In my career a parent, I can boast very few untarnished wins — namely, they are: making my daughter believe that frozen grapes are a totally acceptable dessert, teaching her to love Swiffer-ing, and potty training her in three days flat. That last one was my biggest surprise success, as I was fully prepared for drawn-out doom.
I had heard of the mythical Three-Day Potty Training method in my Facebook mommy groups, but it sounded too good to be true. Three days? You’re talking about just 72 hours to transition from a life of bulky diaper bags, drippy accidents, and stressful searches for a freaking changing table to one of diaper-free liberation? My shipments of Huggies took longer to arrive than that. But when my daughter was two-and-a-half and totally understood the concept of using the toilet (I’d always ask her if she wanted to try, and she’d always reply, “Not today, mama”), I decided to give it a shot.
Spoiler alert: It worked! The day we began training, my husband left for work that morning, and when he returned 10 or so hours later, the kid was basically potty trained, with just an accident here and there. On Day 4, she pranced confidently into her daycare class wearing Minnie Mouse underwear (and, well, clothes). I couldn’t believe it. Now whenever parents ask me for details about those three days, I gladly share the whole story.
How to actually potty train your kid in three days, maybe
A note here that this is our story, and I don’t believe any one method will work for every kid. You can find a massive amount of information about potty training on the internet or in the bookstore or — better yet — in conversation with your pediatrician. A dizzying assortment of methods exist, from the popular Oh Crap! plan, to the low-pressure Wait-and-Pee process, to the gradual training-pants-to-underwear transition. You’ve got to choose what feels comfortable for you.
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Three-Day Potty Training is a cold-turkey method, requiring you to get rid of all the diapers in the house and trust the process. I generally followed the plan laid out in Lora Jensen’s 3-Day Potty Training ebook, but with 50 pages of guidelines, it is extremely specific, and I can’t say that I did everything exactly her way. Here is what I did do, and what advice I would give to those about to embark on this messy, exhausting, but hopefully effective journey.
Plan for it like the grand event it is
Find three consecutive days on the calendar — at least a week after you decide to go with the 3-Day method (Jensen recommends a full month) —when you can be 100 percent dedicated to your kid’s bladder and bowels. (This may be tough for parents working full-time, I know. If you can’t take a day off, you may have to do it during a holiday, which is, quite literally, shitty, but eye on the prize: diaper -free liberation!) Mark those days as potty training days, and cancel everything else you have going on, including routine things like grocery shopping. You kind of have to imagine yourself being holed up in a bunker.
Say bye-bye to diapers — forever
About a week before the Big 3 Days, I told my daughter that we were going to give all her diapers to Baby Jeremiah, a one-year-old friend we knew. She was on board. I reminded her about this every day before the training began. When it was finally go-time, I had her help gather all the diapers in our house and put them in a big bag with Jeremiah’s name on it. We said «bye-bye» to them. Nobody was sad about it.
Prep and stock your house for the a-poo-calpyse
Here’s what you’ll need for training:
- A kid potty chair if you want to use one. We liked the Babybjörn. You could go without one and use the regular toilet, having the child sit on the side of the seat.
- Kid underwear (20-30 pairs). Check the Dollar Store.
- Liquids and high-fiber snacks to feed your kid. (You’ll want the child to drink more than usual during potty training, but don’t force it.)
- Small incentives and rewards like stickers or tiny treats.
- Extra sheets in case of nighttime accidents.
- Ready-made meals that you can easily heat up in the microwave (or a partner or helper to cook for you).
- Towels or paper towels for the inevitable messes.
- Stuff to do indoors with your kid. (At least for the first day or so, you’ll want to stay close to the bathroom.)
If you have any beautiful vintage rugs lying around (which, why would you? You have a toddler), you’ll probably want to store them away. It’s best to potty train on hard, wipeable floors, but of course, that’s not always possible.
How to get started with the three-day potty training method
On Day 1, you should be rested and fed. Your child should be wearing just a T-shirt and underwear. (Some parents prefer that the kids go bare-bottomed, but I think new underwear make them feel big and special. Also, they can feel the sogginess of accidents when they happen. Also, I don’t like commando butts on the sofa. )
The 3-Day Potty Training method basically requires you to do two things: 1) Say to your child «Tell me if you need to use the potty» there day, like 100 times a day, and 2) Watch the kid like a hawk.
Aside from that, you and your child can go about your regular activities. Color, do puzzles, watch a TV show. But as you do so, keep saying, «Tell me if you need to use the potty.» Say it every five or 10 minutes. “Tell me if you need to use the potty. Tell me if you need to use the potty. Tell me if you need to use the potty. » You’ll get tired of your own voice. Keep going. Don’t ask, “Do you need to use the potty?” – they’ll most always say no.
See it and run
Then, the moment you see pee or poo happening, pick up your child and (safely) race to the bathroom. Take off their underwear and plop them on the potty chair or toilet. If they get just one drop inside, go nuts. Cheer like crazy. Jump up and down. Tell them they’re a big kid. Call grandma. Give them a little reward. They’ll be really proud of themselves.
Repeat this every time. On the first day, my daughter had four or five accidents before it finally clicked. After that, whenever I would say, “Tell me if you need to use the potty,” she could say yes or no.
There were a handful of accidents after those three days, but all in all, the method was a resounding success. I was so astounded that all it took was getting rid of the diapers to potty train my kid that I had a philosophical moment, writing on Facebook after Day 2: “I just keep wondering, what are the diapers of our lives, the safety nets we use that keep us from experiencing bare-assed freedom? «
There are more specifics about the method, including troubleshooting tips, in Jensen’s book and this Parenting magazine piece. Remember, every child is different — be patient with whatever process you choose. And definitely keep some of those treats for yourself.
This story was originally published in 2017 and updated to align with current De Tipser style on June 15, 2021.