Potty training might be the most intimidating milestone a parent faces in those early years. But with so many families spending extra time at home this summer, this could be the moment many of us have been waiting for to tackle it once and for all.
In fact, potty training consultants like Jen L’Italien, certified Oh Crap Potty Training consultant and owner of Oh Crap Potty Training From ME To You, says she started seeing an uptick in calls right alongside Covid-19 stay-at-home orders. “Typically, we see a surge in the summer, but it started in March where there were just a lot more people than usual starting [to potty train].”
But Joanna Vogel, education director at Kidz Village preschool in Maspeth, New York, points out that “not all children are ready when you are.”
To give your kiddo the best chance at success, L’Italien says it’s ideal to be home for at least a week. The Oh Crap! Potty Training method breaks the daunting task down into simple blocks of learning. The first is bare bottom — which is exactly what you’d think. Your child doesn’t wear any pants and stays near home for at least a weekend. Adding pants without undies is the second block that happens after a pattern is recognized and a few wins have been scored on the potty.
But potty training is not an exact science. In fact, L’Italien says that not every kid is going to do it in the same way or in the same amount of time. “It’s common that it’s a disaster the first time,” she adds.
How do you know if it’s the right time to potty train?
L’Italien says that if your child is between 1½ and 3½ years old and is aware of their bodily functions or can verbally ask for food, they’re probably capable of potty training. And if the child is capable, the most important advice that she says she can give to parents is “to commit to consistency without intensity and know what healthy poop looks like.” Check out the visual Bristol stool chart — if you see a Type 1 in their diaper, she says, “fats like coconut milk, coconut oil, olive oil, butter and meat are the best poop primers.”
Potty training essentials
Every child is different, and it may take a bunch of different tools (and tries) to get yours comfortable with making the leap from diapers to the toilet. Vogel says to use potty training songs and dances and to “not underestimate the power of silliness in the bathroom!” But there are also some physical essentials needed to set yourself on a path to success. Here are 26 products, recommended by experts, that could help make potty training go more smoothly.
’Everyone Poops’ by Taro Gomi ($9.69, originally $15.75; amazon.com)
L’Italien says before you start potty training, “books are helpful in terms of both showing and normalizing that this is the human body and this is how it works.” Great for the youngest potty trainees, this simple illustrated guide to understanding digestion is a classic.
’Time to Pee’ by Mo Willems ($7.99; amazon.com)
Mo Willems is a much-loved children’s book author whose adorable characters and illustrations cover all sorts of difficult experiences and milestones. This one addresses potty training in the fun, simple way that only Mo can. _______________________________________________________
’Goldilocks and Just Right Potty’ by Leigh Hodgkinson ($14.71; amazon.com)
This beautifully illustrated and fun book covers the questions that little ones may have such as “Will I get there on time?” and “Am I going to fit on the potty?”
’Ninja Potty Break’ by Alexandria and Kenneth Wiltberger ($15.45; amazon.com)
If visiting other toilets outside of home or school is intimidating or causing stress for parents or the child, this book will empower everyone to feel better about it.
’Usborne Lift-the-Flap Very First Questions and Answers: What Is Poop?’ ($12.99; myubam.com)
Normalize the human body and bodily functions with this fun lift-the-flap book by Usborne.
Who Pooped? Game ($12.61; amazon.com)
L’Italien likes to recommend this game for kids who are holding their poop. Why? Because a lot of times they’re scared of what’s coming out. This can help them feel more comfortable about the idea, and parents might learn a thing or two about what various animal poop looks like, too!
Toddler Girls’ Woven Pull-On Shorts - Cat & Jack™ ($6; target.com)
“The faster they can get their pants down, the easier,” L’Italien says. So she suggests working on pushing down pants before starting potty training. She encourages using the phrase “push down” instead of “pull down” because it makes more sense to the toddler, logistically. And be sure to put them in shorts that they can easily get down, like these.
Toddler Boys’ Twill Pull-On Shorts - Cat & Jack™ Green ($6; target.com)
These elastic shorts also make it easy for potty trainees to push their pants down and pull them up all by themselves. L’Italien says to avoid buttons, snaps, zippers, rompers or overalls, no matter how cute, because they can add a layer of frustration, which can become resistance.
OXO Potty Chair ($24.99; amazon.com)
“I do think it’s important to have a small potty. Having options are important,” L’Italien says. This little potty chair is a best-seller that has a removable insert for easy wiping and washing after each use.
OXO Tot Sit Right Potty Seat, Teal ($19.99; amazon.com)
This seat fits right over the big toilet and makes your little one feel like a real grown-up. However, L’Italien says, “It can take time before kids are comfortable with flushing. And you don’t have to rush the child to flush the toilet.” If they leave their mess in the big toilet and don’t flush, just celebrate the win of getting it in the toilet. She adds, “Give them the option and they will eventually move over to the flushing toilet.”
Potty Training Seat Toilet with Ladder ($25.99, originally $49.99; amazon.com)
For families with limited space, a folding potty seat with a ladder that fits right over the big toilet is a smart option for getting kids on the big toilet faster.
NextStep2 Toilet Seat with Built-in Potty Training Seat ($41.99; amazon.com)
For families with a shared bathroom, a seat like this prevents it from feeling like a kids’ bathroom. It looks like a regular toilet seat but has the child insert built into the lid so it can be pulled down as needed.
Kids Green Step Stool ($11.19; amazon.com)
L’Italien says a stool is useful for reaching the sink and big toilet independently. But, she also explains that it’s essential for making poop flow more easily. “People may not realize how important anatomically it is that they’re actually in a squat.”
Oxo Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty for Travel ($19.99; amazon.com)
Once you know your kiddo’s pattern, or they are communicating when they need to go, a travel potty will give everyone the peace of mind to head outdoors. Be sure to grab a pack of the Oxo Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty Refill Bags ($13.99; amazon.com), which fit the potty perfectly and feature an absorbent insert that makes it less messy to tie up and carry around until you find a trash can.
Upgrade Baby Boy Portable Potty Emergency Urinal ($9.99; amazon.com)
If you have a boy who prefers standing up to pee, this little doodad could be a game changer when you’re out and about.
60 Minute Kids Visual Timer ($18.99; amazon.com)
“A timer is a good thing for some kiddos because it takes you out of the equation a little bit. They get real tired of hearing Mom saying, ‘Time to go,’” says L’Italien. Making sure that they at least try to go at regular intervals also encourages them to check in with their bodies, she explains.
Potty Fun Potty Training Watch Countdown Timer ($11.99; amazon.com)
Vogel points out another complication: “There are more distractions at school, so even big kids sometimes forget to go until it’s too late!” This potty watch helps kids over 2 years old stay in control of their own potty breaks. L’Italien adds that “it’s great because it creates consistency when bouncing between parents, caregivers and school.”
WaterWipes Unscented Baby Wipes, Sensitive and Newborn Skin — 4 Pack ($12.32, originally $14.99; amazon.com)
Going straight to dry toilet paper can be jarring to a little one’s bottom. Sticking with wet wipes (throw them away in the trash, not the toilet) will help them get and feel cleaner until they master wiping, which L’Italien says happens sometime between 6 and 8 years old.
Humble Bebe Prefold Cloth Diapers —- 12-Pack ($36.34; amazon.com)
Potty training means messes, especially during that first week. Prefolded cloth diapers are designed to be extremely absorbent and “sop up a pee puddle in a snap,” says L’Italien.
Organic Eco-Training Underwear ($15; etsy.com)
Fun undies can be the make-or-break tool that motivates kiddos to start using the big potty. These come in a few adorable patterns, are made with organic cotton and are extra absorbent to help with little accidents those first days, weeks or even months of being newly potty trained.
Layered Cotton Toddler Potty Training Pants — 4-Pack ($17.95; amazon.com)
Here’s another fun pack of training underpants to help kids transition to pulling down their undies and shorts when they have to go potty.
Mom Invented Potty Training Tinkle Targets for Boys ($6.39; amazon.com)
Training a boy to pee standing up might go swimmingly in the backyard, but it can become a challenge in the bathroom because he misses the bowl and makes a mess. These tinkle targets were designed by a mom and make it fun for your kid to aim for the right spot.
Bumkins Waterproof Wet Bag ($9.99; amazon.com)
Accidents inevitably happen while out and about or at preschool. “Several sets of extra clothes in the cubby are a must,” Vogel says. Be ready for accidents out of the house by carrying a change of clothes and one of these bags to keep the soiled stuff in until you can wash it.
How to deal with potty training roadblocks
L’Italien is not a proponent of potty training at all costs. Don’t make a resistant or strongly reacting child continue potty training for too long. If it’s still messy on day three, your child is probably fine. But be concerned if, after a week, you’re still not stacking up any wins, it’s getting worse or you’re experiencing rising resistance.
Vogel agrees: “If you try for a couple of weeks and it isn’t working, call it quits and give it a few more months. Better to wait than to have a child and family who are stressed out!”
It may be helpful at that point to pause and do some reading on the subjects of potty training and toddler communication before giving it another try. Here are a few of L’Italien’s favorite books on the topics.
’Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right’ by Jamie Glowacki ($11.10, originally $16.99; amazon.com)
This is the original book that took the parenting world by storm and is still considered a gold standard for potty training.
‘How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7’ by Joanna Faber and Julie King ($15.99, originally $18; amazon.com)
This book helps parents to see inside the mind of their little one to understand their thought processes and feelings. It also lets parents understand what they really sound like to their kids. It can be a huge help in getting the right kind of communication going for potty training success.
’Oh Crap! I Have a Toddler: Tackling These Crazy Awesome Years ― No Time-Outs Needed’ by Jamie Glowacki ($15.99, originally $16.99; amazon.com)
Jamie Glowacki’s follow-up book goes beyond the potty and into the psyches of our mysterious toddlers to help parents communicate without punishing.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.