Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to potty train your child – the FUN & stress-free way!

My daughter just turned 4 in March, and I think it’s time to really get down to business and potty train her for real. I have tried training her before shortly after her 2nd & 3rd birthdays, but both attempts failed miserably. She just could not get it. It completely stressed her out; she would wail and whine and scream while squatting/sitting on the potty I bought for her, crying her heart out “I can’t pee, mama”, “There’s nothing coming out”, “Why is this taking so long?” and many other heart wrenching pleas that I can’t remember.

There are plenty of books and plenty of articles out there saying how you can potty train your child in one day, one week or whatever. I read a lot of those articles on parenting and children websites saying that your child should be potty trained by 18 months old or 2 years old the latest, or your child could be behind on her development milestone. What I think is – if there’s no major physical limitation e.g. the child still can’t walk by the age of 3 – you can forget all those psychological bullshit. You are the mother of the child; you should know what’s best for your child and work around that principle.

So that’s what I thought. If she’s not ready, then she’s not ready. There’s no use pushing her until she screams her head off, both of us getting all stressed and achieving nothing in the end. I do have friends and relatives that comment that she’s too old to be wearing diapers anymore and how their child/grandchild/niece/nephew was potty trained before the age of 3. (This seems to be the gold standard. Any later that this means your child is a slacker.)

So I’m gonna do this my way.

Also, I’ve found out that the No 1, ultimate, essential tool in potty training.  

Not a very state-of-the-art potty, but very cute nonetheless.

A state-of-the-art potty trainer? It helps, but it’s not necessary. When your child is good and ready, she won’t even need a potty anymore.

The answer is:   Patience. Lots and lots of patience.

The process of potty training my daughter took about 1 ½ months, which is quite long compared to the “normal” toilet training as recommended by the parenting experts.

However, after the first two failed attempts at potty training, I abandoned all the knowledge I’ve gained from the parenting websites, magazines and books and asked my mother and my mother-in-law for tips. Both of them said the same thing; start by taking the child to the toilet every few hours. Okay, very logical. In fact I have tried this before, resulting in the heart wrenching screams.

How to push her to succeed without pushing

What I need is to do is motivate her without putting too much stress and pressure on her. It has to be fun, visual and seem to be a like game. And it can’t be chocolates, sweets or ice cream, all her favourite things.

The obvious solution is: Stickers. Kids LOVE stickers. And not just ordinary stickers. Special, squishy and glittery stickers, awarded only upon successful potty usage.

At first I bought a roll of colourful, smiley-face stickers that has motivation phrases on them, such as ‘Good Job!’, ‘Well Done!’ and ‘You’re a Star!’ on them. But they all look pretty much the same, and after a while, doesn’t seem so special anymore. So I bought other stickers in random shapes.

I searched for free potty training charts in the internet and printed 2 copies, one for my daughter and one for her younger brother. I didn’t want him to feel left out, so I let him play along too.

Then I thought of another visual motivational goal – a photo of my kids actually on the potty. So I printed out 2 copies of a child on the potty and superimposed their head shots on the child’s body.

The early days - my son wasn't actually potty training, but I had to give him some stickers too to avoid any hard feelings. :)
I also bought a packet of pull-up pants diapers for my daughter to get used to wearing. I pasted the two charts on the wall in their play room with the superimposed head shots above each chart.

Purpose? (Get her toilet trained.) Check.
Motivation? (The special stickers) Check.
Visual goal? (The chart & the super-imposed photo) Check.

Then I explained to my daughter how it works.

How it works

In the beginning, she will start wearing the pull-up pants. Every time she wants to pee, she needs to tell me or the maid that she needs to go, so either of us can help her take off her pants and sit her down on her potty. I also reminded my maid to ask her every two to three hours whether she wants to go to the toilet. Then I showed my daughter the ‘special’ stickers, telling her that I will keep them for her, so every time she succeeded using the potty, I’ll give her a sticker and she could paste it on her chart. 

To start the engines running, I gave her a first sticker for ‘free’. (I had to give one to my son too, because he was there listening. He’ll throw a fit if he sees his sister getting a sticker and he doesn’t.)

You should have seen how their little faces light up when they see the stickers! I didn’t have to wait long for results; she told me the next day that she succeeded going to the toilet. She was literally skipping and smiling to let me know she did it. Going to the toilet became such a fun thing to do! I praised her repeatedly for her achievements, with kisses, hugs and high-fives. 
At first, success came only once a day, then it increased to twice a day, and three times a day, and about 2 weeks later, her diaper stayed dry all day. So I decided that it was the ripe time to start losing the diaper.

Progress 1 – Losing the diaper

All carpets were rolled up and stashed away, just in case of any potty accidents. I put on a diaper on my daughter only when she took her afternoon nap. It went pretty well except for 2 accidents, both happened at home, when she was too engrossed playing and she totally forgot to go to the toilet. It’s really hard to stay calm when such accidents happened, especially when you just get home from work, all grumpy and tired, or when you’ve just finished cleaning up the house, as one friend told me. Remember that no 1 tool? Patience, patience – and if you feel like screaming at the top of your lungs – more patience.

Progress 2 – Losing the diaper while travelling

When my daughter stayed dry at home and was accident free, the next step was to not wear diapers when travelling outside the house. I kept asking her every hour if she needed to pee, and she kept saying no in a really confident way. She also had to learn to make do with any toilet available, whether we were in shopping malls or a relative’s house. At first she felt a little icky of shopping malls’ toilets which were, admittedly, less-than-spotlessly-clean, but after a few times, she didn’t just care anymore.

Progress 2 – Losing the diaper during afternoon naps & moving on to the “big” job

Her bladder control is getting better, as I began to notice that she did not pee at all during her afternoon naps. So I decided to try not diapering her while she napped. I’m happy to report that no accidents occurred other than the first two I mentioned previously. 

Even better, she has even started to poop in the toilet. Previously whenever she wants to poop, she would ask to put on her diaper pants and poop in it. So whenever she did successfully poop in the toilet, I would give her extra stickers. I’d say this is a great achievement for my daughter, since she used to have bouts of constipation that left her traumatic to even sit on the toilet.

So many stickers that the chart can't fit them all! I didn't show my son's chart as there wasn't much change, anyway. 

All in all – a learning experience

My daughter still wears her night diaper and I haven’t started on the night toilet training yet, which would be another challenge. But it was such a fun and relaxing method, I didn’t mind the slowness of progress at all. Rather than setting my standards on my daughter i.e. you must be toilet trained in 3 days, I let her set her own learning pace, even at 4 years of age.

It was an educational journey, for both my daughter and me. Of course she learned how to go to the toilet on her own and all that, but the most important lesson here is independence. She also learned that to get the reward, she needs to earn it. She learns to appreciate the reward, because she has achieved it on her own. The chart is a visual proof which shows her achievements and encourages her to improve, without putting on any pressure.

I feel that I got to know my daughter’s personality better during this process. Her emotions are quite volatile, in the sense that when she’s happy, she chatters endlessly and sings all day long. But at a moment’s notice, that could flip right into a screaming fest of emotional outbursts. I’ve learned when to back off and chill when it’s not working and accept the fact that my daughter will not be able to toilet train in 3 days, and that doesn’t make her, or myself, a failure.

Breathe, stay calm and try again another day.

If you’re getting all stressed up & hot and bothered at how your child just can’t get the hang of using the potty just yet, relax and take heart. I promise you she won’t go to college in diapers.


  1. Zil..sama cm ammar..still in his night diapers..kitorg takut nk try night toilet train as he's still sleeping with us in the same bed..kang abih sume lencun dek ngompol dia..ermm klu dh try kt alya, kasi tips eh..risau gak ni..pampers size dh hmpir tk muat..hehehe..

  2. pampers size dh xmuat?? dia pakai size apa skang, xl ke? wahhh semangatnye anak ko jiha, hehe... ada mmbr aku kata, dia kejut anak dia 2-3x mlm utk gi toilet, tp kena bgn laa nk kejutkan dia tu, kalau larat, hahaha... klu anak jenis tdo lena, ssh gak nak kejut tu...

  3. Hi John! Thanks.. this is my humble effort in potty training my daughter ;)

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