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10 things I wish I knew before potty training my child

Here's what I've learned since my wife and I (along with family members, teachers and other caregivers) began potty training our 3-year-old.
/ Source: TODAY

I knew potty training my son wouldn’t be easy — but I didn’t realize just how hard it would be until it landed me in the ER.

Despite the pain, two days on crutches and one week in an AirCast put our family’s bathroom adventures (and misadventures) into perspective. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned since my wife and I — along with family members, teachers and other caregivers — began potty training our 3-year-old son, Liam.

1. You may get injured and lose things

Some advice to all you parents and parents-to-be. When you're teaching your child to use the potty and he says he’s going to poop in the backyard, be careful running inside holding him, because you might sprain your left ankle and end up in the ER.

(Don’t worry, it’s okay to laugh. It’s a funny story.)

Ian Sager on crutches
Hurt, and a little embarrassed, just after being released from the hospital.Ian Sager / TODAY

I was that guy.

But I quickly learned I wasn’t the only that guy.

My ankle was a beacon for stories of unfortunate potty training mishaps: One father bashed his head into a door while racing his son towards the toilet; a mix of moms and dads told me about cell phones lost to the watery toilet grave during extended potty attempts. Take it slow out there, folks. And consider letting your kid poop outside (just kidding). But seriously, that leads me to my second bit of advice...

2. Make sure everyone is on the same page about what is allowed outdoors (i.e., don't let your kid's aunt teach him or her to poop in the woods if you don't want him or her to want to do that all the time)

Liam loves his aunt, and so do I, but I’m so sending her my hospital bill.

Parenting a toddler can sometimes take a village (and then some). If your child has different caregivers throughout the week, make sure everyone is operating from the same play book. The rules should be the same, no matter who is watching your child.

3. Don't try until they are ready. Like really ready.

We made the mistake of trying a few weeks too early with Liam. Boys tend to start training later than girls, so if your child doesn’t seem ready, don’t push it. Liam didn’t officially start training until he was weeks away from turning 3. We initially tried once before that — mostly because he was adamant he WANTED BIG BOY UNDIES (yes, he screamed it at us) — so we said what the heck. But he wasn’t ready. He loved those undies so much that he refused to take them off to use the potty, so accidents happened. A lot. We ended the effort quickly, lest he get dispirited. We were worried the failures would keep him from trying when he was ready.

4. Make sure you have potties everywhere (bathrooms, cars, grandma's house).

Some people have art. We have potties.

When Liam was ready, we made sure he had plenty of options. If there was a toilet, he had a seat for it. If he was going to someone’s house, a portable potty came with him. We handed out portable toilets to Liam’s caregivers like they were party favors.

Potty in the back of the car
Dog bed? Check. Potty? Check.Ian Sager / TODAY

If he was going to do this, we didn’t want him to worry about where he’d be doing his business (and we didn’t want to worry about where he’d do his business — see No. 2 above). We wanted him focused on the act itself, not fearful that a room wouldn’t have the options he needed.

5. Be ready to take a tour of bathrooms (e.g., employee bathrooms in the underground crevices of grocery stores)

You know what I didn’t realize until potty training Liam? I’d never taken a proper car trip... because previously, I didn't make frequent visits to the local deli’s employee bathroom. Or the bathroom at the local 7-Eleven. Or the employee bathroom behind the freezer and all those unmarked boxes at the supermarket. Or the port-a-potty at the local farm. The list goes on and on...

6. You’ll need to expand your repertoire of stories, fast

No visit to a grungy public bathroom is complete without a story about Thomas, Elmo, Cookie Monster or the Paw Patrol gang. Stories will keep your little one at ease in an unfamiliar environment, and keep him or her focused on the task at hand. Extra points if you can blend the stories and characters together, Avengers-style.

7. You’ll pack for a trip to the park like you’re moving in

Extra underwear, extra wipes (or a roll of toilet paper if he’s no longer into wipes, because now he’s a big boy), two changes of clothes. A no-brainer, but sometimes I feel like a roving salesman who could outfit an entire playground.

8. Don't expect overnight training to happen anywhere near as quickly as daytime training

The daytime potty training may happen in a flash, but the nighttime version takes time. Be patient, and one day your child will magically wake up dry. This won’t happen until they are biologically ready, which may be months after they are daytime trained. The same rules apply here: don’t force it. If your little one doesn’t mind wearing a diaper at night, don’t press them. You’ll know when they’re ready.

9. Be prepared to frequently hear "I have to pee and poop" at the most inopportune times (e.g., right when you sit down to feed your 5-month-old)

Toddlers crave attention. And when they’re suddenly not getting it — because, for instance there’s a new baby around — don’t be shocked if they use trips to the bathroom as a way to call attention to themselves and pretty much guarantee a response from mom or dad.

The Sager boys
A nice family moment between the boys, Liam and Jesse, soon to be disturbed by a bathroom trip.Ian Sager / TODAY

10. Bribe, bribe, bribe!

I am aware that not all parents will be into this idea, but two M&Ms for pee and five M&Ms for poop worked like magic for Liam (and many other parents I’ve spoken with about this). Sure, it’s not great for his teeth and I haven’t seen any royalties from Mars yet, but for us this was a small price to pay for the ultimate result — a child who was potty trained in two days and one fewer kid whose diapers we need to change.