*** Updated Dec. 2021 **
In my experience, there are A LOT of parents planning to teach their toddler how to use the potty during the Christmas break, and be done with diapers forever! How sweet will that be? Seriously... no more soggy pants, poopy bums the clean at the most inopportune times, kids trying to run away when you go near them with a fresh diaper... sounds like heaven doesn't it?
I FULLY support your efforts to accomplish this right now, ASAP. But I want to write this post because there are some unique challenges that you will be facing at this time of year, and I want you to be prepared and plan ahead so that you can achieve this noble goal. If you have finished potty training your child in the last few months, this post will be a good reminder to you too, so you can help your child stay clean and dry amidst the chaos that is this season. If you haven't started potty training yet, click here to check-out my potty training course, "Cooperative Potty Training" to get started on the right foot!
Remember, the name of the game is potty training in to be firm in your approach, but also to remain relaxed and calm in your demeanour. If you get anxious and stressed, your child will as well and that spells disaster in potty training. So pour yourself some herbal tea or baileys on ice (or whatever puts you in a good potty training mood) and let's get started.
First off, I'm hoping that you have a plan in place for how to get this done. I definitely have my favourite approaches but at the end of the day its up to you. I would like to caution you however about cobbling something together from random internet sources or recollections from friends and family. A LOT of people go into potty training without a solid, tried and true approach and when something unexpected happens, panic sets in and mom or dad start grasping for straws trying to get things back on track. They may try candy or start a sticker chart. They may start taking their poor child to the potty every 20 minutes or letting them sit naked on it for hours a day watching TV. Perhaps even threatening their child that Santa won't bring them any presents if.... or they won't be able to go to a family celebration if.... Does that sound anxiety inducing to you? Does this sound like a plan that your toddler is going to be successful with?
Unfortunately this scenario happens often, and usually results in a cry of "he just wasn't ready" or "we tried too early". I want you to remember this.... the most important thing to do when starting potty training is for YOU, the parent, to be ready. This is your show. Your child is capable of mastering this skill if you are ready and committed to the process. Yes, there are instances where some kids don't complete potty training the first time they try, even though the parents were prepared, it happens. But your chances of success will increase 10-fold if you go into this with your eyes wide open, and have a plan in place for if (when) things aren't progressing quite the way you thought they would.
Second, choosing the right time is the other most important consideration when you are ready to commit to potty training. That means a MINIMUM of 3 days without any other commitments. Having said that, the average time to be regularly and reliably daytime potty trained is 7-10 days. My best advice for parents is to give it as much time as you possibly can. Once again, the aim is to reduce any anxiety or stress around potty training, so removing short and hard deadlines is essential. Imagine that you only have 3 days to complete potty training, a long weekend. By Monday afternoon if your child is still on Step 1 (eg. peeing all over the house with little to no recognition), you are going to be STRESSED. But.... if you can take an extra day or two off, it will give you the peace of mind to keep going. By day 5 it is very likely that your little one will have turned a corner and will be in a much better position to return to childcare, or in this case, attend a holiday party.
So... let's say you are going to start potty training next Saturday morning, Dec. 21, Christmas Eve would be day 4 and Christmas Day would be day 5. Remember, the average time to daytime completion is 7-10 days. So... if you have plans on those days, it is imperative to (once again), have a plan that will increase the likelihood of your continued success. Usually, short outings of 15-30 mins. or so would be perfect for day 4 or 5 of potty training. I understand that you probably have plans longer than that! So, what can you do?
Prioritize your outings. I your aunt wants you to come over for brunch in the morning, and your friends want you to go sledding in the afternoon, and you're hosting your parents for dinner... that is TOO MUCH. You should try to stick to your normal routine and spend as much time at home as you can so that you can allow your child to continue to progress at the stage that he is at for most of the day, since moving too quickly through the steps leads to more accidents overall and more confusion for the child. For outings that you can't or don't want to miss, invest in cloth training pants that will minimize clean-up for pee accidents. If you will be going to church, or a family member's home that will not be too accommodating or understanding, consider investing in a pair or two of absorbent training pants with a waterproof cover, or an all-in-one style training pant that has a PUL shell just in case. These kinds of lined trainers are preferable to using pull-ups in this delicate first week of potty training because for a little kid, a pull-up is simply a diaper. It may go on differently than the diapers they were used to, but still... using a pull-up so soon after starting potty training is very likely to cause confusion.
Continue to pay attention. Outings can be a game-changer for potty training, in a good way. It helps you to tune-in to your child's timing and signals in a way that you probably aren't connecting to as much at home since there is little at stake. However, when parties come along, parents usually want to socialize with their friends and family, not hang out with the kids all evening waiting to catch a pee or poop in the potty! We potty trained my daughter mid-november (several years ago now), so by Christmas-time she was doing awesome, and just working on some increased independence and skill building. Yet, at every party we attended that year, she had a big accident in her pants. Why??? Because mom and dad were not paying attention! We were drinking wine and chatting with friends, while the kids were running around doing their kid things. New environments, new toys, new friends, sweets and treats, of course she didn't think to use the potty at a time like that!
Looking back, its obvious that she needed more of my help to stay dry. Though in the home environment I do not recommend regular potty breaks (preferring to rely mainly on your child's routines, signals and patterns), at parties this strategy can work really well. Set your watch or phone timer if you have to, and take your child to the toilet every 1 to 1.5 hours (depending on their usually pattern that you have observed at home). And remember, take him or her to the potty by offering the opportunity. Do not ask IF they need to go.
Resistance. If your child doesn't want to take a break from play-time to use the toilet, you may want to try to convince them by allowing them to take the toy they are playing with into the bathroom, or even inviting their cousin or friend to come-along too! Be mindful of your child's tired signals too. The more worn out he becomes, the less likely he will get to the potty on time. It may mean that you cut your visiting time short unfortunately, but you will be happy you did the next day, when your child is in good spirits to continue to solidify their learning.
Bring your supplies from home. No question, you will want to pack your diaper bag (minus the diapers of course!). Bring your own toilet seat reducer and/or a floor potty from home, as well as several pairs of training pants and a few changes of clothes including socks. A wet-bag might also be a nice addition for any wet or toilet clothing, as well as a pack of wipes or cloths.
Don't make accidents a big deal. Wet or soiled pants in the first few weeks of potty training aren't even accidents really, I call them learning opportunities, for both you and your child. If an accident happens at a social event, help your child to clean-up, and allow her to sit on the potty in case she held some of it back. No remarks, no shame, just be matter-of fact. And try to do better next time.
All the best to you this holiday season, in your potty training endeavours and more.
If you are located in Alberta Canada, be sure to join the Go Diaper Free of Edmonton facebook group where you can let us know how things are going, ask questions, vent, or celebrate your successes with other like-minded parents who are right there with you. Outside of that geographic area, please find a group located closer to you at Go Diaper Free. And be sure to follow Wee Potty on Instagram and Pinterest for more great potty training tips and content.
Hi! I'm Danielle, your friendly neighbourhood potty specialist.