How to Potty Train in 12 Months – And Why It’s Easier Than 3 Days
ByKelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator
Inside: If the standard advice for how to potty train in a weekend (or even day) doesn’t feel like the right fit for your kid, try this fun potty training approach.
When you go to Google and type “how to potty train in”, these are the options you have to choose from.
Three days. A weekend. One day?!
I have to admit that sounds pretty dang good, and I’m sure those tricks work for many parents.
But the 3-day potty training method has never resonated with me because:
That method typically requires some sort of reward system. But extrinsic rewards are tricky. In most situations, once the rewards disappear, the desired behavior does too.
If you tackle potty training before your kid’s ready, you can turn the whole issue into a major power struggle. And I’m sure you’ve already noticed this, but toddlers and preschoolers very much enjoy saying “no” when you desperately want their cooperation.
You have to stick around the house for three straight days. No library visits, no walks to the park, no sanity-saving trips to wander the aisles of Target.
We took a little bit different approach. Ultimately, our potty training effort took 12 months. And as it turns out, the 12-month method was way easier on everyone involved.
Don’t Believe Me?
Full disclosure: I’m no potty training expert. Not by a long shot. Just a mom who’s gone through the potty training process for two kids.
After I wrote this post, I almost didn’t publish it. Because the world probably has enough advice on how to potty train, and who am I to add my voice the chorus of people who have more experience and can get it done in a weekend?
But I decided to go ahead and post this – just in case you’re in the same boat I was. The three-day method didn’t feel like the right fit, and everything I read about how to potty train was focused on getting it done as fast as possible. Obviously, that would be nice, but I feel like parenting life has enough daily stress without giving your kid an arbitrary deadline for controlling her bodily functions.
If the three-day method doesn’t resonate with you either, try these steps when you feel like it’s the right time to kick off your potty training effort.
Keep in mind that you could end up tackling potty training in 2 months, 14 months, or yes – even in a weekend. You’ll see what I mean when you dive in.
Follow these steps now.
Take your kid to the store – or sit down on the couch for some low-stress online shopping – to pick out two or three packages of fun undies. Explain you’re getting the undies now for when she’s ready to use the potty like Mommy, Daddy, and/or her siblings. We love this brand because they look a little more like big sister’s undies and aren’t plastered in characters.
When you get home, take the undies out of the packaging together and put them in a drawer your little one can reach. Say this in a fun, upbeat tone: “When you’re ready to use the potty, you can wear these undies.”
She might want to wear them right now. If not, skip to the next step. If so, do something like this:
Explain: “The first step to putting on undies is sitting on the potty and getting all your pee out.”
Take her to the bathroom and show her the potty seat or training potty you got for her: “This is to make it easier for you to use the potty because the toilet might be too big for your body right now. Let’s sit down and see if this new seat fits your body.”
Say: “Let’s relax with some deep breaths and see if your body has any pee to put in the potty.” If not, no worries. Just say “you can try again later” and help her put the undies on. No disappointment, no guilt.
She’ll probably have an accident, and she might not like how it feels. Pretend you just noticed some very boring fact, like a piece of lint on the floor, and make your tone of voice match that feeling. Now say, “Oh, you went pee in your undies. That feels different than when you pee in a diaper, doesn’t it?” After she answers, say, “Do you want to pee in the potty, or put a diaper on?” If she opts for a diaper, keep your lint-noticing voice and help her. No disappointment, no guilt.
Wait. Every couple weeks when you’re in her room with her, you might say, “When you’re ready to use the potty like Mommy (or Daddy or a sibling), you can wear your undies.” Or she might bring the undies to you and want your help putting them on. Say the same thing.
If she says no, say “Okay” and move on. No disappointment, no guilt.
If she says yes, you’re ready for a potty party. Say, “That’s awesome! Tomorrow, we’ll have a potty party and you can wear these undies. But first, we have to get ready for the party!” Feel free to change “tomorrow” to “this weekend.” You’re ready to proceed to the next section!
This section may sound similar to the three-day potty training method, but a potty party has one very important difference: You do this only when your child is ready and excited for it.
This isn’t something you do because you happen to have a holiday weekend coming up and it would be convenient to get it out of the way. You don’t host a potty party because you indulged in a few too many Starbucks lattes this month and can’t afford another box of diapers. You definitely don’t host a potty party because your neighbor’s kid who’s six months younger than your kid just potty trained herself in one day and hasn’t had a single accident. (And also, you should know that your neighbor is probably lying.)
Another essential difference: Your child will help you prepare for the potty party. You won’t run off to Target, get a bunch of supplies, and come back to have them all set up by the time your child wakes up on the morning of her potty party. Bring her with you, and get her help to set everything up. This is a big step for her, and she’ll enjoy the whole process more if she’s involved every step of the way.
Finally, get your lint-noticing voice ready because you’re gonna need it. And here’s your official Potty Party mantra, so repeat it to yourself often:
Follow these steps when your little one says she’s ready to wear undies – see step 5 in the previous section for more information on how to transition between the waiting period and the potty party.
Between the time you get the fun undies until the time of the potty party, it may be 2 months, 14 months, or even all in the same day. It all depends on your kiddo.
Sit down together and make a list of what you’ll need for the potty party. A few suggestions:
Juice to help the potty process along (we like Honest brand because it’s not quite so sugary)
Balloons (what party doesn’t have balloons?)
Another package of undies or two just for fun
A new movie or a few new books from the library (or all of the above)
Fixings for a special celebratory treat like cake, ice cream, or pancakes for dinner
Candles (for sticking in the treat at the end of party day)
Take your child to the store and get your potty party supplies. You might even let her hold the list and mark items off as you go. This is exciting stuff, so have fun with it!
On the night before the potty party, remind your child: “Tomorrow is your potty party! Are you so excited?” Step her through what’s going to happen in the morning, if you want. Then after she’s in bed, blow up balloons or get any other fun decorations ready to go for the morning.
When she wakes up that morning, greet her with excitement: “Today is your potty party! Woo! Let’s pick out your undies and go visit the potty!”
Hang out with her while she sits* on the potty. If she goes at all, even a little tinkle, you freak the heck out. I’m talking you jump up and down, you say “woohoo”, you shake your booty, you pump your fists in the air. And this is a must – say, “You went pee in the potty!” One more “woohoo” wouldn’t hurt, either. This is a party, after all! Suggest she announce the exciting news to the rest of the family: “Let’s go tell Daddy/Mommy/sibling’s name you used the potty!”*I realize this part may be controversial and I don’t actually have a little boy of my own, but I’ve heard from lots of boys’ parents that you can teach your little guy to sit down to pee at first and save yourself a lot of heartache at the start of this process.
Set a timer on your phone for 15 minutes, and give your kiddo a juice to move things along. When your phone timer goes off, turn it off quickly and say, “Hey, you know what? We haven’t been to the potty in a while! Let’s go see what happens when you sit down!” Repeat this step for as many times as it takes to get your kid to go in the toilet. The more times, the better. Every time she goes, don’t forget the party-level response from the previous step.
Enjoy the party! Pop in a movie, sit down with a stack of books to read together, or just spend the day building epic LEGO towers. Keep the juice flowing, and take her to the potty every 30 minutes or so. Don’t force her because you don’t want to turn it into a power struggle. If she resists, go back to your lint-noticing voice and just say, “Okay.”
If she has an accident, no disappointment. No guilt. You might say something like, “Oops! You went pee in your undies, but pee goes in the potty now. Let’s put the rest of that pee in the potty, then we’ll get you some clean undies. What color do you want to wear this time?”
At the end of the day, serve your cake or ice cream or pancakes for dinner, and pop a candle or two in to celebrate. Remind her, “You used the potty today! You’re getting so big!” Make up a song if you can, and let her blow out the candles. A few ideas for conversation starters during the celebration:
Are you so proud of yourself for using the potty?
What was your favorite part of the day?
How does it feel to wear real undies instead of diapers?
Which is your favorite new pair of undies?
Now you know how to use the potty. What big girl thing do you think you’ll learn next?
What Happens After the Potty Party
At bedtime, you might find it easiest to stick with diapers or pull-ups. Make sure to explain to your little one, though: “Your body is still learning how to use the potty, so while you’re sleeping you might go pee without realizing it. How about we put a diaper on so you don’t go pee in your bed?” But if she wants to stick with undies at night, throw a towel or two under her, and make sure to have a mattress protector in place. Some parents even set an alarm to wake up their little one to use the potty midway through the night.
You can keep the potty party going for a full weekend or as long as it seems your child needs to focus on the effort and celebrate the small wins. On the second day, feel free to go somewhere like the park or the grocery store. Just give a quick reminder to visit the potty before you go and when you get back.
We find it works best if we all visit the bathroom before leaving so our toddler doesn’t feel singled out: “Okay, everyone! Let’s line up to use the potty before we go!” We sometimes let our toddler decide who goes in what order, which makes her little dictator-like brain happy and accomplishes the end goal of getting her to go.
Be sure to bring an extra pair of undies and pants along with you, and if an accident happens while you’re out? Notice the lint. No disappointment, no guilt.
Why the 12-Month Potty Training Method Will Save Your Sanity
This method of toilet training might take 12 months or 18 months or even a single day. The benefit of taking this approach is that you listen to your child and what she’s ready for instead of trying to enforce your adult timeline on her.
For us, it took about 12 months from the time we got the fun undies until our toddler was ready for a potty party. We had one potty party that weekend, and because she was ready, it was part of our normal routine by the next day. This happened a couple months ago, and she had four or five accidents that weekend – and none since.
But the most practical benefit I’ve seen is that you empower your child to listen to her own body and to be in charge of her bodily functions. She’s an equal partner in the potty party endeavor. And by creating an exciting event to celebrate this milestone along with your child, the issue doesn’t become yet another breeding ground for toddler or preschooler power struggles.
Because goodness knows we all have our fair share of those to deal with.
If your child isn’t excited about a potty party, it may mean she’s just not ready yet. I promise you, your child will not still be in diapers by the time she’s 18. You have time. So let her tackle this potty business when she’s ready.
If you have a potty party and after a couple days, your child has a lot of accidents, again it may mean she’s not ready yet. You might say, “You’re going pee in your undies instead of the potty. That shows me that you might not be ready for undies yet. Do you want to keep trying with undies, or go back to diapers for a few days until you’re ready?”
If you remind your child it’s time to use the potty and she says “no,” honor that. Don’t turn it into a power struggle because ultimately you can’t force your child to use the toilet if she doesn’t really want to. What works well for us is to say, “Let’s use the potty!” or “It’s time to go potty!” instead of asking, “Do you need to go potty?” Asking the question nearly always ends in a “no,” but a fun statement ends in a successful trip to the toilet approximately 95% of the time.
If your little one’s daycare or preschool requires her to be potty-trained by a certain age, don’t fret. You can still lay the groundwork in this way and see if she comes around to it in time to meet the school’s deadline. If she doesn’t go for it, you can be a little more gung-ho about pushing the potty party idea on your own timeline. It’s not ideal, but you can still have fun with including your child in the process. Side note: This was the case at my oldest child’s preschool, and I will say that if a child is not ready to use the potty, it doesn’t really matter what the school’s requirements are. You’ll end up sending multiple changes of clothing to school every day, and at the end of every day you’ll get back a stinky bag of laundry to deal with. Try to stay positive at home and follow your child’s lead about when she’s actually ready for this big step.
This is what worked for us. If a three-day potty training method works for you, more power to you. But if that quick-fix approach doesn’t resonate with you or it has failed to work in the past, try this approach for how to potty train your child. It might just do the trick.
Plus, your family gets a party out of the deal. And did I mention the cake?!
What’s your best tip for how to potty train your kid? Share in a comment below!
Kelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator
I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »