Potty Training and Your Routine

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As many parents begin the potty training process, they come to realize that certain things in the daily routine are difficult while potty training. I think the biggest concern is over independent playtime (room time). Second would be nap time. This post outlines several options for making this process easier on everyone. This post is in no way exhaustive. By that, I mean that this post has some ideas for you. They may or may not work for you. Take these ideas and modify them for your family and your situation. These ideas can get your imagination rolling.


I did this with both Brayden and Kaitlyn when first potty training. You can put your child in diapers or pull-ups for sleeping. A child can be daytime trained before nighttime/sleeping trained. Remember to think of potty training as a learning process, not a learning event–just like learning to walk.

As you get your child up and find the diaper clean and dry, you can switch him over to underwear. Brayden moved to underwear during naps within a week of starting potty training (age three), while Kaitlyn is over a month in for official potty training and still wears diapers during naps and sleeping. She sometimes wakes from naps clean and dry, sometimes not. She isn’t consistent enough to be ready to move away from diapers yet (at least for me).

Another option is to use underwear or training pants in conjunction with the plastic cover like often used in cloth diapering.

Read: How to Stop Your Toddler from Pooping at Nap Time

I did this with Kaitlyn. Our first day of official potty training, we didn’t do independent playtime. We just spent the day together with her by my side (except for sleeping). At first, I expected her to be able to hold it as long as Brayden. I didn’t consciously have that thought; I just realized after a couple of accidents that I was doing that. So I had her use the potty every thirty minutes. After a couple of days, she was able to hold it longer as she got used to not wearing a diaper.

We did spend the day together again for the next couple of days. After that, she was able to hold it longer and I was more aware of her individual potty needs and the times of day she really needed to use the potty to avoid accidents. We then went back to our normal routine.

I like to use a small potty chair (although we will also sit on a big potty randomly). I like the small potty chair because:

  1. We can take it with us on road trips/vacations (like camping).
  2. We can haul it around the house with us so the potty is never far away.
  3. The child can get off and on by themselves.

While my child is first learning to use the potty, I like to carry the potty chair with us around the house. I put it on a towel so drips and spills land on that and not the floor (this is a necessity with a boy and a nicety with a girl). A lot of times when they are first learning, when they realize they need to use the potty, they need it immediately.

With Brayden, I put the potty chair in independent playtime with him. He would use the potty, then come tell me and we would clean it out. We did this during the initial learning phase, then we graduated to just having him come out to use the potty when needed.

I have my children use the potty at regular times of day whether they “need” to or not. Brayden (4.5) is old enough to regulate himself well, but I still have three times of day he must use the potty:

  1. In the morning
  2. Before rest time (previously known as nap time 😉 )
  3. Before bed

He will use the potty at other times of day, but he does it as needed. I have him go before sleeping so he doesn’t need to get up during the sleep time.

Kaitlyn also has regular times, but I have her go more often than Brayden. As she has gotten better about recognizing when to go, I have cut back on required times. Here are her current required times at 2.5:

  1. In the morning (I will note that for us, in the morning is before bath. It is a good idea to have your child go potty before bath no matter what time of day it is at)
  2. After bath
  3. Before independent playtime
  4. After each meal (eating fires up the digestive tract, so it is a normal time to need to use the bathroom)
  5. Before nap (after lunch and before nap is the same time)
  6. After nap
  7. Before bed
  8. Any time we leave the house

You can see that as they get older, I hand more control over to the child. I will ask Brayden if he needs to use the bathroom before we go somewhere. We never have had issues with him about needing to go in the car or in stores. If he was that way, I would require he use the bathroom before we left rather than simply asking. Sometimes he goes, sometimes he doesn’t.

For Kaitlyn, rather than leaving the potty in the room with her, I leave the door open. We recently moved, so now the bathroom is right next to the room where we do independent playtime. In our old house, it was down the hall and around the corner. Since the bathroom is right there, I prefer to leave the potty in the bathroom.

I tried having her come out and tell me when she needed to go while leaving the door closed, but for some reason, with the door closed, she wouldn’t come out (even though she is able to open it just fine). With the door open, she comes out, uses the bathroom, then comes and tells me. She is good about staying in the room with the door open, so be sure you have that level of obedience before trying this.

Another option is to use diapers during independent playtime.

Potty training hands a measure of control over to your child. If you want your child to wear underwear during independent playtime, then you have to allow your child the freedom to come out and use the bathroom if needed. Many children will test the boundaries of this new freedom. Don’t get angry and don’t stress out that all of the previous obedience training in your child’s life to this point is now being washed away. It is totally normal for children to test boundaries. Just patiently help your child learn appropriate use of this new freedom. You will eventually get there.

When Brayden first started wearing underwear for naps, I just expected that he would come out of nap time to use the bathroom if needed. One day I went to wake him up and found he had an accident. He was asleep when I went in and I felt terrible that he had slept in his accident! I talked to him and told him if he needed to use the bathroom during nap, he could come out and use the potty. His eyes literally got big.

He spent several days trying this new privilege out. There were a couple of days he literally came out every 15 minutes to “use the potty.” We worked through it and he was soon using the privilege responsibly.

The level of boundary testing will depend on your child. Brayden is by nature much more of a boundary tester than Kaitlyn, so he really tested it, while Kaitlyn has yet to (though I am sure now that I typed that she will start next week 😉 ).

Potty training has a tendency to stress parents out. Try to just relax and take things as they come. I am much more relaxed with Kaitlyn than I was Brayden, and potty training is no longer something I dread. Remember your goals and tailor the process to your family’s needs.


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Laura
    November 24, 2009 / 1:25 AM

    Thank you for your post. I am getting ready to begin the process with my little boy. I am excited but somewhat terrified about the process. This has given me some great ideas to start!

  2. Susanne
    November 24, 2009 / 3:42 PM

    Good Suggestions! My son is not quite at the age of potty training, but this are some tips to keep in mind!

  3. celestevy
    November 24, 2009 / 6:34 PM

    What age did you start potty training Kaitlyn? What method did you us? How long did it take her? Did she show all the signs of readiness or some of the signs when you started?

  4. Johanna in MD
    November 24, 2009 / 9:35 PM

    Excellent suggestions! I am nowhere near this stage but have always been puzzled that this is such a source of stress for moms. I appreciate the encouraging advice.

  5. Hillary Kouba
    November 24, 2009 / 10:15 PM

    Thanks for the tips! I recently potty-trained my 3 year old this summer and she is still in pullups for naps and night time. Almost everyday during naptime she has a dirty diaper. I think this is just "her time to go" because she will go on the potty if she needs to at another time but because of her daily routine I am hesitant to leave panties on. What would you suggest? Thanks for your wonderful blog!

    November 25, 2009 / 3:26 AM

    Read children's story books about potty training to your child. There are lots of books available for you get online on potty training. Reading and imagination helps the child to relate to the interesting characters and behaviors within the story and helps them follow accordingly. Offer lots of praise when your child does make some progress. It is not an easy practice but this will help you see results amazingly when you really put in the effort to make your child proud of their achievement. Avoid physical punishment for not using the potty. Stop all reminders about using the toilet. Replace the reminders with the potty training stories you’ve read to your child. This helps as their mind recalls the story and how will keep it in mind when its time.source: http://www.childdevelopmenttechniques.com

  7. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:45 PM

    Laura, you are welcome! Good luck!

  8. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:45 PM

    Thanks Susanne 🙂

  9. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:48 PM

    Celestevy, it is a long story. I started in a way when she was 18/19 months old. She did really well. When I had McKenna, however, Kaitlyn was not able to pull pants off/on by herself and get off/on the potty herself, so I put her back in diapers. I didn't want to deal with messes due to nursing, and I needed to be able to not worry about it. Then things got out of newborn stage and we put our house on the market and moved…we went back to it at almost 2.5. She was super fast since she already knew what she was doing. When we started a year ago, she didn't show all signs. She just really wanted to. They don't need to show all signs, but most.

  10. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:49 PM

    Johanna in MD, it is stressful! I was much more relaxed with Kaitlyn than Brayden, though.

  11. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:50 PM

    Hillary Kouba, I have a post titled: Pooping on the Potty with tips. My guess is she doesn't want/like/know how to poop on the potty and is just waiting for nap time. If any of that is the case, you might go for some nice rewards to get her going.

  12. Plowmanators
    December 8, 2009 / 10:54 PM

    Sorry, celestevy, I just saw I missed part of your question. I basically used the method from Pottywise…but not exactly. We weren't formal with Kaitlyn. She just wanted to so we did. With Brayden, he probably would have happily stayed in diapers for many more year 🙂 so we were quite formal and followed pottywise pretty closely.

  13. Jana (Agnes)
    March 20, 2010 / 7:30 PM

    Thank you for your blog, Val!Always very useful for me especially now that I have a new baby boy almost a month old and a 19 months old girl. Maybe you can help me out with her potty training. I have her go on the potty after meals and before bed. She used to be very good both about pooping and peeing on the potty when I put her on it but she has recently started being very restless when sitting on the potty, she wants to do things and be entertained: have me read her a book or watch a DVD, otherwise she just gets up and walks away or won´t sit on the potty at all. This began even before the baby was born. Should I stop putting her on the potty until she asks for it? Thank you for your thoughts.

  14. Piper
    March 28, 2010 / 8:55 PM

    I have a 21 month old girl who has initiated potty training on her own. I held off for a while because I just had a baby 8 weeks ago, but lately she has been telling us she needs to go and going when we put her on the potty. So, I figured let's just let her do it. She is doing great, but my problem is at nap time she will say she needs to go "pee pee potty" so when I bring her she just sits in there and plays and does not do anything. I have been super chill about the whole potty training thing, but for some reason this is just frustrating me to no end. WHen I tell her all finished and say "good job for trying" or whatever, and then try to pull her pull up back on she has a huge tantrum because she does not want to go back to bed. She has been a great sleeper so I do eventually get a nap out of her, but not after several big fights and a very frustrated mama that has unfortunately been having a hard time not letting that frustration show. I know this is a boundary test and I am happy to let her come use the bathroom during her nap, but I am not happy to just let her sit on the potty and play with the door or the towel rack or her pull up or whatever. Do you have any suggestions for how to allow her the freedom to use the bathroom and get my help in using it, but not allowing her to avoid her nap by saying she has to use the bathroom?Also, just an FYI, I have tried 2-3 times now to just put potty training on hold and keep her in diapers. She truly is ready, she will hold it and hold it until she gets cranky from holding it. She also will tell us she needs to go so we can't really say just go in your diaper. She is almost 100% pee trained for wake time hours, but she is not poop trained. I think part of the issue is that she needs to poop during her nap, but can't get it out when we try to bring her to the bathroom.

  15. Plowmanators
    April 5, 2010 / 11:08 PM

    Jana, Well, if it were me, I would probably just back off at that age. However, I am sure you could ask other people and they would say to keep trying.But when I think about having a newborn, it just doesn't seem worth the conflict at that point. If you want to keep the potty routine, you could have her sit and not stress about weather or not she goes. I would be careful about creating a bad relationship with the potty.Go with your gut on this on what you think would be best for her. Good luck!

  16. Plowmanators
    April 12, 2010 / 6:17 PM

    Piper, I agree with your conclusions on her reasons for needing to go potty during nap but not able to.This is what I did with Kaitlyn under the same situation. I told her that for the time, she would wear diapers for nap and bed–for all sleeping. So I had her go potty right before nap and right after nap, but she wore a diaper during nap. I don't know if that would work for her, but at that age, that is what I would do (and did).Kaitlyn now has a little potty chair in her room during nap. Then she can get up and go potty if needed and she can call me when she is done. I don't know if a 21 month old is old enough for that, though. You would hav to make that call based on her ability for getting panties down on her own and such.

  17. Jenny
    November 3, 2010 / 7:31 PM

    Piper and Plowmanators,I am having the same trouble with nap time and potty training. Just the other day I told someone how great it is to lay my daughter down and walk out the door for naps. The last two days, I have eaten my words. We started potty training 4 or 5 days ago and I think she is scared to have an accident. (She is 26 1/2 months.) I put her in a pull up for naps and bed. Today she told me she had to poop and then pee. Well she did poop but no pee. I grew extremely frustrated which led to a crying child and an hour behind nap schedule. I ended up having to lay down with her for her to fall asleep. I do not want to get into this habit. What do I do to stop it and control it? Piper, what ended up working for you?

  18. Plowmanators
    November 15, 2010 / 9:06 PM

    Jenny, one thing is to make sure you start the potty process with plenty of time before nap. Not 10 minutes before…more like 30 🙂 Or more. And work to figure out what is best for her (looking at books, holding a toy, being alone, etc.)Like I said above, I would consider the diaper during nap.

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