Potty training tips and tricks from Dr. Heather Wittenberg and Pull-Ups

Earlier this afternoon we held a Facebook chat with Dr. Heather Wittenberg, Pull-Ups and some of our readers. Dr. Heather is a licensed psychologist, producer of Baby Shrink, author of “Let’s Get This Potty Started” and a mom of four. We’ve put together the questions and answers here to hopefully help some of our readers with their own potty training struggles.


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Chicago Parent: Hi Dr. Heather! Our first question is from Sarah Thorogood: My little one did really well potty training, and was dry and clean within a week. Now, about two months later (she is 2.5 years) she has had a few accidents that I reacted calmly to and she was ok. Then she started spotting in her pants with a tiny wee before saying she needed to go and this has escalated to her now not telling me at all that she needs to do and she often has wet pants and won’t tell me. What should i do?!

Dr. Heather Wittenberg: Hi Sarah! Be sure to mention this to her pediatrician, since urinary tract infections are common complications of little girls this age. If she’s healthy and ready to roll, watch her for signs of readiness – and be sure not to put too much pressure on her for progress. Often, children take a “one step forward, two steps back” track to potty success. Don’t panic! Temporary backtracking is a normal, common part of potty training. Let your daughter be in charge of the pace. Offer her Pull-Ups, and tell her she can decide if she’s ready to use the potty. Hang in there! Her own natural desire to be a Big Kid will kick in soon.

Ready to start?

CP: Our second question comes from Islandgirl Bella: My 23 month old tells me when she makes poopy and won’t sit on her butt until she is changed but I don’t think she knows how to say when she is wet. Is this the beginning stages of getting ready? I bought a potty and keep it in the bathroom but she only sits on it dressed. I would like to start but afraid to scare her if she’s not ready.

Dr. Heather: Aloha, Islandgirl! It sounds like your daughter is getting started on the potty-readiness path! Talk to her about the signs you’re seeing. Say, “Sweetie, it looks like you don’t like the feeling of that poopy on your bum. It feels yucky, huh. When you’re ready, I can show you how to make it in the potty so that it won’t get all on you like that.” Using a casual, non-pressuring tone is the way to go because you’re right – too much intensity from parents can turn off an otherwise potty-ready toddler. Let her take the lead, but when you see a sign from her, go ahead and offer her the next step!

Potty training twins

Nancy Kuzniar: I have B/G twins, just turned 2. They are both showing signs of being ready to train, taking diapers off when they go, sticking their hands in their diapers to see what’s there, or just telling me to change them. I was told to train the girl first, then the boy. Would this be the way to go? I’m a little nervous training 2 at the same time.

Dr. Heather: Nancy, lots of parents of multiples out there have the same questions. It’s great they’re both interested in potty training at this relatively young age! Don’t assume your daughter will be the first (or easiest) to train — sometimes that’s the case, but often it’s not. Your best best is to follow THEIR leads, and let them set the pace — even if it’s different for each. Often, parents of multiples find that it’s easier to train one at a time, but if they’re both ready — they’re both ready! Expect starts and stops along the way and let them pick whether to use the potty or Pull-Ups as they go. One more thing about multiples: usually we recommend you DON’T use rewards like stickers or candy for one (and not the other), since your toddlers can’t yet understand why one might get something and not the other. Your support along the way is enough reward!

Amy Ledding: Hi, I also have B/G twins now 2 1/2 and the only way they will go on the potty is if I have them naked! Otherwise they go in the diaper. I feel like I have tried everything (treats, etc). Maybe they are not ready?!

Dr. Heather: Hi Amy! Have you tried just a Pull-Up? If that’s still too much for them, naked potty training is a time-tested success strategy! Clothing can be really frustrating for a toddler to get on and off repeatedly. Give them time to try every day without clothes when it makes sense at home. Eventually, when they get the hang of it, you can try keeping on just a t-shirt or other small item of clothing to get them used to using the potty when they’re dressed. But it sounds to me like they’re well on their way!

Using rewards

CP: Dr. Heather, how do you feel about using rewards for potty training in general?

Dr. Heather: Rewards can help or hinder the process, depending on your child. So what’s important is deciding what kind of child you have and how they respond to rewards. Will it be felt as pressure? Or will it be felt to be adding an element of fun and celebration to this Big Kid moment? Rewarding success with small and fun items can make this process a lot of fun for everyone.

Special Needs

Dana Kidney Hall: Any tips for parents that have kids with special needs?

Dr Heather: Hi Dana! Every child has his or her own developmental path. Simply because “special needs” have been found doesn’t mean potty training will (or won’t) be a challenge. So observing your child and their own unique potty readiness signals is always key. From there, you also want to consult your child’s treatment team, including the pediatrician, to incorporate special strategies for the potty training adventure. Folks who work with special needs’ kids have GREAT strategies in mind!

Stubborn 3-year-olds

Jennifer Wohn Steinhagen: Hi Dr. Heather! I have a 3-year-old who is pretty adamant against going on the potty. We tried the 3 day at home, only underwear and it never clicked (ie I had a puppy). We have a special treat bucket for when she goes and that’s worked a few times but she’s just *so* against it most of the time. Is it getting time for me to force the issue or should I wait for more interest?

Dr. Heather: Hi Jennifer. I know it’s tempting to start to push the process, but it truly is counterproductive. Following your child’s readiness and signs of interest is really the best way to go. Let her know that she is in charge of her body. Perhaps give her a few weeks off from potty training. Then let her own signs of interest emerge — this should be a fun process for everyone. When it’s truly HER accomplishment, she will really feel like a Big Kid!

Shavonne Gillette: I’ve tried everything and my daughter who will be turning 3 in July doesn’t want to potty train fully just urinate on the toilet but not unless we sit her down. Should I be worried?

Dr. Heather: Hi Shavonne! It’s not time to worry. As long as her doctor says she’s healthy, take your time and let your daughter drive the process. Toddlers naturally develop their own interest in using the potty — perhaps they want to be just like their cousins, or they get a kick out of watching the kitty use her litter box — or they just really want to be a Big Kid! This process, like all of development, happens on it’s own, with love and support from us parents. Watch your daughter for her own signs of readiness, and have fun with it!

Being ready for school

CP: Dr. Heather, we know a lot of families take their children to daycares, preschools or other programs that won’t admit children unless they are already potty trained. What advice do you have for parents that aren’t able to wait?

Dr. Heather: Many preschools find ways to work with potty-training kiddos. So you should do some digging and ask around – what is the schools’ definition of “potty trained”? If your child is mostly trained in the day, but has an occasional “oopsie”, does that count? Check with the pre-school, as using Pull-Ups may be an acceptable solution for little ones who are still not quite potty-trained. All of these rules can vary on a classroom-by classroom basis, so get out your detective hat and make some inquiries. Don’t settle until you find one that’s a good match for your family!

Thanks to Dr. Heather Wittenberg, Pull-Ups and all our readers who participated in the chat. We learned a lot about potty training and loved having a conversation about a topic that can be tough for a lot of kids (and parents). You can read more potty training advice from Dr. Heather on her website, Baby Shrink, or in her new book, “Let’s Get This Party Started”.

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