So, you want to potty train your toddler

Are you imagining how blissful it would be not to have to drag that diaper bag around with you everywhere you go?

Do you imagine that you will once again be able to carry a tiny little pocketbook that is barley big enough for your driver’s license, credit card and a single tampon? (Which I hate to tell you once you have children you will always need more than one tampon and if a sippy cup and a few snacks can’t fit into it as well, forget about it)

Do you have fantasies of only having to wipe your own butt from now on?

Go read this which I wrote late last winter right after my daughter potty trained. Go on… I’ll wait.

OKay you read it? Are you still wanting to potty train your child?

Before we begin, buy a new toothbrush for your child. This is an important potty training accessory. The battery operated ones are a huge hit here.

Well, then let’s get started.

Step One: You will know when the time is right.

Don’t you hate when people say that? I know I always did. But how will I know, I would ask.
I learned that my children were ready when they, a) would stay dry in their diapers for a long period of time every day, b)they would express a desire to get out of a poppy diaper either through words or actions, like bringing me a clean diaper, c) could pull down their underwear themselves, because frankly what is the point if you have to do all the work, and, most importantly d) understood the system of rewards.

Most of the time when I hear of people having trouble with their children and potty training it is because their child is too young. All of mine, save one, potty trained between 2 years 9 months and 3 years old. Most of the people that I know who have trained their children at 18 months or so, really trained themselves, not the child. ( I know, the exception is you over there in the back. No need to email me and tell me I am wrong.)

And maybe I am lazy, but I just don’t want to commit that sort of time to something like that. I have enough trouble remembering that I need to go to the bathroom some days.

Which brings me to
Step Two: It’s not about you

No, really. It isn’t. Shocking isn’t it?

Neither is it a competeition. There is no place on the Harvard application for age at potty training. And do you know why? Because it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

If your child is the last one in the playgroup to potty train, who cares. Just sit back and laugh while the other mothers scramble to find restrooms everywhere five minutes. But don’t laugh too much, because your time will come to memorize the location of every restroom within a twenty mile radius of your house.

Step Three
: It’s postive reinforcement, not bribery

Children love candy. They also love to have their own way. My job as a parent is to give them the illusion that are having their own way and give them some candy to distract them before they figure it out.

When it comes time for potty training I buy a huge bag of Skittles and pour them all into a big glass jar. So their sugary goodness is there for all to see. I tell the child everytime they go and sit on the potty and try to go, they will get some Skittles (some meaning three, though you may have to enter into your own negotiations for this).

And so for the first day we sit on the potty a LOT. We talk about the Skittles a LOT. And we admire them sitting in their jar high up on the shelf. I also push fluids to wash the skittles down and give the child, well, a LOT of chances to succeed.

There will be a few accidents, but the switch to underwear means that they really can feel when they have peed. Usually half way through the day they have made it to the potty in time once. Do not use pull-ups. They are just more expensive, more inconvenient diapers. Make it a clean break.

Step Four
: Did you hear that tinkling?

They have finally made it to the potty in time. Oh happy day!

Here is the important part. Lavish praise. Clap, cheer, jump up and down. And give them a handful of candy. But keep in mind that it is their success, not yours. These little children can sense your desperation and will behave accordingly, meaning do the opposite of what you want them to do.

Do you understand now why a brand new toothbrush is an important potty training accessory?

After the child has made it to the potty successfully a few times, it is time for:

Step Five
: Pulling out the big guns

Our children want to please us, but they want to please themselves more. And like most of us, they are lazy. Why get up from watching Elmo when you can just pee on the couch. What is the incentive, for them?

After the first couple of days we begin weaning off the candy. It is reserved for only when you actually do something on the potty. And I start to talk about a bigger reward… maybe those princess underwear or Star Wars underwear that are so cool. The cool factor really must be played up. Make them think they really have wanted those all their life and can not possibly go on another day without them.

I usually try to somehow tie the reward to using the potty so it seems somewhat logical, like cool underwear, new jeans with NO snaps in the crotch. But if it is a toy they really want, then I am forced to say something like, “Once you can stay dry all day for 3 days then we can go IN YOUR UNDERWEAR and pick out that toy that is reserved for people who don’t wear diapers.”

Did you know that it is rule that you can not own a Barbie doll of your very own if you wear diapers? Something about Barbie’s delicate olifactory system. Likewise Thomas the Tank Engine’s coaches Annie and Clarabelle once felt the same way.

Step Six
: Long term goals

Some kids are smarter than others, or more greedy, I don’t quite know which it is. Most recently it was my daughter who was afflicted with the what-are-you-going-to-give-me-now-itis. Everyday she wanted to know what her prize was going to be that day if she used the toliet, but she wasn’t yet ready for my tough love.

I solved this by buying some poster board and packs of stickers. I cut the stickers up so that they were individual stickers that she would get to chose from every time she went potty. Then the stickers were stuck on the poster (theoretically), or on herself, or the walls, where ever. Once all the stickers in the envelope were gone we bought the previously decided upon reward. I made sure that there were enough stickers in the envelope to last for increasing periods of time. After awhile their interest will begin to wan.

Once this is going well, it is time for:

Step Seven: Tough love.

Also known as: No one buys Mommy things when she uses the potty.

And thus concludes my potty training novella. Good luck and remember it will only be a few more years before they will wipe themselves.

35 Responses to “So, you want to potty train your toddler”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    You make me smile with every single post. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be the very first commenter!! (better make it fast before someone beats me to it ;) )
    I did the skittles thing too, with my now five-year-old. The first day the kid musta peed thirty times. I didn’t remember the new toothbrush part, though, which is part of the reason I have to take her to the dentist in the morning…waaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh…….

  2. meritt Says:

    Ahhh yes, I’m that one in the back. But… I promise I won’t email you. LOL. I only have three kids - but yeah they potty trained at 22, 23 and 22 months respectively. And no… I wasn’t the one trained, unless you call clapping, smiling and doing a happy dance for them when they went potty being trained. No rewards, candy or skittles ever used either. I never bought into the reward system for bodily functions. LOL.

    But… whatever works, works. Cuz you know… not too many kids go to High School in diapers. ;)

  3. Christina Says:

    This will be forwarded to my friend who is stressing to no end about her 3 year old still wearing diapers! I think the problem is she is such a neat freak, her daughter has yet to wear underwear for more than a couple of hours at a time, then she’s right back into pull-ups, which are just a glorified (and more expensive) diaper in my opinion. My girls both did it right around 2 1/2 years, it’s funny to me how they know that they are ready but it really is true. I keep hearing that my little boy will be so much more difficult, but is that really true??

  4. Nicole Says:

    You are so funny. I am dreading those potty training days….

  5. Jerri Ann Says:

    I found everything you said to be exact for potty training our son except…when he began pooping in the potty (which was a couple weeks after peeing), he began wiping himself…and doing a wonderful job of it. At first I insisted on double checking his work, but then I figured out I was wasting my time and subjecting myself to stink for no reason……I got lucky I know! Nice writing! I enjoy you!

  6. Karen Rani Says:

    I feel SO much better after reading this, Chris. I thought I was behind in the process and Troll Baby is 2 years and 1 month old. He came to me this morning and said, “This diaper is fawwing off!” So we took it off and he tried to go potty (his suggestion), but clearly the diaper was fawwing off because he had already peed.

    He also knows he can get a big boy bed when he goes potty all the time. Still, the potty sits, dry. I thought I was failing. Obviously he is like a 12 year girl who is in love with the idea of having a boyfriend, not actually wanting one. He likes the idea of the potty, but doesn’t know what to do with it. Or something. Bad analogy - going to make more COFFEE!

    Anyway, I’m really glad you wrote about this. Thank you so much.

  7. Susan Says:

    This is so true! Thought it’s been a few years for me now, both my kids were right around 2 years/9-10 months when they potty trained.

    My son was a step ahead of me, though; he told me he couldn’t become potty trained until he had ‘firefighter underwear’ (which, best as I could tell, did not even exist). My mother, God rest her soul, went out and searched until she could find firetruck fabric, and then she appliqued firetrucks onto little white briefs.

    The stinker potty trained in a DAY, literally. He truly had been holding out for those underwear.

  8. CityMama/Stefania Pomponi Butler Says:

    **Jumping up and down with praise** for you! This is so right on the money. Agree, you will know when the time is right, and when it truly is, potty training should be fairly hassle-free. It’s hard when you’re forcing it (IMO). We did exactly what you say, just replace Skittles with M&Ms. :-)

  9. Sarcastic Journalist Says:

    “Why get up from watching Elmo when you can just pee on the couch?”

    You still are my hero.

  10. Shelly Says:

    This is great!

    We are trying to train our 2 year 4 month son right now (my husbands idea, not mine) and I’m in my 9th month of pregnancy. Not a good combo - trust me. He’s not to the point where he “wants” stuff. Tried m&ms…no good so far. I want to take a break and told dh, if he wants to go for it while I’m in the hospital - GO!!!!

  11. Abby Says:

    We broke out the poster board and stickers this morning. THanks for the tips. My 3 yr old refuses to Poop on the toilet. ALways ask for a diaper. Anyone else have this happen?

  12. dorothy Says:

    We are working on potty training now - helpful list!

  13. carrien Says:

    OH YAY, I need to know how to wean them off of the incentives. Though they don’t get the yogurt covered raisins now unless they actually wipe their own butt, because I’m tired of it.

    Are you going to teach us about night time next. PLEEEASE! we still haven’t gotten there, and the oldest is almost 5 and has been day trained for three years.

    Abby, My son would poo in his diaper instead of the potty for a while, I think we just kept putting the poo in the potty out of the diaper, and saying “see, poo goes in the potty”, and letting him flush. It took a while though. Sometimes he would do it again after being day trained before we got his diaper off in the morning, so I started making him clean his own butt off in the bathtub. He stopped a couple of months later, but he was 3 1/2.

  14. TC Says:

    I DREADED potty training. I dreaded with a fear usually saved for such horrors as spiders. I would have sent her to kindergarten in diapers if that weren’t frowned on. LOL. But it went okay and kinda quick. Like you say she was a little over three when I trained her. Nightime training took a little longer, but I was just patient and one night she just got it.

  15. Caren Says:

    Please, please, please write about how to keep them from wetting the bed at night. My son is four (he has been potty trained since 2) and he can sleep through anything. We limit his fluids at night and even get him up a few times in the middle of the night to go and he still wets the bed. Are there any diapers for a four year old that will not leak in bed? Pull-ups definitely do not work for this. We had to go back to diapers at night and he was just devastated.

  16. Emma Says:

    Great post and right on the money! We’re potty training three year old twins right now and they take such joy in literally seeing mom jump up and down and cheer for them.

  17. Jennifer Says:

    That is so funny! I love it. Good advice, too. Although don’t think I won’t be emailing you for help when our time comes, in approximately 1.5 years.

  18. T in HD Says:

    I’m another mum of three who lucked out with the potty training (hey, gotta give me something, right??? cause I sure didn’t get the babies who liked the carseat or were happy anywhere but in my arms or….oh, never mind). Mine started showing interest at or before their 2nd birthday but, to be honest, I had no interest in the whole training thing. For all three, I just let them go naked bottom half in the summer months around their second birthdays. They all figured it out pretty quickly. I don’t think 2ish is the magic age, it’s just what seemed to be right for my three. (You wait, number four won’t train til s/he is five, lol!)

    Now, that’s not to say I would have been above using bribes if I’d needed to! I don’t think I did anything right, it was just the way it worked out for me. Just like it’s not my fault that my toddler bites. Really, it isn’t! I do think letting the little potty trainer go “nakey buns” in warm weather can help some kids get the idea quicker (and doesn’t help a bit for others, I’ve heard, so YMMV). So, I’m doing that happy “no more (datytime) diapers in the house” dance, yay! First time in nine years.

    One question for you Chris: When you potty train your kids, do they also night train at the same time? My first didn’t night train for another two years. My second took a year, but he was still night nursing. I don’t think my third is will be dry at night anytime soon either, as she night nurses. Did you actually night train them or did that come on its own or….?

  19. Elizabeth Says:

    I am so glad I had my kids so far apart. With the first one I really did sense that whole “my way’s better than yours” thing going on (and I had a perfectionist child first who didn’t train, didn’t train, WOULDn’t train, and then completely trained herself night and day at 32 months once she felt confident she could do it), and I can see by your comments section that we aren’t entirely over that yet. By the last kiddo I was of the opinion I didn’t want him trained before our big car trip (you know why!) and then afterwards it went pretty much like you suggest. I was also SO relieved reading this and remembering I haven’t wiped a butt in years, and my chronically constipated child hasn’t had to tell me about her bowels in a good 12 years. Um, do I need to mention how disturbing it would be if she started telling her mother about this again?

  20. T in HD Says:

    Elizabeth, how is sharing one’s own personal experience on the subject saying “my way is better than yours”? I’ve been around long enough to know that what works for my kids won’t necessarily work for yours and just because my experience differed from Chris’ (or my sister’s who has five of her own, or from anyone else’s) that invalidates neither my nor her experiences. I’ve read through the comments here and don’t see anyone who is saying “my way is better”.

    Christina, I always heard the same thing about boys being harder, too and I think that was my sister’s experience with her two boys (she has 2 boys, 3 girls) so I didn’t expect much from my own son. Turns out, he was easier than his sisters. So, who knows???

  21. Kim in MI Says:

    I am late to train my probably-ready (almost certainly ready-enough) 3 year old. Because I’m avoiding the effort. But I had to snork my delicate lady LOL at your last line. My son used to sit on the potty and yell at the top of his lungs “Please Help Wipe-ed Meee!” for all the world to hear. For years.

  22. the(un)perfectmother Says:

    I let both of mine go when they wanted to. Both of them were about 3 years old. The oldest one was 3 years, one week, and grandma came to visit. When grandma walked into the front door, 3 year old grabbed grandmas hand, drug her into the bathroom, jumped up on the “big” potty, and exclaimed, “LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!”. Never had another diaper, pullup, or accident since. So, with the second one, I just let her do it when she wanted to. There is enough stress in life without stressing when they are going to feel it is necessary to announce to you, and everyone else around, that they are going to the bathroom.

  23. bluepaintred Says:

    so whats teh deal when they are totally dry, no accidents whatsoever all day and all night but every freaking day ~ at different times~ they feel the need to do the nasty in their pants?

    he has been dry for almost three weeks and yet, not one single poo on the potty!

  24. Nancy Toby Says:

    Thanks, I needed that! Very timely for me with 3-year-old twins who aren’t getting good guidance on this topic from their mom….

  25. Jill Says:

    Well, I decided to put my 2 1/2 yo to the starting line today and after cleaning up the morning poopy diaper, I left him bare. About half and hour later I was cleaning blueberry stained poop off his bedroom rug. Apparently he wasn’t finished. I’m going to have to recover for a few days before I try this again. We’ll also be staying far away from blueberries. And staying off the rugs. What was I thinking?!?!

  26. The Aitch Says:

    Oh thank you thank you! I have a just turnmed 2 year old who got her first few pairs of “big girl panties” for her birthday and have been trying to find a way to make her have the correlation between big girl panties and the potty.

    Rewards! duh!? No pullups! Der?!

    So now I ask, to use a potty chair or real toilet? What about the mini-toilet seats that sint ontop of the regular toilet?

  27. pbhj Says:

    Hmm. I wonder if people don’t start early enough. I’ve heard all this about not starting before they’re 24months …

    Our lad peed on me twice in the space of a couple of days so I went and got him a potty. He was 7 or 8 months. He’s 13months now and signs when he wants his potty (but not always). He’s sat on the potty most times when we change his nappy. He does most of his poo-ing in this potty now. I can’t believe he’s going to be practicing for 2 more years before he gets it right??

    Abby mentioned a 3 year old that only wants to use diapers … seems to me that’s just what they’re used to. So I’m hoping ours will be used to using a potty.

  28. lin Says:

    I’ve been SO scared to potty train my son and you have eased the fear i’m printing this and now putting the potty away for a couple of months. THANK YOU!!!!!

  29. ashley Says:

    I have been potty training my 3 year old for three months no pull-ups during the day he refuses to poop on the potty I take him to the pooty and he gets off the potty goes to his room and poops! I will be going to buy candy tomorow! Night traing is getting easier i put his pullup over his under wear so he knows when he is wet.

  30. Brenda Says:


    It depends on whether he isn’t going potty at night because he does not want to (a control thing) or because he doesn’t wake up (a biological problem). As I somehow doubt that he wants to sleep in a wet cold bed I will assume that like my cousin it is a biological problem.

    What worked for my aunt was going in EVERY night at the same time (midnight I think). Getting him up and putting him on the toilet. He never totally woke up but he would be able to go, she would put him back in bed and then she could go to sleep for the night.

    You would have to figure out how many times/when he has to go each night and be willing to get him to the toilet. You would have to be willing to be up at those times and the two of you would need to be able to get back to sleep. Otherwise just accept that he is unable to wake up and buy pull ups (or cloth) or if he is too big then use adult diapers/incontinence pads.

    Best of luck

  31. kit Says:

    With my three I’ve had an instant one, with almost no accidents, one who tried with loads of accidents and my youngest who has refused to wear a nappy since she was just turned two, but still wets herself several times a day two years later, because she’s too busy to go to the loo. It takes all types and they decide. As for nighttime my oldest was six before he made it through the night dry. Nothing helped, waking him up to go to the loo before we went to bed only made him hysterical, so we left it and he did it in his own time , so don’t worry about it.

    And I’m still waiting for the day when I don’t have to accompany my youngest to the loo every single time she does decide to go!

  32. Jinner Says:

    I just found your blog while searching for potty training tips. OMG! I am kissing the floor (yelch!), so grateful to have found you here! I just started really training yesterday (son is 3 years 1 month old) and he just would rather be lazy and do it in the diaper. After two day of accidents in his underwear (and 2 sucesses), I’ve read your blog and am ready to keep trying with some of your tips. Since I’d also like to homeschool him, I know I will be reading your blogs frequently and gleaning as much info as I can from you! A heartfelt thank you for sharing with the rest of us!

  33. Michie Says:

    We have 2 year 5 month twins (boy/girl) with another girl on the way. My daughter refuses the bribes but asks to go potty (pee only, potty pooping seems to scare her) once or twice a day. My son tells you “potty” after he pees or poops and says “Bye bye poo-poo, see you later” when changing a poop diaper. She likes to wipe herself but he just sits on the potty because she wants to, so no wiping needed since he waits to go in the tub or 5 minutes after the new diaper!

    I hear the stories about my grandmother training my two brothers and me by 2 1/2 with no accidents. My mom better be ready to step up now for pay back! Apparently I held out for ruffle bottom panties (like Susan’s firefighter son) and never looked back. I always wonder about the nighttime training. I was thankful for my sound sleepers…

  34. Joe Says:

    Im a single father and am raising a 4 year old boy. Potty training for us came easy, within 3 or 4 days, after commiting to take his diaper off forever, he got it. Took the the potty right away, with out any major drama. Now, he is in Pre K for most of the day and I have come to realize that his teachers are not too keen on “cleaning” him up after he poops. He is 4.5 years old, should he be wipping himself at this stage?
    Can someone please advise…



  35. Kelly Says:

    My daughter is 3 years old right now and she was potty trained for a good 6 or 7 months and now all the sudden she is wetting the bed everynight. If she stays with her grandmother she will get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I dont want to assume that she is just being lazy while at home but i dont know what else to do, someone please help…