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Motivational Potty Training

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Achieving Goals No. 1 and 2 with Your Toddler

Motivational Potty Training photo

Ok, so this is not the usual fitness/wellness piece, but the lessons learned can be applied to reaching any goal.  

My objective was to potty train my almost 3-year-old son. Many people wait until their kid is older, some when their child is younger, but with daycare, our deadline was creeping up. Also, Henry has been peeing every night before bed for months and he usually wakes up dry, which is a good indicator that he’s ready.  

After researching many different options, we went with a friend’s suggestion to do a three-day boot camp. There were no pushups or burpees, but definitely some running. With this method, you basically stay home for three days and ask your toddler every few minutes if he has to go. When accidents happen, you make no big deal about it and continue to re-iterate, “do you have to use the bathroom?”  

The first day was the worst, but still not horrible. Henry peed when he woke up with no problem, proudly sticking out his stomach as he stood up on his stool and aiming mostly in the right area. “Great job! I’m so proud of you,” I cheered as we walked down the stairs. He received an Angry Birds Star Wars sticker and seemed very happy. He knew that with 10 stickers he would earn a treat.  

Motivation tactic: Recognize a job well done.  

With this annoyingly wet summer, I thought I heard more rain while loading the dishwasher. While Henry was still at the table I asked, “Is it raining again?” He had a huge smile on his face and answered yes, though what he meant was, he made it rain on the floor. With cleaner and one of many towels used, I cleaned up the floor and said, “Henry, let me know when you have to use the bathroom.”  

Motivation tactic: Don’t harp on accidents or slipups.  

The rest of the day went pretty well. We played with building blocks, ran around the house pretending we were super heroes, and he had a few No. 2s in his pants. He was very scared to poop on the potty, which I hear is common. With more cleaning supplies we had a wonderful afternoon running around outside (our house only).  

As we moved further along with the process, my wife and I started giving him little presents for peeing on the potty. I’m going to call it rewarding good behavior, but it might seem like bribery. To get him to poop, we asked him what he would want as a reward. With a lot of excitement, he said, “a vanilla cake pop from Starbucks!” And then he added, “I don’t like the chocolate cake pops.”  

Motivation tactic: Reward yourself for successes along the way.  

Henry has, for the most part, mastered peeing in the potty. He will only do it standing up, which proves difficult at public restrooms with no stools, but we figure it out. I usually have him step on my feet and that helps. He is super excited to wear underpants. He loves his superhero underwear and shows them to friends. We continue to reinforce days he does well with little treats, and then there is the big bribe: being able to sleep in his big-boy bed, which is of course outfitted with super hero sheets, making it an even more attractive prize.  

Motivation tactic: Celebrate achieving your goal.  

We did learn a few things that didn’t work, like threatening to put him back in diapers. Although that thought really upset him, it did not motivate him to go. And forcing him to go when he wasn’t ready was also a big fail. However, saying, “before we get your treat, before the movie, before we get you lunch…you have to potty,” works very well. Like all other goals, it’s just a matter of keeping at it, staying positive, having great support, and in my case, extra cleaning supplies. 

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