Potty training in general is an epic parenting milestone. In my opinion, the day that you can finally say farewell to diapers is only rivaled by accomplishments like getting your master’s degree or landing a big promotion.
But sometimes, the enthusiasm to tackle this monumental feat can cause us to rush into it before our little ones are ready. When that happens, the process can get set back a bit which can lead to frustration, resentment and lots and lots of laundry.
Potty training in general and nighttime potty training specifically is tricky business. After working with hundreds of toddlers, I’ve put together some of my top tips for determining if your little one is ready to nighttime potty train and, if they are, how to maximize your chances for success without sacrificing their good sleep.
Is my child ready to sleep through the night without using the potty?
Notice how I’ve phrased that in a very specific way? It’s because that’s what we’re looking for when we’re considering nighttime potty-training success. Yes, I’ve seen nighttime potty-training approaches that involve setting your alarm and actually going into your child’s bedroom at regular intervals throughout the night to wake them up to use the bathroom. But my opinion on that? Nope, nope, nope! All the nopes!
I am a firm believer in not sacrificing sleep for potty training. To be honest, I find this practice to be way too confusing to toddlers. We go from telling them that their job is to stay in their bed and sleep peacefully all night long to instead waking up every 3-4 hours to use the bathroom. Not only is this incredibly disruptive to their ability to get deep, restorative sleep, but it can kind of throw their body out of whack. If your toddler is still waking up in the morning with a wet diaper, their bladder muscles just aren’t ready so don’t force it!
If, however, your little one has had several days in a row where they wake up dry, that could mean they are ready to try ditching the diaper at night. Chances are, you’ll likely deal with an accident or five during the process, so choose a week where there’s not a whole lot going on, grab several extra PJs and sheet sets, and give it a shot!
How do I nighttime potty train?
When explaining the new routine to your little one, you’ll want to maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude but try not to make it sound too monumental. Some toddlers and young children may feel increased anxiety over such a big change or experience feelings of failure and disappointment if they do have an accident at night. Because of this, I wouldn’t implement any rewards (and certainly not consequences) for staying dry throughout the night – especially because nighttime bladder control is largely, well…out of their conscious control!
You probably have a familiar bedtime routine and maybe it even includes going potty. At this point, you should include a(n additional) trip to the potty as last step of the bedtime routine, right before lights out, even if they say they don’t need to go.
When accidents happen – and they probably will – don’t act disappointed or irritated (even if it’s hard not to feel that way at 2 a.m. or after you’ve done 17 loads of laundry). Just take your little one by the hand, walk them back to their room, get them cleaned up and into fresh PJs, and change their bed with the clean sheets that you’ve prepared ahead of time.
During this process, I’d recommend keeping the room as dark as possible (which will help you both fall back to sleep more easily) and avoid bathing your little one unless absolutely necessary. Especially for kids who love bath time, wetting the bed just might mean getting 20 minutes of playtime in the middle of the night which is the opposite of what we want!
I’d also recommend laying out some guidelines and expectations if your little one wakes up during the night and needs to use to the potty. Keep a dim nightlight (these motion-sensor ones are great) in the bathroom and leave the toilet seat up and stool near the sink to encourage your child to use the bathroom on their own. During the day, you can practice independent bathroom trips to help encourage this behavior overnight.
My child is still wetting the bed at night
If it’s been several weeks and you’re still seeing regular accidents, you may need to rethink whether or not your child is truly ready to be nighttime potty trained. Is your own desire to be ditch the diapers driving the decision? Unfortunately, this is one process we just cannot rush, and if your little one is not ready, then they’re not ready. Pushing them to achieve this feat before they’re physically ready can put a lot of unnecessary stress on you both. You’re much better off just waiting until the moment is right.
One last note: nighttime potty training usually doesn’t come before the transition from crib to bed. But don’t use the desire to nighttime potty train to transition to a bed too early. For more information about this transition, check out this blog post.