The Only Advice You Really Need About Potty Training


Defending my graduate thesis, swallowing radioactive iodine, giving birth, surgery, potty training. These are, in order of least to most, the things that I’ve been most apprehensive about in my 32 years of life. Am I being dramatic? Absolutely. But because I’m now on the other side of this mountain, I thought I’d share a few tips on preparing to potty train.

Buckle up, parents. Here’s how to get started:

1. Psych yourself out.

Go ahead and pin all those catchy blog posts with 87 tips, tricks, and tried-and-true methods for potty training your toddler. Read them, study them, absorb them. Find at least three posts that confirm your suspicions that this will be the Worst Thing Ever. Then find at least one post from a mom who assures you that this is No Big Deal and that her prodigy pooped in the pot from day one. Get good and psyched out so that you can come into this experience as fearful as possible that your precious child will wear diapers to college.

2. Buy all the things.

You’ll need: a standalone toilet seat, a stepstool, underwear in your toddler’s choice of characters or colors, cleaning supplies, a sinking suspicion that everything you’ve done as a parent up to this moment has been a complete sham and you’re really unqualified for any of this, and a good bribery rewards system in place. We chose jelly beans and Paw Patrol underwear.

3. Seek emotional therapy disguised as advice.

Ask your friends how they did it (preferably on social media for maximum impact), making it seem super casual and like you aren’t crumbling from the inside. Tell them all about your plans and how you’re expecting the worst, but do it in a fun, joking way that makes it seem like you’re well-adjusted. Laugh off any insecurities and skim through other people’s comments. Ignore anyone who doesn’t confirm your bias (you know, the usual). Commit to a start date by telling everyone on Facebook that you’re doing it next week. Ask for prayers and good vibes, and don’t forget those “praying hands” and “fingers crossed” emojis.

Bob’s Burgers, “O.T.: The Outside Toilet (Copyright Fox, 2013).

4. Delete the pins and close the books. You’ve got this.

After psyching myself out for weeks ahead of the Big Weekend, I came into this experience fully expecting that my smart, capable toddler would lose all ability to understand me. He’d make bodily messes all over the house and be stuck in diapers forever. I hate cleaning, so the idea of being trapped in a soiled home for several days while my kiddo peed willy-nilly into every nook and cranny filled me with unspeakable dread.

And then the weekend arrived. We took off his diaper, explained what we were doing, and told him approximately 5,000 times that first day that if he had to pee or poop, he needed to use the potty. We promised one piece of candy (a jelly bean or peanut butter M&M) for number one, two pieces and a “special prize” for number two (dollar store-level prizes, nothing fancy). Within half an hour of waking up, he had already successfully gone number one. Later that day, he went for number two. By the end of day two, we had ventured to Walmart and returned without any incidents. He even used the bathroom in public with an amazing portable toilet seat I found on Amazon.

No accidents, no messes, no soiled nooks and crannies. Weeks of fear and worry, and my capable kiddo took to potty training like it really was no big deal. I feel like a fraud. I can’t offer any tips because we didn’t struggle with this. But I can give you one piece of advice that might prove useful:

5. Wait until your kiddo is ready.

I mean really ready. We started potty training three weeks before Arthur’s third birthday. His pediatrician told me a year ago that boys are typically closer to three before they’re ready. I have friends who’ve potty trained at 18 months and friends who’ve waited until well after three, both scenarios with successful outcomes. My parents potty trained me on a cross-country road trip to the Dakotas when I was two. Kids will use the potty when they’re ready.

Full disclosure: we’re only two full weeks into ditching diapers, and we still keep him in one for sleep. I know he’s not ready for nighttime potty training, and I have zero desire to change wet sheets all night. I stand by my one measly piece of advice for potty training. If you have the luxury of waiting like we did – meaning no preschool commitments, no impending second child, no other reason to speed up the process – then do it. Wait. Your kiddo might just surprise you. Mine sure did.

DISCLAIMER: I have one child, and our cold turkey approach (no Pull-ups, just a naked weekend and bribes) worked for our child. He was ready. He got it right away. Please don’t send me all-caps comments telling me that my success is sheer luck. You’re probably right. Just let me revel.