Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Here's how to help your potty training toddler at the pool or beach.
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Risk and reward is something we constantly assess as parents. Is the risk of your toddler climbing those rocks he spotted, and potentially falling, worth the reward of a cool climbing experience? Sometimes, yes it is. Is the risk of having a fidgety toddler at your table worth the reward of eating out at a restaurant as a family? Typically, yes.
What about the risk of heading to the pool or beach with your diaper-free child without any thought to how that should look?
Now that's a risky one. Why?
Because picture a child (your child) accidentally pooping in the pool.
Picture your toddler calling out the word POTTY, after you just spent 10 minutes walking through hot deep sand to find your spot on the beach.
Picture poop in any swimming situation and you'll likely want less risk, right?
A poop accident on its own brings drama.
A poop accident in the water kicks up the drama to high-dive levels.
Poop floating in a pool.
Pooping about to happen when you're stuck on a sandy beach.
You get the picture.
So cut your risk, and consider these 5 tips to help your potty training toddler..
on the beach,
or the pool,
or whenever you take a fun trip by the water (whether it's your local go-to pool, or a vacation to a beach or lake.)
Here's how to set up your diaper-free child for success by the pool or beach.
1. Prepare your Child for the Trip to the Beach or Pool
Talk through what's going to happen when.
This goes for trips to the beach bathroom.
This goes for when you're going to apply sunscreen.
Really anything that you expect to be a point of resistance, make a plan with your child before you even get to the destination. If you've mapped it out with your toddler first, so they know what to expect, you can help bring down some of the resistance.
Related: There's an entire chapter in Jamie's new book, Oh Crap I Have a Toddler, about preparing your toddler to avoid that instant meltdown that can show up in new situations. Trust me when I say this book is a must-have resource for any toddler parent!
In the moment of arriving at the beach, if you spring on your child that they have to go to the bathroom before going to the sand WHERE ALL OF THEIR SAND CASTLE MAKING DREAMS CAN COME TRUE...well then you're set up to see a full on beach meltdown.
Here are examples of what NOT to say because this language is more likely to trigger a power battle with your toddler:
You need to go pee before we go in the pool.
We have to go potty now.
If you don't go potty, we can't go to the beach.
Instead you want to create a visual roadmap.
What's it going to look like in this new swimming spot where you're going to spend the day?
Make a plan with your toddler and you're way less likely to see resistance.
Here's an example of a roadmap to go pee in the potty at the beach:
After we park the car, what do we need to do first?
That's right, go potty! You can pee in the beach potty or your green potty. Your choice. That's our first job.
Then what do we do second? Carry our beach things to our beach spot. How about I carry the towels and you carry the buckets?
So what's our plan?
Pee in potty. Carry toys. Find beach spot. High fives.
Notice how few words are in the final roadmap.
Jamie talks about shaving language in her book, and it's because your toddler developmentally can't absorb directions when you're using TOO MANY WORDS.
So shave down the language when you're doing reminders and steer away from power battle words. (Really, no one wants to be told you have to do something, right?)
Other reminders can help set up your newly potty trained toddler for success:
Once you find your spot by the pool or on the beach, let your kiddo choose a spot for their travel potty. While yes, pee is sterile and I'm sure we've all peed in the ocean or pool at some time, remember that consistency is important wth potty training. You don't want to repeatedly say...just pee on the grass, just pee in the water...and then expect your child to know not to pee on the floor hours later.
Potty training is training your child to pee and poop in a vessel...you're teaching your kiddo to contain their pee.
*For more on traveling with your newly potty trained toddler, check out these travel tips.
Maybe your child is cool with peeing on a toilet, but a beach toilet may be an entirely different experience. We're talking rough sand on the toilet seat, possibly flies swirling around. Those public bathrooms can be a turnoff even for us grownups. So come prepared with your travel potty, wipes, and an attitude that you're on the same team. If your toddler doesn't want to sit on the toilet, then you can offer your travel potty (or you can have your child stand on the toilet with your support.)
Point out where the bathroom is in relation to where you are. If you're on the beach, point out how the sand is hot to walk on, or it takes longer to walk through deep sand...set up how you'll need time to get to the bathroom. This is something you can chat through the day before your adventure, and when you arrive. Make it a clear roadmap in the child's mind. This isn't like home...we need to walk really far to get to the boardwalk/bathroom/pool outhouse, etc.
Related: When you're trying to get your toddler to use toilets in public bathrooms, this is the potty book I always recommend. The illustrations are awesome and it helps to normalize (and empower!) your toddler to be brave like a ninja in trying out a new bathroom..whether that's at the beach, pool, or anywhere you adventure.
What about you feeling anxious about a potential poop on the beach?...see below for tips!
2. Prepare for the Poop (Just in Case)
Can you trust your toddler not to poop in the pool, in the ocean, or in the lake?
This is a serious risk.
Why? First, we all know that poop is toxic.
A poop in the pool means everyone out and the pool gets closed down.
Then we're talking another level of risk, too. The risk of feeling total embarassment that you're the one whose child pooped while swimming.
Enter the swim diaper.
We are big fans of a clean break with diapers when you start potty training with Oh Crap Potty Training.
We're big fans of consistency in the process.
But it's also true that a fun water outing early into the potty training process can be a recipe for a poop accident.
You've got high excitement, the child is super relaxed in the water..which means a surprise poop can happen. Those sphincter muscles of the anus are directly tied to emotion. When you're super relaxed, that's when you can poop. That's why you may have seen a poop in the bath when you started potty training.
Warm water, the child is super relaxed...oops, a poop slides out.
And there's no guarantee that if you've been seeing poops in the potty for the past couple of weeks, your child is golden. There's no guarantee your child won't hold back on pooping in the beach potty and then suddenly a poop goes in the swim trunks while he's squatting down making sand towers.
If there's any doubt in your mind whether your child may poop in their swimsuit, or just let a poop out in the pool, you want to follow that mama hunch.
This is not a time to choose the risky option..wing it and see what happens.
Because a poop in the pool or in the sand — that's high drama.
A poop accident like that can ruin the day.
So come prepared. Bring a swim diaper.
But just like I shared in the June 2019 issue of Parents magazine, the key is how you label the swim diaper for your toddler.
The language matters.
If your child has been out of diapers for weeks, you don't want to bring that diaper lingo back in. You don't want to make it seem like you're worried there will be an accident so you're diapering your child for the beach.
The language is key so you send the signal that you still trust that your kiddo can do this.
Here's what you want to call the swim diapers so there's no confusion for your toddler:
Swim pants. (Or beach pants. Or even pool pants.)
Make it something special that your child wears only in the swimming location. Because in truth, that's what they are. You'd be putting the beach pants on when you get to the beach, and taking them off at the end of your beach adventure.
But you're NOT calling them swim diapers.
The cool thing about shifting your tone and language?
You're sending a message that you know your child knows how to go pee and poop in the potty, but these are just the swim pants we wear at the pool because that's the pool's rule....
By sending that message, that's honestly when you may see a child in a swim diaper signal to mom that they need to go poop. And then you work as a team to get to the potty.
You always honor the call to go potty, even in a swim diaper.
So if your child signals they need to go pee or poop, then help your kiddo get to the bathroom or pull out your travel potty.
And here's what you'll want to bring to handle a poop in the potty...just in case. Make sure you have some disposable liners for your travel potty. Because again, poop is toxic, so obviously it has to be handled in a different way than the pee.
3. Prepare for the Sand and Sun with Your Diaper-Free Toddler
I'm guessing you not only know that sunscreen is important when you're out in the sun, but you likely have a bin of SPF 50 sunscreen ready to go.
But what are some reminders for being out in the sun with your diaper-free child?
Here are a few simple things to keep in mind..
No doubt, trying to sunscreen a covered-in-sand toddler might be harder than a physician performing surgery.
You're hearing rants about it hurting, and the sunscreen feels ouchy.
Your toddler will NOT stand still, so sunscreen is getting everywhere but onto your child's body.
White mineral sunscreen mixed with sand does the opposite of smoothly covering skin with protection. It may feel like the more you rub, the more the sandy sunscreen mix just creates blotches on the skin. And there's so much sand. (Especially when trying to reapply sunscreen!)
I've been doing beach adventures with my kiddos since they were so little. And the simplest method I've found that helps?
Do the sunscreen before you step foot in the sand.
Otherwise you're caught in a losing battle. Not only with carefully applying the sunscreen over sandy ankles, but in getting your restless toddler to stay still long enough...when they can see the ocean waves just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Same goes for the pool or lake.
Once the water fun is in reach, it's hard to contain the excitement.
Better to sunscreen before you're right there in the action.
Use the same setup with language. Let your child know the expectation before you're in the moment...
We'll put on sunscreen before we get to the pool.
We'll put on sunscreen after we get out of the car.
Simple, clear roadmaps that your child can visualize. Then it's no surprise what's happening when you park the car and pull out the SPF.
And don't forget, if you're doing any bare-bummed time by the water with your potty training toddler, those bums can get sunburned, too! Be mindful of sun exposure, even when you're in the shade.
4. Prepare for Changes in Pee Patterns
You might notice that your toddler, who typically pees a few times in the morning, is showing no signs of needing to pee.
Always remember with potty training (and after the skill is learned, too) that it's no accident, no issue. Your child may not need to go pee.
Why can the pee pattern look so different?
It's hot outside, and they're playing hard. Your toddler may be drinking less because they're so absorbed in turning themselves into a washed-up mermaid. So be aware that the pee pattern may look different. Now what?
Don't overprompt in a way that brings on potty resistance.
Be mindful of keeping your child hydrated. A day by the water is a great day to bring watery fruits as snacks to help with hydration, when they're too busy to stop and drink. I like to serve snacks in bento boxes, so the kids can just grab what they feel like nibbling on.
Consider how you're serving water. My kids use water bottles at school and when we're out, except for at the beach. I've found that the water bottle inevitably gets dropped in the sand. The sand gets caught in the nozzle. So I like to be the one in charge of a bigger water thermos for the family. Then I can serve the water in cups for the kids. Drink and toss. Or drink and reuse. Also easy for me to monitor how much they're drinking (and does someone need a water break.)
On the flip side, you might see the opposite.
Just like the kiddo who winds up drinking bath water, it's pretty common for a toddler to swallow some water at the pool. And then that can affect potty training!
For example, if you're night training and doing your best to set up the upside down pyramid of fluids, per the diaper-free-at-night method by Oh Crap Potty Training, then that accidental swallow of pool water could be enough to see a pee accident after your toddler falls asleep. I've had a case like that where the mom shared that the change to pool outings at the end of the day started to bring in nightly accidents for the toddler.
And while you can't prevent a child from accidentally swallowing some water, just being mindful of the pattern you're seeing can help with solving the problem if accidents come up.
5. Prepare for Privacy Concerns
By age three or four, some toddlers are keenly aware of privacy around being naked or going poop in the potty without an audience. So if that flip has happened for your child, you do want to honor their call for privacy.
Depending on the type of location where you'll be by the water, map out a plan with your toddler before you get there.
Is there a changing area, shower, or bathroom available to you?
If not, you may need to improvise with some strategic towel fort. Keep in mind with toddlers, any small change in routine can spark a strong reaction.
Don't assume your kiddo will be okay with a brand-new way to pee or get changed privately, because you've decided it's the most reasonable way for the peeing or change-out-of-swimsuit to happen.
You want to talk through the details so your kiddo can have some say and know what to expect at your outing.
There's no bathroom where we're going to be.
So when it's time to get your wet swimsuit off, I can help create a towel fort for you to change in.
Let me show you. Cool, right?
If you're been considering a beach tent, here's another reason that could be a helpful addition to your beach supply list. A beach tent makes an easy way to create a privacy shield for a child who doesn't want to be so out in the open for changing or peeing.
Or a hooded towel is another way for the child to be able to slip out of their swimsuit on their own in a more private way.
There you have it. And just like that, you've covered your risk for water adventures with your potty training toddler..anytime, anywhere.
Now you can go back to deciding if the risk of being super tired tomorrow is worth staying up later to watch that show on Netflix. Hmmm.
Top illustrations by Citrus and Mint Designs.