It's summer, the weather is glorious, and for little ones, clothing feels somewhat optional. Ah, a great and natural time to begin the age-old work of teaching children to use the toilet….

Parents want to know…Does the 3 day potty training method actually work?

We asked Emily Andrews, our in house, early childhood development specialist, her thoughts and here is what she said: 

Short answer: Maybe, it might for some, but I’d say not for most. Every child is different and as with all areas of a child’s development, each child is ready to make the transition from wearing diapers to using the toilet in their own time. 

And of course, there are varying degrees to which a child can be considered potty trained. 

  • Are they potty trained when they successfully use the potty each day but still have occasional accidents? 
  • What about at night? 
  • Or if you are traveling? 

It’s a longer game no matter how you slice it.

When you start thinking about how to help your child transition to using the toilet, it's helpful to know that some new language has emerged on the scene. No longer is it “potty training” but instead “potty learning”. If you can shift to thinking about it this way it will take the pressure off you and your child. The term training implies a one and done process. Plus, it sounds more like teaching an animal. By contrast, “potty learning” accommodates a more dynamic, realistic, and developmental experience allowing for ebbs and flows in progress and encouraging parental patience.

How will I know when to start potty training and learning with my child?

Most kids begin potty training between 18 months and 3 years, with most being totally out of diapers between 2.5-3.5 years of age. Children with special needs may take longer and that’s fine.

Look for the signs that your child is ready to start transitioning out of diapers:

  • Their diaper is dry after naps and/or it stays dry for a couple hours. 
  • They show interest in the toilet and their parents' use of the toilet. 
  • Your child is beginning to show independence with physical skills like pulling their pants up and down.
  • They don’t like being in a soiled diaper. 
  • Your child shows awareness when they are urinating or having a bowel movement. For example, they might go to the corner to have a bowel movement in their diaper. 
Photo of 3 day potty training

How to pick the right time to start potty training

How do you know when it’s the right time to start potty learning with your child? They need to be showing some of the above signs AND it needs to be a good time in your family’s life. In other words, avoid starting during a major transition for yourself or your child. If you are about to move homes or have a baby it's likely not a great time to start out with the potty. 

Also, don’t feel the need to couple it with other “big kid things'' like getting a big kid bed. One thing at a time is preferable, so as not to overwhelm your little one. You may need to adjust your plans and lifestyle for a while to support your child through this phase. Be flexible, patient, and try not to put too much pressure on them or on yourself. It will happen, you will get there, you just need to give it time.

How to prepare for potty training

Here are some important tips for preparing your house, yourself, and your child for potty training.

  • You may want to roll up special rugs for a while. Remember that interlocking foam play mat you once used during tummy time? This is a great opportunity to give it a second life as it is easy to wipe down and creates a nice play space.
  • Get some mattress protecting sheets, even if you aren’t planning to start with nighttime training yet. You may want to put them on any beds that your child tends to play on and maybe even one for the couch. 
  • Starting at around 18 months, or before, even if you aren’t ready to start your potty learning journey you should transition to doing as much diapering in the bathroom as possible. As much as possible, keep your child standing and helping, so they can begin to make the association. 
  • It’s a good idea to start with a little potty in the bathroom that they will be using mostly and perhaps a second one in the most frequently used area of your home - maybe that’s the kitchen/living area. Since you will be encouraging them to sit frequently, it makes life easier. After a while you can phase that second potty out. 
  • It is nice to have some potty themed books, like Once Upon a Potty, but I would keep them on the shelf for your child to discover if they themselves seem interested. Over highlighting them, putting them in the bathroom by the potty for example, may backfire and cause undue stress or pressure. You can also sing some fun potty training songs to get them interested, but similarly, don't overdo it.
  • Once your child is successful at using the potty at home, you can get a little travel potty for when you are on the go to stick in the car or in the under carrier of your stroller. 
Photo of how to prepare for potty training

How and when should you pull back on potty learning?

After some time, whether it’s 3-4 days or a couple of weeks, if there seems to be significantly more accidents than successes, or if your child is becoming notably anxious, controlling, or highly averse to using the potty, you likely need to totally pull back. The best approach when pulling back is: 

  1. In a positive/neutral tone, share with your child in a few sentences that: “We have done some really good practicing with the potty. Now we are going to use pullups again until your body is more ready for the potty. We will do some more potty work later in the summer or in the fall.”
  2. Then wait a few weeks to 2-3 months until you even mention a potty to them again. How long you wait depends on your instincts and how old your child is. During this pulled back time: do not mention the potty. Allow them time to recover from the experience and clear the slate.

It is important to note that this pull back should only happen once. So, make sure you wait long enough before coming back to potty learning. If you do it more than once things can begin to get confusing for your child. Being consistent is important.

Transitioning from diapers to using the toilet is a huge life adjustment for your little one. While it can be exciting as a parent to get diapers out of the way, it is essential to remember that your child is making a big change in their life. As with everything, being patient and supportive is your number one job and the best way to help your child succeed. You know them best, so be sure you follow your own instincts as their parent, rather than books or your peers.

Happy summer potty learning!

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