My Potty-Training Saga -- And What You Can Learn From It

There is no magical age when kids are suddenly primed to go potty; it's all about their readiness level, and it's not something you can push or even force.
12/28/2012 02:14 pm ET Updated Feb 27, 2013

Written by Ellen Seidman for

Ten years of changing my son's diapers. Yep, that's what I've been through. Max has special needs, and potty-training him was a long, long haul. His delays had something to do with it -- but so did my own stumbling blocks.

All the toilet-training pros talk about a child being "ready" to train but the truth is, it's equally important for the parent to be ready (and maybe even more so). Because if you're not ready to commit, stay on top of your child, and do all the dirty work, it's not going to go smoothly. It's not going to even go at all.

As of this month, my son is finally potty trained. It's a major milestone in his life, and mine. He's still wearing Pull-ups at night, but he's a devoted toilet-goer all day long. Stashing away his diapers was one of the happiest things I've done all year -- ditto for stopping my scheduled monthly order from Amazon! (What will we do with all that money we'll save?!)

Here are five things you can learn from my potty-training saga to help you more easily potty train your own child--the key strategies, the props, the inspiration. More potty power to you!

1. Believe it: Kids go when they're READY to go.

There is no magical age when kids are suddenly primed to go potty; it's all about their readiness level, and it's not something you can push or even force. Readiness isn't just about being physically ready; kids have to be emotionally prepared, too. My son Max was potty-trained at school for a good year before he regularly hit the potty in our house. "Max, don't you want to go potty at home?" I'd ask. "NO!" he'd declare. It took time for him to quit being codependent on me and my husband. Typical key signs a child is ready to go, per the American Academy of Pediatrics: A dry diaper for two-hour stretches during the day or after a nap; predictable poops; can follow simple instructions; indicates discomfort when a diaper is soiled; actually asks to use the toilet or potty; is into wearing underwear; internal toilet-training beeper goes off. (OK, I made that last part up, but wouldn't it be awesome?)

2. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

My husband and I made the mistake of thinking we could do potty training boot camp in one weekend, complete with shower curtains spread all over our floors to handle spills, inspirational potty books, and continuous loads of laundry. We literally did not leave the house for two days, our lives centered around the toilet. While Max dutifully tinkled a few times, come Monday and his weekday schedule, he went right back to his old Pull-up ways. It would be six more months before we dedicated another series of days to potty-training, which is what finally did the job (although he is still wearing UnderJams at night). Basically, you have to make potty training your job, and keep at it.

3. Have a potty-training posse.

You want everyone in your child's life to be potty-centric, including your partner, your child's teacher, your babysitter, your mailman (well, maybe not him). Max's teacher was, in fact, super-super-super helpful. She sent me encouraging emails, gave him props at school and generally motivated us. She was our potty-training patron saint. Find one!

4. Get the right props.

My son is obsessed with the movie "Cars 2." And so while we tried all sorts of potty gadgets, including a musical potty and fun decals to help his aim, it was a "Cars 2" seat that best got Max in the potty mood. He picked it out himself online, and so it was more of a sure thing.

5. Experiment to find the best motivation.

I can still remember my motivation to potty-train as a kid: the promise of an oversize cookie. Max was more of a challenge. He loves purple, but even a bowl of purple treasures like a purple koosh ball and purple stickers with his name on them didn't tempt him. He could care less when I pointed out that his friends were going potty. He was somewhat intrigued by the promise of an electric ride-on car once he potty trained; I kept pictures up in the bathroom. Ultimately, though, what motivated Max to do the potty thing was that I set up a music stand in the bathroom, rested his iPad on it, and let him watch videos. Most experts say not to have distractions. But you know what? What works for your child works.