Works for Me- Potty Training

After last week’s post I got a lot of questions from people wondering how I work potty training with my toddlers.

I don’t even try to potty train till they’re at least two. (Well, my first was 23 months, but, ya know, she was my first!) Of my other kids, four were 26 months, one was 30 months and two were 35-36 months.

Usually when kids wake up from a nap dry or stay dry for several hours, they’re getting close to ready to potty train. I get out the potty chair when they begin showing some interest, and encourage them to sit on the potty chair for 3-5 minutes at a time. I give out mini-marshmallows as potty rewards. At first they get a marshmallow or two for just sitting. Gradually as they have some success, I just give marshmallows for actually pottying.

If they sit for several sessions without any success and seem completely clueless, I’ll usually wait and try again in a month or two. But once they have had success in the potty several times (or are nearing their 3rd birthday, whichever comes first) I plunge in and start serious training.

For us, that means cloth undies most of the time at home. It can be a mess, but in my experience most kids need that dripping-down-the-legs feeling to ‘get a clue’. The pullups are just too comfy and too diaper-like for most kids, and in my opinion, slow potty-training tremendously. So I just psych myself for a month or so of extra laundry and carpet-scrubbing. Most kids will learn within a month if you just get brave and ditch the diapers.

At first I will try to bring them potty every hour or hour and a half. I try to be low-key and cheerful, but I do insist they sit when I tell them to. Gradually, as they learn to listen to their body signals, they’ll begin to ask to go potty. At first I set a timer so I will remember to bring them in to the potty in time, which increases their chance of success as they are learning.

I think potty-training goes much better if your children are in the habit of obeying you in the first place. I love my kids to bits, and cuddle them and shower them with affection. But my husband and I also expect our little ones to obey us. If you need some moral support in that endeavor, you might like reading “Parenting With Love and Logic” by Foster Cline. He has a nice balanced approach, is a CHristian AND gives advice that works well for both adopted and bio kids.

This is just a pet theory of mine– it may not fit the situation at your house at all — but I think that part of the reason so many kids are potty-training later than age 3 these days is that parents these days often are not comfortable with being the authority figures. They wait and wait and wait for the child to be ‘ready’, when really in a lot of cases if parents just said hey, no more diapers, you’re learning this, the potty training could happen much sooner. I’m not saying this is the situation with every kid still in diapers past age 3. But I do believe that the vast majority of kids will learn by 3 if you pick a day and gently but firmly declare diaper time to be done.

I usually use pullups when we are out and about for a week or two at first, and after that I pack extra outfits for at least a couple months. Even a kid who is doing really well will have an occasional accident, and it is much easier to be mellow about it if you have something dry to put on him when he has an accident in the middle of the mall.

I also use pullups or diapers at night time. Most of my kids have needed at least 3-6 extra months after day-training to become night-trained. Frankly, I don’t even worry about night training. It happens when it happens.

One final issue: every once in awhile a reeeeeeaaalllly stubborn child will be perfectly potty trained but simply refuse to go poop in the toilet, just out of sheer stubbornness. I’m not talking about the first couple weeks of potty-training when MOST kids have trouble pooping where it belongs– I’m talking about a well-potty-trained child who just decides he’d rather poop in a diaper.

When I was confident my child COULD use the toilet for #2 but was just deciding NOT to, I told the child that he was now old enough to clean it up. After that point, whenever he had an “on purpose” (definitely not an accident in his case), I’d bring him in the bathroom with a heap of baby wipes and a trash can, and tell him to go to it. Then I’d leave, taking the rug and the bath towels with me.

Ten minutes or so later (after much complaining and fussing on his part) I’d go in and direct the finishing touches, including a bath, and help him get dressed. I was perfectly pleasant about it, telling him I was so proud he was old enough to clean up his own messes now. But I made it clear that the consequences of his decision were now HIS to deal with.

Well, he didn’t like that plan a bit. He cleaned up after himself exactly TWICE. And then he never pooped his pants again after that. Never. All I had to do was make him own his own mess.

Note: I’d only do this with an older toddler who I was certain was ready but just being stubborn. And believe me, I am not a mean and nasty mom. But there are definitely times when calm firm tough-love solves a problem more effectively than weeks of coaxing and cajoling. I have had at least 6 moms tell me that this trick worked for their stubborn older potty trainers too.

Works for me!

Anyone else have dynamite potty-training tips they’d like to share? Put’em here in comments so you can help everyone out!


  1. Wow. I just cannot tell you how timely and encouraging this is for me. I’m in the middle of my (second) attempt to potty-train my toddler, and this was exactly what I needed to read. Thanks for the reminder that it’s normal, it’s a process, but that it actually does happen with patience and attentive parenting. Thank you!

    peace of Christ to you,

  2. I agree with the dripping down the leg incentive. Even that wasn’t enough for my oldest though. We finally had to leave him clothed from only the waist up for a couple of days and that did the trick. For some reason, the thought of his business dropping through open air apparently disconcerted him enough to run to the toilet instead.


  3. Oh, great post!! πŸ™‚

    I like all your suggestions, and just wanted to add something that has helped my 34-month-old stay dry all night. He has been doing great during the day (and during naps) for months now, but he would always wake up in the early morning hours, complaining of a wet diaper (we use cloth).

    I started taking him potty once during the night (about half-way through his sleep, although it seems like taking him potty even just a few hours after he went to sleep works, also) and then he stays dry all night. No waking up crying, and no yukky diapers to change in the morning! It’s a little bother during the night, but it’s worth it to me. πŸ™‚

    There you go — my own little works-for-me tip, left in a comment. πŸ˜‰ I really enjoyed your post, btw! πŸ™‚

  4. My experience with the dripping-down-the-leg feeling matches yours. For extra incentive, add socks and shoes. When it turned out my DD didn’t mind the drippy legs feeling, I thought my “cold turkey” methods of potty training would have to be revised. But one day we were playing outside when she had an accident. She was wearing socks and shoes, and the look of sheer panic on her face as the wetness oozed into her shoes gave me hope that she’d catch on after all. She’s been using the potty chair ever since.

  5. This is a great post, Mary. My 18 month old recently begun asking to use the potty on his own – to go poop. He used it two or three times, again of his own asking, and now won’t have anything to do with it. I am not too worried, because he is still awfully young to be training, but I don’t want to do the wrong thing by just letting him pace himself. Oy. I had not expected to even deal with this until after his 2nd birthday.

  6. I found you through WFMW–what a timely post. Like Goslyn, my 18 month old has just started having a tremendous interest in the potty–so we are playing along for now. I really hadn’t planned on approaching this til summer–you know, when she can run around half-naked and figure it out outside!!!

  7. Since my youngest son is now 6’2″, I haven’t had to worry about potty-training for quite awhile.
    I will agree with you on all counts–the wet-down-the-leg feeling, that pull-ups are more a marketing ad than helpful during the process, the being a pleasant mom while making him clean his own mess.

    And especially agree with your little side note about having the parent being uncomfortable as an authority figure.
    I watch the young parents at church, the place other than home where we are expected to learn about obedience to a Higher Being.
    I can’t figure out why it is, but many children do not listen to their own parents–about running, about going to Sunday School class, playing at the water fountain.
    These parents are my own sons’ generation (although I don’t have grandkids yet).

    Ah, this is not a new problem.
    from Plato’s Republic Book 4, where Socrates is quoted saying the following regarding things that he thinks have been neglected:
    “I mean such things as these: β€” when the young are to
    be silent before their elders; how they are to show respect to them by
    standing and making them sit; what honour is due to parents; what
    garments or shoes are to be worn; the mode of dressing the hair;
    deportment and manners in general. You would agree with me? β€” Yes.”

  8. Ooooh, excellent insight for a first-time mother attempting to potty-train. I think my son is getting close to ready, it’s 25 months (but also still just adjusting to having a baby in the house, so I’ve been cutting him some slack)…

  9. Williamsmommy says:

    What a great post as we are in week 3 of underwear land. I just knew he would be a champ(31 months) when he saw those construction and “Deigo” underwear…….sorta a champ…we have our moments! I have shared with some moms of younger ones that this is defintaly a dicipline of the parents along with their child! Diapers and pullups are alot easier….but here we are in “big boy” land and so far so good! Loved your post

  10. Perfect timing! One of my personal goals is to get my two girls (just shy of 3 years old) potty trained before we bring home our fourth child. I think they’re ready, but I too had to get myself psyched up.

    Well, that and I’m going to wait another two weeks until the homestudy run-around is done. No way am I going to take new potty-training toddlers to the restroom in the passport office, at the doctor’s, at the county clerk’s…. πŸ™‚

  11. Perfect timing here! I tried with my guy at about 30 months, but he wasn’t “ready.” He showed signs, but he didn’t have the dryness, which he has now at about 32 months. So, I think we’ll be hitting it hard. I do agree that it’s hard work for a parent and sometimes it’s easier to just wait. It’s a fine line between struggling and fighting and waiting for the most opportune time. But you should know so I definitely popped over to see what you had to say!

  12. This is almost exactly how we do it. (Although with the first, of course, we were totally rigid about setting the timer all day long for every 15 minutes– on the potty, off of the potty, on the potty, off of the potty… yikes!) Sometimes the night-time pull-ups get phased out very quickly, though sometimes those are needed for up to a year or so while nighttime ability catches up with day. We’ve used skittles, mini marshmallows, etc, as you said as well, but have met some resistence with a couple of them when we phased out treats completely. “You mean I’m just supposed GO, with NO treat at all ?!?” “Yep, honey, for the rest of your life!” Just yesterday, in fact, my 3 year old, who has been trained for 8 months floated tghis question again out of the blue. Poor guy. Life’s tough that way. =)

  13. These are all such great ideas! We are potty training The Boy (our first) and I am relying so much on his pre-school teachers for guidance. It’s great to have a tried and true at-home system to reference, as well.

  14. Your wisdom is great! I found nighttime training to be similar to daytime tho’… I triple sheeted the beds with Hefty garbage sacks between the layers so that when there was a nighttime accident, I just stripped off the top layers while hubs re-dressed the wet child and the kid was back in bed in 10 minutes. The shock of being wet at night usually was enough to encourage night time dryness. However, we didn’t insist on night dryness and our son would occasionally have an accident up to age 6 – we were never angry or harsh because we felt it was NOT on purpose but a true developmental issue. He always felt so bad… poor tyke! If it was a longer lasting issue I’d probably do the nighttime pullups for his own comfort but we never needed to.

  15. My daughter also had good success with first “training” a wetting doll how to go potty, then giving the doll rewards (which my daughter then got to eat). Another thing that helped was that she LOVED her pretty panties, and absolutely wanted to wear them. I told her the condition was that they needed to stay dry, so she had to use the potty. She of course had a few accidents, but was trained within a few days.

  16. Thanks, this was extremely helpful. My boys will be 3 in April and we are ready to get this going. I will definitely try your ideas.

  17. Great advice! And thanks for sharing. Numerous times this week I’ve gone to change a completely dry diaper after 2- 3 hours. Twice he then went on the potty but sometimes just says “no”. My problem is that I’ve been giving him the choice to sit on the potty since he was 22 months when he went the first time on the potty. I think now that he’s older your right it’s time that I ask him to sit and he obey.

    The thought has crossed my mind to purchase some underwear but I just hadn’t been brave enough yet. You just may have given me more confidence to DO IT!

  18. This is how we potty trained our 2 boys as well- just substitue m and m’s for the marshmellows! both boys were trained in a week and we were lucky enough that they had been night trained since they were two- but I agree, that is not something that can be taught……my advice would be to echo Mary……just make up your mind to do it and ditch the diapers…….and don’t go back- once they see you waiver- you’ve lost control and it will be harder to gain control back…..good luck!

  19. Wonderful words of wisdom in regards to potty training! I love your logical, caring and firm approach. My daughter potty trained super easily, probably because we waited for her to be ready, but I must admit I am a little terrified to potty train my son. He is a sweet little guy, but his receptive listening skills are temperamental at best.

    Any tips on potty training boys?

  20. Yogurt covered raisins worked at our house. As did making my son clean up his own mess after a while. I’ve finally gotten him wiping his own butt the same way. I just told him that once he was five he would have to do it himself. Though he still asks me to check he now does it all by himself.

    We still haven’t gotten through the night though. I have no idea what I’m doing there.

  21. I am attepting to poty train my 5th and you would think this was my first child. Nothing I try works, she seems a little afraid of the whole process. Either that or she is just manipulating me, Hmm, I will have to think on that one. I think I have one of those stubborn ones you talked about. Thanks for the tips, I will definitely try them.

  22. I was very lucky with my youngest. She started waking up dry at about 28 months, and when I would sit her on the toilet, she went. She never told me she needed to go, though, until after she was 3.

    Pooping was a little more difficult. She just preferred to do it in her pull-up and then come tell me about it. Once she was consistently dry, I handled the poop this way: When she would come ask me to change her, I would tell her she’d have to wait until I had time. And that she couldn’t play while there was poop in her pants, so she should sit in the hall and wait for me. Then in about 15 minutes I would change her. Now, this was not done in a “punishing” manner at all, but very matter-of-fact, just the natural consequence of her choice. I also had her sit longer on the toilet after peeing, and sometimes she “accidentally” let the poop go in there. She always got M & Ms for pooping in the toilet.

  23. Thanks for the tips. Our 21 month old loves sitting on the potty (she even tells us she has to go). But nothing, nada, zipo comes out. She’s even got the grunt down. No need to give her treats for sitting (we never have). I’m hoping as soon as we get the first excrement (and give a treat), she’ll be easy to train. I just don’t think she’s figured out what it’s for yet (except for grunting).

  24. Ohh – good post – thank you for sharing your wisdom! We are heading down the potty training road with our 3rd, but each child is so different that it’s as though I’m trying to do it for the first time πŸ™‚

  25. That’s great, Mary! Thanks so much for sharing!!! I’ll definitely admit the potty training is MY fault, but not b/c I my kids aren’t obeying me….potty training has been hard at our house b/c of the pregnancy and then newborn….I just didn’t have it in me to put forth the extra energy. And now, with a 4 month old and 2 toddlers, it’s STILL hard. I am so tempted to get frustrated, which does NOT help the process at ALL! I’ve read that if you get frustrated, then it’s better to just not push it. What are your thoughts on that??? It’s really, my issue – not the kids! And I don’t want them to get the brunt of my issue!! BUT what I haven’t tried is having a little potty in our living room or whatever. I’ve let them go naked, and I’ve let them wear cotton pants…of which didn’t seem to really make a difference! In fact, I usually didn’t know about the “accident” until who knows how long after it’d happened….when I’d stumble upon it or realize their pants were wet. Its seems as though my kids have NO problems with being wet : ( or having dribbles down their leg, or litterally sitting in a wet puddle!!! : ( Oh yes…and we had potty treats too – the little fruit snacks….no “bribing” our kiddos…they literally would rather be wet πŸ™

    Both of our toddlers poo in the potty! We are THANKFUL for that! They both have potty time in the morning, where they go poo, and that’s pretty much their poo for the day. Sometimes our 2 yr old will tell us in the eve that she needs to go poo, but it’s rare that either of them need to go more than once a day. So, that’s GREAT for us! It’s just the peeing thing we can’t get down!!! : (

    I’ve thought that maybe I’d gate them off in the kitchen for a couple of days, but that’s not appealing b/c our kitchen isn’t that big, and our kids have TONS of energy that far exceed the space!!! I’ve often wished that we had a gated privacy fence in our backyard or lived in the country b/c last summer or this summer I’d let them run around naked outside to get the process going. But that’s not our situation either : (

    OK, so basically, I probably just need to get over it, and let them have accidents? Any helpful thoughts here would be GREAT!!!

  26. Shawnda, One more thing– make sure you are having THEM help clean up their puddles. They can pull off the wet pants and put them in the laundry. They can help put on the new ones. They can wipe the floor. You of course will need to finish the scrubbing, but be sure to cheerfully involve them in the mess cleanup. They can even help you fold the clean pants after they get out of the dryer. It is hard with a teeny baby, I know. But eventually your kids will get it….

  27. Excellent (and quite timely) post. Thank you so much for sharing. We’re right at the beginning of the process and I’ve been a bit afraid of reading some of the books. This every 15 minutes idea just isn’t me. Your way sounds much more my style!

  28. Love, love, love these tips! (and I love Parenting With Love ang Logic, too!) My boys just turned one, but I’ll bookmarking this post and re-visiting later πŸ™‚

  29. Just want to add my AMEN to all of Mary’s wisdom and firm parenting guidelines from one who has only a foggy memory of potty training and no grandchildren yet to help with.

    But, here is a FUN TIP for all of you still doing the hard work of potty training. I got this from an older parent who helped me literally train ONE of my five children is just ONE DAY!! Doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for him. You have to be willing to commit your whole day to this event but the payoff can be worth it.

    She took my 2 year old over to her house and announced that today was tea party day, ALL DAY. They set up a little table, chairs & play dishes in the bathroom (or close by if it doesn’t fit). And then they proceeded to drink water(lots), koolaid, etc. and little finger foods all day with much partying and celebrating, especially whenever they decided to try potty time as part of the party(like every 30-45 minutes). Include some other short activities to keep them interested but stay close to the potty.

    If there was success, much celebrating. If there was an accident, then they would practice 5 times running from the scene to the chair and pretending to go. Important to keep a very happy mood all day and to expect several accidents. Slow down on the liquids before naptime though.

    Hope that helps! It may not work in one day for every child but it should give the jump start you need if you can carve out that much focused time.

  30. I’m the dork that wrote some things in my post that was out of pure laziness, but I have felt like I need to clarify : ( I wrote something along the lines of “it’s not b/c my children don’t obey”….”it’s my issue, not theirs”. Hmmmmm. Well, what I was trying to get at there, but didn’t do a good job of b/c that wasn’t my purpose in the post was that my children know that Daddy and Mommy are the authority in the home….that is HUGE in our parenting! However, our kids do NOT always obey, so if my post seemed to communicate that – YIKES – that’s NOT what I was trying to communicate!!! AND if they aren’t obeying : ), that TOO is my issue considering obedience is learned (it’s definitely not a given character quality since our hearts are sinful!), and I realize my comment might have communicated that if it was b/c of disobedient kids that that was their issue…not mine : ( YIKES, again, that wasn’t what I wanted to communicate! So, after realizing what I wrote trying to be quick in an area that wasn’t the “subject”, I figured I better clarify : ) and confess my laziness! : ) So sorry to write another long one here, Mary! And thanks for the added tips! : )

  31. Great advice! I agree with the theory that Pull Ups in the daytime are just too comfortable to mind getting wet.

    Thanks for the post on this.

  32. Great tip and WOW on the comments. We ALL have something to say about this.

    I totally agree with being firm about the potty. I trained my oldest in about a week and had to take the firm approach with him. He woke up one day and I said, “g, today you are old enough to use the potty. we’re not going to wear diapers anymore. When you need to go….” It worked and the pooping thing freaked him out so much (b/c I told him he would have to clean it up) that he actually caught a poop so it didn’t land on the carpet. Sorry if that’s TMI, but it was hysterical when it happened.

    We’re starting to train #2 next week. I often pick Lent to try out potty training time- it’s good for me and I work on patience throughout the experience.


  33. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest something that might be new to some people. I’m still learning about it myself.
    There are many terms out there for it: “infant potty training”, “elimination communication (EC)”, etc. But the main jist of this form of potty training is to toilet train from infancy.

    At first, this sounds downright mean, since we’ve all been taught that potty training will be much easier when they’re ready for it (i.e. about 2-3yrs old), etc.

    With my 1st, I did what everyone told me to, waited until she showed signs of being ready – so she was about 2 before she pee’d in the potty, and about 2.75 before she poo’d in the potty.

    With my 2nd, I figured, what the heck – let’s just put her on the pot at 7 months. She had a pretty regular schedule with her bm’s – so I plopped her on the big pot (with those kid potty rings so she wouldn’t fall in). And to my great surprise, she pooped!!! There was great joy in my household that day, I’ll tell you that! So, my poopy diaper days with #2 ended at 7 months! As for pee’s, well I got lucky – she self-trained herself by the time she was a year.

    My 3rd (a boy) comes along, and I think to myself – well let’s just do the same thing. Oh no, he doesn’t want anything to do with the potty. He is now a month shy of his 3rd b’day. He still poops in his diaper. πŸ™ He’ll pee in the potty though.

    With my 4th (also a boy) ,he started poo’ing in the potty at 5 months. At that time, I started reading about “EC”. So I thought, hey why not, let’s give it a try with the pee. Well, golly gee would you believe – every time I took his diaper off, and held him over the toilet, (and whistled!) he’d pee.

    But I’m not quite there yet, because I got a little busy around christmas, and didn’t stay on top of bringing him to the washroom as often as he needed to. So basically I “re-trained” him to soil his diaper πŸ™ So, I’m paying for my laziness in this area and having to re-train him to go in the potty.

    Sorry – this ended up being an essay. Just google those terms and read more about this. Trust me, when it works, it’s a Bea-u-ti-ful thing! (and cute to boot!!) My friend, who’s 5th is about 5 months old (which apparently the greatest window of opportunity for EC) is a recent believer in this form of potty training.

  34. I think a big key to getting them to use the potty is making sure they now how well they have done when they do use it.

  35. I have to say to everyone not to judge a parent and child who is older than three and still not potty trained. I did the firm parent thing and told my daughter ok you are old enough no more diapers. She has been in underwear for three months and still has about 5-6 accidents a day. She could care less if her pee runs down her leg or her socks and shoes get wet. I also do the advise of clean it up yourself. She cleans up all her wet and poopy underwear and she still could care less. I am a firm parent and she is a smart stubborn girl. I feel like she will never be potty trained. I keep hoping one day this will turn around for us, but I just keep feeling worse and worse and other parents judge and make it feel even worse for me so when I read parents saying that kids over three who aren’t potty trained is a parents fault I get a little defensive. Please don’t judge others — it is not always as easy as you all have had it.

  36. fasha freeman says:

    great tips!!!! Im a two and half year old teacher at country home learning center. ive been working hard ever since i got my class( switched rooms) to get some potty trained. These guys are two and a half almost three. i have two all the way potty trained, one that is getting there and she just turned two and some that are in between. I dont push my kids, but if they are intersted i will take them. Mine dont really need rewards, just postive reincouragement. Plus im real structured with mine. And i believe in the saying they all proceed at their own pace and i tell my kids parents that. Some will get potty trained before two and some not until two and a half almost three. I dont believe in potty training them before they know what it is.

  37. I’m not sure exactly how I got here (link of a link of a link, etc) but I have a piece of advice I usually offer up. It took us a while with my first to figure out that her fear of falling in the pot was working against us. Her legs were so short that she couldn’t even reach the floor on the little potty. Once we slid the bathroom scale over so she could reach the floor with her feet, things went much better. Before that you would have thought there were alligators in the water!

  38. Just finding this and GREAT advice. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  1. […] galaxy.Β  I guess that’s one of the reasons that so many parents in β€œmodern” society tend to put off potty training as long as […]