I Potty Trained My Son and All I Got was This Lousy T-Shirt. Just kidding - I got a toilet-trained son! Two summers ago my then 3-year-old was preparing to start pre-school and I was feeling pressure for him to be fully potty trained. This is a common summertime anxiety for parents - sometimes self-imposed, sometimes the result of parental peer pressure and sometimes the preference of the school or daycare.
I asked readers to share your wisdom with me and you did: strategies, tips, tricks, success stories, false starts, some failures and favorite resources. It helped! To pay it forward I've collected the best reader intelligence from all of our potty training posts over the years to share with anyone else in the same boat (on the poop deck, naturally).
WHEN TO START
JudiAU: The best advice ever was to start early and have a lot of potty options because different things click for different kids.
smbumblebee: Every child is different, they will let you know in their own time when they are ready to be potty trained, it is not good to force them just because it suits you timewise (speaking from experience here!).
pyjammy: Let me just say that timing is everything. We tried with the boys a couple of months before they turned three. It was a GIANT failure...So we tried again a couple of months after their birthday and it was like night and day. They picked it up in a few days and have had very few accidents...So, if it doesn't work, just wait.
klk197: A friend told me that if I was stressed out about it, he wasn't ready. For my child's personality, it was great advice.
tgray99: I have learned that potty training is more about training me than training her. When I get lazy and put her in a pull up or a diaper, it sets her back. I have to make sure and ask her or she'll forget and have an accident.
astoria73: Like anything else as they started using the toilet, asking to imitate the grownups, we sort of downplayed it. Really?, the toilet?, okay. The personal satisfaction of proving to us they could do it, while we were not cheerleading or rewarding them, was more than enough. No adult agenda, no clapping, no pressure. Just the occasional observation (tinged with pride) wow, you are really growing up, you can do a lot of things on your own now. We were neutral about it the whole time, diapers or underwear, your choice. Wet your pants?, no big deal, lets find new clothes, can you help me get a towel?
Audy P: The best and only advise i can give is, as the parent you must be consistent and positive. they are itty- bitty and don't care so much about the potty. They only care about the positive attention they get from you every time they are successful. I repeatedly reminded myself that all children eventually learn.... just be patient.
CaliMomTo3: No matter what approach you choose, make sure you keep everything very positive, it's hard to keep your cool when they have accidents (especially if they do really well and then have an accident weeks/months later). It's good to know what you're going to say in advance. Our book advised us to say "Ooops, pee-pee goes in the potty, please try to use the potty next time", clean it up, don't make a fuss. If kids get more attention, even if it's negative, for their failures than their successes, which do you think will be repeated?
KatieD: I didn't make a big deal of it with either kid, and honestly that seemed to work great. We didn't make it a power struggle. We just explained, offered underwear, and let them decide when to do it.
THE NAKED METHOD
Tanya-Dolly: I had a friend that did this. When he and his family were home alone (no guests) they would take the pants & undies off his son completely and let him run around bare bottom. As soon as he had to pee or poop he would stop dead in his tracks and yell "MOOOOMMMM!!!!" and theyd take him to the bathroom. I guess the logic is that the child knows that there is nothing to catch whatever he is about to deliver so he instinctively asks for the bathroom. They had him trained in a matter of weeks.
alllebasii: I potty trained my 18 month daughter within a week by letting her go bare a$$. She quickly learned bathroom etiquette, and not once did she had an accident.
virginia2011: We FULLY trained my 26 month old son (no training pants at night or day, etc.) in 5 days by having him naked all day (and a t-shirt and underwear at night). I think that kids get confused when you stretch out potty training and have them in diapers one minute, naked another, pull-ups another.
daloislane: The two best pieces of advice I can give on potty training are 1) wait, wait, wait until your kid shows interest - it will save you so much headache and mess and 2) bare bum.
ALTERNATE SITTING METHODS
AMChicago: I haven't tried this yet, but I have a couple of friends who taught their kids to sit sideways (legs hanging off one side), at least in public restrooms. And it worked well for them.
mschatelaine: Our children have never taken to potty chairs. My daughter's Montessori, which essentially did the potty training for us, used a regular toilet without a ring, and with a little step-stool. All the children learned to sit sideways, and not fall in. (it was great for traveling — we had no toilet issues, and she travelled extensively).
mdmeyer: Our sitter taught her 3 sons to use the toilet sitting backwards. It seems easier for the kiddos because they don't have to balance as much. Their legs are spread out on the sides of the toilet as opposed to just in front and can use the tank/cover as a place for their hands.
POTTY ON THE GO - YAY OR NAY
eskkimmo: DH taught the Boy to pee standing up pretty early after a nasty port-o-potty at an event we attended but with the Girl coming up to potty training soon I definitely plan to keep some kind of receptacle in the car (I saw my doctor at the park with his girls one day and I thought it was amazing to see the littlest one ask to go potty and go running to their van! Light bulb moment!).
jenmaselli: We always carry a potty seat in the back of our car for long trips - even our bigger kids have made use of it at one time or another...we line it with a plastic bag or small garbage bag then throw it away as soon as we get to a trash can. We have a crossover vehicle that allows us to put the potty in the back for the kids to sit on with a bit of privacy.
tmoore: In potty training four kids, I never once felt the need to carry a potty around in my car, and I doubt I'll start doing so when my youngest is ready. I have enough gear to haul around.
greendragonflytx: I agree with teaching them to use any potty no matter where we are. When I'm in Target, I don't want to have to run out to the car to do something that can be done in the public restroom. I'm working on getting her to use a regular seat, no training seat, but for now, I carry a ring seat in the diaper bag... Yes, it's resulted in a few tears in public bathrooms as she's learned to get over the fear of doing what needs to be done in a potty that is not "hers" - but it's one of those life skills that must be learned! And, the earlier she figures it out, the easier my life, and hers, will be. Kids are capable of far more than we give them credit for - they all can and will figure this out.
mishiko: we've never used a potty - my daughter has always gone on the toilet and sits sideways on the regular seat. even in restaurants. we just make sure she thoroughly washes her hands. super easy and simple.
julie_k.: what we DID have to do, until he was like, 5, is stop off at his room on our way to bed (like 10pm) and just pick him up or walk him to the bathroom and have him pee. He usually slept thru this and never remembered it! This little last bathroom stop always seemed to be good insurance that he'd wake up dry.
KFarley: As for night time, I did not try to "train" them at night. It seems like too much pressure for something they really can't control. I simply put them in night time diapers until the diapers were dry for about two weeks straight when they woke in the morning. We never even discussed it with them...we just announced to them, "wow, your diapers are dry! I think you are ready for PJs with no diapers!!"
nellymom: my advice is to skip the glass of water/milk before bed routine. It really helps.
à-chacun-son-goût: Nighttime potty training is a misnomer. Your child will either wake to pee or not. You don't have conscious control over your bladder when you're sleeping. Some of it depends on the bladder-brain signaling; some of it, the anti-diuretic hormone. These come with growth and not from "training."
kaykay: I would advise no footed (zip up) pjs. The ability to whip those bottoms down is important in the middle of the night!
lime10: happy dances, hoots and hollers after he successfully goes, and chocolate chips - one for number ones and two for number twos. bribery is key to potty training.
LeahBonita: Use your regular toilet, and a box of cheerios... let him put the cheerios in the toilet and make it a game. See if he can aim and hit them, it keeps the pee in the toilet and also makes it fun.
Jixolet: What worked for us was to make it funny. Not to make it embarrassing, (scolding a child for and accident which unfortunately I have seen happen).
savannahlyn: My mother trained me with rewards and my brother with cheerios and dish soap. The soap made bubbles (that enticed him and made it fun) and the cheerios helped him aim!
Larsie: Have the child earn a sticker on a chart for every night he wakes up dry. Use a waterproof mattress and accept that an occasional accident will happen. When it does, no sticker, but say to your child "Oh well- you're doing great- I bet you'll get a sticker next time!" After 10 stickers or so, have a prize in mind that he gets. Could be fancy new undies, a new toy, whatever is meaningful to him.
lal: I let her pick underwear with a favorite character on it, built up the anticipation with "when you start going to the potty, you can wear Elmo/Dora panties!!" But, I warned, "Elmo/Dora does not like to get wet."