While I was pregnant with my daughter, my 21-month old son started going to a toddler program at a local Montessori school. Children in the toddler community, who started attending as early as 15 months of age, did not wear diapers in class. Parents were encouraged to continue their child’s “toilet learning” outside of school. It took some work to prepare our home environment for my son and develop patience with new routines, but I was determined to start potty training in 3 days. However, my son was out of diapers during the day by the time he was two and completely potty trained several months later. Having him start potty training in 3 days meant he was out of diapers by the time my daughter was born and one less kid in diapers to worry about! Within two years, my daughter was out of diapers too using the same method.
When children are between 12-15 months until about age 2-2.5, there is a window of opportunity, or a sensitive period, when children are curious about learning how to use the toilet. Around this age, children are often sensitive about the sensations of being wet and dirty. They dislike the feeling, which makes them more inclined to want to feel clean and dry. Take advantage of this precious time and start potty training in 3 days!
When is Your Child Ready for Potty Training?
A few signs of readiness for potty training are when:
- Your child has longer periods of dryness between diaper changes
- Is fascinated with the toilet
- Can follow simple directions
- Pays attention to his physical needs when doing another activity.
These are all cues that your child may be open to the process and can start potty training in 3 days.
If your child is older, you can still use the 3-day method to teach your child to use the potty, though you may need more persistence for success.
If you feel your child is ready, you can start potty training in 3 days. You will need to prepare your home environment so that your child can learn how to take care of his needs by himself. By helping to foster his sense of independence and his natural desire for order, you will help him move more quickly through the process. Plan to begin on a weekend or a time when you will be at home for the day.
Supplies You Need for Success
Here is what you will need to get started:
- Cloth training pants, so the child can feel when he is wet.
- A potty seat that the child can lift onto and off of the toilet. Note: I prefer the potty seat over a potty chair because there won’t be a need to teach a transition from the potty chair to a toilet, and the child will likely have an easier time using a public toilet if he’s used to using one at home.
- A stool to use to get onto the toilet if using a potty seat, and/or to use to reach the sink
- A small hamper for soiled clothes
- Washcloths or hand towels to help dry off
- A basket to hold clean training pants and changes of fresh clothes
- Chux pads to place on a car seat.
- Plastic pants covers to use while away from home
- Pads of small post-it notes to keep in purse or diaper bag. Use post-it notes to place over sensor for automatic flushing toilets.
- Waterproof mattress pad for nighttime accidents
- Optional: A light switch extender so you child can turn the bathroom light on and off himself
- Optional: A folding potty seat to use in public bathrooms
In each bathroom your child will have access to, create a changing station that includes the basket filled with clean training pants, clothes, and washcloths, and the hamper. Place the stool and the potty seat next to the toilet, or place the potty chair next to the changing station. Install the light switch extender (these are wonderful to install everywhere in the house so your child can turn the lights on and off himself throughout the home). If you have a two-story home, it will be helpful to have a toilet learning setup in a bathroom on each floor for quick and easy access.
Setup for Going Out
Keep some chux pads in the car to place in the car seat to protect against accidents en route to your destination. You might want to keep some spare changes of clothes in the car and your diaper bag. Finally, store your folding toilet seat and a set of post-it notes in your diaper bag. Young children are often terrified of the loud flush of public toilets. A squirmy child on a toilet with an automatic flusher can cause outright panic if a random flush occurs with the child still sitting on it! Placing a post-it note on the toilet sensor can prevent anxiety in both mom and child.
Mental Preparation for Parents
Potty training is not just for the child. You must mentally prepare for the task, and be ready to deal patiently with accidents, be alert to your child’s signals, and remember to take your child to the bathroom at every transition. Here are things to consider before you begin potty training:
- Think about your routine for the day, and transition times that might make sense for potty breaks. Typical times are upon waking and before bed, before washing hands for a meal, right after a meal, before bath time, before and after leaving home, before and after getting in the car while away from home.
- Make note of times of day when your child typically has a wet or dirty diaper.
- Think of the telltale signs your child gives when he is about to have a bowel movement.
- Understand that running errands and being out of the house is going to take longer than it normally does because you need to build in times for bathroom runs.
- Make sure to talk about the process with any other adult that will help the child, so everyone is on the same page.
Once you have the bathroom set up, show it to your child. Let him turn the light on and off. Show him how to put the toilet seat onto the toilet, take it off, and return it to where it goes. Let him sit on the toilet seat if he wants to do so. Explain that soon he will wear big boy pants, and show him a pair. Tell him that if his underpants are wet or dirty, he will come to the bathroom to change his clothes. Show him the hamper and the basket of clean clothes.
On the morning you start potty training, put your child in underpants. It might be easier to only dress him in underpants rather than a full change of clothes when you first begin. At the transitions you’ve decided upon, tell your child, “Let’s go/It’s time to use the toilet/potty.” Never ask if he needs to go, because chances are, your child will say no. During the day, keep an eye on your child for any signs that he needs to go to the bathroom, such as holding his crotch, shifting positions, or any other sign you know to look for.
In the beginning, your child will be doing his business in his pants more often than in the toilet, especially when he is younger. Because your child is wearing cotton underpants, he will likely notice when he has an accident by the wetness he feels or the stream of pee running down his leg. If your child has an accident and hasn’t noticed, simply state the fact and tell your child it’s time to change. “Your pants are wet. Let’s go to the bathroom to change.” Then, go with him to the bathroom and let him undress, put his soiled clothes into the hamper, use a washcloth or hand towel to dry himself, and change into fresh clothes. If he has had a bowel movement, teach him to clean off the underwear into the toilet.
For this process to work well, keep in mind that it is best to let the child do as much as he can by himself:
- Turning on the light
- Placing the toilet seat onto the toilet
- Pushing the stool to the toilet
- Getting up to the toilet and pulling his pants down
- Flushing the toilet and pulling his pants back up
- Taking off the toilet seat
- Pushing the stool to the sink to wash his hands
- Turning off the light
While it’s important to give your child as much responsibility for changing his own clothes and using the toilet, you can definitely help him celebrate his successes!
The important thing to remember when going out is to give your child as many opportunities as possible to go to the bathroom – before you leave the house, once you get to your destination, before you leave your destination, and as soon as you return home. Again, don’t give him a choice. If he protests, have him sit on the toilet and try anyway. The child is sometimes surprised when he actually goes! Be inventive with your reasoning. Don’t bribe with rewards.
What About Nighttime?
In my child’s case, my son wore a cloth diaper at night after he went to the toilet for the last time that day. As soon as he woke up, he went to the bathroom, and then he changed into his underpants and clothes for the day. He still wore a diaper at night for a few more months after he was diaper-free during the day. Eventually, he was dry often enough throughout the night that he graduated into underwear 24/7. We still kept a waterproof mattress pad on his bed for the occasional nighttime accident.
Learning to use the toilet takes time. If you are able to take advantage of a child’s sensitive period and start potty training between 12-24 months of age, you will probably discover he is receptive to the process since he naturally dislikes the sensation of being wet. Having a child out of diapers at a younger age also saves you money too! No matter when you begin, though, remember to be patient and remain positive throughout the process.