Potty Training Advice From the Trenches

Potty Training Advice from a Mom Who's Been There!

My kids are 7, 10 and 13. Assumably, my potty-training years are well behind me. (We can all hope, right???)

But it seems like recently I’ve seen several pleas for potty training advice on my various social networks. This has been my reply each time:

Take a week at home, stock up on apple juice (for her) and wine (for you), and go cold turkey. No diapers, no matter how desperate you get. Just about the time you think you are about to lose your ever loving mind, it will click, and there will be no looking back. Do it NOW, before she knows she has control and can use it as a weapon.

I know it’s not a popular philosophy these days, but I’m sticking by it.

Of course, I’m parenting in the age of “they’ll potty train when they’re good and ready.”

And to that theory I say? RUBBISH!

I have watched SO MANY friends practically pull their hair out by the roots as they battle with their 3- and 4- year olds over potty training. I have seen it take YEARS to train a child in one of those most basic of human functions — to potty oneself — because the parent waited till it’s too late.

I took my potty training advice from my mom. She was parenting in a time when parents took charge of matters. (When did that change? And WHY?) She warned me numerous times about waiting too long to potty train and insisted that there is a window of opportunity that must not be missed — right around two years of age*.

I had seen friends suffer unfathomable woes at the hands of their un-potty-trained 3- and 4- year olds, so after reading several books on the topic and listening to my mom’s lectures and watching my friends wade through the murky waters of potty training, I eschewed the advice of my pediatrician and the conventional wisdom of the day and decided to bite the bullet and train my son when he was 2 years old.

He was 2 years and 3 months old when I started putting him on the potty in the mornings after breakfast. He didn’t seem to get the concept at first, and I was skeptical that he was old enough to “get it”, but I persevered. Finally, at the advice of a friend, I decided to cross a week off my calendar and stay home and get matters taken care of.

I told my son that we were done with diapers and his pee-pee belonged in the potty. I let him run around naked (this was NOT part of my mother’s advice; she was properly horrified — but I heard the advice somewhere and decided to give it a try.) Yes, it was messy. But whereas the cloth training pants absorb the pee, he was not amused when it ran down his legs and made a puddle on the floor.

That’s when he started trying to hold it but couldn’t figure out how to let it go. The kid would hold his water until he was literally dying… walking around, holding himself, saying, “Oh man… oh man…..” I kid you not. Sorry, son, for sharing your most private moments with the whole world.

The kid could still not seem to release his water in command. Any child development expert would probably have told me I was scarring him for life, but I was determined to see it through.

Then the weekend came and we had a social event to attend. I was afraid putting a diaper on him, even for a few hours, would sabotage all my hard work. So I put him in those thick training pants with a plastic cover over top of them, and I brought along his little training potty. After we had been there for an hour or so, he started diddling and saying, “Oh man….” Poor kid.

I took him to the bathroom, set him on his little training potty, and lo and behold, he went!

And the clouds parted and the angels sang!

That was that. From then on, he was trained*. He barely even had an accident from then on out.

Training my second child was the opposite scenario. When she was two years old, I was newly pregnant with her sister. I had been putting off the dreaded potty training while I was suffered from morning sickness, but I knew the time was at hand. I didn’t dare wait a day past 2-and-a-half to start the process.

Miraculously, one day when she was about 2-years-and-5-months-old, I was lying in bed, trying not to think about the horrendous nausea that plagued my first 3 months of pregnancy, and my husband poked his head in my room and said, “C says she needs to go potty. What should I do?”

“Um. Put her on the toilet?” I replied from my sick bed.

And he did. And that was that. For real. She was pretty much trained, although unlike her brother, she was prone to potty accidents. She eventually outgrew those, though, and I’m sure it was just a matter of development.

If only the all could be that easy . . .

Then child #3 came along.

Child #3 showed no interest in the potty. I tried putting her on a few times early in her second year of life, but she wasn’t having any of it.

potty training

By then, I was pretty much convinced that 2.5 was the do-or-die age for potty training.

I kept waiting for her to take the initiative and potty train herself like her sister had done, but she was not interested in the least.

Finally, when she was 2-years-and-6-months, my husband laid down the law and told me that if we didn’t do it then, we’d regret it big time.

By “we”, he of course meant “me”. He was working all day, after all.

Finally I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer, and I took a week out of my life to stay home with her. Like I’d done with my son, I took her diapers away and told her she was a big girl now and it was time to put her pee in the potty.

For a few days, I cleaned up pee from every surface in my house.

I about lost my mind.

I remember one day calling my husband, bawling, literally throwing a tantrum. True story.

He calmly talked me down and told me to stick with it. He promised that in a week I would be so glad I did.

I hung up the phone and cried some more.

Then I dried my tears, and squared my shoulders, and went back into battle. I think it was the very next day that it clicked in, and she was going pee-pee on the potty. The whole experience took 3 or 4 days, but it felt like 3 or 4 months.

It isn’t always easy to train at 2. But once it’s done, it’s done. Unlike training at 3, and you fight the battle for months or years. I’ve long said the “terrible twos” are nothing compared to the “threatening threes”. When kids turn 3, they realize they have some control over certain situations and they do their best to exert their will over yours. You’re much better off potty training before you get to that point.

So that is my sage potty training advice. Take the week off. Suffer through it. And then spend the next two years joyfully diaper-free!

*Nighttime is an entirely different story. My kids wore pull-ups at night into their third years.

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16 thoughts on “Potty Training Advice From the Trenches

  1. Yes to this!! I did the exact same thing with my older daughter when she was 2 yrs 1 month and my younger when she was just a couple months past that. It worked for both of them. Yes, the cleaning up was hard, but almost as hard was not leaving the house for nearly a week! 😉 I didn’t want to make any more dashes to the Walmart bathrooms than was absolutely necessary.

  2. Good advice! I read some old school book from the 70’s on pottytraining in a day and it was similar and kinda intense for me (and of course took longer than a day). But it worked! The weirdest and most helpful tip I got from it was making them clean up their own messes. It is so hard to do! But it really discouraged mine from accidents.

  3. We are going through this with two kids right now. The oldest is 2 years and 7 months and understands the potty, and will use it, and has been potty trained at her mother’s for awhile, but won’t even bat an eye at doing her business in her pants and continuing to run around. We don’t have time for the naked method, and don’t have the option of taking time off so I think this experience will drag on forever. I hope the youngest takes it better.

  4. I trained my first at 28 months, 6 weeks after his sister was born. She trained at 24 months, when I was 6 months pregnant. Cold turkey with small treats or sitting on the potty the first few days. We only kept diapers for nights

  5. I agree with you when you say it will work once they feel it running down their leg. My oldest, who is now 20, did not like change and didn’t want anything to do with the potty. Couldn’t bribe her like the doctor suggested doing with a piece of candy; she would rather go without than use the potty. It took an accident at the grocery store when she was 3 years, 1 month to get her potty trained.

  6. Jo-Lynne, couldn’t you have written this post about 6 months ago? LOL! I’m in the trenches right now with my son. He’s peeing in the potty just fine, but the other part is a whole ‘nother story. UGH. Wish I’d buckled down and done it last year!

  7. I did the same thing with both of mine! Took a week at home and gave them juice and salty snacks. lol. They both got it by the third day and were #1 trained just after two and #2 trained by 2.5. (Which for some reason took longer)

    I’m definitely a fan of potty training, not potty “learning”. 😉

  8. Any recommendations if you can’t stay home? I have to drop my daughter off at preschool at 9 a.m. And pick her up at noon Monday thru Thursday and I have to take my almost 3-year-old son with me. How should I handle those car trips?

  9. This is fantastic advice! My sister-in-law had insisted on not potty training my nephew, stating he would figure it out on his own, when he was ready. Fortunately, she utlized my grandmother (yes, my nephew’s 85-year-old great-grandmother, who is still very sharp and in better physical fitness than my sister-in-law) as a regular free babysitter. When my nephew reached 3 1/2 and still wasn’t trained, my grandmother put her foot down during her next babysitting session and let him run around naked, with the strict advice not to pee on her furniture or floors. She took him in and sat him on the toilet for a few minutes every 30-60 minutes and let him know this was the place to go. It worked! In one day he was finally potty trained. I was amazed.

  10. My son is 2 years and 3 months. I’ve been working on the naked method of potty training for 5 days and it still has not clicked. He did great the first couple of days but now will hold it until he has an accident. He’ll sit on the potty and read books but he won’t use it unless he’s already peeing. Help. Please.

    1. Hey Michelle. My son did this. He held it like that – I think it was b/c he couldn’t figure out HOW to release. Once he did, it all clicked. It did take 5 days. I remember it well. I thought it was NEVER going to click. He is a BIT on the younger side, but I think my son was 2 years 4 mos. My advice would be to stick it out for 2 more days. Then if it isn’t better, take a break till he is 2 years 6 mos or 8 mos. Maybe when the weather gets warmer – like April? But DEFINITELY before his 3rd birthday. Good luck. It is NO FUN!

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