Potty Training for Nannies

More Sitter Tips

Shot of an adorable baby boy sitting on the toilet in the bathroom

It is time to ditch the diapers? Nannies and sitters are typically the first to recognize the signs that a child in their care is ready to start using the potty, and often, parents will look to you to lead the potty training charge.

But before you dive into a potty training plan of attack with your employers, ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not a child is ready:

      Is the child old enough to potty train? We’ve all heard stories about the potty-trained 3-month-old, but typically children aren’t ready until they’ve reached their second birthday. However, every child is different and some may be trainable as young as 18 months, while others may not be ready until they are closer to 3.

      Has the child reached the necessary developmental milestones? Being able to identify the need to go to the bathroom, communicate this need and even sitting on the potty are developmental skills needed for successful potty training. Look for indications that the child knows when they need to go (you’ll often notice they hide when they need to make a bowel movement), becomes uncomfortable in a wet diaper, and can pull their pants up and down by themselves.

      Is the child interested in the potty? Does the child sit on the potty with their clothes on, or watch with interest when an older sibling goes?

      Does the child have periods of dryness and are bowel movements happening at predictable intervals? Changing fewer wet diapers means the child’s bladder muscles have developed. The ability to “hold it” is a good sign that potty training will be successful.

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, it’s time to talk potty.

Communication is key.

It’s important to approach the parents with a sense of partnership. Instead of telling them that the child is ready, ask if they’ve seen their little one displaying the behaviors above and if they’ve started to think about potty training. If they are open to the conversation, start preparing to potty train.

If the parents seem hesitant, there’s no need to push. Moving forward before the parents are ready means they won’t reinforce the habits you’re working on with the child during the day. This lack of consistency will make potty training much more difficult.

Instead, continue to encourage the child’s interest in the potty and reinforce the developmental skills they are displaying. Offer your expertise to the parents by telling them what behaviors they should watch for. Hopefully, once they see these signs for themselves, they’ll be ready too.

Get equipped.

Before moving forward, make sure you have the right gear. Letting the child choose these items might increase their excitement around potty training.

      A potty or seat reducer.

      A child-sized, stand-alone potty is usually the easiest way to potty train. These potties come in a variety of colors, feature popular cartoon characters, and some even play songs and sounds when used successfully.

      A seat reducer is used over the regular toilet to make the size of the seat more comfortable for a toddler to sit on. This is a good option for a bathroom that is short on space, but you’ll also need a stool so the child can climb onto and off of the seat.

      Underwear. Most kids get excited about “big kid pants” or “undies,” so make sure they get to pick these out. Start with at least a dozen pairs — it’s possible you’ll go through these the first few days of training.

      Easy up and down pants. Put the jeans away and choose pants without snaps or buttons so the child can easily pull them up and down by himself.

Consistency is critical.

Everyone is the same potty training page and you’ve got the right equipment; now it’s time to make a plan. Be prepared for the parents to look to you as the expert.

If you’re a seasoned nanny, you can draw on your many years of experience to determine the best way to potty train. If you’re a new to taking care of little ones, don’t worry! Tap into your nanny network for support and search online for potty training resources. You can get started with these tips:

      Hunker down. Most nannies, sitters and parents prefer to minimize outings and stay in the house while the child learns to use the potty. This method typically takes three days before the child begins to understand how to identify the need to go, communicate it and make it to the potty in time. However, often you’ll have more success with a child peeing on the potty; this is normal, and no. 2 will come later.

      Switch to undies. Ditch the diaper and put on the big kid pants. Unlike diapers, wet undies will be immediately uncomfortable and incentivize the toddler to make it to the potty on time.

      Have the child drink lots of liquids and ask frequently if she feels the urge to go. Consider setting a timer for 20-30 minute intervals so that you remember to ask. If the child hasn’t gone to the potty after a few intervals have passed, take them to sit on the potty. Plan to have them sit on the potty for up to a half hour. Read books, sing songs and play games while they sit.

      Prepare to clean up accidents. It’s the messy truth of potty training: accidents will happen. Have plenty of cleaning supplies and extra undies on hand and don’t get frustrated. If the child is truly ready, there should be fewer accidents each day.

      Reward the child. Many children respond to special prizes and treats as positive reinforcement for successful trips to the potty. Stickers, candy (M&Ms, gummy bears and Skittles are among the favorites), or tracking progress on a fun chart often do trick, but you may have to work a little harder to figure out what motivates a child.

      Use training pants for nap times and overnight. While a child may be ready to potty train, staying dry while sleeping will likely come later. Keep training pants, like Pull-ups, on hand for nap times and bedtime.

      Bring extra clothes. Once you feel confident that the child has mastered potty training in the house, try resuming your normal routine. Don’t forget to bring two to three changes of clothes with you when you first venture out of the house.

      Recognize the potty training differences between boys and girls. Boys often will learn to potty train sitting down just like girls. Once they’ve gotten used to using the potty sitting down, you can transition them to standing. Consider getting a “toilet target,” a decal you can adhere to the potty, to help them learn how to aim.

Whatever method you choose, make sure the to parents are 100 percent on board and willing to reinforce the training at night and on weekends. Without this key element, potty training will be a struggle for everyone involved, especially the child who will become confused about what is expected of her.

Navigate inconsistent training.

If you notice the child needs to be retrained each time he is with you (this often will happen after weekends), don’t approach the parents in an accusatory manner. Instead, act as an advisor — you are the childcare expert. Use these tips to help your employers navigate potty training setbacks:

      Provide a full potty training report each day. Focus on successes and the strategies you’re using so that they can imitate them when you aren’t around.

      Ask about their concerns. Potty training can seem overwhelming especially if a parent feels ill-equipped to deal with bumps in the road. Instead, find out what they are struggling with on their end.

      Offer your expertise. Once you have an understanding of where the problems are happening, talk to them about how they can better manage the process when you’re not around. Tell them which rewards you find work best for their child. Give them tips on how to get their child to the potty on time.

      Help them troubleshoot issues they are running into that you aren’t seeing. Children sometimes act differently with parents than they do with their sitters. What the parents are experiencing may be something you’re completely unaware of. Help the parents brainstorm ideas to solve these problems.

Like all things with young children, be flexible. If a child is having a hard time learning to use the potty, there’s nothing wrong with going back to diapers and revisiting training in a few weeks or a month. It might feel like you’re going backwards, but training a child who isn’t ready will be frustrating and stressful for everyone. With a little patience and understanding, potty training will eventually be successful.