Potty Training in 3 Days or Less

On Friday morning, we started potty training Eleanor. By lunchtime she had it nailed. I’m not even joking with this. Want to know how we did it? (This is the spot where all the readers with grown or no children look for something more interesting and all the parents of babies and toddlers start paying rapt attention).

So here’s the breakdown: we potty train boot camp style. We’ve done it with both girls at 21 months old and it has rocked. Seriously.

The key is to make sure your kiddo is ready. If they aren’t ready then it really doesn’t matter what method you use because nothing is going to work. By ready I mean: does your kiddo show interest in the potty? Has he or she ever sat on the potty before and successfully used it (even just a drop or two of pee)? If not, you may want to let him play around with the potty chair or seat for a few days or weeks to get familiar with it. Let them see you use the toilet and then, if they show interest, let them trying using it too. Is your child capable of telling you when she needs to use the potty and are you capable of understanding her? It doesn’t matter whether your child uses words, sounds, gestures, sign language, whatever. As long as you can reliably and consistently understand what he is telling you and he can reliably and consistently tell you, then you’re good to go.

Step 1: choose a block of three days when potty training will be priority number one. Do not expect to get anything else done, other than eating and sleeping. Seriously. It is ideal to do this at a time when two adult caregivers are around, because you are going to need a break. (And wine. Don’t forget wine).

Step 2: Supplies. You’re going to need a potty of some sort. Whatever works for you and your setup. We use the Bjorn potty chair, but also have one of those little seats that goes on top of a big toilet (so the munchkin doesn’t fall in). I like the potty chair because even the littlest kids can get on and off of it on their own and, really, independence is what potty training is all about. Amirite? You’ll also need toilet paper and/or baby wipes nearby and something for cleaning up. Since we use cloth diapers, we just use our prefolds for mopping up messes. Some paper towels and a multi-surface cleaner finish off the job.

Step 3: Rewards. Praise and adulation. Jelly beans. Mini-marshmallows. Stickers. Chocolate chips. We have used various combinations of all of the above. Whatever works for you and your child. With Zoey, we started out with praise and stickers. We soon found we needed to up the ante to marshmallows for every pee and chocolate chips for every poop in the potty. Eleanor seemed to do just fine with plenty of praise although we have motivated with the occasional jelly bean.

Step 4: Set the scene. If it’s summer and you have a backyard, then by all means, use it! We live in Seattle so indoors it is. We have hard wood floors in the living room so we just rolled up the area rug and stashed it away and spread out shop towels on the couch and recliner. If you have linoleum or tile in your kitchen, that will work too. Just make sure you have plenty of toys and activities to keep your little one (and yourself!) entertained. You’re going to be there awhile. We have a stack of potty training books that we read (again and again and again) all day long.

Ellie Potty Training 1

The actual process: your child is going to spend the next three days with a naked bum. No underwear yet and definitely no pants. Socks and leg warmers (like Babylegs) work if it’s chilly. If it’s summer and plenty warm, go ahead and just let them be completely naked. Start out by telling you child ahead of time that potty training is coming. “In two more days we’re going to say bye-bye to diapers!” Keep reminding them so they get used to the idea. Then on the morning you start, begin with a celebratory “goodbye diapers!” Let the kiddo say bye-bye to the diapers if they want.

Head for your prepared potty training space and start playing with your kiddo. You’re going to want to encourage lots of liquids so they pee a lot. The more “hits” in the potty, the more the idea is cemented. Juice, water, popsicles, whatever it takes. The first time you see your kiddo start to pee, scoop him up and set him on the potty. Make a big production out of cheering and celebrating any pee that makes it into the potty (even just a drop or two). He’ll catch on to the idea real fast and soon start heading for the potty all on his own. We then wipe, dump the pee in the toilet, flush it and wash hands together. If you’re giving any kind of other reward, this would then be the time to do it. As I said before, praise was enough for Eleanor. However, she liked the idea of the potty so much that she just wanted to pee two drops at a time, go through the whole dump-flush-wash-celebrate cycle and then go pee two more drops, etc etc etc until the end of time. So we started occasionally rewarding with a jelly bean if she would let ALL the pee out at once. Worked like magic.

Some people who use this method choose to nap and night time potty train at the same time because they don’t want to confuse their child by allowing diapers while sleeping. We still diaper for nap and night and both of our girls seem to have had no problem understanding the distinction. Zoey still wears a pull-up at night. We allow pull-ups (or training pants) ONLY for sleeping. We do not use them at all for potty training. In my opinion, they feel exactly like a diaper, so why wouldn’t a child use it that way? I think they just confuse the child and prolong the process.

By the third day, you should be able to experiment with pants. Use loose-fitting, easy to pull down pants (no jeans). If your kiddo stays dry all morning, by afternoon you should be able to take a short (1 hour or so) trip away from home (possibly longer if you are going somewhere with a bathroom). We used our afternoon trip to take Eleanor to go pick out big girl underwear.

Ellie Potty Training 2
So incredibly proud of herself and her big girl undies.

Things to note:

No matter what potty training method you use, your child will continue to have occasional accidents for awhile. This is normal. However, if they are only successfully using the potty once or twice a day and having multiple accidents, chances are your kiddo just quite ready yet for potty training. Shelf it for a few months and then try again.

Poop might take longer. They do it less often, so it makes sense. Don’t sweat it.

Yes, you can stop carrying diapers with you, but don’t ditch the diaper bag quite yet. You’re going to need it to carry an extra change of clothes (or two) with you everywhere for awhile.

Even after the three days are done and your kiddo is officially “potty trained,” you may want to consider letting them be naked below the waist or wear just underwear whenever you are at home for awhile. It makes it easier for them to make it to the potty in time, and decreases the risk for accidents. Besides, who doesn’t like hanging out at home in their underwear?

Finally, remember to keep your sense of humor with you (and wine. DON’T forget the wine!). You’ll need it. Good luck!

13 thoughts on “Potty Training in 3 Days or Less

  1. I used the same method. The kid has to be ready. When he/she is, the process doesn’t take long at all. But the parents have to be strong enough to wait (and ignore the subtle or not to subtle pressures from friends and family). I completely agree about pull-ups. In my humble opinion they are a waste of time and money, yet a huge money maker for the diaper companies. They do prolong the process and they are awful for pooping accidents. But they make parents think they are potty training and make the people concerned about it feel better. I always tell anyone who will listen, don’t start with the pull-ups and think you’re making progress — You’re just making money for the companies. I guess the original concept behind them was that when a potty training kid needs to get to a potty fast diapers are hard to get off quickly and kids can’t do it themselves. However, if the kid is at the stage where he/she can be out of diapers, then he/she can be out of diapers! I waited until the kids were ready and took off the diaper during a period when we could be home. Some mess, yes, but a lot of success early on. And if they are truly ready when you do finally leave the house you are spending a lot less time in public restrooms trying to catch the kid before an accident. I used real diapers at night, because, again, the protection is for the kid who can’t yet get up in time to get to the toilet or doesn’t wake up and pees in his/her sleep. There’s no need for a pull-up then because nobody is going to being pulling it up or down during the night. The night diaper is protection for not getting to the toilet, it isn’t there to assist with toileting. Give praise when they wake up dry and take it off immediately in the morning. Of course this method can’t be used in day care, you have to wait to do it at home over a weekend or over a long weekend or vacation. And for those struggling, it will pass. I have five kids, I don’t even remember how some of them potty trained, it was that quick. Great post.

    1. I agree about pull ups being a waste of time and money for potty training. However, we do use them for our 3.5 year old at night. She is just beginning to become aware of the possibility that she can get up and use the potty at night. So when she does, the pull up is easy enough for her to get off. When she doesn’t its there to keep her bed dry. And in the morning she can take it off, go potty and get herself dressed on her own without having to come wake me up first. I’d say the price is worth those 15 more minutes of sleep!

  2. Great post!! My son (2 1/2) is very excited about learning to use the potty (and even went for the first time a few days ago because he asked to!) and your ideas sound just perfect for continuing! Thanks. šŸ™‚

    1. Well perfect timing then! I don’t have boys but I’ve heard you can put a ping pong ball in the toilet for “aiming practice” and it won’t flush down. šŸ˜‰

  3. Can I hire you to come train my twins? We’ve been wanting to do the 3 day pant-less method and I’ve tried some pant-less afternoons and they were hella stressful. I spent the entire time watching two little tushies and waiting for catastrophe. I know I just need to go for it whole hog, but I’m terrified. I blame our light beige carpet in our rental house. Goodbye, security deposit.

    1. Haha, oh good lord. I can’t imagine two at once! Definitely call in backup! By lunchtime on the first day with Zoey I was definitely going “what the hell was I thinking?!?!” But by bedtime we’d had just enough success to make me think “ok, maybe we can do this.” Just hang in there. Commit! You can do it! And so can they! (Just don’t forget the wine! You’re not going anywhere, so bottoms up!)

      1. Wine is a must! I can’t decide if we’re better off training the kids one at a time (I think my daughter is definitely ready), or if we should just throw caution to the wind and see just how big of a mess we can create. šŸ™‚

    2. Also, maybe just spread out big blankets all over the carpet? Less stress about accidents that way, right? Also also, you have twins. I’m guessing that security deposit is long gone anyway. šŸ˜

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