From Our Blog: Tales of the Toilet: How to Potty Train a 3-Year-Old

Boy washing his hands after potty training

Potty learning is not a milestone for the faint of heart. Let me save you some trouble – Google lies. Sure, some children wake up one morning potty-trained – most likely from magical fairies that visit at night and whisper in their ears, “it’s go time.”

However, my son, Cab, was not one of those kids. Instead, my husband and I decided that in the middle of my maternity leave for our newborn son, where survival is solely thanks to coffee and food left by visitors, that potty training our 3-year-old would be a great idea. *

Insert mental image of a Disney villain with evil laughter here.*

Here’s an inside look at how it went down.


7:00 a.m. – We’re up early this morning. We have been talking today up for weeks, purchased potty training rewards, and stocked the fridge and pantry for what we think will be a three day adventure.

9:00 a.m. – I just finished making a full breakfast… including bacon, Cab’s favorite. We’re allowing him to have orange juice – the more fluids, the more he is going to have to go, right?

9:05 a.m. – First accident and it’s on the new living room rug. Who is the crazy one that got a new rug, knowing potty learning was starting mere weeks later? I guess it was the same person who insisted on cream-sided chairs in the living room…

1:00 p.m. – Handful of accidents. So far, the toilet hasn’t seen any action. My husband and I have a bet on when it might actually get some… from the sounds of it, we both aren’t hopeful.

7:30 p.m. – Bedtime. I thought this might never come. My new rug: 14, toilet: 0.


8:11 a.m. – Okay, we’re at it again! Up and at ‘em.

8:13 a.m. – Well, we made it out of the bedroom and into the living room where we had our first accident on, yup - you guessed it - the new rug. My husband and I are upping the wagers on the toilet seeing action today.

10:43 a.m. – Full breakfast again. Hey, if you’re trapped, you might as well cook bacon, eggs, and pancakes.

2:00 p.m. – Naptime. Ha! Just kidding, Cab dropped naps during my first trimester, but that doesn’t mean I can’t nap for a bit on the couch to the sounds of Dinosaur Train.

5:00 p.m. – Gathered up a load of towels and dirty underwear. What I thought was an obscene amount of towels for a family of four I have realized is nothing compared to what is required for potty training a 3-year-old boy.

5:03 p.m. – Husband is in the basement dealing with the towel situation and I hear Cab calling from his room, “oh no, MMMMMOOOOMMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY.” Any guesses?

7:30 p.m. – Calling it quits for the night. Toilet still has seen no action. Seriously considering stopping this all and running to Target for more size seven diapers.


2:00 a.m. – I am up for a middle-of-the-night feeding and for the sake of fairness, I wake up my husband to discuss potty training. We decide that pushing Cab to sit on the toilet every 15 minutes is too taxing. We’re making the experience a chore and a bigger battle than it needs to be. I mean, it’s not like we’re having success here and, going into day three, we’re getting discouraged to say the least.

6:30 a.m. – A new day (and another full breakfast) is upon us. I feel like I haven’t left the living room or kitchen in weeks.

12:00 p.m. – This morning has been going well; we actually made it to the bathroom! Not the toilet, yet, but it’s a small bathroom, so it was close!

1:15 p.m. – IT HAPPENED! The toilet saw action. Dancing occurred, cheering was loud. Toys were passed out.

1:35 p.m. – My husband was told he had to drag a dining room chair into the bathroom to sit on while Cab was on the toilet. Anything goes, in my book.

7:30 p.m. – Ending this day on a much more positive note than yesterday. We only had another two accidents today – the rest was all on the toilet. Go Cab!


8:30 a.m. – We’re down three pounds of bacon total. Breakfast has become our saving grace, minus the takeout my husband and I have run out to get at night.

10:00 a.m. – Today is off to a great start! Cab is using the toilet, but hasn’t conquered emptying his whole bladder, so about five minutes after we go there is another rush to the bathroom or an accident. Towel supply is critically low.

11:22 a.m. – Time to do some towel laundry.

2:30 p.m. – I am alone. Well, alone in the sense that I am the only adult in the house. Husband cracked. He needed to get out of the putty chaos and jump ship. I can’t say I blame him.

5:45 p.m. – Husband has returned and brought in reinforcements in the form of food and candy. Cab did well while he was gone and so far, no accidents in a few hours.

7:30 p.m. – The only constant throughout the last four days: bedtime.


7:55 a.m. – We’re awake. We’re already at the end of our ropes. We’re needing this to end today. No, literally, this needs to end today – Cab has school tomorrow and we just ate the last of the bacon.

12:00 p.m. – NO ACCIDENTS this morning! I just can’t believe it. He is running to the bathroom but makes it on his own every time.

3:30 p.m. – Husband and I start making jokes about the “us” of 48 hours ago. “Remember we wanted to quit?” “We should have done this sooner.” Oh, how quickly one can flip.

7:30 p.m. – We still didn’t leave the house today, but Cab did awesome! No accidents at all. To say we are proud is an understatement. Pouring a glass of celebratory wine tonight that pairs well with the Chinese takeout we ordered.

The potty learning experience for our family took five long days, four pounds of bacon, three loads of towels, two determined adults, and one amazing 3-year-old. In the middle of it we almost called it quits, but we didn’t. It was hard, but so rewarding for us all. Cab went to school the next day and only had one accident. And that long weekend six months ago seems like ancient history. With all of that said, I want to leave you with a few suggestions for your potty training adventures.

7 Tips for Potty Training

  1. You do you. Remember there is no one way to potty train.
  2. Hype. It. Up. Like any good marketer, talk up this big life step weeks in advance.
  3. Stock up on bacon. Okay, so for you it might not be bacon, per se, but make sure that you have enough food, treats, and drinks stockpiled.
  4. Plan your set up. Think about what you need in your home to make using the toilet easier for your child. We love the toilet seat that has both a child’s and an adult’s size seat built into one. Pair it with a step stool and you’re ready to roll.
  5. Incentivize. Prior to the weekend, Cab picked out a toy construction set that had multiple pieces, so each time he tried to use the bathroom or was successful, he got a piece of the set. It worked for him because not only was it a prize, but it was a new item to play with while stuck in the house.
  6. Remember: you are not alone. As parents, we have all faced obstacles like potty training. We are all cheering you on!
  7. Don’t forget about YOU. Plan out your saving grace. For us, it was take out each night of the process. It’s important to keep momentum going by keeping yourself energized in the process.
Teaching your child how to use the toilet can be a challenging, but rewarding, process. Hopefully these tips will help you navigate the experience – and share in a few laughs along the way.

More on Potty Learning

  • Find tips for helping kids navigate toilet learning while in child care and communicating with your child’s teachers.
  • Toilet learning doesn't have to be a struggle. Early childhood development experts share tips for how parents can prepare and guide children towards toilet learning success.
  • Bedwetting is natural and common, but challenging for parents and kids. Here are some tips to support your children and eventually stop wetting their beds.
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Bright Horizons
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Boy washing his hands after potty training