What Works for Us: Potty Training (join in the discussion)

Let me start this post off by saying I AM NOT AN EXPERT (in any area–but especially this one). I’ve only successfully potty-trained 1 child in my life…and that came with a major failure 6 months prior! I’d really like for you to join in the discussion by leaving comments of helpful advice (or perhaps just hilarious stories) that you have from potty-training your child! Since every child is SO DIFFERENT when it comes to potty-training, there will not be any method you can reproduce with 100% success.

We thought we had it easy when shortly before Big Brother turned 2 he started telling us when he needed to go potty. We would sit him on the potty chair and he absolutely LOVED getting to go potty like a big boy! He had very few accidents in a 2-week time span.

But then the potty chair, potty treats, and potty praise lost their novelty. He decided it was too much effort…and preferred to go in his diaper (or smear it all over the bathroom while I was changing Little Brother’s diaper). With a 2-month old baby, some serious baby blues, and a husband gone almost every night finishing up his Master’s degree, I decided the battle wasn’t worth it. The diapers went back on!

Looking back, I honestly don’t think Big Brother was developmentally ready.

Fast-forward 6 months…I knew Big Brother was ready. I’m not really sure how…but probably because every time I would put him down for a nap, he would poop. It seemed as though he was doing it on purpose to be able to delay his nap. It was simply a battle of the wills now…and I was ready to take him on. :)

I “scheduled” potty training to begin the following Monday and pretty much cleared our schedule of any activities that entire week. I told Big Brother for 3 days prior that on Monday, he would have no more diapers. After about a week and a half of following the suggestions below, Big Brother had been accident-free for a couple days!

Here are the suggestions given to us by others that helped us tremendously:

  • Wait until he/she is ready.  Only you know when your child is ready, but typically children under 2 years old are not developmentally ready to be potty-trained. My mom, who raised 5 children, and my dad, a family physician for 26+ years, both have said that when children start lining toys up in rows, this is a good indicator that they are ready to be potty-trained. This seems totally unrelated, but it turned out to be true with Big Brother–right around the time he was potty-trained was when he began lining his cards up in a long, straight line. Go figure!
  • Stay home.  When potty-training, it is really important that you are at home for the first few days. They need to be close to the potty at all times. Clear your schedule of all activities out of the home–it will only be temporary!
  • Set a timer.  For the first week, set a timer for 25 minutes. Every 25 minutes, take your child to the potty. Whether or not they say they need to go, take them anyway. You’ll be training yourself for the first week or two, but eventually your child will catch on and start telling you when he needs to go.
  • Use training pants. They have a thickened center, making accidents MUCH more manageable. Plus, they don’t have the super-tight elastic that leave marks on your child’s skin. Although we still use diapers at bedtime (including naps) throughout the potty training process, I am not a fan of pull-ups. They are too much like a diaper and the child can’t feel when he/she is wet.

Gerber Training Pants 2T Boys  Gerber Training Pants 3 Pack, Size 3T, Girl 2009

  • Reward, reward, reward. Reward your child each time he uses the potty! Jump up and down in excitement, make a sticker chart, or give bits of candy. Whatever it takes to motivate! We use these lollipops for every successful poopy in the potty.
YummyEarth Organic Lollipops, Assorted Flavors, 30-Ounce Container
  • Fill ’em with fluids.  You want your child to be as full of fluids as possible so that they will go to the bathroom more those first couple of days.
  • Use a doll or bear to demonstrate.  Some parents have found it helpful to use a doll/bear to “act out” the process. Let the doll/bear pretend to drink from a cup, then pretend to go potty a few minutes later, and finally give the doll/bear a reward.
  • Sit backwards on a big potty (for boys). My friend Sarah told me about doing this with her boys when they were in public places and didn’t have a stand-alone potty chair. Basically, little boys just climb up on a regular toilet and sit backwards. This automatically points “it” into the potty, making virtually no messes. We have a stand-alone potty, but this is typically the way that Big Brother goes to the bathroom until he is able to stand up and go. I know it sounds crazy, but it totally works (for us anyway)!
This Potty Pod from Prince Lionheart is our favorite potty chair!
What suggestions do YOU have for potty-training a child??? 


  1. great post! I have one more left to train! I found the doll/bear strategy to work well! The doll even had accidents just to demonstrate that this is ok as well. My daughter was 2 and my son was 3 1/2. Big difference, same techniques!
    Do you feel boys are harder to train or just the child's personality?

  2. I wish I had some tips to share. My husband (a work at home dad) started potty training our daughter at 18 months (she didn't walk until 17 months, and our son was born when she turned 18 months). He didn't want 2 in diapers! We used Pull-Ups for almost a year, then switched to training panties (as shown above) and noticed our daughter would work REALLY hard to keep certain pairs clean (the flower ones). So we let her pick out her own panties on a shopping trip that day. Elmo did the trick – within 2 days, NO More accidents. I don't think we can take any credit for it at all though!

  3. We let our little boy sit sideways on public toilets because they are so long and narrow. This makes it easier for him to keep his balance while going.

    Also, for the longest time, he would pee and not poo on the toilet. After trying many different methods, the thing that finally worked was letting him put sprinkles (or "stinkles," as we called them) in the potty after he pooped. The colored sugar crystals changed the color of the water and he really like being able to do that. That pretty much did the trick for us!

  4. I know it sounds completely crazy but I started the potty training process with my daughter at 5 months as soon as she was able to sit up unassisted. I know this doesn't work for everyone but I'm a WAHM and I just take her potty every time I change her diaper. It only takes an additional 3 minutes of my time. now at 9 months, it's very rare that she will poo in her diaper. She's not potty trained completely, but when I put her on the potty she almost always will deliver the goods. It's pretty cool. I think she can be completely potty trained by 12 months. I cloth diaper so anything to be done with washing those is worth it to me. Check out my article about the process here.

    1. My daughter was the same way! She would even grunt to let me know that she had to go. If I would miss these she would go in her diaper. She would go as soon as I set her on the toilet though!! She was completely potty trained at 18 months. She just turned 2 two weeks ago and she is still doing great! I say keep it up because it might work!

  5. I'm not going to lie, I put it off, and I'm glad I did. My daughter had no desire to go in her potty. She was 2 years and 3 months old when her sister was born, and 3 weeks later, we moved away from our friends and family. Plus she gave up her binky a couple months before her sister was born, so all those changes all at once…. it was a lot. Then my second was a very difficult baby, so I didn't want to deal with her AND try to potty train my 2-year-old. I'm one to pick my battles, and I hate stress, so I just dealt with the diapers, and figured she's not going to want to be in diapers forever, she'll want to go on the potty eventually. Sure enough, a week before her third birthday, it just clicked. She didn't even need any rewards or prompting or anything… she would go into the bathroom and just go. Wouldn't even tell me, I would hear her going from the living room or kitchen and go in there and tell her how proud I was. And that was it! She turned 3 on July 12, and we just moved a month ago, and the process stressed her out, so she had a few accidents around the time we were moving, but other than that, things have been great. And I love that I didn't even need to potty train her, she did it all herself when she was ready. It makes me not regret waiting! And I think I'll wait with my second, too. I just don't want to fight them and make them do something they're not ready for. And it was just so easy!

    1. My son just turned 3, and at about 2 1/2 we bought a potty chair to encourage the concept. He’d go if he happened to be on the potty, but showed no desire to go out of his way if he could go where he was… About a month ago we brought home a second potty chair (we have toilets on multiple floors), and I decided it was time to just put up with a couple days of accidents in undies and see what happened. Lo and behold, a week later he’s going days at a time without an accident (I don’t count bedwetting). Just had to wait until he was ready and motivated to do it himself.

  6. I've (obviously) just now found this post, and am highly amused because three days after you posted it my husband and I started potty training with our (then) 23 month-old. We slapped panties on her little tush and never looked back. Mind, she had already starting telling us *before* she went poop that she needed to, and was a few times seemingly perturbed by the sensation of peeing (cloth diapers!), so I was pretty certain she was already figuring out her little body's signals. That said, it was still a miserable few days. Darn good thing we've already got plans to replace our carpet. ;) She had the pee thing down-pat in 5 days, and poo in 2 weeks. She's only had maybe 2 overnight accidents in the 3 months since then, and never once a naptime accidents. No pull-ups either! To get her even more ready, for about two weeks before the 'big' weekend I really talked up the potty, especially during diaper changes and explaining all the steps when I went. Tell you what, you haven't lived until you've had a toddler try and pull up your underwear for you.

  7. Thanks for this article and all the great comments! Sophia is 20 months now, but has been interested in the "big girl potty" for a few months. She'll sit on it but no success yet. We'll start kicking up the training once she's 2. Thanks for the toy indicator idea! I love this blog and am looking forward to using it even more once I'm out of school and have more time. Thanks!

  8. My 3 ½ year old is finally potty trained and we’ve been trying with no success since he turned 2! I tried everything I knew: fun potty movies and books, wrapping gifts from the dollar tree in foil as potty prizes (which worked great but he went through $15 worth of prizes the first day and we couldn’t keep it up), sticker charts, rewards, letting him run around naked, a potty watch, going to the store and letting him pick out big boy underwear, etc. etc.

    It got to the point where I knew he was ready to go because he’d poop at the same time every day and he’d hide in his room when he did it. He just didn’t want to go!! So, about a week and a half ago, knowing that he was physically and mentally ready I decided that it was time to get more serious about potty training. For about a week prior I told him that his diapers were almost gone and that there would be no more diapers when they ran out.

    The first day I put him in his big boy underwear and decided not to nag him since this hadn’t worked in the past. I thought that if he had a couple of accidents, he’d get tired of the feeling of pee running down his leg and would decide to use the potty instead. I was very wrong! He had about 10 accidents that first day all over our carpet and no successes! I was pretty frustrated that night and wondered what I should do differently the next day. Then I had a thought and I decided to get Karston involved.

    We made “rainbow” ice cubes! I filled up an ice cube tray with water and let him add different colors of food coloring to the different compartments. This worked like a charm. He woke up excited to choose which ice cube he was going to go to the bathroom on. We did this for several days and now he doesn’t need the ice cubes anymore. That first night we tried to put a pullup on him and he refused but he kept his bed dry all night and his been doing so ever night since. He was definitely ready. Yay for no more diapers!!!

  9. What about kids that are scared of public toilets or other people's homes but have no problem at home? Anyone find solutions to get over the fear of "strange" bathrooms?

  10. I did all of these suggestions with my son (now 4) and had him trained at 26 months. It took less than 4 days. And in fact the 1st night we went out to dinner in underwear with no problems. But what I did that I am thinking also helped is that I started putting him on the potty/toilet everyday once he turned 1 and let him flush the toilet. That way he was already comfortable and understood that the toilet wasn’t scary. I also knew he was ready when he could pee on demand. Sounds funny, but saved me a diaper after a shower or bath – it was a game to aim and go pee-pee down the drain.

    Also, when giving a lot of fluids… my son needed extra persuasion to drink so I ended up giving salty foods and juices (just the first day though). It worked for us! And my little girl is almost ready to train. She is 20 months. I did try to train her this last weekend because she hates a dirty diaper but I am going to back off another month since she just viewed potty time as time with me rather than the time to do her business… but at least now she is telling me EVERY time she goes and wants to sit on the potty EVERY time (after she goes of course). I think that will pay off so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

  11. I trained my 2 1/2 year old last year when I was on Spring Break from school. He was about 20 months, then, and I pretty much did exactly what you did for your oldest. It was the worst spring break of my life-totally consumed with peeing on the potty, but totally worth it to have him out of diapers so early! I am a big believer (in boys especially) that you have to catch them early or else they may be four before they’re trained! My son did not like the potty chair at all. He wanted to use the big potty. I tried the sit backwards on the potty thing, but it wasn’t for us. He has a potty seat that he still uses, but stands up to go pee most of the time. We have a travel potty seat that folds up and has it’s own little bag that we take when we go out, but usually if he just has to pee, we just stand him up directly on the toilet seat since he still can’t reach.

  12. My daughter has a doll potty seat and when we were training my son it popped in my head to put his favorite toy on it. They went potty together and it really clicked with him. He would praise his buddy and I would praise him. My mom bought the seat at target and it even “flushes”. Best training toy ever! :)

  13. Thank you for posts like these. My 2 1/2 year old is finally getting the hang of it. We tried around 20 months (had a 2 month old baby, 2 in diapers-not fun). She started to get it and then, all of a sudden, stopped. We kept trying for a while. This Christmas, we decided to take a break, we were both getting stressed with it. Right after New Years, she went twice while we were shopping! Started full force the next day and is still doing great. We both needed that little break!

  14. We’re still battling wills here at age 4. He’s been in underwear for over 2 years (except at night, and he wakes up dry). He’s got the pee thing down fine. It’s the poop thing that he refuses to do. He will hold it until he has a pull up on for bedtime and then poops. If we try no pull up he will hold it for days. Literally – the longest he held it was a week. Flax seed, miralax, you name it- he will hold it as long as he needs to. Charts, bribes, “peer pressure”, nothing seems to work. I have no clue what to do!

    Since *he* decided to go pee by himself, it was no problem at all. We never really used books or training tools (I was prepared with them) but the simple plastic toilet trainer seat (by Nuby) that fit under the big seat was what worked for him.

  15. WEll my first girl was trained by 20 months, amazing! then girl number 2 came and i thought she would be the same, she started out well around 18 months, then got the flu and did not want to use the toilet at all. So i would just take her in the morning to start a routine. Finally after about 6 months she was doing ok but going number 2 was not good. It took till about age 3 when she stopped having accidents. One thing that surprised me was they both had 1 accident at night. Rebekah would wake up and go alone,once she scared me beecause she didnt turn the light on at night. Laura , well once she was asleep she did not get up till morning. Now i am on girl number 3 and she has used her little toilet twice and now a month later if i pull it out for her she says no, no, no, and puts it back in its place. she will be 2 in April so i am not to worried. ijust thought she would at least sit in it like the other would.

  16. START EARLY!! As soon as they can hold their heads up let them experience going on the potty. Once they can sit by themselves start trying a coulple times a day. Make it a fun time and filled with lots of praise when they are successful. Then it just becomes part of life and they don’t think anything of it. My daughter was day trained at 14 months and night time at 18 months. My son has been a little more challenging. He is 18 months and has just started telling me with enough advance notice to get him there in time this week. Still have to work on the night time part, but nap time he does great. I really believe that if you start young, and make it a positive experience you will be so grateful later.

  17. Thank you so much for the tips!!!! You could not have posted this at a better time!!! I started potty training my daughter a few days ago and we still haven’t had success. Your tips are wonderful — I especially love the idea of using the training pants. THANKS AGAIN!!!

  18. My son just turned 3 and he will pee in the potty if we take him (apparently at daycare he will pee when he needs to). But, he will not poop in the potty. Instead he poops in his underwear and we have to deal with that. How do you a child to use the potty for pooping? We’ve tried everything (lollipops, cars, etc…) and nothing works. It’s almost like he’s scared to poop in the potty. Any suggestions would be great. Thanks.

  19. These are such great tips! My oldest, almost 10, was potty trained about 2 months after her 3rd birthday. At the time I worked in childcare with 1 and 2 year olds and would watch how forcing and pleading and getting stressed out usually just stressed out the child and a lot of time progress moved backward not forward. So I waited. After she turned 2 we would try sometimes and most days I’d ask her if she wanted her panties. Then one day she woke up and said yes and we never looked back. I think we had 1 or 2 accidents, but that was it. Now I’ve got an almost 3 year old boy and a just turned 1 girl. I’m going to use these tips starting today and hope we can get our boy going potty soon!

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