Potty training can feel overwhelming. Many parents get downright stressed about potty training, and for good reason: this is the first time you’re teaching your young child something that has to be done in a very specific order, with a very specific outcome. Using the potty is a skill that’s entirely new, and it’s one they’ll be using for the rest of their life. So yes, the pressure can mount quickly.
When it came time to potty train my oldest son, I decided to try Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right by Jamie Glowacki. Glowacki has coached thousands of parents through the ups and downs of potty training, so she knows what she’s talking about. She’s also funny and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to telling it straight.
Does the book work? You bet. My son had the basics down in less than a week, and there’s no way I could have done it without Glowacki’s expert advice. Three weeks after we began, he’s doing amazingly well. That’s a huge relief as I try to save on costs for my growing toddler.
Glowacki’s approach is short and intense, and it works. That’s why I chose it over popular alternatives like Potty Train Your Child in Just One Day by Teri Crane. Let’s take a look at what you’re in for.
When to Start Potty Training
Glowacki recommends starting potty training when your child is between 20 and 30 months. This period is a “window of opportunity,” when your child can learn this skill with the least amount of conscious effort. Yes, you can do it sooner, but it will likely be more challenging. Yes, you can do it later, but power struggles and fights become much more common.
You also need to look for signs that your child is ready to start using the potty.
- Do they go off by themselves to poop?
- Can they communicate their needs? For example, can they ask for a glass of juice in some way?
- Can they sing the ABC song?
The most important marker of these three is likely the first. If your child is going to a private place to poop, it means they’re associating pooping with privacy, which Glowacki states is a natural and correct progression of development. This means that it’s time to start potty training.
How to Teach Your Child Awareness
Glowacki’s approach to potty training focuses on “blocks of learning,” rather than a specific timeline. This is helpful because it takes the pressure off having a “set schedule.” Instead, you focus on getting your child through each block, whether that block takes one day, a week, or more.
Before we look at those learning blocks, it’s helpful to see how potty training will raise your child’s awareness about what’s happening in their body. Essentially, you’re going to guide your child through these levels of awareness:
- Clueless. Diaper-wearing children are, for the most part, clueless that they’ve peed. They pee as they play, and they don’t see it. Before potty training, this is where your child is.
- I Peed. Once potty training begins, on Day One, your child will become aware of the process of peeing. Think of this as the “surprise” phase, as in, “Oh, look! I just peed! It’s on the floor!”
- I’m Peeing. The next stage of awareness is the act itself. Your child will quickly learn to look down and watch himself going pee; they will know what they’re doing, and they’ll pay more attention to what’s happening.
- I Have to Go Pee. This is the Holy Grail of awareness, when your child can feel he has to go pee, and they can let you know before they start to go. Yes, I promise you’ll get here.
Potty Training Learning Blocks
Glowacki breaks down potty training into six main learning blocks. These are:
- Block One: Peeing and pooping while naked, with prompting or without.
- Block Two: Peeing and pooping with clothes on (but no underwear) with prompting or without.
- Block Three: Peeing and pooping in different situations, with prompting or without.
- Block Four: Peeing and pooping with underpants, with prompting or without.
- Block Five: Consistent self-initiation (meaning your child will go potty without your prompting).
- Block Six: Dry nighttime and naps.
I know this seems like a long list, and you won’t tackle it all at once by any means. Your goal is to make sure your child has each learning block down pat before you move on to the next one.
How long will all this take? Each child is different, which is why Glowacki doesn’t set much of a timeline. If you try to rush your child through this process to stay on a schedule, you’re going to run into problems. Accidents and power struggles will increase exponentially.
Of course, she does offer a very loose timeline as a guide. For example, your child will spend a day or two in Block One, a week in Block Two, and so on. But you have to stay flexible. If your child sails through Block One no problem, then starts having lots of accidents in Block Two, then you know to go back and spend more time in Block One.
This is, in part, what makes Glowacki’s approach so effective. It’s much easier to identify where you went wrong if you get off track.
You’re also going to need a stretch of time to be at home with your child when you do this – at least three or four days, which can be done over a long weekend. Glowacki recommends clearing your social calendar for at least a week, which means no dinners out, no toddler playdates, nothing. Your job is to first teach your child this important skill, then boost their confidence and self-esteem by ensuring they can do it well before rushing them back out into the world (which will make accidents far more likely).
What You’ll Learn
“Oh Crap! Potty Training” is comprehensive. Some of the things you’ll learn include:
- What to Do About Pooping. Pooping on the potty is a huge deal. There is an entire chapter on pooping. It’s the longest chapter in the book.
- What to Do About Power Struggles. Power struggles, resistance, and general potty drama is going to happen even if you’re a potty-training superstar. Glowacki covers just about every situation you can think of, and outlines how to deal with each one. I found this to be a lifesaver.
- How to Handle Nighttime and Naps. Nighttime and naps are tricky, and you’ll learn how to successfully get your child to sleep without wetting the bed or crib.
- How to Handle Daycare. How do you get your daycare or another caregiver on board with this approach? Glowacki has you covered here.
- What to Do if You’ve Tried Potty Training Before. If you’ve tried potty training already and it didn’t go well, Glowacki has an entire chapter devoted to getting you back on track.
- How to Avoid Bribes. Bribing your child to go potty (especially to go poop) is tempting for many parents, especially when you need to be somewhere right now, and you need them to go. But it’s a huge mistake. Glowacki covers how to get your child to go without resorting to bribes, pleading, or threats.
Most of all, you’ll learn how to stay chilled out about this process. Staying relaxed about potty training will help your child stay relaxed about potty training, and that’s important for success.
Day One Potty Training Overview
So, what’s it going to be like on Day One?
After toiling over the cloth versus disposable diapers decision, you’re now going to ditch the diapers completely. Your child is going to go naked around the house the entire day. Your only job on is to watch your child. Glowacki puts this in all caps because it’s so important: “TODAY YOU WILL DO NOTHING BUT WATCH YOUR CHILD.” This means no surfing the Internet on your phone, or watching TV for five minutes, or anything.
Your goal is to watch your child constantly, and the moment you see them start to pee, move them to the potty. Don’t panic, don’t make a fanfare of it, simply say something like, “Oh, hold on honey, you’re peeing. Let’s go to the potty.” Every time they start to pee, you will do this.
What should you not do today? You should not panic or freak out when they pee on the floor. Stay neutral, especially early in the learning process. Don’t yell or chastise them for peeing on the floor. Just stay matter-of-fact.
Your Attention Is Required
There are several reasons why your attention has to be on your child constantly this first day.
First, the moment you stop them in the act of peeing, you help them learn what it feels like to pee. It raises their awareness about what’s happening in their body. Remember, at this point they don’t really know they’re peeing. You have to show them what’s going on, and then show them that from now on that the correct place to pee is in the potty.
Second, constant attention will help reduce the number of pees on the floor. The more your child can make it to the potty, and the more you praise them as a result, the more their confidence will grow. It won’t take them long to feel like going on the potty is a big deal, something they might want to do.
What to Expect
My personal Day One was very likely the most exhausting parenting day I’ve ever had. I was prepared for this – Glowacki doesn’t sugarcoat how tiring Day One is. She said, bluntly and with great humor, that you’ll need some wine at the end of the day. I didn’t take my eyes off my son the entire day, and no book or blog post can adequately communicate how very tiring that can be.
Even with constant vigilance, there were still pees on the floor. This is completely normal. I was constantly referring to Glowacki’s book to see if I was doing things right. I don’t know how I would have made it through this process without her advice, insights, and humor.
My son spent three days learning Block One, which is a bit longer than the loose timeline Glowacki outlines in the book. But she advises again and again how important it is to stay flexible and make sure your child learns the first block before moving on to the next. Every time I tried to put clothes on him, he’d have an accident. So, back we went. I’m glad I spent the extra time in this first block because I think it helped build his confidence up before we moved on to Block Two.
Insider Potty Training Tips
To help you through the process, here are a few important lessons I’ve learned while potty training:
Be Prepared for Day One
Make dinner the day before so you don’t have to cook or get takeout. If you have older children, arrange for them to have a sleepover. Do whatever you can beforehand to reduce your workload and commitments for this day. Potty training will be easier and more successful if your entire focus can be on this one child, for this one day.
Don’t Over-Prompt or Hover
Don’t constantly prompt your child to go use the potty. At some point, after Day One, you have to know when to remind them to go and then walk away. This was, by far, the hardest thing for me to learn. I began prompting too much, and then hovering around to make sure he went. Glowacki warns against this, saying that power struggles will quickly erupt if you over-prompt and hover. Well, she called it. My son began to push back big time, and within a couple of days we did some serious backsliding. She offers great advice in the book on finding the right balance of prompting, and those pages in my own copy are now dog-eared and tattered. But, I finally got it!
Remember Your Child Is Learning
After the first couple of days, you’re going to be so ready for them to just get potty training down so you can get on with your old routine. But it’s important to remember that this is no small thing they’re learning. You’ll need a lot of patience and compassion during this process. Glowacki puts this in perspective in the book by asking you to think of the last time you went through training for a job. Did you learn everything you needed to know in a day or two? Of course not. Did you make mistakes? Of course you did. And you’re an adult!
Roll Up the Rugs
Glowacki recommends you roll up your rugs and put them away before Day One. This will help reduce your own stress when an accident happens. The less stress you feel, the easier potty training will be for your child.
Use Cloth Diapers for Cleanup
You’ll likely be doing a fair amount of cleanup early in potty training. I had an ample supply of cloth diapers on hand and found these to work great for cleanup. That’s what they’re designed to do, after all, and I saved money (and reduced waste) by avoiding paper towels.
Don’t Rush the Underwear
Glowacki recommends waiting at least three or four weeks before transitioning your child to underpants. The reason is that underwear feels like a diaper, which means accidents are far more likely if you put them on too soon. As I mentioned, we’re three weeks into this process and my son still isn’t quite ready for underpants yet. Every time we put them on he has an accident. So, I’m holding off until he gets more practice under his belt.
I can’t say enough good things about Jamie Glowacki’s book. The learning block process that she has developed works, and more importantly, it makes sense. Instead of pressuring parents – and children – to learn potty training in a day (or three), she helps set everyone up for success by focusing on learning each skill before moving on to the next one.
“Oh Crap! Potty Training” is also incredibly funny, and you’ll need some laughs during this process. I didn’t expect to be laughing out loud while reading a book on potty training, but I did.
I’d love to hear your stories. How did potty training go for you? What advice can you share with other parents? If you’re about to start potty training, what questions do you have?