how to potty train: wait until they’re way past ready

Stop the presses- my daughter is potty-trained, and I forgot to even tell you, it happened so quickly. Once I totally gave up on it, that is. 

It was three months ago that I reported on my total lack of progress on that front, seventeen weeks or so in, despite charts and DVDs and M&Ms and promises of a new Barbie, and anything else I could think of. Maggie is one stubborn kid. I got all kinds of advice from you all: don’t make such a big deal, make a big deal, buy pretty underwear, use this online method that is guaranteed to work… and after trying all of those methods for about five minutes each, I decided to wait. Walk away. If there’s anything I’ve learned after three kids, it’s this: try to get them to do something before they’re ready (read: at an acceptable age, developmentally), and you’ll battle for months. Wait until they’re way past ready to do something (read: at least a year older than is socially acceptable), and it will take five minutes.

So wait I did. I told myself that the right trigger would appear, and when it did, it would make potty training effortless. Maggie was closing in on three years old- it wasn’t a matter of her being able to do it, it was just a matter of her giving a poop. If you see what I’m saying.

Back when Dr. Phil was a show you could admit to watching, which might have been all the way back when he was on Oprah,  I remember the good doctor talking about “currency,” and how it was a tool for successful parenting. Here’s how he explained it:

You have to determine your child’s currency. Currency is anything that when presented during or immediately after a target behavior will increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. 

Every child’s currency is different, Dr. Phil said, and you just have to figure out what your kid’s currency is. Charts worked for Seamus. M&Ms worked for Connor. Maggie was proving far more difficult– not even promises of a Little Mermaid Barbie could sway her. I decided to table all toilet talk until I could figure out what mattered.

It was a week or so later that I sang this song, absentmindedly, while moving the unused Pull Ups to the back of the linen closet. 

I’m a big kid!
Look what I can do!
I can wear big kid pants too!
And I can pull them off and on!
Mommy, wow!
I’m a big kid now!

If you were born before 1995, you know this song from the old Pull Ups commercials- and thanks to me, it will now be in your head for the rest of the day. But Maggie had never heard it. “What dat song Mommy?” Maggie asked, ears pricked up. “You sing dat again.”

I did, then told her that I could probably find the video on YouTube, and quickly did: 

It was only after Maggie had watched it a few times through that I realized: HERE WAS MY CURRENCY. When she asked to watch it a fifth time, I told her she had to make peeps or poops on the potty first, and my God, you have never seen such a cooperative bladder.

This video was all it took to potty train Maggie. Within three days, she was out of diapers entirely, with nary an accident to her name, and all it took was playing this video for her a hundred times.

If you’re potty training, try the YouTube. Maybe it’ll be your kid’s currency, too.

Barring that, you can tell your daughter she can’t go to ballet class with a diaper on because the ballerinas won’t let you wear one under your tutu. That also worked pretty well. 

What’s your kid’s currency?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

wenmei October 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Mine loves sticker charts, and even though he's been in underpants fulltime since August, he still likes to put a sticker on the chart every time he uses the potty. Which means Mommy has made a half dozen sticker charts (100 stickers each) and will be making another one today during his nap. Luckily I am highly-skilled in arts-n-crafts, thanks to those years at Explo. 🙂


Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Wow, did that ad ever bring me back! The "currency" thing is so true. Each child is so different, and life continues to teach me that. Great post!


Amy S. October 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

My 28 month old old loves the "current" commerical where the boys yells that he has to go potty. He's almost completely trained now too.


Nobel4Lit October 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Hah, gotta love Dr. Phil!


Sharon October 27, 2010 at 1:25 am

Oh yes- I remember that little commercial "ditty"! It cracks me up how much my kids love seeing the you tube videos of stuff that I heard as a kid…. and they are even finding out about some of this from their teachers- last week my fifth grader came home with: "Hey Mom, did you ever hear about 'plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is'"? And of course- it has stuck in my head ever since!
On the potty training front- my older 3 kids were potty trained by their preschool teacher, who just had a knack for figuring out the right "incentive plan" for the kids. I think it leaned toward peer pressure- see what your friend Johnny can do? When I needed to potty train my 4th, without her help, I thought I would never figure it out! But, eventually I did….. and #5 and #6 eventually potty trained too…….
Thanks for the great post!


Taube October 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm

That is awesome! I tried to potty train my kids this summer. They weren't ready (at not even 2.5 years old), and it was an utter failure. But I figure we've got plenty of time. When I was trying to get them to sleep in their own beds I bribed them: get a smiley face every night you stay in bed, 5 nights in a row you get a toy – worked like a charm! For a while. Then they started drifting back to our bed in the middle of the night. So I tried again. 5 smiley faces, you get a new cd. Except the cd's from Amazon got lost in the mail. They've almost earned their second cd already, and I have yet to get even the resent package from Amazon. But the thing is, the kids are just as happy getting a smiley face every morning – even though sometimes I forget to give it to them! Who knew toddlers could be so understanding?


Mommy on the Spot October 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

You are awesome! I totally agree with currency. My daughter's is this stoplight behavior chart and never to get in the red. That and TV.

My son is 18 months so I haven't quite dialed him in yet.


Leave a Comment