needed it in the middle of the night.
This went on all summer, but in colder weather it wasn’t so easy–wetting the bed meant changing pajamas and covers, and if he asked for a diaper it was hard to put it on quickly enough–so we stopped until the following summer, when he was two years old. Then our routine was that I’d get up and get into the shower, and when Nicholas woke he’d come into the bathroom and use his potty chair all by himself. However, he still wasn’t interested in using the toilet when he was dressed, and that’s where these other two tips came in.
Nylon pull-on diaper covers worn over underwear make great training pants! Much as we loved those covers, we never thought of using them this way until I saw it suggested online, and we’d spent a bunch of money on cloth training pants with a waterproof layer, which Nicholas outgrew before he was trained. Either of these approaches lets the kid feel wet when he’s wet (unlike disposable training pants) but prevents clothing and furniture from getting soaked–releasing a full bladder causes some trickles, because underpants don’t absorb as much as diapers, but it’s not a full-scale flood. Using the diaper covers allowed Nicholas to wear underpants when he wanted to, even if we were going to a place where we might not be able to get to a bathroom right away.
Finally, when he was 2 years 7 months old and we were certain that he had all the skills he needed to use the toilet but just wasn’t willing to get with it, we used a sticker chart. We bought a package of 1/2 inch diameter stickers with assorted bright-colored pictures on them, and I made the chart by marking boxes on a sheet of scrap paper. We told Nicholas that he would get a sticker each time he used the toilet, and when he filled up a row he would get a Fabulous Reward.
At first he did a lot of begging for multiple stickers for one achievement and saying, “Now I get sticker for NOT peeing in diaper!” five seconds after getting into a dry diaper. We held firm about the rules, and after just a couple of days he was using the toilet most of the time. The sticker chart seemed to be the magic key to understanding that using the toilet was his decision, under his control.
Oddly enough, once he’d caught on, he almost lost interest in the stickers! His pride in using the toilet was reward enough, and he often forgot to ask for a sticker afterward. Finally he did fill a row (because of the width of the paper, that was 17 stickers)…and before I could suggest a Fabulous Reward, he said that what he really, really wanted was to go to the library and check out that Bert & Ernie book again. The Fabulous Reward didn’t cost me a cent!!