Thursday, August 20, 2009

Potty Training 101!!

Potty Training Bootcamp! 

I originally wrote this post in 2009, after potty training my 2nd child.  7 years and 2 more children later, I still wholeheartedly believe in this method. 

A few things to note...

A-- I am no longer blogging.

B-- I am certainly not the potty training expert.  I am thankful this post has helped so many friends (and strangers).


I adapted and have added to the the process as described in Toilet Training in Less than a Day. The principles in the book are good, but the book itself is outdated and hard to follow at times. Now does this mean your child will be potty trained in less than a day? Some just might. But you do intensive training in 1 day... what we like to refer to as Potty Training Boot camp!

So, Come on...sign up and join the troops!!

Is my child ready??

I personally believe the ideal age is 24-32 months.  Not 18-22 months, not 4, and not just whenever the child thinks they are ready.

Let me say a few things here. Readiness and interest are not the same things. You can read the whole chapter on readiness in ANY potty training book and all will say the same thing (well most will say the same thing) Neither of my children showed any interest in the potty. Neither had ever done any bodily function on a potty. Charlotte actually showed resistance the day before our training. But she was ready. I knew she was ready.    I potty trained both my older children at 2 1 /2. 

Can your child follow easy instructions?
(go get your shoes, go put your blankie in the bed)

Does your child recognize when they have a bowel movement?
(do they hide, tell you, ask to be changed, etc)

The above are just a few examples of readiness.
Follow readiness, not interest.
Of course, you can offer the potty every night before bath, as early as 1 year old. No pressure, just let them try.  But I HIGHLY recommend NOT dabbling in potty training until YOU are ready to do the training.  Just because an 18month old is interested in the potty does NOT mean they are ready to potty train.   Don’t jump into potty training until you are really ready to go full force. 

1-- Talk it up!
Talk everything undies. Talk all about pee pee and poo in the potty. Talk about all the people you know who wear undies. Read all the potty books you can find. Spend a day in Barnes and Noble and let child pick their favorite book to buy. Borrow potty videos from library.

2-- A few days before "Training Day" take Child to buy undies 
They pick whatever they want! I recommend having LOTS of undies. I am a believer in NOT letting child wear the undies until the day of training.... no "practice" rounds here. Undies are for big kids, diapers are for babies. So the day you buy your undies, let child know they can't wear them until we learn to use the potty.

Buy pull ups for nap time and Bed time. Buy a potty seat if you want... I have big (as in weight) kids and they can easily hold themselves up on a regular toilet. The baby potties are WAY to small for their bums. So we bypass the little potty all together and go straight for the big toilet. 

3-- Choose a training day and mark it on your calendar.

Clear the whole day and probably a few days after...with no necessary outings. Have childcare set up for any older siblings and younger ones (unless you are nursing like in my case and can't be away from baby) Plan for a good 3 hours in morning leading up to lunch and will BOTH be worn out, but hopefully the fruits of your labor will start to show!

4--Night before---

I think it is critical to make sure you let child know that tomorrow we are throwing all our diapers away and we are going to learn to use the potty. Tomorrow we get to wear the undies we bought. Don't just shock the child the morning of. Prepare them the best you can by talking it up like a broken record.

5--Day of Training!! Big Kids Wear Undies!! 

Since you've been talking about pottying and undies for a good week now, kick off training with some more talk and reading some books. Then explain that they are going to wear undies (child is still in a diaper for this part...their LAST diaper ever)! We made a chart of all the friends and family who wear undies. Really try and let child come up with this list on their own. We even called a few friends and family and told them that we were going to wear undies today, and asked them if they wore undies.

6 -- No More Diapers for Me! 

Now you are going to pack up all the diapers and send them to babies. This part is really fun! Get a trash bag and have child throw each diaper into the trash bag themselves. Go from room to room, wherever you keep diapers. Don't forget the diaper bag... Put all your diapers in a trash bag. Ask child what baby they want to send the diapers to. Carson picked Baby Jonathan. We proceeded to write Baby Jonathan a note and tied up the diapers.

7-- Diaper off... Undies on!
The last diaper in your house should be the one on your child's bottom. Make a big deal out of taking that diaper off, and throwing it away and picking out the child's FIRST pair of undies! Woo Hoo! This next sentence is critical…

You have a child that wears undies now... NO going back!

8-- Start Training... 
Yes, that was all just prep work! But really it all adds up to a giant "cha-ching" in the end. Now the real training begins. First, pour yourself a glass of water, because you are about to talk like a broken record for the next 2 hours. Have an arsenal of salty snacks, sweet treats, and yummy drinks (chocolate milk and gatorade are some faves here) any drink your child will chug.

9--Dry Undies

The emphasis in all this training is Dry undies! Yes, we praise pottying, but we REALLY praise and reward dryness. Your job is to ask consistently (and that means every 1-2 minutes at first) "Are your undies dry? Feel them. My undies are dry. Are your undies dry?" Reward with a smartie or potato chip. Let them drink as much as they want.

10--The Doll--Have child train the doll. 

We all know that teaching someone else is sometimes the best way to learn ourselves. Have a doll or teddy ready to "participate" with you. It does not have to be a fancy peeing doll. Any doll will do. But do try and have some sort of undies on the doll. A cloth pinned on the sides is fine. While asking if child's undies are dry, ask if dolly's undies are dry too.
Dolly's undies are dry? Dolly gets a treat!
Mommy's undies are dry? Mommy gets a treat?
Child's undies are dry? They get a treat.
Repeat the process multiple times. (this shouldn't take but 10 minutes to go through this 3 or more times)
Then show child with the doll what to do if doll needs to pee pee.

11-- I have to Pee Pee!

Say something like the following:
I think dolly has to pee pee...we put our pee pee in the potty.
Here is what dolly needs to do:

Stop...Say "I have to Potty"
Run fast to the potty.
Undies down.
Sit on Potty and let your pee pee out.

Show them how Dolly Pee Pee's on the potty. (have a cup of water and pour behind the dolly's back!) Praise the Doll!
--Now go back to kitchen and talk about dry undies some more. Do the dry undies check about 2-3 more times. Then wet Doll's undies. When you ask if Doll's undies are dry, have child feel them... Oh NO...they are wet! Oh no, Dolly... We put our pee pee in the POTTY, not our Undies. we want DRY undies.

12 -- Practicing 

Show child with the dolly how you have to practice running to the potty, and running fast whenever you feel pee pee needs to come out. Practice the above steps with the Doll:
Stop...Say "I have to Potty"
Run fast to the Potty.
Undies down.
Sit on Potty and let your pee pee out.

-Then try practicing with the child. While practicing, child doesn't have to do anything on the potty, but they might. Try practicing from different rooms in the house. Give them a treat every time they practice.

-Have some Dry pants checks. Show that dolly has dry undies now. Keep praising and rewarding dry undies. About 30 minutes into training, start prompting child to go potty even if they don't ask to. Do the whole 4 steps above, and ask them to let some pee pee out. They should have had a good drink by now. Maybe sit with them and read some potty books. If they do nothing that is fine. Reward with a treat for trying. And for keeping their undies dry.

-Continue the day with dry undies checks, practicing, and hopefully Pottying! When accidents happen (see below), practice some more! Prompt them to potty every 20-30 minutes even if they are not going themselves. Set a timer so it is the timer telling them to potty, not you.


I give small treats (a smartie candie or potato chip) for dry undies. I bought 12 $ Store prizes and put them in a decorated bag called Potty Prizes. My method for prizes changes so that child does not think every time they go potty they get a prize. But the first pee pee and first poo poo gets a prize from the bag. Then once you think your child "gets" the whole pottying thing, you can rewards as such:

--Dry undies until lunch gets a prize. Waking up from Naptime Dry gets a prize. Dry undies until Dinner gets a prize. etc. I try to only reward the first pee and poo....the rest of the rewards are for dryness. Dry undies while you are on your first outing...PRIZE! Maybe Pottying while in a public bathroom gets a prize (Charlotte had a really hard time at first with pottying in a commercial style potty...Carson loves pottying everywhere we go...both can be quite inconvenient)
-After day 3, we have no more prizes. No candy for pottying, no candy for dryness. Just the wonderful satisfaction of being a BIG KID! Lot's of verbal affirmation!


You are bound to have an accident before you have a success on the potty. With every accident child has...even a small dribble in the pants... Follow the Practice Guidelines above (#12).

Only add the following:
-Make child clean up if it is on the floor
-Make Child take off wet undies and feel them....they are WET. We want dry undies.
-Put undies in dirty clothes.
-Pick a new pair of undies. (even for small want them to feel dryness)
-Then practice 5 times from different locations....the full practice, including taking undies off and sitting on potty for a few seconds.
If Child has an accident days or weeks later, you have a practice sessions.


We do pull ups at sleep times ONLY. Not diapers, pull ups. Take child potty before Nap. If child wakes up dry, reward them greatly! Put back in undies right away after budging here. A cranky child after nap may want to keep pull ups on.... NOT allowed. We wear undies. Make Rules now and stick to them. Potty right away after nap...even if child does not want to. If you don't, you are asking for an accident.


Same as above. We try and take our little ones potty before they go to bed, and when we go to bed around 11:00. If child continues to wake up in morning with a dry pull up for 1 week straight, try going overnight in undies. (I have waterproof mattress covers just in case) Charlotte was in undies at night after 2 weeks. We'll see with Carson! (9 months later and we still have wet pull-ups in the morning)

17--A few more helpful hints... 

-After initial training day, limit their liquids. I am guilty of letting my kids run around with sippie cups all day long. Have them share a water bottle with you or use big kid cups that stay at the table.

--If Child is in Preschool, try to start process on a Thurs/Friday so they have the whole weekend before going back. Most preschools will work with you.

--If Child is in Daycare, this can be more challenging, and I wish I had more advice. Some daycares will work with children, others require them to be in pullups if they are still having accidents. Hopefully after a few days your child will not be having accidents, but I would talk to a director about it. You do not want child in pull ups all day long. It sends mixed messages.  A pull-up = a diaper  to a child.

--Have a change of clothes with you at all times. Just in case.

--When you get to new places remind them what to do if they need to go pee pee. At the store, when they are at a play date, watching TV, etc. These moments they will get distracted and not want to go potty. Ask them about dry undies often, and prompt them to go potty every 30 minutes or so.

--I do NOT encourage potty training outside. For emergencies while at a playground can they pee on a bush? Sure.... but the rest of us humans pee on potties, so let's help them to learn to do the same.

--Train boys sitting down. I have some friends who train standing (really, i don't how you ladies did that, but kudos to you!) They may have the urge to Poo while peeing and they will just be in the perfect position. Also, when sitting their muscles are more relaxed and they can "release" better.  (update--After about 4-5 months Carson moved to standing)

18-- Traveling around town and road trips 

Let me remind you...your child wears undies now. So why would you consider putting him in a diaper or pullup for a trip to the grocery store, or a road trip to Grandma's?? The answer is... we as parents are lazy and just a tad selfish. Your child wears undies now. Do not confuse them by telling them it is okay it pee pee in their pull up while in the car. Pull over, at every sketchy gas station if you have to. I have friends who have potties in their vans...for those roadtrips and around town emergencies. If that works, go for it. Now, i don't use the baby potties, and I personally think you need to teach your child to try and hold it until you can get somewhere. (Just make sure you as the parent follow thru and you stop quickly)

-Potty when you get to target, potty in the middle of your shopping trip, potty right before you leave. Do you need to plan an extra 25 minutes just for pottying? Yep. But this will pass, and soon enough your child will be able to potty at home and hold it a few hours while you run errands.

-I encourage getting out and about as soon as possible. You want to carve out a few weeks of flexible time...but that doesn't mean you stay at home the whole 2 weeks. You may want to wait a few weeks before taking child on your hour long grocery trip. But get out, get a snack somewhere, show them quickly that they can pee pee in potties at other places.

We did it! And I know YOU can do it too!!

People ask me all the time about my process and I am SO glad
I finally wrote it all out

 See HERE for a real time play by play of my first day potty training my daughter Helen in 2011.
I also added a Potty Training Q&A after I potty trained her... I think it will help in some of the questions I get over email.

**Pinterest Viral**
I am not sure what qualifies as "Viral", but this post has gone crazy on Pinterest.  I cannot respond to all the questions.  Currently I am not even blogging regularly... so sad (though I do hope to return in some way)  


  1. carrie,
    i used the same book with karis & did pretty much the same thing. it really works & i was totally surprised at how well it worked. thanks for writing it out step by step like this & for the extra tips. this is great stuff!
    glad y'all are doing good!

  2. This is great! I've already passed it on to some friends! :) Glad it was easy for Carson, too! On traveling... we took a drive to the beach a week after we trained- dry the whole way! I was feeling brave to try that, but it worked out well!

  3. Congrats to Carson...and to you for writing all that out! :)

  4. This is a fantastic guide! Thank you so much for posting it. I have a 15 month old son and we are just starting to get him used to "trying" on his potty. I know we have some time before he gets it but your tips will really help. I found you on MBC. I'm looking forward to reading more!

  5. I just finished Day 3 of potty training my 21 month old girl. I did many of the same things as you and it has been exhausting but I can definitely see progress and yes I'm blogging about it. I love your post though.

    I will probably link to you later this week. This is really helpful and well written. YOu give me hope to stick with it and that just maybe we will be able to leave the house in a few days:)

  6. Great guide! I am considering potty training my 21 month old and I plan to try this out. Thanks again! :)

  7. Thanks so much for the tips! We're going to start potty-training soon and I will definitely use these tips. I also have a breastfeeding baby so it is good to know that it can still be done.

    Visiting from Works For Me Wednesday!

  8. I'm holding my breath here. I still have PTSD from the last one. Thank you for this post; you make it seem doable! Keep me in your prayers;)

  9. this is wondefully thorough! i love that you differentiate between readiness and interest. thanks.

  10. Can you tell me how old your son is? My 21 month old shows readiness signs but does NOT talk and is afriad of the potty (we've tried some practice and also have a big baby so baby potties won't work). I'm not sure what I want to do - I know Janna trained B at 21 months but B talks much, much better than my booger (we aren't even doing two-word sentences yet.)

  11. wow luckey my son never wants to

  12. wow my son dylan is 2 n he still uses diapers he dosnt like the potty n at shopping trip he never wants to be potty trained n he dosnt even like when we change his diaper

  13. I have been working with my son for days now and he is not getting it. He keeps pooping in his pants. Any additional tips you could offer?

  14. Your potty training guide needs to be published! I was so nervous when I decided I needed to start potty training with my daughter (21 months), started doing research online and found your blog. We followed your guide step by step and she was trained in 4 days! After that fourth day she has had 2 poo poo accidents only and it has been since July 9th! We do still use pull ups for nap time and bed time, but I know it will soon be time for undies only during those times too! Thank you so much for sharing!! I am one proud and relieved mommy!

  15. WOW! Very thorough!

    We started potty training our 6th child today. (Yes, why am I still nervous?)

    I chronicled the whole day, and entitled my post Potty Training Bootcamp too (DH's idea, he's Army). We do a lot of the same things, but we don't push liquids or do many rewards (except getting really excited, jumping up and down, and's like a party with all those siblings!).

    I agree with Julia, you should consider publishing!


  16. Help! I am so frustrated with potty training. This is my third kid and I have never had this much trouble before. I have tried everything and he doesn't seem to mind being wet. I am doing all underwear for the thrid day now and he still doesn't get upset when he is went. he happily cleans up any message and then puts his wet underwear in the wash. He use the potty but not consistantly and definitely is not keeping dry. Suggestions? I really need some help.


  17. Amy- hope you get this. I don't have a way to get in touch with you, and my older posts use the older commenting system with no option for reply. If want you can email me at

    I don't know what to suggest really. How old is he? Any challenges or delays in other areas? Especially in chidlren 2.5 and older, I do believe in being firm. this isn't a game, it is the way "we do it" now. I say praise praise praise for the times he does go. And then praise praise praise for any amount of dryness... like 1 minute after pottying, is he dry? then praise him! 2 min? PRAISE! If he has an accident then respond accordingly with deep disappointment and a firm correction.

    I also think rewarding dryness with prizes and even going so far as taking away items or privileges for accidents. Depending on his age, he should get it. And his accidents are more a personal will issue than a physical inability. He should be able to get it... he is just choosing not to. Don't put him in pull ups or diapers to go to preschool or church or the park of McDonalds. Let him know that you just cannot go until he can be a big boy. Or bring a big bag of clothes with you and persevere! But don't go back to diapers.

    if you told him not to touch the stove and he kept doing it, how would you respond? He knows the expectations and I believe you need to respond with the same firmness.

    Now-- I do NOT recommend spanking for accidents unless in extreme cases of obvious disobedience (ie, a child, going into his room and pooping under a desk) But I do believe there are those out there that feel like no firm word should ever be used in potty training lest we scar our poor children. I just disagree with that.

    I think you know your child. If you think he gets it, but just doesn't care than you have a will issue, not an ability issue. You need to be firm in the expectations that this is not an option. This is where we put our pee pee now.

    The issue many children have is control. They have the ability to hold it, and the ability to run the 15 feet to the potty. They just know this is one area in their life they have "control" over. We need to remind them that while it is their body, they cannot do certain things with it. It is a battle of the wills.

    Persevere and hope you start seeing some changes in the next couple days!

  18. ok first off i think this site is great!! Second i need your help..My son Dusty is almost 3 we went out this week got prepared bought undies, bought stickers for a sticker chart, got a jar and put candies and prizes in it..we talked about being a big boy and going on the big boy yesterday came which was when we were starting potty training and ....nothing he did not go one time on the potty!! :(

    we set the timer every 10 mins we would go to the potty.. after about 4 times of doing this i would reward him for staying dry and giving a small jelly bean as a job well done...then he would come tell me wet or poop which meant he had already gone :( starting at 8 am and finally at 6 with him not once going on the potty i was pretty much ready to give up...

    We are still going thru with it today, but i have know idea what i am doing, 1st child i was hopeing this would go better so i could start training my second son who just turned 2..I need tips, advice, he just not ready yet?

    1. My recommendation is to always wait until day 3 or 4 to even consider throwing in the towel. You are just on day 2. Many children it will click the end of day 2 or 3. If your child is of normal development in all other areas, there should be no reason he can't potty train now. Stick with it!

  19. Thanks for sharing! Your method WORKS. I used it on both of my boys and had them in underwear just before their second birthdays. My youngest is 2 today and is sitting here in undies telling me when he has to go. Everyone wants to know what my "secret" is, and I send them to Little Llamas!! :)


  20. Hey Carrie. I just read this again as I prepare to potty train Brandon. I had forgotten about the part that you had a nursing 5 month old at the same time, and that's exactly what I'll have. I'm so relieved to know it can be done! Hopefully we'll have fast success like you did with Carson. Brandon is strong willed too, but hopefully I can make him think this is his idea and get him excited about it. I might be contacting you with questions!

  21. We trained my two and a half year old two months ago and she did it in four day! But now she is having a lot accidents. Sometimes it seems like she didn't want to stop playing and held it too long and sometimes it's willful disobedience. I now feel liked always have to ask her to go instead of her just saying something and going to the bathroom. How do you handle accidents at this stage of the game?

  22. I was forwarded your link about potty training from my friend Leah Denson and the info is AWESOME! My daughter and were having a serious breakdown in communication and after ready your tips/tricks is all worked GREAT! THANK YOU for being such a genius and putting it out there step by step!

  23. I am desperate to train my 2.5 year old! We tried for two weeks with absolutely no success, so she is back in diapers (a big no no, I realize, but I didn't know what else to do). She is more than ready physically (communicates as well as a adult, tells me when she is peeing or pooping in her diaper, etc.) but emotionally she is not at all interested. Reading your post was refreshing because you said that the child does not have to be interested. That's the first time I have heard that. The big problem we ran into for the two weeks was that she would hold in her pee and poop for up to 6 hours and the only successes she ever had were out of desperation when she simply could not hold it anymore and I pretty much would have to force her to sit down and go. She never pooped on the potty in the entire 2 weeks and only actually peed 4 times with only 3 accidents as well. So you can see that that is not exactly progress after two weeks! I knew it was time to throw in the towel when she woke up on the last day and had a complete meltdown about having to sit on the potty. I didn't know what what else to do because we were both emotionally drained!! She has since gone back to her happy self and continues to tell me she has pooped or peed. Frustrating! She wants nothing to do with the potty despite giving her every treat I can think of and talking all about her friends that go on the potty (most all of them do!). So here we are, back at square one. What would you suggest that we do now?? Also, just to let you now, we have a 10 week old at home as well (yes I was crazy to try potty training with a 6 week old!!!). Insane!


  24. Hello, great info. We just started two days ago and and while i believe my daughter is getting the hang of when she needs to go, i'm not sure how to get her to wait until the potty is available. We went to the park and on the way home she said 'bathroom' followed by 'wet' and was very upset. I wasn't sure what to do at that point it seemed to late and she takes it very hard when she is wet. Dad was home when we arrived and she felt better and we sat on the potty but we didn't go back to the car. In the house I think she is great, she shouts out and starts running for her potty of choice, but when seat belted in i'm not sure how to get her to wait.

    I have also her poop a lot less. It use to be two to three poopy diapers and now its just once in the potty.

  25. Sound like a good plan except I would not use the pullups at all. I used the training pants, which are a lot thicker than regular undies along with plastic pants for naps and bedtime. Pullups feel too much like a diaper. And yes they still sell both, as I just both both at meijer.

  26. I realize this post was in 2009, but I am hoping you still might have some helpful advice! My son is 27 months old. We had started potty training at about 22 months and all went perfectly with going pee on the potty....poops are another issue!! it has been 5 months and poops on the potty still result in full on melt downs (he isn't a melt down kind of kid). Any advice to get over the aversion to pooping on the potty?!?! (please e-mail me at


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