Since all toddlers go through the process of potty training at some point, I wanted to share 10 tips for 3-day potty training from our experience of the process with our kids. I have a realistic take on this popular method that I am happy to share.

Image via iStockphoto

3-Day Potty Training

Let me start by saying that potty training in 3 days—at least getting to a mostly good routine by the end of the 3rd (or 4th day)— is definitely an intense process AND it’s by no means the end of the story. But it’s so remarkably effective that I recommend approaching it this way because it can get you off to a solid start.

It does require clearing the calendar and hanging out with your kid in close proximity so you can get a sense of their signals and patterns and doing little else for at least 48 hours. (Which I realize may not be doable for many families.)

In many ways, I actually enjoyed this process (despite it being exhausting!) because it’s so rare that we hang out with our kids in such a focused way. Or see them master a skill in real time.

I am a real person who’s had success with this method three times, so I wanted to share my big takeaways.

(You may also like my favorite Travel Potty.)

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 Tip 1. Mentally Prepare Yourself

To me, 3-day potty training meant that I wanted to send my kid back to daycare without a diaper on the 4th day or that I felt confident enough leaving the house. That can be a challenge though, and I’ve learned that us parents really need to be in the right headspace as we start this process.

With my middle kiddo, we started right around her second birthday and while I think that she would have been ready around 22 months, I wasn’t! So we waited—and I prepared myself.

With my third child, we started soon after his second birthday and nothing clicked and it was so stressful. So we stopped after two days, waited two months, and then started again and it was much smoother.

My very best suggestion for this preparation is to get a copy of Oh Crap Potty Training. The author is super straight forward, goes through what to expect, what some common pitfalls might be, and basically helps you feel like you can do this—and that you really, really should. I read it twice before I felt ready.

baby-bjorn-potty-chairTip 2. Get the Right Gear

There’s actually not a lot you need to potty train, but little toddler-size potties are key. They keep their little legs in good position (which can help with pooping), they are comfy, the kid can get to it all by themselves, and there’s no fear of falling in.

We love our Baby Bjorn potties since we can move them around the house from room to room so there’s always one nearby. Because in those early days, you won’t have a lot of notice and will often need to put your child on the potty after they’ve started peeing to help them start to make the connection that pee goes in the potty.

Tip 3. Ditch the Diapers

I know that pull-ups exist, but let’s be honest: They’re just diapers with a different name. They don’t give kids any reason to use the potty so we never used them. Instead, we go pants-less for at least 3 days (in my experience, 4 was better) and we skip underwear for at least the first two months since the tightness can mimic the feel of a diaper…which can cause more accidents.

At home we don’t worry much about ditching pants. When out and about, my girl wore dresses, then after the first weekend, these loose Hanna Anderson pants. (With my son, we put on pants for short bursts when we went out to play in the backyard in the first few days.)

These are AWESOME pants since they are so easy for little kids to push down by themselves!

(I want to add that I understand that ditching the diapers sounds insane to many parents. I acknowledge that and fully respect if you hate this idea!)

Tip 4. Make the Potty Super Accessible

As I mentioned, your toddler will go through these stages of realization: I peed, I’m peeing, I have to pee. This progression is normal and can take time to move from one to the other. I was always excited about any of these phases since they are a sign of recognition of the process.

We kept the potty close by during the first 3 days—and honestly, we still keep a potty in the playroom or the kitchen—because they can’t often hold it for very long even once they start to realize that they have to pee. The faster and easier it is to get to a potty, the easier this will all likely be.

If you see your toddler starting to pee, pick them up and put them on the potty to finish (even if you have to bypass a small puddle to clean up in a moment). The more they are reminded that pee goes in the potty, the better.

I used the phrase: “When your body tells you that it’s time to go potty, it’s right here for you.” This helped me hand over power to the child and also help verbalize that I trusted them to be able to feel the signals in their own body.

Tip 5. Figure Out How to Relax

You’re probably worried that there will be pee and poop on the floor. (Spoiler alert: There probably will be at some point.) You’re worried about how you’ll ever be able to leave the house and keep a close enough eye on your toddler to be able to get them to a potty when they need to go.

There’s a lot to worry about.

On the second day of training my daughter, I waited for two hours for her to pee so we could go get groceries. She was frustrated that I kept prompting her and then proceeded to hold it on the way to the store, at the store, and back home again. She went 3 hours! I was a wreck the whole time and she was FINE.

Which is to say, there may come a point at which you need to get our of your kid’s way.

Trust them, incorporate going potty into your routine—before leaving the house, before and after meals, etc—but don’t get too laser focused on making them go…because some kids can hold it forever and some may hold it longer if they feel pressure. Sometimes they won’t go simply because they know you want them to.

And the goal is that after 3 or so days, you reduce the amount you’re prompting them (other than in your routine as I mentioned) and let them take the lead. I often have to literally remind myself that they can indeed do this and that I just have to let them actually do it.

TIP: My Constipation Smoothie can help if the kids are having a hard time going #2.

potette-plus-travel-pottyTip 6. Get Out of the House—with a Travel Potty

This will depend on the time of year, but if at all possible, get out of the house during those first 3 days. Take a walk around the block. Run a quick errand. Get some fresh air. I always try to get a good pee in before we go, but again, if they won’t go, just go outside anyway!

Also, this potty training tip is really helpful: Try not to ask “Do you have to go potty?” because the answer is almost always no.

Instead say something like, “We’re going to pee, then go outside.” So it’s just in the course of normal business.

I take this Pottete Plus Travel Potty everywhere we go. It’s lightweight, foldable, and is comfy for the kids. They sell disposable liners too (though often I just use plastic grocery bags with folded up paper towel.)

Tip 7. Don’t Sweat Pee on the Floor

I know this stresses people out…myself included. We had white carpet with my first kid and newish hard wood floors with the second! But honestly, it’s not really that big of a deal.

We put the area rug in our playroom into a closet for two weeks to simplify things a little and kept rags, wipes, and floor cleaner nearby. And when pee did wind up on the floor, we reminded that, “Pee goes in the potty, not on the floor,” and didn’t punish or make her feel badly.

Tip 8. Get Care Providers On Board

If possible, talk to any care providers (whether at daycare, in your home, or simply other relatives who spend time with your kid) ahead of time and share your plan. Make sure that your child has easy access to the bathroom and that they’ll be taken often.

And communicate whether or not they’ll need diapers during nap.

Image via Shutterstock

Tip 9. Know that You Can Pause and Reset

Here’s a potty training tip very few people ever mention: You can stop if it’s clearly not working.

I actually started potty training my daughter 2 months before I did it for real and had to stop. My husband had an emergency appendectomy and I was taking care of two kids and him. We were one day in so I didn’t want to stop…but when I realized I was yelling at the kids way more than normal, and that my toddler was peeing (and yes, pooping) on the floor deliberately, I pulled the plug and waited for another long weekend.

I initially felt a little like I’d failed but it was FINE. In fact, it went much better when we started again!

So remember that it’s okay if life happens. Or if you’re just not ready.

Tip 10. Remember that 3 Days is Just the Start!

Starting the 3-day potty training method is just the beginning. Some kids get it faster than others and there are so many factors that come up that might present challenges. My first daughter had way less accidents than the second, but the second also started a new daycare, went on two trips, and had a few other daily routine changes within the first month of going without diapers. My third never needed diapers during naps or nighttime since he randomly always woke up dry.

It might take a few days or months for a child to get to the point of being able to tell you ahead of when they need to go potty. Some may take longer to be able to pull their pants down and up. It’s honestly all good.

Kids are unique, which means this process will be.

This is a process, just like any other milestone, so give your child some time for the elements to click. (Whenever we have a regression or a series of accidents, we go back to being without pants in the house and that usually helps things get back on track.)

What about naps and nighttime?

With my girls, we did naps and nighttime training a few months after we had a good grasp of daytime. I wasn’t prepared to do it all at once and that worked better for us. I did always try to get them to go before sleeping, but I do want to say that much of how a child does with nighttime is developmental and some kids are just not able to hold it all night (or wake up on their own to go) until they are older.

There’s a more complete explanation of this in the Oh Crap book linked below.

Best Tips for Potty Training Toddlers

  • Setting aside three days to start daytime potty training can be a great way to get off on a solid start.
  • Having a small potty can help the kids access it easily.
  • Taking the time to relax and remember that it’s okay if things don’t go perfectly, it’s okay if things take time, it’s okay if you need to pause and start again later can be helpful.
  • When you ditch the diapers, the progress you’ll be looking for is “I peed, I’m peeing, I have to pee”. How fast kids progress from one to the next varies.
  • Read Oh Crap Potty Training for the full nitty gritty on potty training toddlers using this method.
  • If you need one-on-on help or just need to talk to an expert in real life, reach out to my friend Jen at Oh Crap Potty Training from Me To You.
  • My Constipation Smoothie can help if the kids are having a hard time going #2.
  • Here are great foods to help constipation too.

Related Recipes

I hope all of this info helps you on your potty training journey. Feel free to comment below with any questions or feedback!

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  1. Just starting to read Oh Crap Potty Training and will be starting training soon. I was wondering if you got anything to protect the car seat from accidents? Do you have any recommendations?

    1. We just put a towel down for short trips and tried to time trips in the car to after they’d just gone potty. Good luck with the process!

  2. Hi Amy! In your experience, is a child who won’t poop on the potty too young to be potty trained? I have a 2.5 boy and we’re a few days in. He is pooping on the floor and in the tub and hasn’t pooped in the potty yet. Would you consider waiting or give it more time?

    Thank you for this informative post!

    1. Hi- I think that it can be scary for kids to go #2 on the potty and it may take a few days for them to get over that fear. We experienced that this time around and it took at least a week to have more comfort with it. We sat with books and I used a lot of verbal reassurance. It’s a process for sure and I hope it improves!

  3. For night time , do u wake them up once in the middle of night to pee? Do u recommend keeping a travel potty in the room itself for that?

    1. We kept the little potty in their room and took them when we went to bed (so about two hours after they went to bed), and then one other time during the night if needed. We started with two wake ups (the kids don’t usually wake fully) and then went to one. It is not the easiest process and I think I probably should have waited a little longer to start it with both of my girls.

  4. Dear Amy
    Following your posts on potty training as this is next on my list 🙂
    My little girl is 2 months younger than your little boy. She still asks for lots of milk/ redbush tea right before bed which eventually would be a problem as it makes her pee a lot at night.
    Did you stop giving any drink before bedtime? I feel bad refusing her a drink especially in summer /hot weather.
    Kind regards

    1. If you are actively trying to night time train, the advice is to taper liquids with more earlier in the day and less as the day goes on. In the warmer weather, I agree that is hard. If you are going to keep diapers at night for a while, I wouldn’t worry about the liquids then right now.

  5. Did/do you use the same diapers as before for naps and bed or switch to pull ups to have it be something different? Wondering if it will be confusing or if they understand that diapers are just for sleeping now.

    1. We’ve used the same diapers and just say “diapers are for sleeping, we’ll take this off when you wake up” and then immediately take it off and go potty when they wake. So many of the pull ups have characters, which makes them more appealing, so anytime we’ve had those around they cause more issues than they are worth!

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