What Does Potty Training Actually Look Like?
A Day-By-Day Rundown of Life in the Training Trenches
Hey all! Amanda, Crazy-Content-Lady and veteran of one tour in the trenches of The Tiny People’s Republic of Pottitopia, here this week to talk to you about one of the more daunting challenges of parenthood… potty training.
One of the many, many, many things that becoming a parent has taught me is to never get too comfortable.
Occasionally I will forget this rule.
My kids and I will fall into a somewhat predictable routine. They will lull me into a false sense of security and I will feel like I have finally done the impossible. I have figured out all there is to know about my offspring in their current form.
This had happened to me with my toddler.
I could pour juice, retrieve snacks (in the right coloured bowl), and defuse a pending tantrum with the deftness of a bomb tech with several more appendages than I actually possess.
All with my younger son bouncing on my hip. I was in the zone.
Until one day, a mom-friend of mine mentioned that she was in the process of potty training her boy, who is about the same age as my oldest.
It shook me to my very core.
Partly because I was in denial that I could possibly have a child old enough to have hit this milestone.
Partly because the more I thought about it, the more I realized my son was for sure showing some distinct signs of readiness.
But mostly because I really, really, really didn’t want to potty train. It was a moment of my parenting career that I had been dreading since I put my son’s first adorable (fluffy) little diaper on.
I’m not entirely sure why the idea of helping my son ditch his diapers gave me so much anxiety. I knew that, in the end, it would equate to less work for me.
But it is a pretty huge responsibility to hand over to someone who regularly forgets his mission in the ten steps it takes for him to go from our couch to his toys.
Not to mention, the process of potty training seemed so unknown and unpredictable. All the tips, tricks, and “10 steps to…” posts in the world couldn’t help me wrap my head around what potty training was ACTUALLY going to look like.
So if you, like me, are feeling a little insecure about heading to Pottytown with your adorably brainless bambino, let me give you a rundown of what the training process was like in our house.
Phase One: Preparation
For me, there were two key parts of my preparation:
- Make a plan, and
- Gather materials
Making a plan consisted of a lot of frenzied Googling in order to settle on a strategy and arm myself with as many tips as I could.
I knew in my heart of hearts that there was a high probability that, in spite of all my reading, my toddler would throw me a curveball I wouldn’t be prepared for, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and prepare.
For our method/strategy, we settled on the “Naked Weekend”, “Train Your Toddler in Three Days” method that is all the rage on the internets these days.
It had a very “get rich quick,” “lose 10 lbs in an hour,” vibe of being entirely too good to be true (and it kinda was) but we had a week over the holidays when my hubby was going to be off work to help, so a “get ‘er done” method fit with the timeline we had.
Once we had a strategy, I had to make sure I had all the physical stuff I needed. I had a feeling that it was going to be a pretty intense week, and I didn’t want anyone having to venture too far from our potty training bunker once the process was started.
We had purchased an initial potty ages ago, as my little guy had shown some interest in the toilet super early on (18 months ish). We never made any serious attempts at training then, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have one around for him to sit on and explore as much as he wanted. So we’ve had an adorable mini-version of our “big potty” (you too will start talking like this once you are in the trenches) in our bathroom for a while.
In anticipation of P-Day, I went and grabbed another potty. I wanted to make sure there was a potty readily available no matter where my son was hanging out. Our house isn’t huge so we could have gotten away with one potty but, again, I anticipated having enough on my plate and being a “potty pack-mule” was not something I wanted to add to my list. The new potty has some of my son’s favourite TV characters on it, so it got pride of place in the living room.
I put Lifesaver mats under each potty to catch any potential “we didn’t quite make it” leakage. I also threw one on our couch. We dubbed that my son’s “spot” for the week and felt better about not having to add pee to the list of unspeakable things residing in the depths of our couch cushions.
The Lifechangers were good for smaller surfaces that might find my son’s naked behind resting on them over the course of the week.
I also grabbed some wet bags and sprinkled them like fairy dust throughout the house so that wet/soiled items could be quickly stashed, with as little muss and fuss as possible.
Lastly I grabbed some treats.
Some were for my son. I was not above bribing him with stickers and Smarties if it was going to speed this process up in any way. I made a little potty-chart that rewarded attempts and successes.
I also suggest you get some treats for yourself. It may sound silly, but you will thank me when you are crying in the pantry because your child just pooped in the middle of the playroom and you have some Reece’s readily available.
For a full run-down of our setup, check out the video below.
Phase Two: Denial, Bargaining, and Dread
This is most likely to occur the night before your chosen start day.
I am going to pull a very mom move and give you some “do as I say not as I did” advice here: get some sleep.
I know it is stressful. I know you feel unprepared. I know that it is tempting to keep reading blog posts and parenting articles. I know this because I did it.
But I also know that tomorrow is going to be tiring. Go to sleep. NOW!
Phase Three: Getting Down to Business
This is going to be the day that you ditch your diapers and start implementing your strategy. In theory, this day should look much like any other day in your home, except with no diaper changes, LOTS of potty trips, and (probably) more pee on the floor than usual.
Some people make a big deal about actually ditching the diapers and include their kid in the process. I didn’t. Partly because I was too tired from being up all night to host a Diaper Ditching Ceremony. Partly because I didn’t think my son would care. Partly because we are a cloth diapering family and I wasn’t actually going to be getting rid of his diapers.
Once he got the idea of what was going on, I did make a point of asking him if he would be okay with giving his diapers to his little brother, since he is a big boy and didn’t need them anymore. He is a little possessive (I know, a possessive toddler is a supreme redundancy) and I didn’t want him losing it if he spied his favourite Space Dino diaper on his brother’s bum. He agreed, like it was no big deal, and we all moved on.
We were off to a good start.
So we took my son’s diaper and pants and all trucked off to the living room. I had expected some resistance at the lack of pants (my kid is a weirdo who likes wearing them). I was already prepared to bribe him with Smarties to go nude from the waist down but he also rolled with that.
Win # 2 for Mom and Dad.
This is where the wins stopped for a while though. Believe it or not, my son did not magically pick up on the fact that he did not have a diaper on and he couldn’t just pee whenever he wanted. We had an accident almost immediately. We trundled off to the potty to see if we could finish the pee in there, but didn’t manage to get there in time.
Notice that I said “we.” One thing that I didn’t anticipate was how emotionally invested I already was in this process. Turns out it was a huge source of the stress and anxiety I had already been feeling around potty training. For some reason I was getting caught up in the idea that my son’s “failures” were somehow a reflection on me.
So the biggest task of day one, for me, was to realize a few things.
- Accidents are not failures. My son was learning just as much (if not more) from peeing on the floor as he would from his eventual successful pees in the potty.
- Nothing about this was any kind of reflection on my skills as a parent. Or my son’s skills and intelligence. It was simply a learning process. I was nudging my son in the direction of independent toileting and seeing if he was ready to take up the training torch.
- I was way more worked up about this than he was. My son was surprised by his first few accidents but was in no way stressed. Like so many other things in parenting, I needed to chill the eff out and trust and take my cues from my kid.
So once I had a breakdown in the pantry, ate my Reece’s (see I told ya), and internalized all this our day went more smoothly.
Our approach was to push fluids and take potty breaks at timed intervals. The hope was that, eventually, we would hit a time when he had to pee and catch something in the toilet. Our initial window was 20-30 minutes and either myself or my partner were with our son constantly.
Each time the 20 min timer would go off, we would head to the potty, pee (or not), and then head to the bathroom for stickers and hand washing. I didn’t phrase anything around these trips as a request. We just stopped what we were doing and went off to the potty like it was something that we had always done.
If there was an accident in between trips, we would head to the potty, sit for a bit and then reset.
If we sat and there was no pee, I would keep an eye and try again in 10 minutes or so. I tried to resist the urge to ask my son if he needed to pee. It was super annoying for everyone and the answer was invariably “no.” Instead, I tried to look for cues that he might need to go.
It. Was. Exhausting.
But eventually we got a few wins.
We celebrated like we won the Super Bowl. A lot of the tip posts out there say to employ your best acting skills for your post potty celebrations. After a few days you may have to start busting out your Oscar worthy performance skills but those first few times you won’t have to fake it.
By the time nap time rolled around, it had been a mixed bag and we were all in need of a break. We put a pull-up (“nighttime undies”) on our son, put him to bed, and rested as much as my youngest son allows when he is conscious (i.e. not at all).
A few hours later, it was time to start again. We got our little one out of bed and prepped for the rest of the afternoon.
But we hit a turning point.
We had an accident free afternoon.
It appeared that my son had figured out to hold it until he was on the potty.
He also started to resist the frequent trips a bit. This made me think (hope) that he knew he didn’t need to go. I was still insistent on a pretty tight timeline but if he really dug his heels in, I gave him a few more minutes. Eventually we decided on a window closer to 40-45 minutes for the afternoon.
Eventually, (with all the speed of a herd of stampeding tortoises) bedtime arrived. We put our little guy down in more “nighttime undies”, congratulated ourselves on not losing our minds, and passed out pretty much immediately.
Our accident-free afternoon on Day 1 gave us a new sense of confidence on day two.
Don’t worry, as children are wont to do, our son quickly gave us a lesson in humility by peeing on the floor.
Apparently a night’s sleep had caused our boy to completely forget that no diaper equals an accident. So Day 2 looked a lot like Day 1.
Some misses, more hits. Exhaustion for Mom and Dad.
So this was it. According to all the “Naked Weekend” diehards, Day 3 is the day that the stars align, the heavens open, and your kid magically becomes potty trained.
I suppose they could be right, if your definition of “potty-trained” is not having any accidents.
By that definition, then I guess my son was trained in three days. He didn’t have any accidents. But making that happen required me or my partner to be watching him closer than is practical in a house with two small children and making him sit on the potty every hour or so.
Yes, he had learned to hold it, which is an important potty skill. But we had trained ourselves to watch the clock and his cues more than we had trained him.
I’m sure there are some kids out there that will pick up on the concept in three days and start making independent trips to the potty. But, all in all, I feel like a lot of the parents who espouse the “3 Day Method” are playing it a little fast and loose with the term “potty trained”.
For us, the first independent trip to the potty didn’t come until Day 4. This is the moment you are waiting for. Make an especially huge deal about it.
And know that it may not last.
Consistent independent trips didn’t start until the end of week one or so and still required a pants-free-zone.
Our son is super mature for his age and has taken to training better than I could have hoped, but it has still been a PROCESS. So if your kid doesn’t get it in three days (or three weeks) don’t feel like you have failed.
Assess your progress, decide if you are moving forward and if you’re current stage of training is sustainable for your family, and make your next moves accordingly.
Phase Four: Poop Training
I know, I hear you, “Um, why is this a separate section? Potty training includes pee and poop, right? Right?!”
For some kids, yes. We were some of those lucky ones. Our son had no aversion to pooping on the toilet. He did go through a phase of holding poops a little longer than usual while we were training, but for the most part it was business as usual.
For other kids, pooping on the toilet is not so easy and needs to be treated as a separate training process to make sure parents and progeny don’t get too overwhelmed.
If this is the case for you and your tot, breathe deep, check out these tips, and know that you are in my thoughts.
Phase Five: Reintegration to the Real World
Potty training kind of turned us into shut-ins.
This is partly because of the more intensive strategy we chose. But I feel like it is also just the nature of the potty training beast. You want to be close to the potty in those fragile initial stages, so staying home makes sense.
But eventually, we did need some basic essentials and to expose our already pasty child to the sun once more.
Step one in this process was adding pants to the mix.
Most of the resources I had read simply said I “would know” when my son was ready to start wearing pants and/or underwear. As if the potty training gods or my ancestors were going to whisper in my ear and let me know it was time.
Both, unfortunately, were maddeningly silent and unhelpful on the matter, so I was left to my own devices.
By a week or so in my son was having pretty good success going to the potty on his own, so this seemed like a good time to try putting something on his butt.
This decision made me come to another unfortunate realization, however.
I hadn’t taught my boy how to pull his own pants up or down.
In all my anxiety to get prepared, I had somehow missed this blindingly obvious step.
So once we added pants, the game changed again.
My son’s independence, that I was such a fan of the day before, quickly became a burden. He hadn’t really learned to TELL us he had to use the potty, he just went.
But because he couldn’t navigate his pants, we were back to square one in a lot of ways. This meant we had to go back to watching the clock and having more supervised potty visits. It meant trying to get to the potty before it was an emergency, so he could practice with his pants. It also meant more accidents.
But by this point I knew that he could do it, so we soldiered on.
Step two of reintegration was making a plan for “pottying” in the wild. For us, this means a small foldable potty seat (which goes on a real toilet) tucked into a Small Zipper Wetbag. For other moms I know, it means taking to potty on-the-go.
Again, take your cues from your kid and do what works for them. Just make sure that you have a strategy for getting to a potty and a change of clothes in your Dry/Wetbag, just in case.
Phase Six: Life “After” Potty Training
As of writing this, about a month after our initial P-Day, I think I can officially say that our son is daytime potty trained.
He still wears trainers at nap time and overnight but I am letting him and his body take the lead on that. He wakes up dry from his nap most days, so we are probably close there. I think overnight is a ways off for us.
Out and about I am on him a bit more, since he is a distractible toddler. But while he’s conscious and we are at home, I don’t worry about him. To me that is potty trained.
I am sure that there will be setbacks. It is still something that is a huge topic of conversation in our house. But each day it becomes a little less novel for both us and our boy and one day I’m sure it will go completely unremarked… and without Smarties.
Some Final Words of Wisdom
I know that we are insanely lucky to have come this far this fast. I attribute it to a few key things that I will leave as my final words of wisdom to you:
Make Sure Your Kid is Ready (Like Really)
Really, really really. For real.
Seriously.If your child is under the age of three and you have any doubts about their readiness, I would wait.
I cannot stress this one enough. As a parent, you are helping nudge your kid in the right direction on this but the ball is pretty much 100% in their court. And if they aren’t ready well…
Best case scenario you end up living according to the potty timer for much longer than anyone could ever want.
Worst case you end up in a power struggle that no one is going to win.
The problem is, you won’t really know for sure if your tot is ready to do the toilet tango until you put the work in.
Which leads to my next point…
Don’t Half-Ass It
Don’t be fooled by the proportions of my bodacious booty. I am the Queen of half assed, half baked, fly by the seat of your pants shenanigans.
I am a high functioning procrastinator extraordinaire who needs the threat of looming disaster to motivate myself to action.
If you too are like this, heed my warning: get. It. Together.
This is not the time or place for that. Come in with a plan and come in willing to gut it out and do the work.
Whether or not your child is ready, the first week is going to be tough and you need to be the one that holds it together if they can’t.
That means putting on your adult pants and waiting out the storm.
That being said….
Do What is Right for Your Family
A lot of people and resources seem to treat potty training as an all-or-nothing thing. I call shenanigans on that notion.
I do believe that you need to wait it out for at least a week before you make a judgement call. But if potty training is really and truly a bust for you, or you aren’t getting where you want to go then call it quits.
Or switch it up. Find a new strategy and give that a try.
There is no shame in hitting pause and trying again later. If potty training becomes a source of resentment for you or your kid, then its not doing anyone any good.
So that’s how I survived my tour in the trenches of potty training.
I’m not going to lie, it has very much changed the way life looks in our house but that isn’t a bad thing.
We are slowly getting back into the groove and I am feeling like I am back in the zone… at least for now.