The perils of potty training while traveling.
On a recent flight, the two dads sitting in front of me had their toddler strapped into a car seat in the middle seat. Just as the buckle-your-seatbelts-we’re-about-to-land announcement went out over the public address system, the toddler announced that he had to pee.
I don’t remember reading about that in the guidebook on how to potty train!
I felt for the dads. They took turns trying to assure the little guy he could hold it. As the boy grew increasingly frantic, one dad leaned over and said, “It’s OK. Go ahead and pee your pants.” The boy initially protested, but then went suddenly quiet.
As we fellow passengers filed off the plane, the dads and their boy sat in their seats. I offered a sympathetic smile as I passed. While my kids never had an accident on a plane, there were plenty of close calls in cars over the years.
How to Potty Train on the Road
Potty training can be a challenge at home. Take the show on the road and it’s more complicated. There’s the unpredictability of knowing when the next rest stop will materialize: worries about just how grungy the bathroom will be, and the fears caused by the overly aggressive flushing of a public toilet.
But fear not. Many toddlers (and their parents) have survived potty training while traveling. We asked the experts—moms who have potty trained their kids during road trips—for their tips on how to potty train while traveling.
Here’s what they had to say.
Don’t wait until a week before the big trip to start the potty training process. It can take kids a couple of weeks to get the hang of it and a couple of months to get fully into the habit. So start well ahead of the road trip.
If it’s a last minute trip, just wait until you get back. The trip will be exciting enough without the added stress of trying to figure out how to potty train a toddler while you’re on the road!
Take Frequent Potty Breaks
This is the secret to Renee D’Amato Virata’s success with her kids. Plan to stop every hour or so during the road trip. And when you stop, EVERYONE goes. Get toddlers used to the idea in the week leading up to the road trip. Every hour or so, stop whatever you (and the kids) are doing and everyone heads to the bathroom.
Make the potty stops more interesting by planning stops in fun places along the way. That might mean pulling into a town with an indoor place space at a McDonald’s. Or it could mean stopping at the roadside rest station with the playground. Or maybe just choosing the city with the funniest names. Bug Tussle, Alabama, anyone?
Whatever you do, make sure that the playing happens only AFTER the potty portion of the potty stop. It becomes the reward for a potty well done.
Plan for the Worst
Amy Fischer Albers kept a plastic potty seat in the back of her van on road trips. It came in handy when they ran into traffic just an hour south of Atlanta and her then 2-year-old had to go. They simply pulled over and took care of business.
Kimberly Tate did the same thing, with an added layer of protection. She took along camping waste bags. They “work great for keeping things clean and easily disposable,” she says. She also limits the amount the kids drink while in the car. Just enough to stay hydrated.
Prepare Kids for Public Potties
Public bathrooms can be loud. And dirty. And scary. And that’s just for us adults. Imagine how a little tyke feels.
In the week before the trip, visit some public potties so your freshly potty trained toddler can get used to the idea of potties other than the one at home.
You don’t want the first time they use a toilet not at home to be in a hotel, airplane or disgusting gas station restroom, says Leslie Neeland Harvey. “It’s scary and can lead to accidents in aim if you – the parent – haven’t practiced helping your kiddo balance on different toilets,,,especially with boys!”
And, she says, be ready for those dirty, cringe-worthy public potties. Know that little kids touch everything. That will happen in the gross bathroom as well. The key is to get to their hands before their hands get to their mouths. When they grab the bowl to climb on the seat, calmly break out the sanitary wipes and wipe their hands while they’re sitting on the fold-up potty seat you brought along.
Make it as Easy as Possible
You know those automatic public toilets that always seem to flush when you sit down rather than when you get up? Yeah. They’re irritating for adults. But they can be downright terrifying for toddlers. Bring along a pack of Post-It notes, Band-Aids or something else that can be easily stuck to the automatic sensor. That should prevent that loud and scary flush while your child is on the potty. (Just remember to remove it when you’re done.)
Also think about bring flushable wipes or a roll of higher quality, softer toilet paper. Those industrial-sized, scratchy, single ply sheets aren’t fun for anyone. But they can be especially irritating to tender bottoms.
Don’t Forget the Rewards
Whatever reward system was working at home can work on the road too. Bring the snacks, stickers, hugs, or whatever along for the ride. Keeping up the rewards system helps maintain the routine of potty training even when your child is out of his or her routine.
Pick your battles
Like those dads on my flight, be forgiving to your toddler, and to yourself. If you know there’s a chance you will not be able to get your little one to the restroom in time, consider using a Pull-Up instead of big kid underwear.
Finally, accept that accidents happen. When it does, forgive everyone, break out the extra set of clothes and move on.