I have successfully potty-trained eight of my children, as well as three of my siblings, while they were between the ages of 22 and 28 months, in the course of a week. In the next few minutes, I will share my secret method, and hopefully, you too can say good-bye to diaper doody, err, duty, once and for all!
Step 1: Readiness
Around the age of 22-24 months, a toddler will exhibit signs of readiness. Conscious pause in play to poop, whining to be changed when wet or poopy are some of these signs. Also, having the verbal ability to communicate the act (a simple "pee-pee and poo-poo will suffice) is important. Make an effort to determine how long the toddler stays dry on any given day. This means checking every hour for wetness. When the toddler can "hold it" for at least an hour, preferably two, he or she is ready for the next phase.
Step 2: Doo As I Doo
It may sound strange, but kids learn from example! About a week or two before starting the final phase, make a scene when you go potty. Don't worry, the child will not know you look foolish. Standing outside the bathroom door, grab the front of your pants and put an apprehensive look on your face, and say something along the lines of "oh, no! pee-pee!" and dash into the bathroom. I guarantee the toddler will follow out of sheer curiosity and to see what the heck your problem is. If you aren't comfortable doing the deed in front of the child, pretend. Perform that act once or twice a day. Within a week or two, you are ready to proceed.
Hint: If there are older, potty-trained children around, the toddler will almost likely want to know what on earth is going on in the bathroom, and often will pick up clues by watching them instead.
Pick up a potty chair with the child. A simple potty chair is best. No fancy gadgets with bells, lights and sound effects. No toilet paper holder. No book rack. Just. A. Potty. Chair.
Step 3: Seven Step Program, Part One
As in, seven days. Pick one week where you can give the child your completely undivided attention! In the days before the week commences, take the child shopping, and pick out "big boy" or "big girl" underwear. These should be the 100% cloth training pants that are basically underwear, with an extra thick padding in the middle. Not pull-ups, not plastic-lining-on-the-outside underwear. If the kid feels like he or she is wearing a diaper, guess what? They will treat it like a diaper.
At bedtime the night before the week-long training begins, remind the child that tomorrow he or she will be a big kid and will wear undies! YAY!
Step 4: The Hard Part
When the child wakes in the morning, make a big deal about how they are such a big kid! Remove the diaper, clean as usual, and then put the new training pants on the child. And that is all the child should have from the waist down! This gives the kids a chance to feel when they have wet or pooped. (I have done this method in EVERY season, they never freeze to death, I promise)
Throughout the day, offer the child dry snacks (to increase thirst just a little) and follow up with plenty of drinks, milk, juices, water, whatever the child will drink. This helps the child actually feel the bladder fill, and eventually correlate the act of drinking and peeing. Every hour, take the child to the potty chair, help them pull the underwear down, and help them sit. Encourage them to pee, using extremely simple language. "Time for pee-pee"! etc, using facial expressions of effort (yes, the grunt face). Wait a few minutes. It won't happen immediately, and most likely, it won't happen at all in the potty the first two days. After about five minutes, consider it a good effort no matter what happens. Offer praise (good try!).
The first two days, the child will wet themselves every single time. It's just how it is.
You aren't doing anything wrong. It has to "click" for the kid. You will be very frustrated, but persevere. Backtracking to diapers during the day is confusing. When an accident happens, feel free to look disappointed. Phrases I have used: "aw man! an accident!" and even "ew, stinky poo!" It's not making a child "feel ashamed of bodily functions". It's making the child aware that big people don't walk around pooping and peeing on ourselves and sitting in it.
At nap time, place a folded old towel under the child, or have some other absorbent but unobtrusive padding under the lower half of the toddler.As soon as he or she wakes, excitedly take them to the potty if they are dry. If they are wet, it's ok to be disappointed and say "aw, you had an accident!" in a sad voice. They can "help" clean up, and when all is right again, say "good job!" and give great big hugs.
At night, continue the bedtime routine, but insert a potty chair trip just before the last bedtime diaper is put on.
Step 5: Figuring It Out
The third and fourth days, continue the same steps as the first days, offering snacks, and fluids, but you will notice that the child will pee about 50% of the time in the potty and most likely will have a poop on the potty. Continue to watch clues! When you see the child grunting or pausing in play, especially if he or she is fairly regular like most kids are, say "poo-poo?!?!" and hold their hand, and dash to the potty. Even if they don't make it, they form the opinion that this poo-making business is serious, and therefore must be paid attention to. When they have a poo-accident, make sure they watch you dump the poop into the toilet, have them wave bye-bye to it, and holding their hand for reassurance, flush it. Some kids get nervous with the flush. But most kids have seen/heard it plenty by now, just from following you into the bathroom oh so many times.
Step 6: Fine Tuning
The fifth, sixth and seventh days are the fine tuning days. The child now gets the concept, and is working to perfect this new skill. You can now return to the regularly scheduled snacks and drinks. Do continue to ask the child every hour if the potty is needed, just as a reminder, especially when the child is concentrating hard at building a tower or some other fun task.
On the seventh day, take the brave step of a trip outside the house. Pack a change of bottoms. Pee before you leave, if possible. Ask every hour if the potty is needed. And don't take more than an hour and a half before going back home. This is almost like a test. The child sees that "Wow! People leave the house like this?!"
As for giving up the night-time diaper, wait until the child goes for at least 2 weeks without a single night-time accident before you let them sleep in their undies.
Don't forget to do the happy dance when there is success in the potty, no matter how minute. The child will make a grand effort just to see you do that again.
Good luck, and happy trails...