Does potty training your toddler in a long weekend sound too good to be true?
For many parents, potty training is a long, frustrating process that is much harder on mom or dad than on the little potty trainee. But the concept of an accelerated potty training timeline is nothing new. In 1974, a pair of psychologists published “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day,” and quick training techniques and strategies persist to this day.
Take Lora Jensen’s popular approach, the 3-Day Potty Training Method. Jensen is a mom of six and the self-proclaimed, “Potty Training Queen.” She fine-tuned her three-day method with her own children after closely following the potty training successes and failures of her friends and family, and the result is a potty training approach that many parents swear by.
Jensen’s strategy is based on a loving approach to potty training that emphasizes positive reinforcement, consistency, and patience. The three-day method also takes a more generous approach to the notion of “signs of readiness,” or the signals that your toddler is aware enough to potty train successfully.
According to Jensen, the first necessary sign is your child’s ability to consistently communicate what they want, even without using speech. She also advises that your child should be able to go to bed without a bottle or cup. Finally, Jensen finds that the ideal age to potty train is 22 months. While she does note that children younger than 22 months showing signs of readiness can successfully potty train, she warns that it will likely take longer than three days.
During the three-day process, your entire focus should be on your child.
This means your normal schedule will be disrupted because you’ll be spending all three days within spitting distance of your toddler. The idea is that while you are potty training your child, you are also being trained. You’re learning how your child communicates a need to use the bathroom, and that can take some trial and error.
The 3-Day Method also requires parents to keep their cool no matter how many accidents happen. And accidents will most certainly happen. Calm, patient, positive, and consistent — this is mandatory.
To be successful, Jensen recommends planning ahead for a few weeks. Pick your three days and clear your schedule. Make arrangements for your other kids (school pick up and drop off, after-school activities, etc.), prepare meals in advance, buy your potty training supplies, and do whatever else you can to ensure that those three days will be devoted to your toddler and the potty training process.
While you don’t need to go crazy with supplies, you will need a few things.
- a potty chair that attaches to a toilet or a stand-alone potty for your child (purchase here)
- 20 to 30 pairs of “big boy” or “big girl” underpants (purchase here)
- lots of liquids on hand to create lots of opportunities for potty breaks
- high-fiber snacks
- some sort of treats for the positive reinforcement (think crackers, candies, fruit snacks, stickers, small toys — whatever your child will respond to best)
Day one begins when your child wakes up. Ideally, you’ll be ready for the day yourself, so that you don’t have to juggle showering or brushing your teeth with watching your child like a hawk.
Jensen advises making a production out of tossing out all of your child’s diapers. They consider them a crutch, so it’s best to kick things off by getting rid of them. Dress your child in a T-shirt and new big kid underpants, offering lots of praise for being so big. Lead them to the bathroom and explain that the potty is for catching pee and poop.
Explain that your child should keep those big kid undies dry by using the potty. Ask your child to tell you when they need to go potty, and repeat it over and over. Jensen stresses here not to ask your child if they need to pee or poop, but rather to give them a sense of control by asking them to tell you that they have to go.
Be prepared for accidents — many, many accidents. This is where the focus part comes in. When your child is having an accident, you should be able to scoop them up and hurry them into the bathroom so they can “finish” on the potty. This is the key to the method. You need to catch your child in the act every time. This, Jensen promises, is how you’ll begin teaching your child to recognize their own physical needs.
Be loving and patient, offering lots of praise when your child successfully finishes on the potty or tells you that they need to use the potty. Be prepared for accidents, which should be considered opportunities to show your child what to do and what not to do.
Above all, be consistent with the praise, stay calm when your child has an accident, and keep reminding your child to tell you when she needs to go. If you do that, as well as follow a few other guidelines in her book, Jensen believes, you should be able to potty train your child in just three days.
I’m a mom of four, and we’ve been through the potty training three times now. While I can appreciate a few points in Jensen’s approach, I’m not sold on this method. And it’s not only because it seems like way too much work. When it comes to things like potty training, I take a child-led approach.
When our oldest was around 2, he started showing an interest in the potty. We bought a little potty seat that tucked into the toilet and sat him up there whenever we were in the bathroom, but in a very low pressure way.
We also bought him some big boy underpants. He wanted to wear them immediately and he strutted around for a few minutes before promptly peeing in them. We cleaned him up and took him to the potty, explaining that big boys pee in the potty, not in their underpants. Then we offered him another pair of underpants, which he declined.
So we put him back in a diaper, and every day, for months afterward, we asked him if he was ready for big boy underpants. He told us he wasn’t, until one day, when he said that he was. At that point, he was a few months shy of his 3rd birthday, was waking up with a dry diaper in the mornings, and seeking privacy when he pooped. After asking to wear big boy undies, he potty trained in under a week.
Fast forward to our daughter, who potty trained right on Jensen’s approved timeline. At 22 months, she was incredibly articulate and had an older brother modeling bathroom habits. We followed the same low key approach, asking her if she wanted to use the potty, and then buying her big girl undies. She wasted no time in putting them on, and after a few accidents, figured out that she preferred keeping them clean.
Our third child, our younger son, had two siblings modeling good bathroom habits. He watched it all with great interest and intent, and because he wanted to be like the big kids, he couldn’t wait for the potty seat and big boy undies. He was also around 22 months, which blew away my preconceived notion that girls potty train faster than boys!
With all three kids, we let them tell us when they were ready to start the process. Then we just stayed diligent about asking them if they needed to use the potty. We used the phrasing, “Listen to your body, and tell us when you need to use the potty, okay?” There were accidents, definitely, but it wasn’t an overly stressful process.
So while I can’t claim a three-day potty training technique that’s guaranteed to work, I can tell you this: It’s infinitely easier to potty train a child because they want to be potty trained, and not just because they hit some magical potty training age. Keeping it low pressure, celebrating the successes, not stressing over the accidents, and letting your kids figure things out on their own timelines worked just fine for us.