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How to Potty Train When You Don't Have a Lot of Time

Labor Day is on the horizon and with it, the traditional first day of school. While basking in the late summer sun or watching their children chase fireflies in the fading hours of daylight, some parents are also spending their last days of summer contemplating their toddler's bathroom habits, specifically, their lack of consistent bathroom use and dependence on diapers. For many families, this is a time of transition into preschool. Unfortunately, not being potty trained can be a barrier into preschool entry. This also makes what should be the lazy days of summer a time of anxiety for parents: How can they get their child potty trained before school starts?

Take a Breath

Calm down. Your child can sense your anxiety, and if you are stressing over the potty, they will too. A stressed brain does not respond well, instead making negative connections and associations if the child feels like they are disappointing their biggest fan. This can elicit oppositional behaviors such as flat out refusing to try to use the potty or aggression. The converse is also possible - an anxious child becoming "clingy" or frequently asking for assurances that they are pleasing the parent.


We're not talking about the deadline you've got on your mind. When your child starts school, it is likely that the teachers will have students on a bathroom schedule. Contact the school, and find out what that schedule is. You now have the first tool in your Potty Time Toolkit. If, for example, the school does potty time at 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm, you will too.

Use a Schedule and Alarm

The Kenson Kids potty training chart system has plenty of flexibility for different circumstances. This is the second tool in your Potty Time Toolkit. Label the potty chart with the different times you will set as potty time. If you want to extend them to evening hours until bedtime, that will help with consistency. Bodies can get used to going on a schedule, and now is the time to take advantage of that. (Ask any teacher and he or she will tell you it's true!) To stay true to this schedule, set alarms on your phone - this is your third Potty Time Toolkit item. Ask your child to help select their favorite alarm. They might surprise you and pick out a dripping water option!

A benefit to using an alarm is that when the alarm goes off, you can't ignore it. The alarm has AUTHORITY. Explain that alarms tell us when to get up, when to take food out of the oven, and when to respond to weather alerts. We take alarms seriously, and this one is no exception. If you have other children, have them follow along - in this case, there is much to be said for following the herd. It can be tempting, especially if this is your habit, to ask your child at different times if they have to go to the bathroom. Try to fight that impulse. When the alarm goes off, calmly state that it's potty time. Pause their TV program if they are watching something, calmly set their activity aside, and otherwise stop what you're doing to focus on only going to the bathroom. Praise their efforts for listening the first time, and for trying even if they say they don't need to go.

It's a good idea to keep a sippy cup out for your child, but it doesn't have to be a big one. A 2- to 4-year-old's bladder can only hold between 4 and 6 ounces of urine, so that's about all they need to drink in between potty times. The goal is to fill, but not overfill, their bladder so they are ready when it's time to go.

Ditch the Diapers

Although it is reassuring to have something there to prevent accidents, and they will have accidents, for your child's sake it's better to be able to feel what's going on. It also shows that you see them as a big kid who wears big kid undies. When they have an accident, calmly help them clean up and move on with the day. Now is not the time for fancy clothes. You should aim for easy-on/easy-off options. Because it's still summer, swimsuit bottoms are great because even if they wet themselves, rinsing off outside with the hose is an easy fix, just don't make it too fun because then it becomes a reward. If inside, it is wise to spend as much time as is realistic on non-carpeted surfaces.


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Now is the time to celebrate the small and large victories. Trisha Jaksa, a mother of two in Ohio, uses a reward chart with her young daughter. Trisha placed the reward chart in the bathroom at eye level, where her daughter places stars for each "peepee" and "poopoo" that made it in the potty. Trisha says, "Any pee or poop in the potty is a success, and we celebrate it." When a row of spaces are filled, you can choose to have a bigger celebration. You know your child best. For one child, an extra 20 minutes of a game is an excellent reward, while another might request a third bedtime story. Another might like the opportunity to do a fun "big kid" activity they've been aching to try. Even bigger victories like an entire day dry could earn bigger rewards like a new set of crayons or a favorite restaurant meal. 

Through it all, provide specific praise and remain hopeful. Don't punish for accidents; your child is learning. Remaining consistent, especially with timing, is essential, as it keeps the process positive and matter-of-fact. By disengaging from thoughts of frustration or inadequacy and focusing on the process and the positive, parents can encourage their child to develop a habit of consistency around using the bathroom, ideally in time for school to start.

Kenson Kids knows how important it is for children to see proof of their achievements. Our potty training charts are designed to be friendly and encouraging for young children, and also make life a little easier for parents. Kenson Kids also carries reward charts to prompt other behavioral targets like brushing teeth, and responsibility charts to remind older children to complete tasks like emptying lunchboxes or unloading the dishwasher.


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