Prepping for Potty Training: Teaching the Vocabulary

Are you thinking about starting potty training? Start teaching the vocabulary BEFORE the potty training actually starts! Even just being intentional about introducing the vocabulary required for potty training for a week before will make the process easier.

Pre-teaching the vocabulary makes your child familiar with the terms, understand the sequence, and gives them words to attach to what is happening. I recommend doing this 3 different ways: practicing/including them in activities of daily living, using modeled pretend play, and books.

Activities of Daily Living


Start thinking about the clothes your child wears. For potty training it is suggested to use dresses and shorts/pants that have elastic bands. And for good reason- we need them to be able to remove quickly when it’s time. So introduce these clothes earlier than later (yes, this will mean bye bye onesies, footed pajamas, and rompers with snaps) and let them practice taking off their clothes and putting them back on. This would be a great time to introduce a dressing station in their room to give freedom (within limitation) of what they can wear!

Don’t forget about the diapers! About a month or so before we planned to try potty training with B we switched her to the Pampers 360 diapers to help her learn the motion of taking her “undies” on and off. She still did all of her business in her but it helped teach the motor coordination needed when using underwear. My only rant about those is they aren’t as great as typical diapers for holding in poop.

If mornings are a rush- maybe you simply have a dress up bin for them to use at night while you prepare dinner or just assign them ONE piece of clothing to be in charge of putting on.

Include Them On Your Visits To The Bathroom

I know this sounds crazy but do it at least occasionally! Use that great language strategy of narrating the sequence of events as they see you do it (I need to pull my pants down then sit on the toilet….I’m done! Now I’ll flush and get dressed. Let’s wash hands.). This would be a great time to verbalize the feelings you have too- “My bladder is so full I’m dancing! or Whew! My stomach feels so much better now that I went potty”.

And most importantly….seeing you do it helps them normalize something that is anything but normal and comfortable to them.

Act It Out With Pretend Play

Doll & Play Dough

Use play dough and a doll to demonstrate where poop comes from your body. Talk about how poop goes in the potty and let them have fun making the doll poop into the potty (see if they can make a toilet or simply use the play dough can). Occasionally “accidentally” miss the potty to get vocabulary practice and teach expectations on what happens when there is an accident. Practicing accidents is a great time to deal with the emotions that come along with potty training and give your child vocabulary to express those emotions.

Just remember- your child is still learning what pretend play is. They WILL rely on you to model how to do this. It’s a great opportunity for bonding through play and will teach your child a new way to play independently later on if left out to explore.

If you want a more realistic toy for pretend potty play (although you really don’t need it) I recommend this one thanks to its anatomically correct parts and no diaper (because isn’t the goal to NOT use them?!):

Act it Out Using Them

Using brown construction paper, make a pretend poop. Show them on their body where the poop comes from and how it gets out. Then let them practice making the “poop” plop into the potty and wiping. You may even get a mini spray bottle to show how and where pee comes out. Fun fact: the same muscles used to blow bubbles are used to help your child poop. Use this to your advantage and have fun with bubbles!

Use Books

Children LOVE books. Keep a few around the bathroom for them to look at and read. This will narrate a child through a character learning to potty and many include how to deal with accidents and not wanting to go potty yet. Here are the books we keep in the bathroom (Potty & Once Upon a Potty are our 2 favorites!):

You may even want to create your own potty book! I’ve created this free personalized social story book for you to use while potty training. Simply read each page and let your child act it out while you capture it for the story. Then add the pictures into the story to read whenever they want (and we know how much children love looking at themselves!)

Want to add some potty training songs to this list? First Cry Parenting has a great list of 10 songs to use HERE!

Give your child the advantage of knowing the vocabulary BEFORE starting to give them comfort and confidence in the process. Good luck with potty training!

If you’re looking for potty training tips and products here’s what we used:

Love this author’s take on breaking the process down into mini-milestones to focus on. I also think she does a great job at keeping things realistic.

B never took to the little potty (though we keep a super cheap in in the car just in case). But these toilet seats with ladder attachments are fantastic! I recommend these for traditional round toilets and regular height. We replaced our downstairs toilet with a tall (“handicap”) toilet and B is not able to use the ladder independently. The portable frog seat is also perfect for throwing in your bag for those public restroom pit stops!

This was my peace of mind for getting out of the house. We kept a few of these in the car for the early days and/or when we went on longer trips this summer. There is nothing worse than having an accident in the car and these give an extra layer of protection by throwing one in the car seat before leaving.


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