Potty Training Our Toddler: How We Made it Happen in 3 Days!

Potty Training Our Toddler: How We Made it Happen in 3 Days!

As a first-time parent, the thought of potty training was always a source of confusion and dread. I had no idea when or how to start. Because I think many parents can relate, I was inspired to write this blog post about our potty training journey. I’ll be sharing helpful tips and the most important things I learned along the way. Potty training is such a big change for young kids, and is a huge developmental milestone to celebrate!


The Best Time to Start Potty Training

Most people I know with older kids told me they potty trained between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. Some beyond 3. So when my son was 22 months old, I figured I could put it off for another 6-plus months.

But when a friend sent me a link to potty training expert Andrea Olson’s “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, I decided to start right away with my son being 22 months old at the time.

You can download the first 2 chapters of Olson’s book for free. I was sold after reading those first 2 chapters and bought the digital download to use as a guide. (This is not any sort of paid promotion.)

18-24 Months Old: The Optimal Potty Training Window for Toddlers

In “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, Olson (2015-2016) states that between 18-24 months old is the best time to potty train little kids. She calls this timeframe the “golden period” and explains that waiting beyond this time can make the entire potty training process far more difficult. So when I learned about this golden period when my son was already 22 months old, I did not want to risk waiting any longer to get started! 

Olson explains that in the 1950s, the majority of toddlers were potty trained by 18 months old and that they are still fully capable by this time today. 

Why then, are parents now waiting until 2 or 3 years old, or beyond to potty train? According to Olson, the arrival of inexpensive and disposable diapers simply makes it easier to put off potty training these days.

What About  ‘Signs of Readiness’ to Potty Train?

Prior to reading Olson’s book, the only other information I had on potty training came from casual Google searches. From these searches, I gathered that I should begin potty training when my toddler displayed certain ‘signs of readiness’.

In “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, Olson (2015-2016) states that this idea of ‘signs of readiness’ is a myth. She explains that the concept is something that diaper companies have capitalized on to keep parents buying those diapers in bulk.

Interestingly, I realized that when I had previously googled potty training information, the first links that popped up were sponsored by big-name diaper companies. And the only information I gathered from them was all about waiting for signs of readiness rather than effective strategies and timelines.

If you don’t believe me, google ‘potty training signs of readiness’. Among the first-ranking websites for this search, at least at the time I am writing this, are Pampers and Huggies. If I waited for all of their listed signs of readiness to potty train my toddler, I’d probably be waiting for years!

Since my toddler is now successfully potty trained and seemingly thrilled about it (as am I), I am inclined to believe Olson’s take on the matter. Perhaps we are relying too much on corporate America to tell us what to do with our children. And perhaps also not giving our children enough credit for their potential and capabilities.  

So while I never want to push my child to do something that he is truly not ready for, I also do not want to hold him back from something that he is fully capable of. In addition, I am glad that we are no longer contributing mounds of diapers to landfills. I think diapers made up at least half of our weekly household garbage. 

In any case, I think most toddlers show interest in and capability to use the potty by 18 months old. For parents who are frequently followed by their toddler into the bathroom, you know what I’m talking about.

Potty Training Supplies List: The Most Important Things to Have

While potty training doesn’t require much in the way of supplies, I found that there are a few essentials to have on hand;

A Portable Potty

toddler potty training portable potty

We used the Learn-To-Go Potty Seat. While it has been great for at-home use, in hindsight, I would have chosen one where the base has legs that can fold up so that it would be easy to transport when we are out and about when there are no public restrooms.

A Toilet Seat Reducer with a Ladder or Step Stool

While we did not necessarily use our potty seat reducer and ladder the first few weeks after ditching diapers (we used his portable potty in those first weeks), my son started using it exclusively after about a month and a half. It allows him to be so independent and he loves climbing up and down the ladder. 

You can check out my post on How to Create a Toddler Friendly Home for more ideas on this topic. Toilet seat reducers are also sold without a ladder attachment if that’s your preference. I would recommend getting one with a step ladder attachment though, because then you don’t have to lift your child on and off the potty all the time!

potty training toilet seat reducer

At Least 2 Days to Commit Full Time to Potty Training

We reserved a whole weekend for focusing on nothing but potty training. And it was these 2 days of intensive potty training that formed the foundation for my son’s successful potty training journey. Everything beyond those 2 days was about maintenance.

In “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, potty training expert Andrea Olson (2015-2016) explains that depending on the child, it may take anywhere from 1-10 days for kids to build that foundation. So in some cases, 2 days may not be enough.

For many parents though, unless there is a stay at home parent, anything beyond a weekend of intensive potty training may not be realistic. I think many parents will be surprised though how far they can get with potty training if they truly commit to setting all else aside for a couple of days and some effective strategies. Keeping any childcare providers in the loop after this period to encourage consistency is important too!

Stretchy Elastic Waisted Leggings

Elastic-waisted leggings were good to have once our toddler was past those first couple of days. Those initial days were pantsless/underwearless days so that he could become familiar with what it felt like to be diaperless. 

Even after the initial 2-day potty training intensive period, my son just wore leggings with no undies underneath because underwear can feel too much like a diaper.

Stretchy leggings with an elastic waist are also easy to pull up and down in a potty emergency. Additionally, they help toddlers learn to pull their pants up and down independently.

Games and Toys

Since it was winter when we started potty training, we made sure to have some of my toddler’s favorite things on hand at home; toys, games, and books helped keep him entertained since we were stuck inside with a pantsless child for 2 days straight. 

Cleaning Supplies 

We have hardwood floors so just needed a few rags and soapy water to clean up pee accidents. I imagine having carpet, you would want some other supplies on hand. Setting down a large tarp or similar barrier on carpet could also be helpful! 

A Learning Tower and Sink Faucet Extender

I wouldn’t classify a learning tower and sink faucet extender as essential necessarily, but they sure did make our lives easier!

Learning to use the potty is such a major change and step towards independence for toddlers, so why not give little kids even more tools to support their independence?

We stationed our toddler’s learning tower in front of the bathroom sink and put a fun animal faucet extender on the sink so he could reach the water easily. We also had a hand towel and some soap within his reach.

For more ideas on how to encourage independence in toddlers, see my post on How to Create a Toddler Friendly Home.

Pro Potty Training Mindset

I am discussing mindset under the supply list section because I found having a committed mindset was essential to getting through potty training.

Be confident, calm, and consistent. This is a message that Olson (2015-2016) repeats over and over in her “Tiny Potty Training Book”. If you display behavior that is consistent with this mindset and approach, your toddler will also have confidence that he or she can learn to use the potty. 

There is a certain amount of patience (A LOT) needed when getting started (at least with our toddler). I had to remind myself many times, especially on that first rough day of training to stick with it.

A Note About Supplies for Nap/Night time Potty Training

Because we are tackling nap and nighttime potty training after daytime training, I am not including supplies for nap and night time here. 

In “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, Olson (2015-2016) says that you can do both at the same time, or do the sleep time potty training 2-3 weeks later. 

In our case, I wanted to give our toddler a chance to get familiar with the concept before diving into the sleep time training. Plus it all sounded a little overwhelming to deal with all at once as a parent as well.

Update – 1 1/2 months later: We are still using diapers at nap and nighttimes. This is because we simply don’t want to have to deal with multiple nighttime wake ups at this particular point in time. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to keep using diapers during sleep times for now. 

Even though our toddler wears a diaper at nap time though, he has naturally stopped peeing during his naps. He also occasionally wakes us up in the night telling us he has to pee. So once we make the final transition out of diapers, I don’t think it will be too big of a deal. 


Potty Training Timeline and Strategy: 3 Days of Potty Training Followed by Light Maintenance

Day 1 of Potty Training

Day 1 was the most challenging day of the 3 days that it took us to do basic potty training. I imagine some toddlers master it sooner, while others take longer. 

Compared to day 1, days 2 and 3 were a breeze.

Bye Bye Diaper Ceremony

We started that first morning of potty training by making a lighthearted ceremony out of saying goodbye to diapers. We chanted “bye-bye diaper” after taking off my son’s diaper first thing after he woke. We then all went to throw it away. We told him that he was going to learn to use the potty today and that he would not be wearing a daytime diaper anymore.

We have not resorted to using a diaper during daytime/awake time since this little ceremony. Olson (2015-2016) says it can be confusing to a toddler if parents start resorting back to diapers. We did however continue to use diapers during naps and nighttime. Sleep-time potty training is its own thing in my opinion and can be addressed once awake time potty training is successful.

Naked Time

After taking my son’s diaper off that first morning, we left him naked from the waist down for the rest of the day. This is so that he could get used to knowing what it feels like without a diaper, and also so that as soon as he started to pee or poop or gave signs that he was going to, we could plop him on his potty. 

Watching Out for Potty Signs

Olson (2015-2016) talks about learning what your toddler’s signs are that he or she has to pee or poop. Details about these signs are in her book “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, but I think we can all kind of figure out when our toddlers are showing us that they have to go (eg the pee pee dance).  

Catching Pees and Poos on the Potty (As Much As Possible)

We kept the portable potty nearby at all times during that first day of potty training, and anytime our toddler started to pee we would quickly pick him up and put him on the potty. Very very little pee was caught in his potty that first day. So some accidents on the floor are just a fact of life on that first day of training.

Our toddler was NOT pleased with the process at this point. There was a lot of crying and fighting being put on the potty. See the Potential Challenges section for more on this. 

He was also upset when he realized that he was peeing on the floor, which was often. Since he never had to worry about when or where he was peeing before, it makes sense that he did not have much body awareness at this point. 

Because my son hated this whole scenario, he was trying to hold his pee for as long as he could. This day was no fun for anyone.

Staying The Course

My husband and I had to remind ourselves after this first day that challenges were to be expected. Our son had been wearing a diaper his entire life and change is hard, for toddlers and adults alike! 

Day 2 of Potty Training – Practice, Practice, Practice

While I wasn’t feeling great about the whole process after day 1 of potty training, I felt much more confident after day 2. We kept our tot naked from the waist down again for day 2. 

Our toddler seemed to clearly understand that pee and poo went in his potty at this point, and for the most part, we no longer had to physically hold him on the potty. And when he realized he was successfully going pee in the potty, he was so incredibly proud of himself! And this was fun to see him recognizing his new skill, especially after a rough first day.

There were still some accidents on the floor, but we could tell that he was becoming more acquainted with his body signals and knowing when he needed to go. It was a sharp learning curve!  

Day 3 of Potty Training – Celebration and Maintenance

And by day 3, I was amazed by how quickly our toddler was developing his potty skills. He woke up that morning of the third day and he voluntarily went and sat right on the potty and peed first thing. 

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly and I felt like we were ready to begin some outings. At this point, Olson (2015-2016) says that you can technically call your child potty trained when they reach the point that they recognize when they have to go and then voluntarily go on the potty. 

Day 3 and Beyond – Outings and Refining Potty Skills

Once we were confident that our toddler clearly understood the concept of using the potty, we started going on short outings. To start, Olson (2015-2016) recommends just 15-minute outings. 

We went on walks around the block or played in the yard and went on these outings after he had successfully used the potty in the house, to avoid accidents while out and about.

We are now doing longer outings (an hour and a half or so), and we always take his portable potty with us, along with some wipes and a change of pants. It’s easy to duck behind a tree or even set his potty up in the back of the car so that he can use it on the go if there are no public toilets available. 

So at this point, we are continuing to practice potty awareness and getting to the potty on time. We are also practicing those skills around pulling pants up and down, washing hands, and wiping with toilet paper.

Potential Potty Training Problems

Since every toddler is different, there are likely different challenges that will come up for parents during potty training. I am only going to cover the specific challenges we encountered in our personal experience with our son, but Olson has a list of some other potential problems and troubleshooting tips in her book if your specific issue is not covered here (Olson, 2015-2016).  

When Your Toddler Does NOT Want to Sit on the Potty

On that first day of potty training, there was a lot of crying and cleaning pee off the floor. My son also physically resisted sitting on the portable potty we were using for training. Olson explains that in these cases of physical resistance and power struggle, you can hold kids on the potty in a hug. 

Well, that doesn’t so bad on paper. “Hugging” doesn’t quite seem like the right word though when a toddler is screaming bloody murder and fighting to get away from the potty. 

Olson (2015-2016) explains though, that sometimes parents have to hold their kids on the potty. The same way that parents sometimes have to hold their children down while strapping them in a car seat. 

What also comes to my mind is the countless times I have had to carry my child kicking and screaming away from the park when it is time to go home. He never wants to leave, but at some point, we simply must. And once we have completed the transition, he is just fine and on to the next thing. 

It’s a delicate matter though, when it comes to these situations and how we talk about essentially forcing our children to do things. And especially delicate if any kind of physical hands-on method is used. 

Let’s be clear though, that physically holding a child on a potty does NOT mean yelling, being aggressive, or being rough. Remaining calm and being gentle and reassuring is so crucial. Being consistent is also important so that toddlers know what to expect. This can ease fears they have and help them feel safe. 

I also think it is important to acknowledge the big feelings toddlers have around difficult transitions like potty training. And we need to help them through those moments. I talk about ways to do this and support healthy toddler emotional development in my post Helping Toddlers Deal with Big Feelings.

So while I truly struggled with having physically held my child on the potty, I do not think it was detrimental to his wellbeing. For example, after that first horrible day of potty training, he woke up the next morning and voluntarily sat on the potty like it was nothing. And he was SO proud of himself. He also liked carrying the potty to the bathroom dumping his pee in the big toilet and flushing.

Pooping on the Potty

Our tot did not poop that very first day of potty training, and Olson says this is normal for toddlers to hold it for a day or two when they begin potty training. He was able to go the next day though in the potty and is getting better at knowing when his body signals that it is time to go. We had a couple of poop accidents that have snuck up on him while out at the park though, but when it comes to poop, it just requires a little more patience. 

In our toddler’s case specifically, he has struggled with constipation since he was about 1 year old. Despite a diet that is full of fresh fruits and vegetables and as much liquid as we can get him to drink, he is on a daily dose of Miralax and still occasionally gets backed up. You can read my post on Is Miralax Safe for Toddlers if you are in a similar boat.

Our pediatrician explained that making sure we stay on top of the constipation is important when it comes to potty training because issues around pooping can make potty training difficult. 

Supporting Our Toddlers Growing Independence with Potty Training

Our young kids are capable of so much, and it is amazing how quickly they learn new skills. I found potty training to be difficult initially, but it’s such an exciting developmental step for them in terms of their self-awareness and independence. And 1 rough day is a small price to pay for the amount of time I will save by not having to change diapers! 

I’m sure there are many other effective strategies and approaches regarding potty training, but I hope sharing my personal experience at least gives some idea of what the process can be like. And of course, I’d like to give full credit to Andrea Olson’s “The Tiny Potty Training Book”, since it was the basis of the potty training method we used.

I would love to hear about any potty training experiences, successes, and challenges you have had potty training so please say hi and share in the comments!

Olson, Andrea (2015-2016). The Tiny Potty Training Book. eBook Version 2.0.Potential Challenges During Potty Training

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