My Foolproof Potty Training Method

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First, let me preface this article by admitting that *nothing* is indeed foolproof. These little humans of ours are all so, so different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this parenting gig. We have to honor our child’s unique challenges and strengths, and I of course cannot guarantee that this will work for everyone. With that said, this method has worked for me personally with my three children (one girl and two boys) who are all VERY different people. I was also at a very different stage of life with each child. Before I lay down the method, let me first preface it with a few other thoughts:

  1. You need 3-5+ uninterrupted days for this method. It’s best completed over a vacation of some sort. I realize that not everyone’s schedules allow for this, which is another reason why this method might not be for everyone. 
  2. This won’t work if your child is too young and/or simply not ready to potty train. I see some parents attempting to train at a really young age, when their child is just not going to be developmentally ready, and I think it can often result in frustration on both ends. I don’t want to give a specific age range recommendation, but I would make sure that your child can recognize when he or she is wet/soiled, is not actively afraid of the potty (lol), and can independently put pants on and off. Some kids are pretty young, while others aren’t. Either way is ok! 
  3. This method is not for the faint of heart. It requires a LOT of sacrifice on your end. You are essentially holing yourself up and losing your sanity for a few days, but I promise that it pays off.
  4. This is for daytime training only. I personally do not worry about night time training yet, because I think that it develops over time. My daughter was night trained right away with day training, and my first son took almost a year past day training to be fully night trained.  
  5. You do not need any supplies for this other than underwear and treats. I don’t purchase any potty seats, travel potties, or small potties, because I don’t think they’re realistic to every day life. If your child uses a small potty at home, he or she might be afraid to use a bigger one when you’re out at the grocery store. I rip the bandaid off all at once. Again, this might not be for everyone. 
  6. There is sugar involved. Sorry not sorry. 

Now, for the method! 

Prep Week

First, prep your child ahead of time for what’s to come. About a week before, take him or her somewhere like Target where you can pick out some fun underwear in person. Is she into Toy Story? Disney princesses? Cars? There’s an underwear for that. Make this part of the experience. Your child will feel super special and involved. 

While you’re there, snag some pull-ups. I recommend being done with diapers forever at this point (unless your child proves to not be ready yet, which I’ll get to later), because you don’t want to go backwards and confuse your child. In my opinion, pull-ups are essentially diapers…but they are a little different and more special, if you spin them that way. Plus, they’re only for naps and nighttime, AKA to save your sleep and sanity. 

Next, let’s talk about treats. I have no shame in my game of bribery and rewards. I use two different treats for peeing and pooping on the potty. For my first son, he got giant M&Ms for pooping and regular sized M&Ms for peeing. My second son receives a gummy bear for peeing and a lollipop for pooping. I recommend taking them to a candy store or grocery store and letting them help you pick out some special treats for the big day. Get them really excited about it and show them the different options!

Day One

Do not leave the house this day or make any plans. This is going to be a day of staying home. 

Day one is painful. There’s no denying it. Wake up in the morning, change your child, and tell him or her that it’s time to say good-bye to diapers forever. Get out their special treats and put them in a place where they can see it. Now, the fun begins. I recommend keeping your child on a tiled part of the house, if possible, or at least a surface that’s easier to clean up…ie, not a carpet. If that’s your kitchen, great. Prepare to spend the day on the kitchen floor. For us, our entire downstairs is tile, so we stayed downstairs and brought a lot of fun toys down from our playroom. 

I recommend skipping screen time today because kids tend to get so sucked into their iPad or show that they aren’t able to pay attention to their bodies and the sensations of needing to use the toilet.

Get some water, milk, or juice and keep it near your child at all times. When it’s empty, refill it. Encourage him or her to drink often because you want to give them as many opportunities as possible to feel the sensations of their bodies.

Keep your child naked from the waist down for day one. This means a shirt, but no pants or underwear. Set a timer to go off every fifteen minutes. Yup, you read that right. Every. Fifteen. Minutes. 

When the timer goes off, make it a big, exciting thing! Run to the potty together and climb up to sit down on the potty and have your child “try to go.” If she pees, excellent! Show her her candy and give her lots of praise. If she does not go, tell her great job for trying, and go through the ritual of washing hands to get her used to it. Then go back to play, and repeat.

Expect a lot of accidents on day one. That’s just how it is. When your child has an accident, do not scold them. Instead say, “Uh oh! You peed on the floor. Remember, you need to pee in the potty next time!” Have your child help clean up the accident so there is awareness and ownership. 

At nap time, have your child use the potty right before. Then make a production of using pull-ups for nap time and how “special and different” they are from diapers. I know they’re not, but just roll with it. 

As soon as your child wakes up from nap time, take off the pull-up immediately, use the potty, and repeat. Use a pull-up at bedtime if you’re like me and value sleep and clean sheets. 

Note: Many people have expressed to me that they’re struggling with night-time training and have questions about that. Remember that every child is different, and holding your pee/poop overnight is something that developmentally comes with time. You need to make sure that your child is in an actual bed, not a crib, before you can also expect this. He or she needs to be able to get up and use the potty independently or at least be able to come get you when it’s time. 

Day Two

Another day of no plans and staying home. I also recommend skipping screen time today. 

Day two is going to be different for each child, so feel it out and see. I recommend staying naked from the waist down again for at least half a day, but try to increase the timer to every 30 minutes today. We also stayed home and played on the tile again. By the end of day two, I had my kids in underwear ONLY – no pants/dress/shorts. However, there are some kids who need to be naked for several days. The best advice I can give is to judge it by if your child is recognizing the sensation to use the bathroom and telling you that he or she needs to go prior to actually going. If this is happening, try underwear at the end of day two. If not, stick to being naked for all of day two, and try underwear towards the middle or end of day three. 

Day Three

This is the day where you *might* venture on short errands (with bathrooms close by) based on how your child is doing. This is also the day where you can introduce some screen time to see how your child does with pulling themselves away to use the bathroom. 

If you noticed a ton of progress on day two, set a timer for every hour on day three and run a short errand. Have your child use the potty before and after the errand, and make sure you always know where bathrooms are when you are out. For us, we run to Target or go to a local park with a bathroom on site. Remember, keep the errand brief. If you don’t feel like your child is ready for a day out of the house, then spend another day at home and try to have underwear on by the end of the day instead of just being naked. 

Days 4-5 and Beyond

The goal is to progress to having your child tell you when he or she needs to use the bathroom, but also to remind them to go before or after leaving the house…or if it has been a couple hours. This is where you will really need to gauge how your child is doing to see what the next steps are. Here are some scenarios and what I would do in each one.

If by day 4-5, your child is still not progressing with being able to hold their pee/poop or communicating when they need to go, they might not be ready. If you haven’t made significant progress in five days, I would strongly consider stopping and trying again in a few months. Or, if your schedule allows, you can continue with day 1-2 schedules of timers every fifteen minutes to start in order to see how that works. 

If by day 4-5 your child is having some accidents but also using the potty regularly, this is normal! Keep progressing by staying home as much as you can and setting timers for every hour. Eliminate screen time as much as possible (or give it in 20-30 minute increments right after the potty is used).

If your child seems to have it down pretty well by day 4-5, this is a great time to test some short and longer errands. Drive in the car somewhere a half hour away (that has bathrooms easily accessible!), see a movie, or head to a museum. Remember to have them use the potty before they leave the house and offer it when you arrive. Keep your eye on the clock and try to take them by the two hour mark if they haven’t expressed that they have to go. 

Send your child to school in underwear (with plenty of backups, just in case) when you feel like he or she is not having many accidents and is able to communicate when he or she needs to use the bathroom. It’s best to chat with your child’s teacher about the plan and method you’re using in order to get their support. 

Note: If your child is reluctant to use the potty and is starting to throw fits when it’s time to go, this is another sign that he or she might not be ready. Try to remind them how much fun using the potty is and how it’s an opportunity to get some awesome treats. If they are STILL not having it, it might be time to stop and try again in a few months. 

Last note – it might take them longer than 4-5 days to FULLY get it, BUT STAY CONSISTENT. Here is a summary of my very three different experiences and how we handled them:

Hayley, my daughter: She was potty trained for peeing and for overnight within a few days. For pooping, she asked to poop in a pull-up for months and was too scared to go on the potty. Finally one day a few months later, she got it, and she was fine ever since. We stayed consistent. 

Colin, my oldest son: He was potty trained for peeing within a few days. For pooping, he would hold his poop and refuse to go in a pull up, underwear, or the potty. He became constipated as a result, which was tough to deal with. We stayed consistent and gave him stool softeners and liquids, and within two weeks after potty training, he was using the potty to poop, too. He was trained overnight about a year after. 

Graham, my younger son: He had the toughest time with this method. He got the hang of peeing really fast, but still was having about an accident a day most days. He was never afraid to poop on the potty, but he kept pooping in his underwear, often not telling us when he did. I stayed consistent and did not back track to pull ups, and what really helped him was washing his soiled underwear. It’s gross, but we washed it together and talked about how next time we would try to get our waste in the potty. He was potty trained for both pee and poop within 2.5 weeks of starting this method, the longest of my kids. He is not night trained, and I don’t anticipate that he will be for awhile. 

Again, I’m fully aware that this method is not going to work for everyone for one reason or another. I’m simply sharing my experience so it can help other parents, because it has truly been a game changer for me and my three kids. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to reach out to me directly! I’m so happy to help. 

We’d love to hear what works for you in the potty training department! 

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