How We Potty Trained

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Disclaimer #2: I am not a potty training “expert”. I have one kid. This is just what works for us so far.

Potty training… UGH.

I was not looking forward to potty training. Patience is not one of my strong suits. Chaos is something I don’t handle well. And I’m convinced my now three-year-old is a lot like me in these ways, but like her dad in that she doesn’t appreciate change.

But we had to do it over the summer. My daughter is a late July baby, and her preschool’s policy states their three-year-old class must be reliably potty trained. This means she needed to be potty trained when she is 3 years, 3 weeks old. I put it off until the school year was over, and after our big trip to Disney World.

I read the books. Oh Crap! and the three day method. I was only a few pages in and I knew these methods weren’t going to work for us (but I know several people who swear by them). My daughter loves to get fully dressed every day. Convincing her to go naked or pants-less would have been a fight. On top of that, we have lives to live! We leave the house. And I couldn’t believe that one of these books actually suggested parents take off work to potty train — a lot of parents just cannot do that (in fact, I had a whole lot of issues with the Oh Crap! book).

We’re not totally done. But she can be trusted to not pee everywhere, she knows how to hold it, communicate when she needs to go to the potty, and is generally cooperative. I’m calling it a win.

What We Did

We took it slow. I introduced her to underwear, and she was excited to wear Elsa undies and Minnie Mouse undies. I ran her to the potty when she had an accident. I gave her M&Ms when she peed or pooped on the potty. We did a sticker chart, and she got a prize when she filled it up. She wore pull-ups when we left the house for awhile. I didn’t force her to sit on the potty, and we didn’t have her drink extra juice or anything.

At first, it was a little rough. She would hold it until nap time or bedtime, when she got a diaper. I kept encouraging her to sit on the potty and “push pee out”. I reminded her to let me know if she needed to go potty. But it wasn’t long before we noticed that she wasn’t using her pull-up when we left the house. She started to use the potty on her own schedule, and let us know when she needed to go! We are still dealing with her holding #2 until nap time, but that’s something we’re taking slow, too.

Where we are now

Currently, she tells me when she has to go. She usually does not go on command, and she typically holds it away from home if we’re not gone long (she resists using the big public toilets, because they’re big), but will still tell us if she needs to go. She does not have accidents often, and I’m comfortable having her sit on the couch or our bed. She gets a pull-up for nap time (and she often poops toward the end) and a night-time pull-up. I don’t personally believe I can expect a three year old to hold pee while asleep (science seems to back this up), or half-asleep, or wake up to go. I’m also not personally a fan of keeping a small potty in their bedroom. It seems like it’s fairly normal for kids this age to wear pull-ups during sleep time.

What we’ll do next

We’ll try to phase out that nap-time pull-up (and especially the pooping). We’re also working on getting better at pulling up and pushing down pants, and working around dresses and skirts (it’s tough being a girl).


Why didn’t you like Oh Crap! Potty Training Method?
Oh, gosh. So many things. I guess what it boils down to is: the author expected the potty trainer to be a stay-at-home mom. Now, you may be thinking, Becca, you are a stay-at-home-mom. Yes, obviously I am! But the author also seemed to believe men are incapable of doing this, and that working moms weren’t going to be successful. I’m sorry, but I can’t follow this person’s advice. On top of that, she took an all-or-nothing approach, declared it perfect for every child, and that’s just not true. I am aware some people really like this method and it works for them.

Did you try the three-day method?
I read the three-day method, and while I hated it much less than Oh Crap!, I didn’t like the bit about sleeping on the floor of my toddler’s bedroom to wait until she moved a little bit and ask her if she needed to go potty. That sounds like next to no sleep for both of us, and I can’t see how that’s healthy or successful.

Did you use any rewards?
We used M&Ms as a reward for sitting on the potty, and then for actually using it. She also got to put a sticker on the chart I made (it had Elsa and Anna on it, so she loved it), and once she filled it up, I gave her a Rapunzel doll (because she already had Elsa and Anna, of course). We cheered really enthusiastically when she peed in the potty. Still do, sometimes!

Any tricks for getting them to tell you before it’s too late?
Instead of asking if she needed to go potty, I would remind her to tell me if she needed to go potty often or if I noticed her being fidgety. Sometimes, though, it just takes accidents for them to learn this lesson (unfortunately). Having wet clothes is really unpleasant if they’re not too distracted to notice it.

Scale of 1-10, how bad was it?
The first few days, 7. Maybe I’m being dramatic. It’s not that bad. But I think it would have been up to a 9 if I’d done it bootcamp, plastic drop-cloth style. Going slower and not putting the pressure on definitely made it more bearable. For everyone.

What type of potty do you recommend?
I had a small potty, and Charlotte sat on it a couple of times, but she wouldn’t stay on it. Using the big potty with a seat was much, much easier, so that’s what I recommend — plus, your toddler has to learn to hold it long enough to get to the bathroom and pull down their pants, and away from home that’s going to take even longer. We have two different potty seats: a Minnie Mouse one (which was just an attempt at getting her excited about it), and this one, which I like better because it fits the toilet better (doesn’t slide around), has a guard, and a handle that provides a little back support.

When did you start? Anything you’d change?
We started at the end of May (for reference, Charlotte’s third birthday was July 20). We probably would have waited a few months if it weren’t for the preschool deadline. I probably also would have stopped using pull-ups outside of the house earlier, but we were working with a two-hour day camp program that didn’t do potty training.

How did you protect the furniture?
For the first week or so, I put a waterproof mattress protector (that I already had) over the couch. I had a spot carpet cleaner close by, but I never needed to use it. It turns out, when your toddler’s wearing clothes, and you’re not pushing unusual amounts of fluids, there’s not much to clean up.

Potty Training Favorites

Fisher-Price The Perfect Potty Ring
Like I mentioned before, this seat is the most stable! The only downside is it’s a little more difficult to store on a hook, but it’s doable.

OXO Tot 2-in-1 Go Potty
We have one of those slimmer, foldable seats, but honestly, this one is better. It’s more stable on a big toilet, and you can put it on the floor if you’re in a more desperate situation.

Squatty Potty Bamboo FLIP

You probably already know about the Squatty Potty, but this one is great because you can adjust the height by just flipping it over. Gives little feet somewhere to rest. And it looks nice, so it’s a good option for your guest or half bath.

Step stool
Definitely consider getting a curved one like this for the kids’ bathroom. It allows for a bit more independence.

Potty by Leslie Patricelli
I’m a big fan of a book to go with any change: switching to a big kid bed, first day of school, first trip to the dentist, or first haircut!

Star stickers
For the potty chart!

Mason jar pour lid
It’s probably not worth it to buy these just for potty training, but these are handy for other things too. We kept M&Ms in a mason jar with this lid.

That’s where we are! Hopefully we continue on this path and we don’t have any serious regressions. Fingers crossed.

So moms, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the ‘methods’ and the idea of being confined to one plastic-wrapped room, know that you don’t have to do it that way. You can take it slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and some kids are potty trained in more than three.



  1. September 25, 2019 / 4:26 pm

    We have been working extra hard with Zoe on potty training the last three-four weeks. She has done great with pee, not so much with poop. She has only pooped in the potty three times that I know of. Daycare told me about one…not sure if she has done it there since or not. Her teachers told me this morning that if she would just poop in the potty, she would be totally ready for panties at school. We did the M&Ms (we started with gummy bears, but apparently the M&Ms were more motivation), a chart that she filled up for a prize and lots of praise and high fives when she goes. Here is to hoping that the poop comes along better ASAP! This mommin thing is hard sometimes!

  2. May 1, 2020 / 4:03 pm

    Great tips! I love the Mnm’s for motivation. My baby girl is one and we’re currently in the stage where I have to tame a wild animal to attempt to get her diaper on.

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