Tips for potty training

Oh, crap! It’s potty training time. It can make the best of us use a little “potty talk” from time to time. And I don’t just mean saying “pee-pee”, “poo-poo”, etc. I mean using dirty language of the adult variety, uttering those foul words or expressions you don’t want your three-year-old to repeat.

Potty Training Plan

I’m no expert on potty training. Far, far from it. In fact, I’ve never even read a potty training book. I’m the mom who’s potty training my son at three years old.

My pediatrician (ped) recommended letting potty training happen naturally when my son showed interest and readiness (e.g. undressing self, telling me he was dry, wet, poopy, etc.). The problem was he wasn’t ready at eighteen months, twenty-four months, or thirty months. So when he turned three (thirty-six months), my husband and I said, “it’s time”. There’s no turning back, eek!

I admit, I panicked when I read that most children show signs of potty training readiness between eighteen and twenty-four months. But then I kept reading. Phew! It’s still considered normal for children to not potty train until three years old (or later). Just like most things, it depends on the child.

Here are my doctor’s potty training tips. She said “if potty training doesn’t take” after a few days, then try again in a month. “…If at first you don’t succeed, Dust yourself off [and your soiled pants], and try again…” The late singer Aaliyah said this, not my ped.

I’m hoping these tips help you and your family.

What You Do

  • Potty train for two to three days. In this time period, stay at home. (I know, that stinks even worse than your laundry basket.)
  • Have your child wear absorbent cotton underwear. 
  • Bring your child to the bathroom in regular intervals. My three-year-old preschooler goes to the bathroom every forty-five minutes. My pediatrician said I could go up to one hour, twenty minutes. (If your child is younger, then bring him to the potty every twenty to thirty minutes.)
  • Give your child one sticker every time he sits on the potty (even if nothing comes out). At first we gave our son a sticker for sitting down, but now he only gets stickers if he pees or poops.
  • Award your child one sticker every time he goes pee and two stickers every time he goes poop.
  • Every three to five stickers, your child earns a prize. We give our son a prize every five stickers, it used to be every three. See my Pinterest sticker chart below.
  • Carry a change of clothes in your diaper bag, purse, or car. If your child is in school or daycare, it’s a good idea to have a clothes change there too.
  • Stash a portable potty chair in your car. I haven’t done this yet (my husband would be horrified), but I’m considering the benefits. It could be useful during the initial potty training period when leaving the house can be so nerve-racking.
  • If your child has an accident, he helps clean up the mess in a non shaming way.

What You Need

  • Toilet stool
  • Toilet insert:  We successfully use Mayfair NextStep Slow Close Toilet Seat with Built-in Removable Child Potty Training Insert.
  • Absorbent cotton underwear: We really like Potty Scotty Cotton Training Pants!
  • Hand soap and towel
  • Baby wipes and dispenser
  • Toilet paper
  • Sticker reward chart
  • Stickers
  • Prizes (“Potty Prize!”)

Potty Time

Potty Training Don’ts


  • Potty train with pull-ups. They’re too absorbent. When your child goes pee or poop, he won’t feel the accident. I know this from personal experience.
  • Wait for your child to tell you he has to go potty. Unless potty training has been well established, accidents can and will happen.
  • Reward the child with an abstract prize. (“If you go potty, we’ll take you to McDonald’s PlayPlace.” This is what I was doing.) At a young age, your child needs an immediate reward, e.g. like a sticker or a toy. He pees or poops in the potty, he gets a prize in hand.
  • Force potty training. It’ll happen when it happens. If you start too early, then your child may regress to diapers which could be frustrating for you and your little one.
  • Scold or shame your child when he has accidents.

Smarty (and Poopy) Pants

For many little ones (boys especially), poop training comes after pee training. Don’t feel like a failure or that you’re doing something wrong if your child isn’t pooping in the potty. Poop training can be tough on the child and parents. You need to “find the fun” in the situation.

The last time my mom was over, the little guy pooped in his pants. She took off his soiled underwear and shook the poop into the toilet. As she was doing this, my son hopped on the toilet seat, grunted, and said, “Grammy, I go poop in potty. Sucker, please!” Yes, my three-year-old is still pooping in his pants, but my boy’s no dumbo.

Potty Prizes:  Treats or Toys?

My son:  “I want a cookie.”

Me:  “OK, you get a cookie, if you go poop on potty.”

Chick-fil-A cashier:  “HAHA!” (A chuckle can be heard through the drive-thru speaker.)

This sums up a recent exchange I had at a fast food drive-thru. (Bad news, my son didn’t poop on the potty. Good news, I ate the cookie.)

I use suckers, Annie’s fruit snacks, and fun-sized Skittles packets as rewards. You gotta do what you gotta do. I keep the treats in a big container inside the bathroom linen closet. For every five stickers, my son gets to pick out a treat.

Some moms are against using food as prizes. And I can totally see why. Something my ped recommended is giving your babe a toy every few stickers rather than candy/junk food as a prize. If a toy has multiple parts to it (e.g. a train set), your little pisser/pooper can earn a car, a piece of track, etc. until he gets the whole toy.

A Final Thought – From the Pillow

Potty training is no potty party. It can be hard work.

So, Mama and Dada, if you need to, get out of earshot and shout a few cleansing obscenities.  Have a Potty Party! You deserve it.

Tell me your adventures in potty training. How did you potty train (what worked, what didn’t)?

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