Potty Training in Three Days, Or Bust

by | Sep 8, 2014 | From the Trenches, How We Roll, Parenting | 29 comments

There are many ways to potty train. There are many sides to choose: early vs. late, fast vs. slow, potty chair vs. toilet. Some families use charts, or treats, or threats, or bribery. There’s camp undies, camp pull-ups, and camp nothing at all. Whatever gets the job done.
I just potty trained number six. And here at Casa Tierney we do it fast, late, bribed, and somewhat naked. In case how we roll might work for you, and in response to repeated inquiries, imma jot it down for ya.

All comments here are in regards to day potty training only, night training is a whole different animal, unconnected to day training. 
My kids have all potty trained at between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. They SEEM like they can do it earlier. When my oldest was eighteen months old, I thought for SURE that he was ready to be potty trained. I was determined to make it happen. (I was eight months pregnant at the time, which I’m sure had nothing at all to do with that crazy.) In my defense, he COULD sit on the potty and go. But only if I suggested it, sat there with him and read him books, pulled his pants down and back up for him, and he happened to feel like cooperating. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to happen. 
I spent a very frustrating month trying unsuccessfully to get him going on the potty reliably, until our training was interrupted by the birth of his sister, and I didn’t try again with him for a year. At that point, he was ready, I had a method, and it only took three days.

I’ve done the three day method six times now, and it’s worked every time. Even on Frankie, who is notoriously noncompliant.
The Month Before
1. I don’t start until he is physically able to dress himself. Usually around two and a half, they can put their feet into and pull up their own pants, and can get their arms in their shirts if I put their heads in for them.
2. I create an aura of mystique around the potty. I let him come in with me or with older siblings, we talk about using the potty, but he’s NOT ALLOWED to use it. “Oh no, that’s just for big kids, you’re not big enough yet.” By the time we start he’s really chomping at the bit.
3. I point out the negatives of diapers. If he’s squirming and complaining about getting cleaned up after a messy diaper, I talk about how great it is to use the potty instead. When he’s walking around in a soggy diaper, I point out how nice it would be to be in nice dry undies instead.

The Day Before 
1. I clear my schedule for the next three days. I try not to have doctor’s appointments or outings with friends. We only have people over if they are going to be okay with seeing The Process. It’s not for the faint of heart.
2. We go shopping. We buy new undies with his favorite character on them. He can have them, hold them, sleep with them, but they don’t come out of the package until the end of the process. And we buy treats. Small, medium, and extra large. Frankie chose fruit flavored mini-marshmallows and m&ms for small, gummy frogs for medium, and ice cream sundae fixin’s for extra large.
3. We talk it up all day, how tomorrow’s the big day. And he’s going to be a big kid and use the potty and get treats and then once he’s done he’s going to get his Mater underpants.

Days 1-3
1. The pants come off. During all waking hours he is in a longish t-shirt and nothing else. I’ve found this to be the most important part of the process. Underpants, pull-ups, whatever FEEL just like a diaper. My kids have an “accident” pretty much 100% of the time if I put them in anything. But with bare buns, they realize, “Hey, this stuff IS coming out of me. Huh. Maybe I COULD put it in the potty.” This is why we limit guests to only people who will not be weirded out by partial-nudity.
2. He’s not allowed on the carpet. We’ve got wood floors in part of the house. He’s only allowed to be in those parts of the house or outside. It’s a lot easier for me to keep a sunny disposition when accidents are easy to clean up.
3. He sits on the potty as often as I think of it but at least every hour. We keep a little potty chair outside in the back yard, but he also uses the big toilet, which is preferable for obvious reasons. But they do tend to like the little potty. So we use both.
4. Successes are met with celebration and acclaim and one little treat. Even if he splits one pee into six trips to the potty over the course of twenty minutes. Fine. Whatever. If he pees AT ALL in the potty he gets one m&m or mini-marshmallow. We are lucky enough to have big kids around here. So, I’m able to hire help very cheaply. Whatever sibling takes him to the potty and cleans out the little potty afterwards, gets the same treat that the potty training kid gets. Everyone wins.
5. We try to catch the poop. Usually we don’t. The peeing seems to come pretty easily, once they realize how it works. Not so with the poop. 
Days 1 and 2 almost always include things like: 

  • pooping on the floor of the playroom, 
  • pooping in the dirt in the backyard, 
  • waiting until he has a diaper on for nap time to poop, 
  • using that half an hour when the piano teacher is here and I put undies on him to poop in his undies, 
  • me texting my husband that this was a terrible idea and he will never, ever be potty trained and why do I even try. 
6. We REALLY try to catch the poop. If just having him sit on the potty on Day 1 didn’t work for poop, on Day 2, I use a new method recommended to me by a friend. I determine the time of day he most often does his business. Then I strip him down, give him some books and time-consuming activities (sorting colored pony beads into mini-muffin tins is great) and shut him in the bathroom until he goes. For Frankie, I just explained what we were going to do and he didn’t even protest all that much. And it totally worked. It took a about 40 minutes on Day 2. Day 3 he hadn’t gone after an hour, so I let him out and tried again in the afternoon and it worked then. The first time we catch the poop is when he gets the extra large prize – an ice cream sundae . . . in the middle of the day! After that all poops get the medium prize (three gummy frogs) for him and his helper.
7. Just when it looks like it will never work, it does. Somehow, it comes together on day three. I’ll see him stop what he’s doing, take a quick intake of breath, and run for the bathroom. Where just two days ago he was making puddles in the kitchen and hiding in a corner of the yard to do his business, he now heads for the potty. Maybe he also tries to dump the potty chair into the toilet himself along with most of a roll of toilet paper . . . but, hey, it’s progress. Somehow, in three days, he gets it.

Day 4 and beyond

1. The big payoff. On the morning of day 4, as long as he was mostly successful on day three, he gets his new undies. And he gets to wear them. As long as we’re going to be around the house, he just wears a shirt and the undies. If we are going out, I keep him in the undies, and dress him in something easy to get up and down, and I bring a change of clothes, just in case. I think Frankie has had two or three accidents in the two weeks since he graduated. I can handle that.
2. We keep up the bribes. My kids keep getting “potty treats” until their third birthday, which for Frankie will be at the end of October. I want to keep up the positive reinforcement, but not FOREVER and a birthday seems like a good time to make a change.
3. Accidents are usually preventable. But I have to remember. For the first month or so, if we’re going out, I need to send him to the potty before we leave. I need to take him to the potty while we’re out. Shopping trips and playing at friends houses can be distracting, and makes it much less likely that he’ll notice when he needs to go. If he has an accident, I try to remember that it’s more my fault than his. So, I let him know I’m disappointed, but not mad. And we’ll just both try to do better next time. I’m pretty sure nobody ever successfully yelled someone into potty training. And we don’t do punishments related to potty training, just rewards and reminders of rewards lost.

So . . . that’s how we do it. Waiting until the child is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY ready has made potty training go pretty smoothly. Also picking a time when we can devote the three days to staying around the house and really focusing on it seems to work well. It’s annoying to be stuck at home, but hey, so’s changing a toddler’s diapers. 
Some final thoughts: I tried to potty train my oldest much too early for us. It didn’t work for him and it didn’t work for me. But when we had the right method at the right time, it went pretty easily. I remind myself of that before I start this process each time. I always tell myself, “We’ll give it three good days and if it doesn’t work, we’ll wait a month or two and try again.” 

That’s what works for us. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments!


  1. Jessica

    THANK YOU! This was exactly what I needed to hear. While I'm all about child-led weaning and sleep needs and whatever, for some reason I decided to tackle early potty training with my 18-month-old. It DID seem like he got it, kinda sorta. But the pants-pulling down has yet to be learned, and the pooping is elusive, and I have done far too much laundry for someone that doesn't cloth diaper. So yesterday I put him in regular old diapers all day and it was such a relief. I am happy to know I'm not the only crazy one to try it early nor the only one who got bested by a toddler in this realm. Thanks for the encouragement, I will re-read in another six months! 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    My potty training was similar. We both work and my daycare provider was not interested in potty training (my sons step-gramma, we cut her some slack since she was doing us a favor). But, he was 3.5! You think yours were late? I tried and tried and tried just after his 3rd birthday but when it is only the few hours before bedtime and some weekend, it doesn't work. Finally, we had Christmas vacation and I decided that was it. He went naked for a few days and only peed on the floor once. We just used sinking Cheerios. I think it was because he was really really ready, but he just got it, even the poop part.

  3. Endless Strength

    This is cool! So glad it worked!! Potty-training is probably one of the most frustrating parts of parenting, IMO. I got five of 'em trained though and each of them was different — ready at different times, different bribes worked for each of them, and different timing. But Whew!! when we got #5 out of diapers, we were so elated!!

  4. Kristin Sanders

    This was super helpful!! I also laughed numerous times (usually at the fact that this was my inevitable future)…I especially liked the tips on creating an aura of mystique. And of course..it's been pinned for later. 🙂 Thanks Kendra!!

  5. Amanda

    I love your small, medium, large treat idea. I've always just done the small treats but I can see the appeal of different ones. I think I'll try that for my youngest when she's ready to potty train next spring/summer. And I like the idea of holding the undies as a sort of natural reward for the end of the 3 days of potty training!

  6. Carolyn_Svellinger

    Lots of great ideas! I only have one of my boys potty trained, and it's been a few years, so I feel like a newbie all over again. I'm confident that Collin will learn before Emmett. Collin turns 2 this month and has been telling me all summer when he needs to go, and what he's done, will being me diapers and wipes when he wants changed– but I put him on the potty and he just doesn't want to be there. I'm excited to slow it back down, and try the "potty mystique" 😉

  7. Amanda

    I've trained my oldest 3 at 18 months and it is a LONG process. But when I evaluate taking care of some messes versus changing a toddler diaper – messes win. I get them out of diapers and pretty soon they don't remember another way. Works for me, but I hate hate the whole process. Your 3 day method certainly has advantages…but toddler diapers. It's all about figuring out what you hate least 🙂

  8. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    We did this exact same process, minus the treats. It worked perfectly! Here's to hoping it works just as well for all the others!

  9. Nanacamille

    Those are some pretty adorable pictures of Frankie learning to potty. If he can be trained then any child can be trained. He was so proud of himself when you all were at our house and he showed me his new Mater briefs and hit me up for treats which of course I provided.

  10. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany

    We do a different three-day method here, but with much of the same process. I never talked it up quite so much beforehand though. I like that. If I ever need to potty train again, I'll add that to my arsenal.

  11. Tia

    Our daycare starts potty training at 2, so that's when we started too. It's been a few months and we still have about one accident every few days, and we still have to ask and help him with his clothes, but I MUCH prefer doing that to changing a diaper. If I could do it over again, I would start earlier, if only because I actually like the process and I hate hate hate cleaning poopy butts. It beats playing with legos for me (I know, I'm weird). He's still in a diaper overnight, and sometimes for naps if he doesn't pee right before.
    When do you switch to underwear overnight?

    • Lina

      when they wake up dry. night time training isn't actually training – they have to have the cognitive ability to wake up from a deep sleep and get to the potty. its completely arbitrary when it happens and i sincerely believe there really isn't much you can do to encourage (apart from stopping liquids too close to bedtime, pottying before bed, etc).

      nighttime trained is normal from the time of potty training all the way until 7.

    • Amanda

      ITA with them, however if you have a chronic bed wetter then sometimes there are things you can do to help. We got a bedwetting alarm for my 6 year old who was still soaking wet every night and it worked like a charm. He's on week 4 and it's been awesome for him to wake up dry every night! Constipation is another reason for long-term bedwetting so the doctor can do an x-ray to check for that, which we already did and tried laxatives and natural solutions which helped but didn't cure the problem because the second problem was that my son is a heavy sleeper. When our 3 year old was dry 95% of the time and our 6 year old was wet 95% of the time we knew it was time to do a little extra.

      But yes, for most kids you just switch to undies once they're consistently staying dry at night (I told my 3 year old he needed to stay dry for a week to get undies at night). Just wanted to throw in the caveat because I was very frustrated when everyone insisted it would magically happen and for one of our sons it just never did. We could have done the bedwetting alarm a year ago at 5 and saved ourselves a lot of grief and laundry, lol!

  12. Emily

    "Really, really ready." So true. My daughter is extremely hesitant about new things, and also a tiny bit anal/neurotic, so it took her a long time to be really ready. When she was 2.5, she seemed ready– could manage her pants, understood what we were talking about, could hold her pee for a long time, etc. But she was just terrified to voluntarily, physically let her pee out into the open air (aka, the potty). She would sit there crying in terror, doing the potty dance ON THE POTTY. So even though she was physically and intellectually ready, she wasn't emotionally ready until she was almost 3.5. (At that point, it took less than a day!) (For pee. Poop was harder, for the same neurotic reasons as pee.)

  13. Ali

    This is pretty much exactly what we do too.
    I think the aura of mystique about the potty is very helpful. Especially when older siblings are also using the potty.
    …and night training is a whole different animal around here too.
    My current challenge is that my formally toilet trained son has some GI problems and is now on daily miralax. In desperation (after some notable accidents) we put him back in pull ups and for us that doesn't work.
    I'm not looking forward to re-training him.

  14. walking dot photography

    ha! Love it! I don't actually have any kids (yet!), but I'm pretty sure when I do, the pottery training is going to go down quite similar to this. 😉

  15. Elena aka happy homemaker

    Waiting until the child is really ready makes the whole thing go so much faster and easier. I tried way too early with my first and it was just a struggle. With the second, I waited until he was around 3.5 and he told me…"I want to wear underwear." I said okay and after a day or two of a couple pee accidents he was trained. He pretty much did it himself. Our third is around 3.5 now and I just bought the princess underwear so tomorrow, with fingers crossed, we will start the training.

  16. Kelsey Shade

    I am SOOO grateful to have your experience to learn from. My second is almost two and has started wanting to go potty himself, even though I'm reluctant to start. Potty training #1 was a year-long nightmare. This post was very encouraging and I'll be sharing it on my Mommy-blog. Thanks, Kendra!

  17. Sylvia Bass

    I did the three day method for my (almost) 3 year old back in May. She was doing just fine until this month. She has been having lots of accidents, particularly pee accidents. She is fine if I remember to sit her on the potty every 2-3 hours, but I have another toddler and an infant, and if don't want her to get lazy and depend on that. Help!

  18. Kinda Crunchy Hippie Mama

    I am so late getting to this post. We potty train almost the same way you do. I have 4 kiddos and have successfully PTed (or rather, they potty learned) using basically these same "rules". But we only had one type of candy to use as a reward…and they got bigger portions for going poop in the potty. What we found (while #3 was potty learning) worked REALLY well for potty-training on-the-go is that we put a small potty seat in the van. To keep messes to a minimum (splashes and all that), I folded a disposable diaper in half (so that the absorbant side was facing out) or used the insert to a cloth diaper and placed it in the bottom of the potty. It absorbs the pee and then the potty won't splash out while you're driving. Then, when you get home, just toss the diaper (or pop the insert into the diaper pail) and spray the potty bowl with a sanitizing spray and rinsed it out. Easy peasy and no more rushing to find a public (dirty) bathroom while we were out…or if we were stuck in a horrific traffic jam!

  19. Rachel Meyer

    Do you have any insights about the following?

    -If they pee or poop outside, do you scold them? I don't want to set a precedent for a behavior I consider unacceptable.

    -Do you try not to mind that you little boy spends every waking naked minute grabbing his boy parts? That's my reluctance to try naked training. Or do yours not do that?

    • Kendra

      We do point out that that's not an appropriate place to go, but I don't make a bigger deal about it than on the playroom floor. The consequence is just that they don't get the treat if it wasn't in the potty.

      I put boys in a shirt that goes past the knees, which discourages that sort of thing a bit. I also just say, "hey, no fiddling" as often as necessary. Seems like as good a time as any to start teaching that.

    • Rachel Meyer

      Thank you! Not getting the treat is a good point. My child is very treat-motivated. Oversized clothes would be a good benefit of older siblings! Maybe our adult t-shirts would suffice for a couple of days. Good ideas, thank you for sharing with us! This is my first time potty-training so I love advice from those who have succeeded.

  20. Mary

    We did natural infant hygiene with my eldest girl. It meant we basically never dealt with poop in a diaper after solids – she got the hang of pooping on the toilet very early. Peeing was another story; we had to take her to the toilet whenever she needed to go, including in the middle of the night. She didn't really tell us consistently during the day until about 18 month and she would go from mostly trained one diaper per 24 hours or less to suddenly back in diapers (she got sick to be fair). She trained completely by 23 months, but I felt it was a long long process.
    (I blogged about the whole process when she was about a year old here: http://parenthood.phibian.com/?ID=139 if you are interested)
    With my son we thought we'd be more conventional because I could not figure out how to hold a small infant on or over a toilet safely while aiming his (ahem) equipment. He is three and a bit now and only juuuust potty trained. Mostly because his seven year old sister insisted. We are going to try the natural hygiene thing again with #3 (since girl lol)

  21. Janalin Hood

    I LOVE this post Kendra! I am getting ready to PT #3 (our second boy) and want to avoid some mistakes I made with our older son. Please give me an idea of what you do for nightime training… I bet I had wet sheets nightly for A YEAR. At that point I didn't want to put him in a diaper for overnight but this time I'm needing sanity. We now have baby $3 (4 months old) and I have NO TIME for daily sheet washing… nor does my sanity ;P

    • Kendra

      My kids night train much later than they day train. We do it with the help of a wet alarm, and we don't even start until seven or so. Some of my kids have been able to do it then, others were still struggling to be dry at night over ten. This is a particular challenge for my particular kids. They are very deep sleepers at night. I think most families are able to accomplish night training earlier and more easily than we are.

  22. Unknown


    Thank you *so much* for resurrecting this post from the archives a few weeks back. I felt like it was just for me, as my two-year-old daughter is getting ready to turn three in July and was still not potty trained — until I saw your post! I always love how down to earth and real you are. Everything you said about when the right time is to train the kids resonated with me. I no longer felt bad about having an almost-three-year-old who couldn't care less about sitting in a soiled diaper!

    Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you. We wrapped up Day 3 today, and it was a smash success. Please say a quick prayer for me tomorrow as we venture out into the world for the first time sans diaper. 🙂 God bless.

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