Potty Training: How I Do It


As discussed in On Becoming Toddlerwise, there is no one right method to potty training. There are lots of ways to do it (see Potty Training: More Than One Right Method). I think it is helpful for parents to hear how other parents do it, because that parent might just have a certain method that you think will work for your child.

Potty Training Method: Potty Training Tips from a mom of 4 potty trained children

The way I potty train is pretty simple and pretty unceremonious. So long as my child is ready to potty train, however, it is very, very effective. Check it out. Take from it what you think will be effective and tweak things as needed to make it the best for your family.

Start by being ready

You need to be ready for the work involved (yes, it is work) and your child needs to be ready to learn. There are a fair number of people out there who think you absolutely should not start potty training and then stop only to pick it back up a few months (or whatever length of time) later.

I fully disagree with that. With Brayden and McKenna, we tried potty training initially before the child was ready for it. We tried it, the child wasn’t ready, so we stopped. I think it is worse to force a skill the child isn’t ready for than to stop and start later when the child isn’t ready. For both Brayden and McKenna, when we started a few months later, they both were basically immediately potty trained. I do not think taking a break was of any detriment at all.

Give fair warning 

Tell your child, “[on this day], you will no longer wear diapers. You will wear panties!” Pick an event in the year (birthday, spring, holiday, etc) rather than a date (February 14) because the child doesn’t get dates like she gets events. For more on this, see Potty/Poop Training Tip: Give Fair Warning.

Have your supplies

These are the supplies I use:

  • Treats: I use treats as rewards for going potty, going poop, and staying clean and dry.
  • Drinks/Snacks: I have never actually been very effective with pushing the drinks and salty snacks (to encourage drinking), but I think it is a good idea so I am including it here. My children can hold it forever, so if any of them would have guzzled drinks in the day like I encouraged, this would have helped the need to pee come up more often, but they just aren’t huge drinkers.
  • Potty chair: We have used the potty seat and the potty chair. Consistently, all three of mine have started out much more comfortable and successful on the potty chair (like this one  Fisher-Price Cheer for Me! Potty).
  • Underwear: A given
  • Timer
  • Bath towel: for easier cleaning of messes
  • Patience

Get started

When that special date arrives, get your child up and excitedly talk about  how she gets to wear underwear now! Hurray! Put the underwear on her. I typically stop at the underwear. The addition of pants pushes the child into forgetting about the underwear and need to pee in the potty. If you find your child has a hard time not peeing in underwear even with no pants, you can try the bare-bottom approach. I started off potty training one of my children that way and it was very helpful. After a day or two, the child is ready for underwear.

We talk about where we pee (in the potty) and where we don’t pee (in our underwear).

For the first day, I know I will spend the day with my child. There will be no independent play–we will be side by side for the day. We start by sitting on the potty every 15-30 minutes. We sit for 4-10 minutes, and we set the timer for it. The child sits on the potty until A) she goes potty or B) the timer dings. At this point, I am praising for sitting on the potty until the timer dings. Also, the child gets a small treat for being clean and dry when we go to the potty. Do not show disappointment if your child does not potty. That is okay.

When it is time to go to the potty, I say,

“Are you clean and dry? Let’s check!” (we check)

If clean and dry, we cheer and get a treat (I like a chocolate chip–some children are motivated by sticker charts). Then I say, “Let’s go sit on the potty now.” We go sit and set the timer.

If the child pees or poops, we cheer and do another small treat. If not, we say that is okay and will try again next time.

If the child is not clean and dry, I do not get upset or disappointed. We just change the clothes and move on. My children have wanted to stay clean and dry and are sad enough on their own without feeling like they have disappointed me on top of it. I encourage them, tell them it takes practice, and they can try again.

We do this all day. When the child is sitting on the couch or some other absorbent surface, I have the child sit on a bath towel folded up. It just helps if there is an accident.

And I expect accidents. There aren’t always accidents the first day, especially if you are really keeping your attention on the child. But there will be accidents at some point during the training process. This is normal. See Potty Training and Accidents.

As the day goes on, you will be trying to figure out what best helps your child to pee and poop in the potty, and so will your child. Some children need to be left alone (for those children, I sit right outside the bathroom door where they can’t see me). Some like you to sit and read to them. Some like songs. There are lots of different things children can prefer. As the child gets trained, most will be able to pee no matter who is in the room and what you are or are not doing. Poop often remains a private action, however.

>>>Looking for an alternative potty training method? Read all about the Oh Crap! Potty Training Method here.

Nap Time

What to do about nap time? With Brayden, he just stayed in underwear, but he was 3 when we started. Kaitlyn was young when she first potty trained (herself)–19 months. So our precendent with her was just a diaper. We just did diapers for night and nap, no biggie. With McKenna (2.5 when potty trained), she didn’t want to put a diaper on. She wanted panties. We have some super absorbent panties we use  when potty training. I put her in those. She did great the first day, but after a week or so, I figured out she often peed while sleeping. For a while, we did her panties with a plastic swim diaper cover over top, but I eventually got some Clifford Pull-ups and told her they were sleeping panties. She sometimes peed in them, sometimes not.

I also put her little potty in her room on top of a towel. She is allowed to get up and use the potty if she needs, and she calls me after she is done using it. This way she can use the potty when needed, but doesn’t spend every 15 minutes of naptime calling out that she needs to go potty only to not go (yes, we had a couple of days of that).

Day 2

I treat day 2 the same as day one. We spend the day together and we go to the potty often. I usually start potty training on a Friday so Saturday I have my husband home to spend some time with the child during potty training. It just helps you to maintain sanity with a 15 minute break here and there and having reinforcement on your side.

Continuing on

By Monday, day 4, we can go back to a normal schedule. We can do independent play (we do the same rule about potty as nap time–put the potty in there and call me after you have gone potty. If the child was too young to be trusted with this (like Kaitlyn was), I do a diaper). We go about our day as normal. When we go in public, we wear underwear. I bring an extra pair for the child. We continue to reward for clean and dry, and we also reward for peeing in the potty and pooping in the potty.

We take the frequency of our potty visits down as I can tell how often the child really needs to go.

This is when accidents will really happen. You are not being a helicopter parent anymore and your child will play and forget about the fact that she is wearing underwear. You will go days accident free and then suddenly have an accident. It is all normal. Expect the accidents.

Extra helps

With Brayden and Kaitlyn, I didn’t use or do anything extra. With McKenna, there were a few things that I added that I think helped her want to go potty and be successful going potty.

First was she saw peers learning to go potty. She was pretty resistant to the idea of going potty even though everyone in the family used the potty. She has no problem being younger than the family. But when she saw both her cousin her age and her best friend her age were potty training, she suddenly got very interested. I didn’t tell her or point it out to her, she just observed it.

Second was we read books about using the potty.

Third was we watched Elmo’s Potty Time DVD. It can be painfully slow and boring at parts, and she asked to have it turned off after a while, but she loves Elmo and Elmo spent a lot of time talking about going potty. It seemed to help.

Night Training

Kaitlyn potty trained herself quite early–in fact, Kaitlyn stopped wearing diapers during the day at 19 months old…until McKenna was born and I didn’t want her needing to go potty while I was nursing the baby so I put her back in diapers for about 5 months…but that is a whole different story.

So anyway, while she was not wearing diapers in the day, I still had her in diapers at night.

At some point shortly after Kaitlyn turned 3, I got thinking it was time to remove the nighttime diaper.

The problem is that she wasn’t showing signs of being ready for no diaper at night. She didn’t wake up dry in the morning, even though I was waking her up in the morning, so I knew she was peeing in her diaper at some point in the night some nights.

Still, I just had the feeling she was ready for it.

So I gave her the warning I have talked about, letting her know well in advance that she wouldn’t be wearing diapers at night once the box of diapers ran out. As it got closer to the day, I told her how many days.

She would inform me that she wanted to wear diapers at night still. But happily, another desire crept up for her.

She wanted to start drinking from regular cups at meals instead of sippy cups. I know, I know. She was old enough. But I rather enjoyed not cleaning up spilled milk at meals.

I then informed her that she could start drinking from a regular cup as soon as she stopped wearing diapers at night.

She was immediately interested in the idea. I still kept the date the same for the big move out of diapers.

The day came. I went in to get her in the morning. She was awake, but had peed in her bed.

Of course, my first reaction was that we needed to go back to diapers. She obviously wasn’t ready and I had made a huge mistake. Some kids’ bladders just aren’t ready at that age. No big deal.

But still, I had a feeling that we should try again.

The next morning, she woke up clean and dry! Hurray!

The next morning, she was a little wet.

The next two mornings, clean and dry!

Then a wet morning.

Then a week of dry!

Then a wet morning.

Then months and months of dry!

The moral here? First, stick with your gut. Second, expect accidents along the way. Just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. Third, have patience.

Oh how I hated washing her bedding several days a week, but it was worth it.

Another thing, we put her little potty in her room so if she needed to go potty she could easily get to one and we could avoid accidents.


I hope this gives you an idea of what I do. I think it is pretty simple–though it is tiring for a few days.

Let me know if you have any questions–but see my list of posts below. I have quite a few on potty training. And please share if you have any tips you have loved for potty training!

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