How I Potty Train My Kids: Diapers to Underwear in Under 3 Days

Potty training. The looming cloud on the horizon as your infant creeps closer and closer to the toddler stage. If it’s your first child and you’re anything like me, your mind is blazing with questions…How do I know when she’s ready? What exactly am I supposed to do? How long will it take? If it’s not your first rodeo, you know exactly what’s waiting, or at least you think you do. Every child is so different it’s almost like starting at square one again.

I just finished training my third child. (Yay! No more diapers or diaper bags!!! I am a free woman!) And I received a lot of questions this time around… How do you do it? You make it seem so easy! That was so fast! How is that possible??? What’s your secret? So, I figured I would share not just with them but with my wonderful blogging community as well 🙂 I hope my experiences will provide you with some fresh ideas and inspiration to guide your little one to successfully use the toilet in three days or less, with a stress-free approach for both of you.

The following are the strategies I use when helping my children learn to use the bathroom. There are general concepts that apply to all children and then I adjusted the details for each child’s own personality. Potty training is not one size fits all. You know your child best. You know how to read him/her and you know what will work best. Trust your mother’s intuition and go with it. None of these are hard and fast rules.

Pre-Potty Training Prep

The first thing I do is watch for my child’s readiness. There is no rush and no point in forcing a child before he or she is ready. That is just going to cause pain, tears, and frustration for both of you. First, I know my child is ready when he or she is expressing curiosity and interest in the toilet and beginning to understand what a toilet is used for. At this point, not only am I being followed into the bathroom, but I am being observed closely and notice the wheels turning in my child’s head, so to speak. I start explaining to them, “Potty goes in the toilet. Big girls/boys go potty in the toilet.” The second thing I look for is that my child and I are clearly able to communicate with one another. I need to be able to understand my child whether through words, motions, or sounds and I need to be sure my child understands what I am saying. I pretty much have to interpret for my two year old because no one else, not even his father, can make out much of what he is saying but Z-man and I can have whole conversations together because I understand his “language.” Some sort of sound or word to indicate the used of/need to use the bathroom is a necessity. The third thing I look for is a desire to start using the toilet. This one is not as much a necessity as the first and second indicators for me to make the decision to beginning training but I find that #3 generally closely follows the other two and makes it easier to train. If not, it is usually pretty easy to build up excitement and interest once the other two are present.

With Alexia, the first two indicators were very strongly present at about 16 months old. She would remove her dry diaper and start going to the bathroom on the floor. Since I was cleaning up “accidents” anyway, I decided to introduce her to the toilet at that time and she quickly took an interest. She was daytime potty trained in 2 days.
Kaelan was a bit of an anomaly. First of all, a very well-meaning family member decided to start training her before she had expressed any indicators at all because I had just given birth to our third child and she thought it would be easier on me if Kaelan started using the toilet. This only reinforced for me the necessity that certain indicators be present before beginning to train as it was unsuccessful. Kaelan moved much more slowly through the three indicators and she was my longest to train. Also, she never seemed to notice the urge to go. Once I started taking her to the chiropractor, on a completely unrelated note, and she started getting adjustments, she very quickly started recognizing when she needed to go and then she pretty much was accident free overnight. I never told the chiro we were having difficulty with training her but he mentioned that her spine was out of line in the area where nerves send those signals so I put it together myself that that had made a difference and all three indicators became present immediately. Zedekiah became very interested in the toilet and he was able to tell me when he needed a diaper change so I started putting him on the toilet every once in a while to see how he would react. He was very proud when he would go in the toilet so I knew it was time to start.

Once at least the first two indicators are present, it’s time to prep for potty training! The very first thing I do is prep myself. If my head isn’t in the game, I am just going to cause a ton of tears and meltdowns for both of us. I mentally prepare myself for the fact that there are going to be accidents and I will be cleaning up a lot of messes. I also remind myself that this is normal, that it is a learning process, and that my child is not setting out to make my life miserable. I need to be very patient. If I get worked up over each accident, it is just going to cause anxiety for my kiddo, making the whole process much more difficult for both of us. There are a lot of internal pep talks going on in my head leading up to and during the training process 🙂

Once I am mentally ready to deal with accidents with a positive, stress-free attitude, I take a look at my calendar. I find a block of at least 3 days where I have absolutely nothing scheduled inside or outside of the home so that I can give my full focus to my child without worrying about accidents out and about. If you plan to have some sort of reward system, you want to stock up on rewards at this time too. When that first day you blocked out arrives, it’s time to start potty training!

Day 1

When we wake up in the morning, I take the diaper off and say, “No more diapers! What a big boy/girl! Let’s go put potty in the toilet!” I always take their diaper off first thing when they wake up in the morning or after a nap and set them on the toilet. (I personally found that setting them directly on the house toilet worked much better than using a child’s toilet but you may find the opposite true for your family. I know many people who have had great success with potty training toilets. They just weren’t a good fit for our family. My kids hated them and I liked that they preferred the big toilet because it meant I didn’t have to clean the little toilet.) If they don’t do anything, I say, “That’s ok! We’ll try again later!” I always keep it very upbeat and positive (much easier said than done. There are times during these three days that I am screaming in my head while smiling and speaking sweetly. Remember that mental prep period I mentioned before starting? This is why that is so important!). I have found that the more frustrated I get or the more negative I make the experience, the longer the process takes which just makes me more frustrated. I also try to remind myself that they are learning and it is ok to have accidents and they are going to make mistakes. That’s ok! It’s all part of the learning process and it will pass.

This day I leave them completely naked or in just a shirt and I plan to spend the whole day reading to and playing with them so I can keep a close eye on them. I do not plan on getting anything done around the house today. It’s a great day for a crockpot dinner or take out and paper plates. I take them to the toilet every 30 minutes. I will get up from what we are doing, hold out my hand and say, “OK! Let’s go!” and lead them to the bathroom. I tend not to say “Time to go potty,” because sometimes they will fight me on it if they know where we’re going. I also don’t say, “Do you want/need to go potty?” because that doesn’t give them the opportunity to answer with a “no” which is usually the answer whether it’s true or not 😉

If they go in the toilet, I clap and cheer and really make a big deal of it and usually give them some sort of treat or reward like an M&M or a sticker (my kids probably get more sugar when they’re potty training than they will the whole rest of their childhood :’D ) And then I reset the clock for another 30 minutes. Sometimes I literally set a timer if things are crazy with the other kids trying to distract me and other times I just keep an eye on the clock.  If they don’t go in the toilet when I take them, I say, “That’s ok! We’ll try again later!” and then take them again every 5 minutes or so until they finally go in the toilet and then reset for 30 minutes.

If they have an accident, since I am staying right with them all day, I notice as it’s happening and say in that same positive, sing-song, upbeat voice, “Uh-oh! Potty goes in the toilet!” as I pick them up and carry them to the toilet and set them on it. Sometimes they will stop as I pick them up and then finish on the toilet. Sometimes they will keep going all the way to the toilet and still go in the toilet too. Sometimes, they are finished before I can get them there. No matter the situation, I always set them on the toilet to help reinforce the idea for them and get them used to equating the sensation of going potty/poop with sitting on the toilet. Sometimes I will repeat a few times, “Potty goes in the toilet!” If they put any potty/poop at all in the toilet, even if it is just a few dribbles because most of it went on the floor, I still give them a reward. I make it exciting for them to go in the toilet and I make them feel proud to go in the toilet – to the point that every one of my children has gone through a phase of cheering for me when I go to the bathroom, a phase Z-man is still in. That excitement and pride is going to be your best friend as you continue to work with your son or daughter.

I plan on lots of accidents for the day. I have a roll of paper towels and sanitary wipes handy all day long. If there aren’t many accidents, awesome! If there are, I was mentally prepared for and expecting it so I find I don’t lose my patience as easily. Each child is different so I never expect things to do exactly the same way (or even close to) as  with previous children. Alexia had a lot of accidents the beginning of the first day and was pretty much accident free by the end of the day. Z had hardly any accidents all day long. It just depends on the kid.

Day 2 (ish)

Hopefully by the end of day 1 the child is getting the hang of it and having less accidents. Again, every child and their personality is different so you will know best as you are working with them how to adjust. By the end of day 1, Z was in underwear. He really didn’t like being naked and wanted something on so I put underwear on him. Alexia didn’t have underwear until the second day. I did the same thing in the morning, taking off the diaper and placing them on the toilet but the I put underwear on them. Underwear is tricky. Some kids feel like they are wearing a diaper again and think they can use it like a diaper. Don’t be surprised if they almost seem to regress this day, having more accidents than they ended day one with. This happened with Alexia and I was really confused at first but then she quickly caught on and by mid-afternoon she was accident free again.

This day, I only gave a treat if they successfully put all the potty in the toilet. If they had a partial accident and partial success, I would sweetly say “Put all the potty in the toilet!” still very upbeat and positive. Again, you will know your child and their progress best. If you think it’s best to reward them for partial successes today, too, go for it! Keep encouraging them and making them feel proud and like a big girl/boy. I also make a big deal of wearing big girl panties/big boy undies today and say things like “Keep your undies clean and dry!” or “What a big girl, wearing panties!!!” or “Where does potty go? Does potty go in the toilet? Yes! Potty goes in the toilet! Does potty go in your undies? No, not in your undies.” Just keep reinforcing the idea all day long. There will still most likely be accidents today but hopefully not as many as yesterday.

Day 3 (ish)

Same as the other days, immediately take the diaper off, place your child on the toilet and then put underwear on. You could try clothes today too. Go for a short walk or play for a little bit outside. Get both of you comfortable being out of the house for a short period but still close enough to quickly get to the bathroom if needed. Hopefully, your child starts telling you when he/she needs to go today or in the near future but don’t rely on that. Even though Z is consistently telling me when he needs to go, if I feel like it’s been to long, I will still take him to the bathroom whether he has told me he needs to go or not. And I still say “Let’s go!” instead of asking him if he needs to go. This day has always been accident free for me but that doesn’t mean that accidents won’t still happen. You have to be diligent to keep track of how long it’s been since the last bathroom trip. You will quickly get a feel for how long he/she can go between trips and develop a routine. Give yourself and your child grace, knowing that accidents will still happen on occasion. Be prepared with a change of clothes. I generally keep a spare outfit or two in the van so I don’t have to worry about remembering to grab one on my way out the door.

Basically, be consistent, be positive, be patient, and be encouraging. Every child is different. Tweak these ideas to fit your child’s personality as well as your own. I hope you find some ideas helpful in your adventures of potty training 🙂


What about you? Do you have any potty training tips/successes/funny stories? I would love to hear them and other readers would benefit, too! I love that we can all learn from each other! Share your ideas in the comments below 🙂

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