Ah, potty training. At some point or another, every parent wonders how in the world to potty train their child. And I’m pretty sure it intimidates even the best of us.
It’s just one of those things that has to be done, but no one really wants to do it. Except, of course, for the benefits once it’s done—no more diaper changes!
At this point, our toddler is pretty much potty trained, but it was a bit rocky to get here. I’ll be completely honest with you. My hopes of getting the job done within three days, like those superstar moms, were dashed pretty quickly.
Granted, I think part of that was due to some mistakes I made along the way. To help you avoid making those same mistakes, here’s what we learned while bathroom training our son—and the things you don’t want to do.
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Our Potty Training Experience
Alright, I hate to admit this, but we were one of those parents who had the brilliant idea to potty train during the initial two week quarantine of the 2020 pandemic. It sounded like a great idea. We would be stuck inside our apartment for two weeks anyway, so may as well get it done, right?
Wrong. At that time, we had no way of knowing that the two week quarantine wasn’t actually going to be two weeks. We had no way of knowing it would turn into months. And I definitely hadn’t counted on it being bad enough to effect my two year old’s mental health.
Turns out, he’s a total extrovert. And being stuck home with just me all day till his dad got home for that long was the evidently worst thing ever. Apparently, the time he spent playing with his little friends at church and related events is the highlight of his week. And he was pretty devastated to realize that was suddenly not happening anymore. Long story short, it was a huge mistake.
Our first attempt
Anyway. We started training before we realized all that. And he did really well initially. Not done-in-three-days good, but still very good. I was happy with our progress.
But then around a week and a half into it, he completely lost it. And by lost it, I mean he would literally scream bloody murder if I asked him to try to use the bathroom. He completely flipped a lid every. Single. Time.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the only thing not going well all of a sudden. Suddenly he was crabby as all get out, rebellious over every little thing. And it was blatantly obvious that the disruption of our routine and social interaction was the cause.
On the rare occasion we were able to play in the grass outside our apartment and might see our neighbors (from a distance), he would light up and be his normal happy self. And I say it was rare because during those initial two weeks of staying home, it also rained almost every day.
Anyway. I know everyone tells you to not give up once you start potty training, but we gave up. It became blatantly clear that it was not a good scenario, and was only making things worse. Back in the diapers he went.
Our second attempt
We gave it a few weeks. We started settling into our new routine, painfully lacking the social interaction we all desperately needed. Things started to get a bit better, and we decided to give it another shot.
This time, our toddler did a bit better. He go a better hang of it, at least for a while. And then pretty much the same thing happened. Minus the full on screaming, because if I’m totally honest, I quit again before it got that far.
To me, it wasn’t worth it if it was going to be that terrible of an experience for us all. And so out came the diapers. I’ll admit I was feeling both a bit defeated but also relieved to let go of that stress factor.
Our third and final attempt
Aaand, success! I’m happy to say our third attempt at potty training stuck, and he is now mostly trained. And by mostly, I mean he may or may not make it to the bathroom in time before he poops in his pullup. But close enough, in my book.
This time around, I decided we wouldn’t try again until things started opening back up. We waited until our church started their first in-building service as the stay-at-home orders began lifting. Even though he wasn’t able to play with other kids yet, it was enough to be out of the house with other people around.
And that shift made all the difference. His frustration was lessening by the day, and he was becoming his happy self again. And, he was ready to learn to use the bathroom. This time, he caught right on with little to no complaining. Moral of the story: don’t try to potty train during stay-at-home orders.
How To Start Potty Training
At this point, we’ve got our son potty trained pretty well. Here’s we learned the hard way, but you don’t have to!
1. Make sure your child is ready
Before you get started, it’s important to make sure your child is actually ready. If your toddler isn’t ready yet, it will only end in frustration. And it may make your little one resistant to learning later on when he is ready! Here are three types of “readiness” to be aware of.
First, your child needs to be physically ready. But what does that mean?
Basically, your child should be at a point where he is aware of his bodily functions. He should at least know when he is or has peed or pooed, and ideally be uncomfortable with it in his diaper. Being aware of his bathroom needs is a big step in being ready to potty train.
Here are some signs that your child is physically ready:
- Tells you when he has peed/pooed
- Informs you that he needs a diaper change
- Tells you of his need before he goes
However, it’s not enough to be ready merely physically. Your child also needs to be mentally and emotionally ready. I can tell you from experience—if your child does not want to learn, he won’t.
You can’t force your child to potty train, and trying will do more harm than good. Instead, wait for your little one to be ready. Here are some ways you can encourage emotional readiness:
- Casually talk about using the bathroom with your little one
- Read “bathroom books” with your little one
- Let your child know when you are going to go use the bathroom
- Ask if your child would like to use the potty—if he says no, let it go
And of course, you want your child to be developmentally ready. Make sure your little one is old enough to be successful at potty training. For some, that means 18 months old, while others aren’t ready until they’re 3 years old.
Your child doesn’t need to be able to stay dry all night to start potty training. In fact, most children aren’t able to night train until 3-5 years old. So don’t stress about that. What you’re looking for is the ability to day train.
Your toddler should be able to hold their urine and bowels for an extended period of time, or at least two hours. It’s usually fairly easy to see if they are ready in this way. If they are, they will go long periods with a dry diaper before wetting or soiling it. That’s a pretty good indicator that they are developmentally ready.
2. Basic training “rules”
There are a lot of viewpoints on the “right” way to potty train a child. Ultimately, the best way is the way that works for your individual child. However, there are some basic “rules”, for lack of a better word, that are generally agreed upon when it comes to potty training.
Don’t start before your child is ready
Honestly, it’s a hassle to try to start before your child is ready. And if they aren’t ready, it won’t stick anyway. You’re far more likely to be successful if your child is actually ready to start using the potty.
Don’t start before, during, or after a big change or stressor
I don’t think I’ve found anyone who has disagreed with this point—don’t start potty training right before, during, or after a big life change or stress factor.
Ideally, you want to start when life is pretty normal and your child is settled into a daily routine. Disruptions to routine can throw your child off balance, which will make training far harder.
Be prepared to be patient
Potty training is no easy task. Remember that it’s not any easier for your child, and can sometimes be a bit scary for them. It’s extremely important to be patient during the process, no matter how long it takes. The last thing you want to do is put a negative association with the potty!
3. Pick a training method
Once your sure your child is ready, it’s time to decide how you will go about it!
The training pants method
For the training pants method, you allow your child to wear pullups while learning to use the potty. The pro to this is that you won’t have a mess to clean up if they go in their pants instead. The con to this is you may have a harder time knowing when they need to go or have already gone.
If you plan to go this route, I recommend using Huggies Pullups. In my opinion, they are the best quality pullup and the ones we used while training Elijah.
The naked method
I’ll be honest, I was too chicken to try this at first. But ultimately, we ended up doing it for a day anyway.
In the naked method, you let your child go the whole day completely naked. Doing so makes them much more aware of their bathroom needs and more likely to use the potty instead. Of course, you’ll inevitably have some extra cleanup to do if/when they don’t make it there in time.
If you decide to give this method a try, it’s very important to have them regularly try to potty to avoid any messes on your floor.
The 3-day method
The 3-day method is the one that gets lots of interest, for obvious reasons. No one particularly likes potty training, and to have it done in only three days sounds like a pretty good deal!
Basically, the 3-day method boils down to having your child naked all three days, and having them use the potty every 15-20 minutes or so. While it’s similar to the other methods, it puts a lot of pressure on to have it done by the end of day three.
If that works for your child, great. Personally, I think it puts way too much stress on both the parents and the child. It wasn’t a good fit for us, and potty training definitely did not take just three days. And that’s okay.
In the end we fell into a combination of the three methods. We started out with pullups, and then had a naked day when he started refusing to tell us if he had to go. After that, we let him use underwear with some success. Ultimately, he landed back in pullups once he got the hang of when he needed to go.
I liked having him use the pullups because it saved our apartment carpet from having pee spots everywhere. And now that he’s caught on, he easily can go the whole day in a single pullup, except for the occasional poop accident.
You know your child best. Do what seems to work for them, and adjust as needed.
4. Potty training essentials
Now that you know your plan of action, be sure to have all the essentials you’ll need!
Potty training seat
Probably the most obvious potty training essential is to a potty training seat. Basically, this is just a smaller, toddler sized toilet. Potty seats come with a removable pail so that you can easily dump it into the toilet when finished. There’s plenty of varieties and colors to potty seats, and even one that looks like a miniature of an actual toilet.
Alternatively, you can also get ones that insert into the seat of your full sized toilet. Basically, these just make the seat small so that your child doesn’t have to worry about falling in.
The biggest pro to these is that you won’t have to worry about emptying and cleaning a separate potty. However, you may find your child has a hard time getting up onto it if they are still too short.
Keeping wet wipes on hand is a good idea when you are potty training. While you can use toilet paper, wet wipes make cleaning up poop a lot quicker and easier, which can be helpful while potty training.
Personally, we like to flushable wipes for wiping little butts. That way we don’t have any stinky, poopy wipes sitting in the bathroom trashcan. You can use cute kid designed ones like Kandoo wipes, or just use generic brand ones if you’d rather save money.
Training pants or underwear
Depending on your preference, be sure to have plenty of training pants or underwear. We tried both, and eventually settled on using training pants. While our toddler prefers his underwear, when he does have an accident it just goes straight through, and getting them off with a poop accident is a huge mess.
So until he’s fully got control of his bowel movements, he’ll be staying in pullups. What I like about pullups is that they are made to work like underwear, but also have the ability to detach at the sides, similar to a diaper. So if you do end up with a poop accident, you can easily get the pullup off without getting it everywhere. Been there, done that.
And of course, all pullups are not created equal. Some will hold together better, and absorb more when accidents happen. And others won’t fair as well. Personally, after trying a few different brands, we decided we like Huggies Pullups the best. And if you’re looking to save money on them, you can save up to 20% with Subscribe & Save on Amazon.
When you first start potty training, you can expect to spend a lot of time in the bathroom. One great way to pass the time and get your child comfortable on the potty is to read to them. If your interested in some of our favorite board books, check out this post.
This is also a great time to invest in some toddler appropriate books that teach about potty training. Reading about using the bathroom can be a great way to get your child used to the idea. And, they’ll be more likely to understand what’s going on as well.
No matter how you choose to potty train your child, be sure to praise them when they succeed—even if it’s only a small success. Ultimately, praising them and being excited for them will be the most powerful way to reward and encourage your child.
Of course, some kids may need a little extra encouragement and motivation to learn. What kind of reward you choose is up to you and what works best for your child. Many have success with a rewards chart, or by offering a small piece of candy or a sticker for every successful use of the potty.
5. Tips for potty training
While there’s a lot of trial and error to potty training each individual child, there are certainly ways you can ease the process. Here are some tips to help you on your potty training journey.
Don’t rush it
Whatever you do, don’t try to rush it. Be intentional, and consistent, but don’t try to force your child to go faster than they are ready to go. Some kids will pick it up right away, and others will take time. It’s okay, and a completely normal part of the process. Take your time, and avoid setting a deadline for when it has to be done.
Above all else, be patient. Learning to use the bathroom is a very personal thing, and can be very intimidating for little ones.
For some, your child may seem to have it down within a few days, only to regress later on. That’s also normal. The best thing you can do is to be patient. Don’t get frustrated with the process, or the messes that will inevitably accompany it.
Be prepared for it to take longer than 3 days
While some kids are able to train within three days, it’s not the case with all kids. It’s very tempting to buy into those Pinterest “3 day” methods. Sometimes they work—and that’s great! But I think a lot of times those success stories set us up for unrealistic expectations for our kids.
It’s completely normal and okay if it takes more than three days to train your child. You are not a failure. And your child is not a failure. And rest assured, your child will learn, in his own time.
For boys, start sitting down
While boys will eventually be able to pee standing up, it may be easier to start by teaching them to go sitting down. And less messy! Remember that when potty training, it’s often best to start slow in small steps. Just learning to go in the correct place is a big accomplishment!
And since mom is often the one at home doing the training, sitting down is usually the easier way. Mom is probably the one they’ve seen when they interrupt her bathroom time. And when you start teaching by having them sit, you don’t have to worry about aiming.
Good luck potty training!
Good luck on your training journey! And remember it’s just that—a journey. It’s a time of great learning and development for your child, so be patient and understanding. Validate and understand their feelings while helping them navigate this new skill. It will pay off in the end.
Have you started training your child yet? How’s it going? Leave a comment and let me know, or tell me what makes you most nervous to get started!