Potty Training in Three Days, Or Bust

There are many ways to potty train. There are many sides to choose: early vs. late, fast vs. slow, potty chair vs. toilet. Some families use charts, or treats, or threats, or bribery. There's camp undies, camp pull-ups, and camp nothing at all. Whatever gets the job done.

I just potty trained number six. And here at Casa Tierney we do it fast, late, bribed, and somewhat naked. In case how we roll might work for you, and in response to repeated inquiries, imma jot it down for ya.

All comments here are in regards to day potty training only, night training is a whole different animal, unconnected to day training.

My kids have all potty trained at between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. They SEEM like they can do it earlier. When my oldest was eighteen months old, I thought for SURE that he was ready to be potty trained. I was determined to make it happen. (I was eight months pregnant at the time, which I'm sure had nothing at all to do with that crazy.) In my defense, he COULD sit on the potty and go. But only if I suggested it, sat there with him and read him books, pulled his pants down and back up for him, and he happened to feel like cooperating. Otherwise, it wasn't going to happen.

I spent a very frustrating month trying unsuccessfully to get him going on the potty reliably, until our training was interrupted by the birth of his sister, and I didn't try again with him for a year. At that point, he was ready, I had a method, and it only took three days.

I've done the three day method six times now, and it's worked every time. Even on Frankie, who is notoriously noncompliant.

The Month Before

1. I don't start until he is physically able to dress himself. Usually around two and a half, they can put their feet into and pull up their own pants, and can get their arms in their shirts if I put their heads in for them.
2. I create an aura of mystique around the potty. I let him come in with me or with older siblings, we talk about using the potty, but he's NOT ALLOWED to use it. "Oh no, that's just for big kids, you're not big enough yet." By the time we start he's really chomping at the bit.
3. I point out the negatives of diapers. If he's squirming and complaining about getting cleaned up after a messy diaper, I talk about how great it is to use the potty instead. When he's walking around in a soggy diaper, I point out how nice it would be to be in nice dry undies instead.

The Day Before

1. I clear my schedule for the next three days. I try not to have doctor's appointments or outings with friends. We only have people over if they are going to be okay with seeing The Process. It's not for the faint of heart.
2. We go shopping. We buy new undies with his favorite character on them. He can have them, hold them, sleep with them, but they don't come out of the package until the end of the process. And we buy treats. Small, medium, and extra large. Frankie chose fruit flavored mini-marshmallows and m&ms for small, gummy frogs for medium, and ice cream sundae fixin's for extra large.
3. We talk it up all day, how tomorrow's the big day. And he's going to be a big kid and use the potty and get treats and then once he's done he's going to get his Mater underpants.

Days 1-3

1. The pants come off. During all waking hours he is in a longish t-shirt and nothing else. I've found this to be the most important part of the process. Underpants, pull-ups, whatever FEEL just like a diaper. My kids have an "accident" pretty much 100% of the time if I put them in anything. But with bare buns, they realize, "Hey, this stuff IS coming out of me. Huh. Maybe I COULD put it in the potty." This is why we limit guests to only people who will not be weirded out by partial-nudity.
2. He's not allowed on the carpet. We've got wood floors in part of the house. He's only allowed to be in those parts of the house or outside. It's a lot easier for me to keep a sunny disposition when accidents are easy to clean up.
3. He sits on the potty as often as I think of it but at least every hour. We keep a little potty chair outside in the back yard, but he also uses the big toilet, which is preferable for obvious reasons. But they do tend to like the little potty. So we use both.
4. Successes are met with celebration and acclaim and one little treat. Even if he splits one pee into six trips to the potty over the course of twenty minutes. Fine. Whatever. If he pees AT ALL in the potty he gets one m&m or mini-marshmallow. We are lucky enough to have big kids around here. So, I'm able to hire help very cheaply. Whatever sibling takes him to the potty and cleans out the little potty afterwards, gets the same treat that the potty training kid gets. Everyone wins.
5. We try to catch the poop. Usually we don't. The peeing seems to come pretty easily, once they realize how it works. Not so with the poop.
Days 1 and 2 almost always include things like:
  • pooping on the floor of the playroom,
  • pooping in the dirt in the backyard,
  • waiting until he has a diaper on for nap time to poop,
  • using that half an hour when the piano teacher is here and I put undies on him to poop in his undies,
  • me texting my husband that this was a terrible idea and he will never, ever be potty trained and why do I even try.
6. We REALLY try to catch the poop. If just having him sit on the potty on Day 1 didn't work for poop, on Day 2, I use a new method recommended to me by a friend. I determine the time of day he most often does his business. Then I strip him down, give him some books and time-consuming activities (sorting colored pony beads into mini-muffin tins is great) and shut him in the bathroom until he goes. For Frankie, I just explained what we were going to do and he didn't even protest all that much. And it totally worked. It took a about 40 minutes on Day 2. Day 3 he hadn't gone after an hour, so I let him out and tried again in the afternoon and it worked then. The first time we catch the poop is when he gets the extra large prize - an ice cream sundae . . . in the middle of the day! After that all poops get the medium prize (three gummy frogs) for him and his helper.
7. Just when it looks like it will never work, it does. Somehow, it comes together on day three. I'll see him stop what he's doing, take a quick intake of breath, and run for the bathroom. Where just two days ago he was making puddles in the kitchen and hiding in a corner of the yard to do his business, he now heads for the potty. Maybe he also tries to dump the potty chair into the toilet himself along with most of a roll of toilet paper . . . but, hey, it's progress. Somehow, in three days, he gets it.

Day 4 and beyond

1. The big payoff. On the morning of day 4, as long as he was mostly successful on day three, he gets his new undies. And he gets to wear them. As long as we're going to be around the house, he just wears a shirt and the undies. If we are going out, I keep him in the undies, and dress him in something easy to get up and down, and I bring a change of clothes, just in case. I think Frankie has had two or three accidents in the two weeks since he graduated. I can handle that.
2. We keep up the bribes. My kids keep getting "potty treats" until their third birthday, which for Frankie will be at the end of October. I want to keep up the positive reinforcement, but not FOREVER and a birthday seems like a good time to make a change.
3. Accidents are usually preventable. But I have to remember. For the first month or so, if we're going out, I need to send him to the potty before we leave. I need to take him to the potty while we're out. Shopping trips and playing at friends houses can be distracting, and makes it much less likely that he'll notice when he needs to go. If he has an accident, I try to remember that it's more my fault than his. So, I let him know I'm disappointed, but not mad. And we'll just both try to do better next time. I'm pretty sure nobody ever successfully yelled someone into potty training. And we don't do punishments related to potty training, just rewards and reminders of rewards lost.

So . . . that's how we do it. Waiting until the child is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY ready has made potty training go pretty smoothly. Also picking a time when we can devote the three days to staying around the house and really focusing on it seems to work well. It's annoying to be stuck at home, but hey, so's changing a toddler's diapers.

Some final thoughts: I tried to potty train my oldest much too early for us. It didn't work for him and it didn't work for me. But when we had the right method at the right time, it went pretty easily. I remind myself of that before I start this process each time. I always tell myself, "We'll give it three good days and if it doesn't work, we'll wait a month or two and try again."

That's what works for us. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments!