I knew I was going to absolutely hate potty training long before my twins reached a reasonable potty-training age. Maybe it was because I had two of them to train at once, maybe it was because the idea of worrying about finding a bathroom at a moment's notice when we're out in public freaked me out, or maybe because having them in diapers was just so much easier (albeit, you know, kind of icky), but I really had no desire at all to push potty training on my kids. Everything I'd read told me that you can't really force children to use the toilet before they're ready (physically and emotionally) anyway, so I kept putting it off and putting it off, waiting for those tell-tale readiness signs every parenting magazine in every doctor's office everywhere always talks about. And then, somehow, the summer before Pre-K came upon us, and my twins were still fully in diapers.
Feeling at a loss for what to do, I went to my main source for parenting hacks: Pinterest. And that's where I stumbled on the Three-Day Potty Training Method. The idea is that it's totally possible to get a child out of diapers within three short days, and given the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of time left to figure this one out, that was a timeline I could happily work with. One Pinterest mom who had potty trained all four of her kids when they were more than a year younger than mine wrote a handy e-book about the method, so I ponied up the $9.99, and attempted to potty train my son over a long weekend, hoping it would be the solution I'd been looking for.
The plan behind the three-day method seemed pretty simple, if not rather labor-intensive. During the three days you block off for potty training, blogger Becky Mansfield explained, you don't really want to go anywhere or do a whole lot, because the whole idea is to stay close to the toilet (or potty, but since my son was a bit older and already had some experience on the toilet, I opted to skip the potty all together). I'd also decided not to attempt to try to potty train my daughter during this experiment, because she has some special needs and just wouldn't be physically ready for toileting anytime soon (even if she was probably more into the idea of getting rid of her diapers than her brother was!).
The first two days are meant to be naked days spent at home, and consist of regular trips to the bathroom at specific intervals (which get progressively longer as the three-day period progresses). On the third day, Mansfield suggests trying underwear to complete the transition, and then maybe tacking on an extra day or two if need be.
Day 1: Getting Down To Business
I'd blocked out time in advance for our potty-training bootcamp of sorts, ensuring that at least one parent would be home and totally invested in the process at all times. My mom also offered to take my daughter for the day on day one, which was also super helpful, as it meant I only had one crazy, rambunctious 3 year old to focus on (thanks, Mom!).
To try and increase the likelihood of success, I spoke to my son in the days leading up to my experiment about our "special potty party," and how fun it was going to be to go on the toilet and not wear any diapers. I also picked up some special PAW Patrol underwear for him from the store as a surprise gift (surprise gifts are his favorite thing in the world) and told him he could wear them once he learned to go to the toilet. So it was safe to say he was adequately pumped by the time the day arrived.
In her e-book, Mansfield also suggests things like staying in one room (so you can study your child's cues carefully), and even having meals in that room so that you aren't distracted by cooking (avoiding accidents, naturally, is a pretty big priority). I was pretty down for this all-in approach, and set a timer every 20 minutes for potty breaks, but in all honesty, staying in one room got old pretty fast, even with a little help from my friend Netflix. Since my son was a bit older, and more familiar with the idea of using the toilet (Mansfield says the Three-Day Method can be used for kids as young as 18 months), I figured we could have a little more leeway around this, and it worked pretty well. The only accident my son had that day happened when I'd forgotten to set the timer (whoops). He even managed to poop on the toilet, which, to be honest, I wasn't expecting, since up until that point, he would specifically ask for a diaper to poop in if he hadn't been wearing one.
I started wondering if this Three-Day Method could really just be as simple as setting a timer.
Day one verdict? Total success.
Day 2: Dad Takes Over
The next day was a work day for me, but a day off for my husband, Matt, so it meant he'd be taking over the potty-training reigns. He hadn't read the book, but I filled him in on the details, and since the first day had gone so well, we opted to stretch the bathroom break intervals to 30 minutes instead of 20 for day two.
Day two was a little tricker in the sense that Matt had two children to wrangle (though only one that was actively going through the potty-training process), but already our son seemed like he had picked up on the idea of what was happening. He was really enjoying the fact that we'd clap and cheer for him each time he went to the toilet, and one the second day, his sister became his biggest cheerleader of all, doling out high fives and telling him how proud she was that he used the toilet. We also decided to reward him with gummy bears each time he'd use the potty, which, in retrospect probably wasn't the best idea ever, but, hey, it definitely provided incentive.
By the time I'd finished work, it sounded like the day had gone extremely well, and I started wondering if this Three-Day Method could really just be as simple as setting a timer. Could our son have been fully potty trained by now if we'd just tried a little harder?
Day 3: Underwear Day
Since the first two days of naked toilet time had gone so smoothly (only a couple accidents), we designated day three to be Underwear Day. We explained to our son that because he had done so well peeing only in the toilet, he could choose a pair of underwear to wear, because people who pee only in the toilet wear underwear. We also explained that underwear has to stay clean and dry, and that if he felt like he had to go to the toilet, he could either tell us, or go by himself. We also chose to extend the bathroom break intervals to one hour, because so far, it seemed like he could totally handle it.
I'd convinced myself that the only reason my son wasn't fully potty trained was because I hadn't forced him to be, but by the third day, I was starting to remember why people say, "they'll get it when they're ready."
"OK, Mama!" he said excitedly. I was mentally patting myself on the back for an excellent job well done.
And that is when things began to unravel. It quickly became apparent that, though it was easy for him to stay dry when I reminded him every half hour to use the toilet, he hadn't really figured out the real foundation of independent toileting, which is recognizing that he had to go, and then actually going. Maybe I was waiting too long in between and he wasn't noticing that he had to pee, maybe he was getting distracted by what he was doing and didn't want to stop to go to the toilet when he the urge, or maybe he just didn't mind peeing in his underwear, but without the dedicated 30-minute warning, I was seeing a lot more accidents than I thought I would.
A Surprise Day 4: It's A Process
In her e-book, Mansfield herself explained that the Three-Day Method is just meant to provide a foundation for toileting, not to magically get your child to go from zero to 100 in three days flat. I'll be honest though, by the end of day two, that was kind of what I was expecting. I'd convinced myself that the only reason my son wasn't fully potty trained was because I hadn't forced him to be, but by the third day, I was starting to remember why people say, "they'll get it when they're ready." There was no reason why my son wouldn't be able to learn to go on the toilet, and by the third day, it was clear he could and was able to. But he didn't seem ready to commit to the toilet just yet, and there was no way I could make him do that (it's his body, after all).
I didn't want to revert back to diapers after we'd made some progress though, so I extended our three-day experiment to four, going back to 30-minute reminders, but keeping the underwear. And since my son was starting to get sick of the frequent bathroom trips (as they meant he'd have to stop whatever fun thing he was doing to go sit on the toilet), I began offering to read him a short story while he sat on the toilet. This, of course, also turned out to backfire, as my husband later informed me that our son was now insisting he be read a story each time he goes to the bathroom. Sigh.
The fourth day went a little better than the third had overall in terms of accidents, but it was obvious that we'd have to be patient and give potty training more time to "click." And honestly? That was a lesson I probably should have learned by now. Ever since my son was an infant, he's reached his milestones in his own time, and not one second earlier than he was ready. Why should toileting be any different?
Will The Three-Day Method Work For You?
I'm still kind of stressed out with the state of potty training right now, because I don't particularly want to send my son to school until he's got the toilet thing 100 percent down. And yet, he will be starting school in September, and there isn't a whole lot I can do about that. Since we completed the Three-Day Method (which was really four days), we've continued to stick to underwear during the day at home, and to be diligent about reminding him to go to the toilet regularly. And that, really, is probably the real value of the program: it trained us, not him.
Before beginning the experiment, I'd put off the idea of potty training time and time again, because I knew it wasn't going to be easy. My son didn't seem ready, and my daughter was certainly not ready, and I didn't have it in me to try and fight it. Nor did I really think I should try and fight — and it turns out I'm not the only one.
Despite the fact that potty training your child seems like a parenting rite of passage, pediatric urologist Steve Hodges, M.D., says there's actually no specific value in things like training in a certain number of days, or to treating it like a task to be checked off your parenting to-do list. In fact, trying to train a child when they are too young or not ready (Hodges doesn't recommend potty training before age 3) could actually lead to regular accidents and issues caused by chronic constipation — something Hodges says is a much more common issue than most parents even realize. In a blog post on his website, Hodges wrote that "numerous published studies...demonstrate that virtually all children who have accidents are severely constipated," and that,
Accidents [are often attributed] to lazy parenting, but ironically, a laissez-faire approach to toilet training is actually helpful in preventing accidents. Early and insistent potty training has the opposite effect, increasing a child’s risk of developing wetting and pooping problems...children trained before age 2 have triple the risk of later developing wetting problems, compared to children trained later.
As nice as the Three-Day Method sounded to me, a stressed-out mom with a potty-training deadline, Hodges' take on potty training sounds like an important warning. Sure, my son might be going when I tell him to, but he's clearly not responding to his own cues, and there's no way I can make him do that. So maybe he just needs some more time — and a little more patience from me.
The idea of potty training your child in a matter of a few days sounds fantastic in theory, and I don't doubt that it's worked beautifully for many parents. But for the rest of us, whose children have toileting timelines that don't exactly line up with our own, giving yourself and your child permission to take a more laid-back approach might be most beneficial in the end.