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Tips for a potty training boot camp and beyond


Let's talk about potty training! About three weeks ago we took a weekend to transition Maeve from diapers to underwear and it's gone really well. With everything fresh on my mind I'd love to share what's been working for us plus some memories and perspective from our experiences potty training the boys.

Comparing our three experiences

I'll start with comparing the experiences of potty training my three kids. The predominant thing I remember about potty training Dash was that I felt overwhelmed. I had done a lot of reading during my pregnancy and even before about having a baby. All of the information I had absorbed seemed to stop just shy of toilet training. I saw blog posts or heard friends referencing 3-day potty training boot camps which gave me the impression that the process would be very involved for a short time but then you'd be golden.

Instead our experience felt like two steps forward and one step back with Dash for a few months. In retrospect I'm sure we started a bit too early and also not definitively enough. I remember Dash was still in and out of diapers for his third birthday but that it all came together shortly after that. And then we had a completely different experience with Cedric!

What I remember about potty training Cedric was thinking he was showing signs of readiness a bit before he was two-and-a-half. So we gave underwear a try and he did great. Maybe a couple of accidents. We had a trip to Austin coming up and I was worried that might set us back. Instead, Cedric stayed in underwear and was even wearing underwear at naps and through the night by the end of the trip. So what we say about Cedric is that he potty trained overnight at two and a half. He was also walking at nine and a half months so he was just on the early side for some of those milestones.

With Maeve we introduced a small potty and training underwear around the time she turned two. She seemed to think they were novel and fun but lost interest quickly. When she was two and a half we started bringing out the potty more, like before bath time, and talking about one day wearing underwear. She would tell us, "One day, when I am big girl, I wear underwear. But not yeeeet." So not a lot of interest! And that was fine with us. A lesson we learned with the boys is that each kid will be ready in their own time and potty training will be faster and easier if the child is truly interested.


How we decided to potty train Maeve

In January of this year Chris and I talked about when to get serious about potty training Maeve. She was starting to show some readiness signs including telling us she didn't want to put on a diaper. We were looking ahead to her early April birthday, when she'll be three, and hoped to have her potty trained by then. Like many toddlers, she was also starting to be very vocal about being in control of her body like not wanting to get dressed. I had a mother's intuition that through potty training Maeve would feel more autonomy and feel like a big girl which I thought she was craving.

Since I'm at home, as opposed to working full time at an office like I was with the boys, I thought a potty training weekend could work well to kick us off. From our experience with Dash, and talking to friends over the years, I now know that a 3-day potty training boot camp does NOT mean your child will be completely toilet trained at the end of the weekend. They might be but it's also totally normal for a child to continue wearing a diaper for naps and nighttime and to have accidents for a while as they continue to learn. Occasional accidents are not a potty training failure! They are a normal part of it.

So, with reasonable expectations and fortified patience we picked the long weekend of President's Day when Maeve would be home Friday through Monday.

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Our potty training approach

The week before our potty training weekend I had a fortuitous conversation with my Orange Theory coach of all people. She had just potty trained her daughter who is also her fourth child so I eagerly asked her to share any wisdom. She recommended the book 3 Day Potty Training Boot Camp and said she followed its methods. We chatted a bit about what that looked like and by the end of the conversation I felt like I had direction.

Leading up to Friday, I bought the book recommended by my coach and was able to read it during a nap time (it's short). The book lists signs of readiness for potty training and Maeve was showing most of them so I felt even more confident that the timing was right. I gathered materials and mentally prepared. Maeve can be resistant to new things so I imagined myself being patient, calm, and loving through the changes with her.

Here's an overview of the potty training approach we took, based on strategies from 3 Day Potty Training Boot Camp:

+ We made a big deal of Friday being Underwear Day, when Maeve would start to wear underwear and no longer wear diapers. We only started talking about this on Wednesday afternoon or maybe even Thursday. For some things I find short runways of information are best for toddlers.

+ On Thursday night we put all of Maeve's diapers out of sight so she wouldn't see them at all on Friday. We wanted to have a fresh start with diapers definitively behind us.

+ Starting Friday morning we put Maeve in underwear and have kept her in undies since then except for nap and nighttime.

+ For naps and nighttime we put Maeve in "sleeping undies" which are pull-up diapers similar to the ones she used to wear but a different brand and pattern. This was a tip from my coach that I liked and implemented. (These are the diapers we loved for Maeve; these are her "sleeping undies".)

+ On Friday morning I had lots of new, exciting things for Maeve's Underwear Day laid out on the couch. There were new underwear, a Baby Shark potty seat, and a sticker chart with new stickers. She was very excited to see it all which I think helped get her buy-in right away.

+ In the bathroom I stocked some fun things to entice Maeve to visit the toilet often during the weekend. These included "potty snacks" like Goldfish and fruit gummies (both of which we rarely buy), books with potty training themes, and "potty treats" (M&Ms) for a job well done.

+ We implemented a multi-tiered (haha) reward system. This includes a sticker every time Maeve sits on the potty. For actually going, she gets one M&M for number one and two M&Ms for number two. I keep the M&Ms in a little snack container on the counter.

+ On Friday and Saturday we stayed home all day. I spread out the shower curtain we use for crafts on the great room rug to protect it from accidents. We played at home and also decided to be liberal with screen time. Every 30-ish minutes I would ask and encourage Maeve to go sit on the potty. In the bathroom I read books, offered snacks, and gave lots of praise.

+ On Sunday Maeve and I had a potty training mission: go to Target, sit on the toilet, and then get a cake pop. From early on I wanted to get Maeve comfortable with using public bathrooms. I talked up the outing and Maeve was excited for it. Although she didn't go she did end up sitting on the toilets twice while we were there which I thought was great experience.

+ I read a great tip in the book about using public restrooms with automatic flushes that can scare kids: cover the sensor so the toilet won't flush. I used toilet paper draped over the sensor to do just that. Even if the toilet doesn't have a sensor I tell Maeve that I won't flush until she's ready, or even standing just outside of the door. That seems to help her a lot.

+ By the end of the weekend Maeve was doing great! She even developed her own secret signal to tell us she needed to go: a thumbs up! How cute and smart is that?! Maeve went back to daycare on Tuesday and was accident-free at school. She continues to do well going pee on the toilet at home and school although she has had a few of accidents, either when she was distracted watching a movie or when we were in the car.

+ However, we've still had no success with number two! I've offered getting a new! special! toy! if she'll poo on the potty three times. She seems very excited about getting a toy...but it doesn't translate to her telling us she needs to go number two. Your ideas welcome!

+ For now we continue to put Maeve in her sleeping undies for nap and nighttime. Sometimes she's dry after nap which is awesome.


Materials we gathered and bought

Here's the list of materials that were helpful to have on hand to kick off toilet training:

+ Lots of underwear with fun characters and patterns. We have 14 pairs of underwear with prints I knew Maeve would love like Bluey and Frozen. We also have a few pairs of training underwear which are also great.

+ Potty seat. There are removable potty seats and ones that fold down just like the bigger seat. I went with the removable seat because there was a Baby Shark seat I knew Maeve would love.

+ Small potty. We are trying to exclusively use the potty seat on the toilet for Maeve but with our number two conundrum we have tried the small potty as well. I also plan to take the small potty with us on our road trip so we have a portable potty with us at all times.

+ Wipes. We just moved the wipes container we were already using into the bathroom.

+ Step stools. We have a one-step and two-step version which have been helpful.

+ Books about using the potty. I love a themed book haul! Here's what I picked up from the library and read to Maeve while we spent time in the bathroom together: Everyone Poops, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Big Girls Go Potty, and Little Critter: New Potty. (Others you might like: Big Boys Go Potty and Where Does A Pirate Go Potty?)

+ A sticker chart and new stickers. I searched online for a free printable potty training chart and bought unicorn stickers.

+ Potty snacks to make visiting the potty more enticing. Having snacks that we don't normally buy was very fun for Maeve.

+ Potty treats. We are using M&Ms and have them in a small snack container.

+ A shower curtain liner for worry-free playtime on any carpeted areas.

+ New toys or activities to keep your little one busy at home for a long weekend. We pulled out our Ikea train set that we'd saved from the boys and Maeve took to it instantly. Other ideas might be little art kits or a new batch of homemade play dough.


That's what's been working for us so far in our third potty training adventure. If you have questions about our approach let me know. And if you have your own wisdom and tips to share (especially about number two!) please comment below.

If you are embarking on potty training: remember that accidents are part of the process but it's also okay to take a break and try again later if your child just does not seem to be into it. You will get there! Good luck!