I have a major confession to make. Until this past year, when my clients with children around potty-training age would ask me questions about coordinating sleep training and nighttime potty training issues, I would feel nervous.

I was least a tiny bit unsure that my guidance was 100 percent solid. Sure, I had an overall understanding of how to guide parents in managing sleep training when their child was already more or less potty trained. Even better if the Big PT was on the distant horizon and our discussion was more theoretical than practical!  I knew the general principles to follow. But in terms of the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty details of beginning nighttime potty training while preserving good sleep habits? When faced with the many potential what-if’s, my confidence was not quite what I could hope for.

If parents didn’t really have nighttime training underway when they came to me for help, but were considering starting, I would always tell them to wait until they had the sleep well sorted-out first. Actually, I still do this, because it really does make sense to work out the sleep issues first. It helps to have a well-rested child before you start doing what needs to be done to successfully night train your little one.  Back in the day, though, it had at least as much do with a lack of real confidence on my part as it did with this very logical rationale.

In practice, my clients with toddlers seemed to do just fine with my advice. But there was always a sense of doubt underneath it whenever we spoke about the potty. Where did this sense of doubt come from? In truth, it was because I had yet to potty train a child myself. And in all honesty, I was dreading it. Even as I watched my clients do just fine, I was secretly afraid that nighttime training would derail my own perfect little sleepers.  As you can imagine, sleep is a major priority at home and even though it wasn’t entirely logical, I still worried that I would have to give up the long-held benefit of quiet nights in order to ditch the diapers.

So I waited.

But then we found ourselves facing the deadline of preschool-required potty-ing and there was no more time to procrastinate. I took a deep breath and, on the recommendation of a colleague, ordered Jamie Glowacki’s book, “Oh Crap Potty Training“. (This is an affiliate link–I bought the book, read it, used it, love it, and want you to use it too!). I joined her private Facebook group and lurked there for a few weeks. When I had done all the prep work she recommends, I took her advice and (gasp!) tackled day and nighttime potty training at the same time. And we never looked back! As I had often said before (but in my heart was always afraid would not be completely true); if you start with a solid sleeper, nighttime potty training really doesn’t have to be a big deal.

In fact, since my son was always such a rockstar sleeper, it was kind of novel and sweet to wake him up at night. It was cute to have him cling, remora-like, to my neck while I brought him to the potty in the middle of the night. And it was especially sweet since it was for a limited time!

Now I am so relieved and thrilled to have the true confidence that comes from first hand experience.  I’m also excited to have had a chance to talk directly with Jamie about the most effective tips for successful night training.

Here’s our discussion:

Sasha: So I learned first hand that once you start nighttime training you will also want to start your bedtime routine earlier, yes?

Jamie: Absolutely! I love all your observations. I always tell parents to get sleep issues settled before potty training. You want your child at their best while learning a new skill and sleep issues can really muck up even day training, let alone night training.  Your bedtime routine should always allow for 2 or 3 more trips to the potty. 

Sometimes parents and kids get caught in what I call The Bedtime Potty Pit.  The child learns that calling potty will make his parents jump. Sometimes the child will then delay bedtime with endless calls for the potty. In this case, it’s best to have a clear plan with your child and stick with it. Often, I suggest 3 books to read and 3 trips to the potty with fair warning of a countdown. “This is your second time to pee, only one more and it’s time for bed.”

Sasha: I always advise setting clear limits and expectations and sticking with them, particularly about when it’s okay to get out of bed or not.

Jamie: Yes! One thing I always recommend is transferring your child to a bed before nighttime training. We always want to give the child the opportunity for independence. Keeping a potty by the bed is an excellent tool. You can role-play during waking hours what the nighttime wake ups will look like. This is true whether you are waking your child to potty or they are handling it on their own.

Sasha: I’ve also learned that you should be the most boring nighttime potty buddy in the world.  Aside from keeping the lights low, you should keep engagement to a minimum. Avoid talking, eye contact, and anything else that might distract your little one from the potty-ing task-at-hand.

Jamie: Yup, again!  You shouldn’t engage your child no matter what reason they get out of bed. Once you start talking, that’s the cue for your child to talk as well. Nighttime wake-ups really should be very sleepy. A simple “sssss” sound in their ear can help them release once on the potty. Also, a point many parents forget is that you want to ditch one piece pjs as well and move to 2 pieces. Trying to get a one piece off in the middle of the night is too much futzing.

I just want to say I’m super glad to be here writing this with you Sasha. Sleep is, in my book, the number one priority in childhood that so many parents struggle with. And I KNOW what a nightmare nighttime training can seem like to a parent who has struggled with sleep issues.

Sasha: Thanks, Jamie. Nighttime potty training is just not as painful as I’d thought!

If sleep is a challenge in your house and your little one is not yet potty trained, deal with the sleep first. Then, with a well-rested child and a solid plan, you can say goodbye to diapers without fear. 

In the meantime, get Jamie’s book Oh Crap Potty Training.  She has a lot of helpful info on things you can do to lay the groundwork BEFORE you actually start training. Jamie and I will also be answering parents’ questions about sleeping AND nighttime potty training at a live Facebook event on July 23rd.  Join us there!

Sasha Carr

Dr. Sasha Carr is a psychologist and child sleep expert who has helped over 1000 families get healthier sleep. Dr. Carr serves as a faculty member of the Family Sleep Institute and is the author of Putting Bungee to Bed, a bedtime picture book aimed at helping children be better sleepers. You can learn more about her services here.

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