I interrupt this blog to bring you a potty training question

June 6, 2007 | 33 comments

Let’s set aside all discussion of God and the meaning of life for a moment and talk about pee-pee and pooh-pooh. I need some advice here:

My oldest is two and a half. The baby is due in September (a few weeks before his third birthday). I’d like to have my son potty trained (or at least very close) by the time the baby gets here.

The problem is, he does not share this vision. I’ve read kids books about potty training to him, offered to have him pick out his own big-boy pants, enticed him with the special goody box from which he can choose stickers or candy when he uses his potty chair, etc. He calmly but firmly insists that he has zero interest in sitting on the potty chair and is perfectly happy having me change his diapers, thank you very much.

A couple of questions here:

  • I’ve heard of all sorts of different, detailed methods of going about it, like this one. It makes my head spin. Is there one right or wrong way to do it? I’d LOVE to hear any success stories anyone would like to share.
  • At what point do I force the issue? I mean, if he’s ten and is still insisting on wearing diapers, I’m thinking I’m going to have to say something. I keep waiting for him to show an interest, but nothing yet.
  • Assuming I do have to force the issue at some point, how do I go about doing that without becoming Mommy Dearest? What do you do when your child really resists using his potty chair (or the toilet, or the side of the house, or any non-diaper method of going to the bathroom)?

The only amusing thing that has come out of this was the look on my husband’s face when I told our son at the dinner table that the “Potty Fairy” might bring him a special treat after the first time he uses his potty chair. The Tooth Fairy, who takes the celebrated object and leaves a little treat in its place, is my husband’s only frame of reference for the “milestone fairy” crowd. He was very concerned about how this might work with the Potty Fairy.

Anyway, all thoughts and stories and advice welcome. I have a busy 11-month-old to keep up with as well, so I’m hoping that the key to success here doesn’t involve me having to focus on potty-related activities for long stretches of uninterrupted time.

For some reason this is rocket science to me.


  1. tb

    I don’t think there is one perfect answer, but what has worked for my 3 children is to simply tell them that on x-day we are going to wear underwear. Then, I buy many pairs of thick, absorbent underwear and try not to worry about my carpet too much. I think they have to make the connection about how it feels to *need* to go, and then the feeling of it running down their leg and making them uncomfortable. When they have the accident, we say, “That’s allright, that’s how you learn. Next time, tell mommy and we’ll run run run to the potty.” All three of my kids were potty trained within 2 or 3 days using this method. (all at or under 2 1/2 years, two girls and one boy).

    Take deep breaths. I know you just bought a new house and it will be tough to let the accidents happen. If that’s the case, plan on spending the day in your back yard with a portable potty nearby. Also… with boys it’s great fun to let them go sans pants and experiment with watering various trees.

    Good Luck!!!

  2. 4andcounting

    I wish I could offer helpful advice, but I think you have already found your share of that. I have four kids. All four were in diapers at one point. I didn’t want that to happen. It did anyway. I tried to potty train my oldest girls before baby #4 came along. They were almost 4 and almost 3. We had marginal success going #1, no success going #2. I gave up. Finally, the following spring (at that point 4 1/2 and 3 1/2 years old) they decided they were ready to use the potty. I don’t know why they decided that.
    I am now potty training my 3 1/2 year old son. He has been very willing to learn #1, only spotty on #2. For him, I took him to the store and had him choose a toy. It is sitting on our mantle. When his chart is full of stickers he gets the toy. I realize now that he can almost pee on demand, so he only gets stickers for poop.
    I share all of this to say, wait until your child is ready. If he is resisting the potty chair, or toilet, or whatever, just let it go. He is likely to regress anyway, when the baby comes, if he is not firmly on the potty side of life. Don’t stress yourself and your family out. It is not worth it! I know diapers are expensive, but your sanity is worth the price. When your child is ready it will be much easier.
    My pediatrician assured me that no child goes to school in diapers, and he is right. I have never met a 5 year old who still wears diapers. If you are relaxed about it, your child will be too.
    I hope you find a solution that works for your family. When it comes down to it, every child learns a different way, and there is no right way to do it.
    Good luck!

  3. RNW

    It is rocket science. Every child is different and you have to figure out why your child won’t use a potty and devise some reason to make it more attractive. My oldest was afraid of the potty. I had to figure out ways to make the potty less threatening and me a little more so. [grin] My middle child was too busy to go potty so “accidents” were rewarded with 15 minutes in a chair. He wasn’t stupid. He realized it would save time to use the potty and he did. My youngest just wanted to keep up with her brothers.

    I tried the underpants. My boys didn’t care if they had stuff running down their legs. Really. It provided zero motivation.

    The bottom line is what can you do to make the potty attractive.

  4. Catholic Mom

    Do not worry that your child will be ten before he is ready. He will be ready way before then. It is a matter of finding the right motivation. I was getting very frustrated with my oldest’s lack of progress and I took away his favorite Mickey Mouse shirt. I told he could have it back when he learned to go potty. He was trained within two days. Also, beware of pull-ups. I used them on second one and was having no luck training him. He then informed me these were the pants he went poop in. I immediately switched him to big boy underwear and he was potty trained within a couple of days. Interestingly, I have very little memory of child number three and child number four getting potty trained. It seemed to just happen. I was so busy with the four of them that I don’t think I paid too much attention.

  5. Mrs. V

    Don’t. Not yet. There, that was my advice. He is probably not ready. I “forced the issue” with my first and she neded up with so many problems! She was constipated so badly she would bleed when she pooped! It was awful! I had to give the poor child mineral oil!
    So, don’t stress. I can honestly tell you that she is now almost 13 and definately uses the potty.
    I had the same idea of having babies potty trained before next baby was born and it ended up being a nightmare. It was so much easier when I waited.
    Also… boys are much harder!

  6. Emily (Laundry and Lullabies)

    I’m not sure what to say about the fact that he just isn’t interested. Jonathan was interested (two months ago!) because he hated to have his diaper changed. So we told him that he could either wear diapers or use the potty. He chose the potty. We made lots of progress and then stalled, and are now back to wearing diapers. The nice thing is that he’s not fighting the diapers right now (like he used to) because it is his choice. Sometimes I wonder if toddlers are just needing some area of life where THEY can call the shots. And let’s face it, this is pretty much the one area where they can, and we can’t do much about it. I guess I’d say wait until he wants to, whether that is before or after the baby. You can’t MAKE him potty train, and it isn’t worth the stress to try.

    Another idea that my friend Jessica is doing: set a date at which point he is a big boy and will start using the potty. For Jess and her daughter, that is the day she turns three. Jess knows that her girl hates change and doesn’t handle quick changes easily, so she’s letting her know months in advance that on this VERY SPECIAL BIRTHDAY DAY this change will be happening too. I don’t know if it will work, but it sounds like a neat idea! So you might want to try that, too.

    Good luck!!!

  7. SteveG

    I am squarely with Mrs V. on this one.

    We have two boys over the age of 3 and we didn’t pressure either one of them at all.

    We regularly asked if they were interested with little or no pressure, and throughout the asking process we reminded them that they were due something really special (a nice toy of their choosing) for the accomplishment.

    We took that approach, and did little else. For both, at some point between 3 1/2 and 4, the motivation for the achievement and the toy pushed them to the point of being ready.

    At the point when they were ready, it happened with no tears, and was natural and easy.

    Latish? Yes. But painless and peaceful. Don’t sweat this, and don’t make the wee one sweat it. It’ll happen when he’s ready.

  8. Peter

    I don’t pretend to offer any one way as correct, I can only tell you what didn’t work for us. We have five children so far, three who are out of nappies.

    The boys are the toughest. We only started trying after 2.5 to 3 years old. The frustrating thing about my oldest (son) was that we knew he could do it!

    If we threatened a smack every time he failed, he never wet himself. But we hated smacking him. As soon as we removed the threat, he started wetting again.

    We offered rewards, a specific toy was promised at the end of a specific period, which he managed easily. And then went back to wetting the very day he recieved the reward!

    In the end what worked was discovering the reason he would wet rather than go to the toilet is that he didn’t like his ‘fun’ being interrupted by a toilet stop. From then on, if he wet playing Lego, the lego went away for a week. If he wet playing sport, no sport for a week, etc.

    Another tactic was to make him wash the clothes by hand every time, so the consequences of wetting were faced personally. He did a very bad job of it, but the fact it took him so long made it more effective discipline.

    I should mention that we still haven’t fully conquered this one with the lad. The girls, on the other hand, simply decided “no nappy today” and have never looked back.

    At present we are looking aprehensively at our 2.5 yr old son who is in nappies. Hmmmm. Here we go again!

  9. Paul, just this guy, you know?

    My experience has been that kids are potty trained when they buy into the vision themselves.

    I don’t know of a way to make that happen.

    But my experience has also been that it’s not so bad to have two in diapers at the same time.

  10. Ashley

    I see you have lots of good ideas. I would just like to add that my pediatrician said most kids are trained when they are three, so don’t worry about it until then. I wanted to try to train my daughter before my son was born and you know, sometimes it is just easier to have them both in diapers.

    Also- the books, videos, and bribery didn’t work with my daugher, I agree with Paul until she bought into the vision (which in her case took maturity) she wasn’t interested.

  11. Michelle

    Wow, what could I possibly say that wouldn’t just add to the confusion? The advice here seems to run the gamut and bring you right back to square one. I will say this, though: Dr. Phil is full of it. You will not train a child in one day.

    This is what it boils down to: is it easier for you to clean up messes off the floor (carpet or whatever) or change a diaper? I think the sooner you take diapers away (and I mean ALL GONE, no going back, none hiding in the drawers, except perhaps for bedtime only), the faster a child will train, and this goes for any age over 18 months. But there will be messes to clean up.

    I am working on my 5th. He’s just turning two years old and we “practice” by him going naked for long periods. My husband can’t stand the puddles, but I think he is learning what is going on. But I’m moving half-way across the country in less than a month and am not ready (myself) to give up the diapers.

    My oldest (now 9) was not trained until he was nearly 4. My second oldest is much like Peter’s son. He is now 7, and if he is too busy to get to a toilet in time, he spends an hour in the bathroom as punishment. He was better, but now that it’s summertime, he’s getting daily timeouts. It is frustrating.

    My oldest daughter did it all by herslef at the age of just 2. My second daughter needed me to take away the diapers at age 3 (I used cotton training/rubber pants – not pullups). She took a few days to conquer the basics, but a few months before I was confident in her ability to handle herself in public.

    All of my children have been pretty aware of being wet/stinky by 15 months of age. It becomes a battle of the wills (in my opinion) by age 2 1/2. Who will win: mom or kid? At that point, the kid has to want to do it or they dig in their heels.

    Hey, good luck! I think this is THE biggest challenge of young childhood.

  12. Christine

    You’ve got lots of good advice here, but I thought I’d throw my two cent in, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Big Girl had NO interest in it, eitehr, and she was completely dry every morning for months. However, I was in your exact position. Little Girl was born just a bit more than three months before Big Girl turned three. Since B.G. didn’t really care about the potty, I decided to just wait until the baby came along, then work on it later. Changing two diapers wasn’t that bad, esp. since the older one could go long periods without a dirty diaper. (I’m not kidding when I said she just didn’t care. She was ready, but stubborn. Gosh, nothing changes, does it?)

    Then, when she turned three, I told her she was a big girl. No more diapers. We did Pull Ups for about four days when I realized that they are diapers without closures, which only makes it harder to get off them when they are full of poop. For that effort, I might as well go with the training underwear!

    I bought about eight pairs of that thick training underwear, brought out the timer, and started in earnest. Every 15 minutes, the timer would go off and we’d stop everything and run to the bathroom. This way, I wasn’t the one who said it was time to try – it was the TIMER, you see. (Hey, don’t laugh! The three year old believed it!) Within a week, pee pee on the potty was the norm. Within two more weeks, so was poopy. (Golly, isn’t it fun being a parent? We have SUCH the vocabulary!)

    With Little Girl, she was begging to use the potty just as we were packing things up to get ready to move. I told her we would do it all at the new house. I promised. Poor kid probably would have been potty trained three months earlier, but who wants to drive from Orlando to SW Virginia with a just-trained 2 1/2 year old child??? It took all of a week for her to finish her training, and we used the same timer thing.

    Oh, one more thing: if you go with the training underwear, you can also get some rubber pants to try to save the carpet and furniture. It’s really yucky after an accident, but easier to clean up than trying to get that smell out of your sofa!

    Okay, that might have been a nickel’s worth. Sorry for the rambling!

  13. Christine

    Oh, hey, one other thing. Both girls still had accidents, but we kept a chart which we’d fill with stickers – one for each day without an accident. There was a BIG prize for going X number of days. (I can’t remember. Maybe Big Girl’s was a month, but her prize was a day at Disney World and dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. This was at a time, though, when I worked part time and we had passes. So it cost us gas and dinner.) The motivation of that prize was amazing, and they got to add the stickers to their charts each day. Any accidents meant that Mommy or Daddy had to put an X on the day right then. Then we’d start over again. Smaller prizes – like a dollar store toy or ice cream cones or something miniscule – were awarded in the meantime.

  14. Sarah

    Ohmygosh Jen, read my post from today, and then probably tomorrow’s. I started potty-training today too. How funny! I am definitely forcing the issue with my girls. I cannot have four in diapers any longer! I didn’t realize that our kidddos are the same age! How cool!

  15. Elena

    If your child is waking up dry from naps and night time, he’s probably ready to start.

    We used a chart for stickers too. I let the kids pick the stickers they wanted to use and we let them put a sticker on the potty chart every time they went potty.

    Also since it is summer time, you might want to consider letting him run around in just a long T-shirt so that when he wants to go potty he doesn’t have to mess with pants or underwear. Just lift the shirt and go! Of course you need to be home a lot to do that, but it works pretty well. Good luck Jen!

  16. Anonymous

    I agree with those saying “wait”. As a mom of 3 very different kids (on this issue), I learned that it’s a whole lot more stress and work and possibly tears doing it when you are the only one who wants it. And, it’s not necessarily successful. I found that when the timing was right, it was quick and relatively easy for my kids.
    And, as someone said, cleaning up messes from the carpet is harder than changing a diaper. Plus, boys often aren’t physiologically ready before 3, and kids often regress in this area when there is change (like a new baby) in the household.
    MY opinion is – make it easier on yourself and your kids and wait until life settles a bit with the new baby and your oldest shows he is ready for this bigboy step.
    And pray. You’ll know when the time is right.
    You’ll see – toilet training does happen. Really!

  17. Jennifer F.

    Wow, thank you all! I’m just now getting to sit down and read all of these. Might take me a little while to digest. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And just to clarify, I have a baby as well, so we’re talking about having *three* in diapers once the new baby gets here (not just two). Not that that’s impossible, just something I was hoping to avoid. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Darwin

    For this exciting home science experiment you will need several pairs of thick cotton training briefs, two very long wires, and a fully charged car battery…

  19. PB

    We kept reminding him that this is what big boys do, and if you want to be a big boy you’ll go potty too! We also got into a routine that before nightly bath he would go pee pee potty. Once the light bulb went off over his head he has been good since. He’s had a lot of accidents but that goes with the territory. We had hopped to have him fully trained before the new baby came around but found that he did most of the work an having a newborn in the house while rushing one to the potty was not that hard.

  20. Milehimama

    The fact is, you cannot MAKE a child go potty if they don’t want to. And, actually, a diapered child is lower maintenance than a newly minted potty child. At least, in my house – the new pottier wants to go potty 400 times a day and NEEDS a Mommy audience to do it.

    Yep – with my first ones we had 4 in diapers. My oldest didn’t train until he was 4 years old, then he pretty much did it himself overnight (and yeah, I tried the Dr. Phil method, and about 1000 other methods. Didn’t work – because my boy wasn’t ready!)

    My second son potty trained at the same time as his brother. He’s almost 8 though and still doesn’t make it through the night dry.

    My daughter trained at 18 months. She was totally high maintenance.

    My 4th child, boy, trained himself. Again, pretty much overnight. He’s consistently dry all night too. Interestingly, he trained himself on #2 before he would go #1 in the potty.

    My 5th is almost trained now (except at night), she’s three – and the 18 month old is working on it as well.

    Point is, every kid is different and they’ll do it when they are ready. Have you started the Big Boy propaganda yet? i.e., Big Boys don’t wear diapers. When you’re a Big Boy you won’t have diapers either and you can ride your bike too! and so on.

    Good luck.

  21. Milehimama

    Oh I forgot to add, I totally bribed them too. M&M’s, chocolate chips… stickers just didn’t do it for them.

    Right now my 3 yo has a Little Nemo Pez dispenser (hey. It matches the bathroom.)

    Mama Says

  22. majellamom

    Okay, I am no expert on this, since I’ve only potty trained one…but here is my “do as I say, not as I did” advice.

    DO NOT attempt to potty train toddler before baby comes home! I repeat! DO NOT!!!

    My theory was that my MIL could potty train my older daughter while I lived with my parents waiting for baby #2…my MIL really tried! (She successfully potty trained 4 kids…although she did attempt potty training in one day with my hubby, her oldest!)

    I think because she tried so hard while I was gone, it set back potty training after I got home with the new baby. Even with c-section recovery, changing two diapers wasn’t too bad (other than the toddler diaper smell, of course!) You just do assembily line changes (I learned this tip from a friend who had 3 in diapers at one point…) I had the toddler climb up on a changing pad on her bed, put the baby next to her, changed the toddler diaper, she climbed down to play and then changed the baby.

    My older one moved to panties when she seemed interested, and within a couple of days, she almost always peed in the potty chair…(occasional accidents when she got too busy!) but almost never pooped in it. Now, a few months later, she has only had one accident in almost a month (a poop one the other day while playing outside) and she takes herself to the potty chair when she has to go (although her new thing is that she will only pee in the potty chair, and climbs up on the toilet to poop…strange kid!)

  23. Peony Moss

    Concur with the “consider waiting” chorus, especially since your boy is saying NO WAY. My peds instructor in nursing school used to recommend training during the summer closest to the third birthday.

    My ds didn’t train till 3 1/2. Fancy underwear, bribery… nothing worked.

    I ended up following the suggestions in a book called “Toilet Training in Less than a Day” (Dr Phil’s plan is very, very similar to the one in this book.) It actually took about two or three days (which the author said wasn’t unusual for older kids who had become “toilet resistant.”) But once it took, it took. He was dry at night immediately and was free of daytime accidents within a couple of weeks.

    I blocked off a few days on the calendar, stocked up on juice, cream soda, lemonade, ginger ale, etc., and walled us off in the kitchen (vinyl floor). We did not do the doll thing at all. What we did was practice all the parts of the process: go to the bathroom, pull down the pants, sit, go, stand up, pull up the pants, wash hands. Then I rewarded him with some kind of very dilute liquid treat (to fill his little bladder up again). If he made it to the potty, great; huzzahs and (liquid) rewards. If not, no big deal; we just practiced all the parts of The Process again.

    The idea is to get them to really notice the feeling of needing to go and then practicing all the steps of Going. We used the plastic training pants.

    After two days of this he was getting close, but sometimes he was still lazy. Daddy gave him a stern look and said, “It’s not okay to wet your pants.” He nodded. And that was it — he was trained.

    In the weeks after, I had better success when I rewarded dry pants (as opposed to rewarding going in the potty.) Sometimes I did dry pants checks as often as every fifteen or twenty minutes. Dry pants = jelly bean. As he got the hang of it I tapered off the treats.

  24. Anonymous

    i think being potty trained is over-rated. diapers are really convenient when you’re at wal-mart and the 2 y.o. says “i gotta go” you don’t have to worry about dragging everyone into a filthy bathroom. my oldest loved checking out every restroom of every public place we ever went to.

  25. Anonymous

    i would hate to see you put in all that effort to train the older one just to have him regress when the baby comes and you can’t devote all day brainpower to poop.


    p.s. magellamom, 3 in diapers for only a month! ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Christine

    That regression thing was why we waited with Big Girl.

  27. Kate

    I have a 28 mos. old boy who is potty-training right now. In fact this morning he took off his underpants, used the pot, and came and told me “I pee!” all by himself! (Yay, victory!).

    Just before his second birthday we had a window of time iun which he was reall interested in the toilet and pot and would sit on it when I asked him too and pee a couple times a day. Then I decided a couple of months ago to speed up the process by letting him run around naked and really focussing on the process for a couple of days. It backfired – he hated making a ‘mess’ and cried for his diapers, and the stress of all that attention kept him from being able to ‘let go’ on the pot.

    So I let it go for a while, and just a few days ago restarted (with a new, more comfortable potty). Now it seems to be going much better for both of us.

    I read a lot whenever I am doing something new, and my favorite for potty training is “No Cry Toilet Training” (or something like that) by Elizabeth Pantley. It is very common sense, addresses physiological and social readiness very well, and talks about different methods that work with different children. I found a lot of reassurance and good ideas in the book.

  28. alicia

    I used the “Toilet training in less than a day” method – very similar to what Dr. Phil describes. I used it for all 6 kids. My mom had 4 bedwetters of 6 kids, so did my mother in law. I had none. Zero. Zip. Nada. Once we started the process, all the kids were out of diapers totally within a week. I was floored.
    HOWEVER – I don’t recommend learning the method from the brief Dr. Phil page. Get the book. The key is that your child MUST be physically and psychologically ready – and the book has a great screening tool for readiness. Age at potty training for my kids ranged from 20 months (my OCD eldest child) to 36 months (her equally stubborn but in a different way brother).
    One of the things I learned is to use underwear, not diapers, not pull-ups. Cloth. It was easier for me to toilet train because I used cloth diapers, too, I think

  29. Tony

    I like the “hit the cheerios” method (at least for the peeing part). You toss a handful of cheerios in the toilet and let him “shoot at them” ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. kim

    Back in the day, my kids are in their 30’s, I couldn’t afford disposable diapers. I used cloth diapers(any of you young kids ever heard of them?). The disposable diapers today are super absorbant- they don’t feel wet even when they are. They are convenient for mom and dad, but not good for potty training.

    I never had a problem with potty traing. Cloth diapers are uncomfortable. My son, the oldest, was potty trained at 2 yrs. with little effort. He pretty much did it on his own because he didn’t like being wet. The second is always easier. They tend to mimic their older sibling. My daughter was trained at 18 mos. but she wanted to stand and pee like her brother! (Don’t worry, she’s got it right now.)

    Take some advice from an old grandma. Get rid of the disposable diapers. Find some thick traing pants and some rubber pants to put over them so they don’t ruin the carpet and the furniture. Believe or not you can still find rubber pants at Target.

    My son and his wife had trouble with their 3 yr. old until they finally listened to me and got rid of the disposable diapers. She was trained within 1 week.

    God Bless!

  31. Milehimama

    We’ve never used cloth diapers (although, had I known we’d have 7 kids, I might have made the investment… except dh has put his foot down and said NO! LOL)

    If you fold some toilet paper and put it in the diaper, or use a rag (we cut up towels into washcloth size squares, then fold) they will feel “wet” in a disposable. We actually used the diaper rags for a little bit of absorbency boost for our super pee-ers at night.

    Of course, then you have diaper laundry, which may be exactly what you are trying to avoid with the disposables!

    Mama Says

  32. Bekah

    I’ve had various degrees of succes with my, now four, potty-trained children. For the first three, I used the bare-bottom, let ’em run around and whisk ’em to the potty when they go, method. They usually got the idea pretty quickly. The problem with #3 was stubborness once he got the point. He still doesn’t always choose to go to the toilet, and he’s five. The fourth has just learned. He was the easiest of them all by far, but mostly because he is so eager to emulate the older ones. I did not let him run around nude, because my daughter is old enough that I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable (though she is familiar with male anatomy and helps with baths and diaper changes). I didn’t think it appropriate, and he also hated not having any pants. He would devolve to tears. We used the M&M bribery method.

    The less ready the child is, the longer it will take. I don’t think it’s impossible, if the child is not quite willing at the start, but it’s so much less stressful if they are willing. I would do everything I could to avoid three in diapers, personally, too. It might be worth it just to let him (your oldest is a him, right?) run around nude for a few days and see what happens. You can always drop it and wait, if it’s not going well.

  33. tb

    One last comment from me (the first poster), don’t be afraid to give it a try for 2 days. You won’t know if he’s ready unless you give it a shot. A lot of times the kids *become* ready when they think they don’t have an option. Be positive with him and with yourself (and get the plastic pants to put over the thick cloth underwear). If it doesn’t work, you’re not out anything. You can do it!

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