How to Potty Train in 3 Days
Figuring out how to potty train your toddler can seem overwhelming and I think I may have avoided the entire thing for awhile just because I was not sure how to start. I used to potty train kids with autism while I was in college and for some reason training my own little one was scarier. I combined my previous experience with kids on the spectrum, read up on some new methods, and then used my instincts and finally went for it! After 3 Days, she was trained!!! We are two weeks out now and of course it's not perfect, and she still needs help and reminders but the majority of the work was done in those three days. Hopefully my 3 Day System will work for you as well as it worked for us because in 3 Days, Addie was trained! I also made it easy for you and most of the items pictured below can be shopped just by clicking on the image. In this article I am sharing;
6 Signs They May be Ready
How to Determine Reinforcement
How to Prepare Your Space
What Stuff You Need
Adaptations for kids with GI issues, developmental delays, & autism.
Before You Begin - 6 signs they may be ready
It's important that your little one shows some signs of readiness before you begin to potty train. There are some experts who claim it does not matter, but from a developmental perspective there are certain skills a child needs in order to be successful. As much as Adeline hates to be still, she had to learn to walk before she was able to run.
1. Awareness: Look out for signs that your little one does not want to be wet or be in a dirty diaper. They may start to take their diaper off when it's dirty, or tell you when they need a change.
2. Basic Language Skills: Your child needs to have some way to communicate with you, whether it's verbal, through a communicate device, sign language, etc. so they can tell you if they need to go, need help, etc. once training is in full swing.
3. Changes Behavior when Pooping: Does your little one go hide behind the couch when they poop?? Sit down? Need to be alone?
4. Shows Interest: Addie was very interested in all things toilet. She wanted to watch me, help with toilet paper, flush, etc.
5. Staying Dry for Longer Periods of Time: Is your toddler still having constant wet diapers, or are they a little bit more spread out?
6. Age: Everyone has the friend whose kid was trained at 2 years old, but a recent study just showed that only 3% of kids are trained right at 2 years old. Most kids are at the optimal readiness between 2.5 -3 years old, but of course everyone is different. Our medical team said most of the kids they see with short bowel are delayed with toilet training..
If your child has special needs, developmental delays. or other medical issues they may not be able to demonstrate all of these signs so it's important that you use your judgement, instinct, and talk to your various providers to determine the best plan of action. For example, Adeline is fed 16 hours a day via her feeding tube so she does not really have "meals". Therefore she never really had longer periods of times when she was dry.
You want potty training to be a positive experience for your little one (& you), so before you begin think about some types of rewards or reinforcement you want to include. Reinforcers are used to increase the behavior you want to see ( going on the pottty!), and it's important to know that the reward depends on the individual and situation. While my daughter loves stickers, a college student could care less about that type of reward. Make sure whatever you choose to reinforce with that you only use it when you are doing potty training. If you are giving a sticker when they go on the potty, then only let them use stickers during that time. You want it to be motivating. I want to tell you about the different types of rewards there are, and then the combination that we decided to use.
- Natural reinforcers are those that occur directly as a result of the behavior. For example, Addie goes on the potty instead of in her underwear, she is not covered in urine, wet and uncomfortable.
- Token reinforcers are points or tokens that are awarded for performing certain actions. These tokens can then be exchanged for something of value. For example, each time Addie goes on the potty, she gets a sticker. After 5 stickers, she gets a prize.
- Social reinforcers involve expressing approval of a behavior, such as a parent saying "good job!', giving a high five, a hug, praise, etc.
- Tangible reinforcers involve presenting actual, physical rewards such as candy, treats, toys, money, and other desired objects. This type of reward should be used sparingly, and faded over time.
Our Reward System
- If Addie "tried" to go potty which consisted of pulling down her panties (with help), sitting on the potty for 2 minutes, pulling up her panties, she got 1 M&M.
- If Addie was successful on the potty and either did a number 1 or number 2, she got two M&M's and a sticker on her potty chart.
- After 3 stickers, she got a little Hatchimal surprise egg.
- Our daughter loves social reinforcers, so throughout this process we celebrated everything; gave hugs, kisses, high fives, FaceTimed with grandparents after she had success, etc.
After she was successfully trained, we did spread out the reinforcement to be further apart. I also decided to keep the M&M for trying to go since she often does not want to leave what she is doing to "try" to go potty before we go out somewhere.
- Day 4: Gets a Hatchimal after 5 stickers
- Day 8: Gets a Hatchimal after being dry all day.
Prepare your Space
Before you begin, you have to prepare your space and you need some stuff. Determine which bathroom is going to be your main potty station. We decided to use our powder room on the first floor since that is where we spend most of our time. You spend a lot of time in the bathroom the first few days so this is how I set it up.
- Basket of Books: we got a variety of potty books we kept in the bathroom so we could read while she was sitting. She is really loving all of these potty books and they definitely help with the process. It was also easy to say she had to sit until the book was finished vs. just setting a timer and sitting there.
- Chairs: we started with the traditional potty chair but personally I did not like cleaning it out so we changed to the step stool. She could easily get herself on and off and we could just flush! I now have the traditional potty chair in the back of my car and also discovered the incredible liners. (pictured and linked below) I also included a urinal my Mom friend with boys swears by if it's important to teach your little boy to stand while peeing.
- Basket of Clothes: accidents happen so I like to have all my supplies right where I need them. I have a little basket of panties, wipes, changes of clothes, and grocery bags for wet clothes to go right in the bathroom. The underwear I linked below all come in smaller sizes, starting at 18 months.
- Other Toys: we have a few other things to entertain her in the bathroom, her kindle and little toys. We love the Daniel Tiger Stop & Go Potty App.
- Reinforcement: I keep everything right where I can reach in the bathroom, reward jar with M&Ms, stickers, reward chart, and Hatchimals.
1. Make the commitment
This first step is important and my advice is to clear your calendar for 3 days and really try to limit outings. If you are a working parent, schedule it during a 3-day weekend. You want this to be your main priority and life will resume normally in just a short amount of time. Potty training needs to be your number 1.
2. Naked time
My little one loves to be naked, so for the first 3 days she was naked on the bottom except for when we went outside in her new panties. The premise behind this is that wearing a pull up or underwear at first indicates to the brain that they can just go in their pants while nakedness signals that something is different. It sort of removes the safety net and gives them the sensation of what pee and poop feel like without a diaper.
3. Use a timer
Set a timer and take your little one to the bathroom every 20 minutes. Yes, every 20 minutes. When you go into the bathroom, praise them for each step (pulling down their pants, sitting, etc.). Have them sit for 2 minutes and while they are in the bathroom have some fun! Read, sing songs, watch something together on kindle, be silly. This whole potty thing every 20 minutes is a pain in the butt, so make it a fun place to be. You do not have to pressure them to go, or mention it every other second. Keep it cool, calm, collected, and be an entertainer! Day 2, take them to the bathroom every 30 minutes & Day 3, every 45 minutes. If they have a big increase in accidents, go back to 20 minutes.
Reward them for "trying" and definitely for a success. They are learning something so big, new, & scary so it's important they know their efforts are appreciated. I verbally praise her for each step, reward her for trying with a small tangible reinforcer, she gets an even bigger tangible for when she's successful. These rewards can fade in time.
5. Accidents Happen
Accidents happen and they will happen. When you learn any new skill, mistakes are made. Just think about how many times your little one fell before they walked. Not if but WHEN they have an accident, keep your cool, and do not act annoyed or angry. Then take them into potty to try and see if they have anything left and remind them of where pee and poop goes. You do not want an accident to be enjoyable, so have them participate in cleaning up the mess.
Adaptations for kids with differences
My daughter has short bowel syndrome and a variety of GI issues, so we did make some adaptations. Because she's fed via feeding tube overnight, we decided not to worry about potty training over night. She get's so much fluid it would not be fair to her to expect her to stay dry and she would probably be up a million times. She will just wear diapers for a long time at night. Occasionally, she does have bouts of diarrhea. She was unable to make it to the bathroom so we just decided to keep her in diaper when her diarrhea pops up. We also invested in some underwear with a disposable inserts, and training pants that are a little bit more absorbent, (pictured and linked above) on those days that are a little iffy. We use puppy pads in the bottom of the carseat as well to help with cleanups. If your child does not eat by mouth, you will not be able to use M&Ms like we did so things like stickers, dollar store or Target dollar bin items would be better.
Language Delays or Autism
For kids with language delays or autism, there are a few things you can do to adapt. Depending on your little one's cognitive level, you may be able to use social stories, video modeling, or visual cues. You can also use picture cards that describe the step-by-step process required to pee in the toilet. I like to use actual photos that you have taken of your child using the toilet if your toddler likes more concrete examples. Make sure to place these photos in the correct order of steps (ie: First take off pants, then take off underwear, then sit on the potty, etc.) and place it somewhere your child can easily see it. I really like the app Choiceworks which allows you to create your own picture schedule using your own pictures and even recording your own voice. You need to figure out a way to teach them to communicate ( if they do not have words) the need to use the bathroom. This can be via sign language, or using a picture of a toilet they can bring to you. Your SLP can help you with this step.
Jacob Levy also made this incredible video to Addie's favorite song (Humpty Dumpty), to help her remember the steps to use the potty. We worked together to choose the music, the general steps, and even the gender of the voice singing. Jacob grey up with a learning disability due to a brain hemorrhage at birth (and acquired hydrocephalus). Because of this, he struggled with short/long term memory retrieval in school, life, etc. However, the thing he excelled in was music. He could remember and play back on multiple instruments and replay hundreds of songs he heard by ear with great ease. After studying music for a while, he made the connection of using short melodies as a mnemonic device for memory recall for himself. Many kids with language delays or learning disabilities can use song to aid memory. He can make you a song as well and just send him a message here or his contact info is listed at the end of this song.
Few other tips
- Cover your couch in puppy pads those first few days. This makes cleaning up accidents much easier
- Place puppy pad in the bottom of car seat as well for the same reason.
- Create a potty training station in your car with potty chair, wipes, rewards, changes of clothes, etc. This station has saved us so many times when we've been running errands. I also do not love her using the public restroom, so our potty chair is cleaner.
- Washing hands with soap and water was such a process, so we just used hand sanitizer. I am the one wiping her, so this just sped up the entire process.
- Be patient. Buy some wine for the end of the day, and try to have fun. Just think at the end of this, no more diapers!!!
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