How Do I Motivate My Child to Potty Train?

As a young mom, realizing that cleaning up potty training accidents is no longer a big deal to you is one of those moments that proves to you have truly arrived in motherhood. It’s like the moment you first laughed about getting spit-up down your shirt…or found yourself carrying two babies, a carseat and the diaper bag without thinking about it.  Sometimes you just have to pause and celebrate how far you have come! But we don’t want to be cleaning up potty training accidents forever, so today’s questions is: How do I motivate my child to potty train?

Potty training is all about timing and motivation. Timing means is my child ready for what I’m about to teach him? The reality is that your goal has to be physically, neurologically, and emotionally possible or else you are both headed for frustration. Motivation means asking is my child interested in what I’m about to teach him, and if not, can I develop the interest?

How Do I Motivate My Child to Potty Train?

Be Cheerful and Enthusiastic
Kids quickly pick up on our emotions. If they sense our enthusiasm is low it’s hard for them to stay interested very long. If it’s an off-day for you, no matter what you feel on the inside, act enthusiastic. Most likely you’ll soon feel better about the whole business yourself. Keep going and don’t look back! They will mirror your emotions. Especially, if you are potty training early, before 18 months, your enthusiastic attitude will be your primary method of motivation. And yes, you can potty train this early. If early potty training sounds like it may be for you, check out Kerplunk – The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Kid Into Undies By 18 Months.

Be Calm about Accidents
As inconvenient as they might be, accidents are to be expected. Just like learning to read or learning to swim, potty training is a messy business – full of steps forward and steps back. When you correct a child for mistakes when they are learning to read, they quickly develop aversions to reading; the same applies here. Give a straightforward reminder like, “Look. The pee went on the floor. Where should the pee go? Next time let’s put it in the toilet, ok?” Then let them watch you clean it up if possible, to further reinforce the concept.

Use Rewards
Small rewards can be really useful in developing motivation in a toddler. Yes, the ultimate goal is internal motivation, but external motivation is often an important part of the process of developing it. At first, use something small for every successful trip to the toilet. Keep it small at first, so your child doesn’t get tired of the prizes and because you have to have room to build up to make that poop prize worth a toddler’s effort! Don’t be surprised if you have to experiment to find that perfect reward. My son can pass up stickers, grapes, and even cookies no problem to keep his comfortable habit of peeing his pants, but the first time I held out a single jelly bean his little face scrunched up with concentration, and he soon became the proud owner of that little jelly bean. Candy is an infrequent treat in Emily’s home, and she found rewarding with single M&Ms (3 for poop) effective.

As peeing in the toilet gets easier and easier, you can phase out the rewards. Start by only giving the reward if he remembers to ask for it and then transition to “Today if you stay dry all the way to nap time, you get two jelly beans!” Continue this process gradually until you reach the stage where he gets a dollar store squirt gun if he makes it a week without an accident. You get the idea! Valerie, mother of eleven, recommends to always make sure a prize is attainable before you offer it. If you haven’t made it to nap time with less than two accidents ever, it’s premature to offer the reward for getting to nap time with no accidents. Start with a smaller step your child can be successful at in one or two attempts. They will soon become discouraged otherwise.

  • Prize Ideas
    • Celebrate success!
    • 1 jelly bean for pee and 3 for poop (M&Ms, Skittles, Sweet Tarts, favorite cracker etc. )
    • Stickers (little ones for pee and bigger ones for poop)
    • Getting to flush the toilet themselves or empty the training potty with supervision. My son loves it!
    • Dollar store toys (squirt guns, tub of play dough etc.) for the first accident free day, three days, and week)

Use Natural Consequences to Your Advantage
As potty training progresses, try to use the natural consequences of accidents to your advantage. Diapers and pull-ups are pretty comfortable to wear wet while training pants are less so. If you have enough hard flooring, you may even consider using no pants at all, so the accidents run down the legs. Valerie recommends not using rubber pants over the training underwear as often because the rubber pants keep the wet underwear warm and therefore more comfortable. Keeping post accident baths short and to the point instead of being a fun play time is useful as well. For older toddlers using cooler water for post accident rinse-offs can begin to get their attention as well. Remember, you are letting the natural consequences help teach. Do not punish for mistakes! Be calm and matter of fact. Kids are super smart!

Actively Prevent Constipation
Nothing makes learning to poop in the toilet miserable faster than constipation. Make an effort to avoid it as much as possible. Fruits, veggies, water, desirable poop prizes, staying calm about poop mistakes – use all the tools. For some kids dairy can make constipation worse. Dairy can actually be an interesting wild card with potty training in general, but more on that later. For lots of detailed suggestions for avoiding constipation see this article by our mommy contributor, Kirstie.

Use the Timer
In the beginning use a timer to help your child succeed by reminding them to go to the potty regularly. You can choose a regular interval. Emily found every half hour to an hour effective in the beginning. Or you can take into account the amount of fluids they have had and make an educated guess.

The potty training process does not last forever. Use some of these tips and tricks and keep your eye on the prize!  

Mommy Medicine is a group of moms that love sharing tricks, tips and strategies with our fellow moms. So send us your mommy questions you would like to see as the subject of a blog. We would love to hear from you!  Subscribe here to receive posts straight to your inbox!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (11/13/2018) JThe Wu’s Photo Land  (Flickr)

Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines

Jessica lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband Daniel and their three-year-old son, two-year-old daughter, and five-month-old son.  She is primarily a stay at home mom who works part time from home as a tutor and an administrative assistant for her church.  As a tutor Jessica has ten years of experience working with students in Math, Science, and English and is passionate about helping students regain their confidence and discover keys to understanding the concepts they are studying.  Prior to having kids, Jessica graduated with a degree in Dietetics from Arizona State University and spent several years working in the nutrition field doing menu planning and analysis for schools and long-term care communities.   
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