Updated: Jan 8
We've had recent success with potty training our toddler at age 2.5 using mostly the method/book, "Oh Crap! Potty Training" (OCPT), by Jamie Glowacki. The whole experience didn't begin as a success, but we did eventually make it through! There were parts of the OCPT method that did not work for us. Just like with sleep training, every child is different and some customization may be necessary. So, I wanted to share our experience with it and my review of OCPT, especially the night-time training part. (Spoiler alert: WHAT?!?)
We initially started #pottytraining Gideon just after he turned 2 years old. He met all of the readiness signs, so we were confident it was as good a time as any. If you aren't familiar with OCPT, it has different blocks that you go through. The basic idea of Block 1 is to have your child naked waist down with a potty nearby at all times. When he starts to go, you grab him and put him on the potty and celebrate even a drop making it into the potty. Through this process, he learns how to associate the feeling of having to go with getting it into the potty.
Day 1 with Gideon went so well! By the end of the day, he wasn't peeing on the floor any more and even had one poop caught in the potty too! Trust me...that's much better than some experience on Day 1. (I joined an OCPT Facebook group during training, so I've heard LOTS of experiences.) Day 2 was pretty similar, but by the end of this day, he actually started self-initiating and telling us when he had to go! We were SO HAPPY and thought this potty training thing was going to be a breeze.
Then came Day 3. He got so confident in his new abilities that he started to go to the potty without telling us. In theory, this was awesome. However, one thing with little boys is that if they don't aim well, it just goes everywhere. We were helping him with the aim on Days 1 and 2, but when he started to go on his own, he didn't quite grasp the aiming part. So then he got frustrated. He was doing the right thing, but didn't quite understand why it wasn't working out.
The rest of Day 3 and all of Day 4 were horrible. He began holding it to the point of being visibly and audibly in pain, but would REFUSE to sit on the potty. It was a battle to get him to even try. If we would just put him on it, he'd scream and wriggle away. He all of a sudden wanted nothing to do with it. We didn't want to cause any health issues, and just felt like it wasn't working out- plus we were exhausted with it. So, we decided to stop, go back to diapers, and wait a little longer. Some call it a reset.
We ended up waiting 6 months, mostly due to life, not because there's any rhyme or reason to that timing. I was in Target right before Labor Day and texted my husband. "How do you feel about potty training this weekend? I either need to buy another box of diapers or train him." I thought the long weekend might be a good time because Evan would be home to help me for an extra day. His response: "Whatever you think." And that was it!
This time went drastically different than Round 1. I think a big reason for this is because I ignored one of the huge parts of the OCPT book this time. In the book, she strongly advises against using any #rewards to potty train. I went with it the first time around because that's what the book said. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that rewards are very helpful with toddlers. I've successfully used them for sleep training many times, so why wouldn't I use them for potty training?
Therefore, Round 2 included M&Ms. He got one for peeing and two for pooping in the potty. (He did not get 3 for a combo deal- yes he tried.) GAME CHANGER. He was very motivated to get his potty treat. We also really focused on aiming this time and made sure he could do it himself. Side note: If you have a boy, a potty seat with a splash guard is a must have. I really think the aim factor is the reason most people say boys train later than girls. It takes a little skill to be able to aim.
It's now been not quite a month and he's fully daytime potty trained, now wearing pants and even underwear. (The next couple of OCPT blocks are commando, which is supposed to last at least a month.) We've had various trips out and about, one to the zoo, and a few to Grammy and Papa's house (35 min. away). He's not had one accident since the very beginning. He completely self-initiates and has even graduated to the "big potty" now! Remember that Facebook group I mentioned earlier...yeah, I know from that group that many kids do not have this same wonderful experience or progression through the blocks. Why? M&Ms probably had something to do with it. And possibly that he was just more ready this time.
The big reason the book guides against using rewards is because she says you eventually have to stop using them, and then they can regress. However, I don't think this is the case if you do it in the right way. As I mentioned above, I've used rewards with many sleep training clients, and haven't had issues with kids regressing once we stop. The key is the length of time you use them. We only did the reward for a little over a week. When the second bag of mini M&Ms ran out, we simply told him they were all gone and that he would now just go on the potty because that's what big boys do. He said, "Okay," and kept going on the potty. He did ask about getting an M&M a few times, but we just reminded him that they were all gone. He never skipped a beat, never regressed, never had an accident.
If your child has no problem potty training without rewards, then more power to you! On the other hand, if it's not going so well, a little reward might be worth a shot. When you give a toddler a little motivation, it just gives them a reason to want to learn what you're trying to teach them. As long as you don't use it too long and let it become a habit, you should be ok. If they do regress, push through and I bet they'll get back to it with ease.
Night-Time Potty Training
The OCPT book gives two options for #nighttime training. One option is to wait to night train, continuing to use diapers only while they are sleeping at night. She talks about how children just aren't physically able to hold it all night long before age 3-3.5. They eventually can though, and when they start waking up dry, you can then stop using diapers all together.
Option 2 for night-time training is to completely stop using diapers 24/7 from Day 1. This is the option the author highly recommends using. However, since kids aren't physically able to hold it all night at this age, this option means that you have to wake your child up twice a night to go to the bathroom.
You want me to wake my child, who sleeps a straight 11-12 hours every night, to go to the bathroom? You want me to possibly wake him from a deep, restorative sleep to pee? You want me to wake him up at night when he should naturally be able to hold it all night in another 6 months to a year? That's a BIG. FAT. NO.
If you are a client of mine, who went through hard work to get your child sleeping the way he is now, I really hope you don't choose this option either. (I'm half joking, you do you, but...seriously...please don't.) The following picture shows a screenshot I took from the OCPT Facebook group I mentioned above. A mother is sharing her concerns over waking her child at night:
You can see there are 102 comments, mostly of parents relating to this concern or telling her that this is why they chose not to do it. As a sleep consultant, this makes me cringe. It isn't necessary to wake a child at night to pee when his body will naturally get him there soon enough. The book urges not to let him go past age 3.5 or you could continue to have problems much later- okay fine. But I'm not waking my 2.5 year old amazing sleeper just to pee when that ability should develop later on its own!
We went from 5-6 diapers a day with him to 1 at night. I still consider that a huge win and a relief on the budget. He has had no issues from still wearing a diaper at night. In the morning, we take it off and I remind him that pee and poop go in the potty. Then he's good to go for the day!
So, needless to say, I do not agree with the OCPT recommendations to night potty train right away. I also went against the advice not to use rewards, and it worked out really well! Other than those two things, I do think the Oh Crap! Potty Training method, specifically the different blocks you follow, are a good way to potty train. As with anything, every child is different, and there's no one-size-fits-all way to train. This is what worked for us, and we aren't looking back now. He is so proud of himself and how much of a big boy he is!
UPDATE: 2023, We have since used this exact method (went straight to Round 2) for Phoebe and had even quicker success. It's almost time to potty-train our third, and I will very confidently do the same again!
What potty training method, or variation of one, worked for you?
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant