Prev Next
Potty Training Limbo

Potty Training Limbo

By Amalah


I thought after one kid I would know everything I needed to know for the second one, but HA! it didn’t work out that way.

I have two sons, 4 ½ and 2 ½ (or almost, he was 2 in March). The younger one (we still call him the Baby) is ready to potty train. At least I think he is. I don’t know, he is going about this very differently than is older brother did.

The older one showed a little interest in the potty but was never dry for long periods of time during the day, would pee as soon as I took his diaper off, didn’t really seem ready. Then he came home from daycare one day (at age 2 ½) and said his friend peed in the potty at school and he wanted to pee in the potty too. He stayed dry that evening and peed in the potty before bed (I put a diaper on him at bedtime because I am not delusional) and the next morning he reminded us he wore underwear, he didn’t wear diapers any more. And except for a few accidents that was it. We brought lots of changes of clothes to daycare that Monday and he wore underwear from then on (to say his teachers were shocked is a huge understatement). The other (non-pee) function took another two months or so to master on the potty, but it was not bad.

Now for the Baby. The Baby wants to potty train, he tells me his diaper is wet or takes it off himself, he likes to sit on the potty and can for a few minutes at a time, he is dry for long periods of time during the day, including after naps, and he would rather go naked or commando than wear a diaper. All signs that he is ready to potty train. Except, he has only peed in the potty once. Just once. He knows he is supposed to pee on the potty when he sits there and he wants to do it. He just…doesn’t. I am waffling between sticking him in underwear and letting him figure it out and letting him have a few more successes before making such a definite move. His two teachers at daycare have two different opinions on the matter. Both sound right when I listen to them.

Since you have gone through this twice (and are maybe going through now with Ike?) do you have any insight?

Mom of two (very different) boys

Potty Training Boot Camp time!

I’ve never had a child like your firstborn — all of my boys were a lot more like your Baby. The potty was awesome/interesting in CONCEPT, but our sell-through rate on actual things HAPPENING in the potty was always pretty low until I basically forced the issue and set aside a couple consecutive days to train them.

Could I have kept on waiting for them to just get it all on their own, like your son did? Sure. Possibly. Maybe. I dunno. They seemed pretty happy to be stuck in potty training limbo, showing all the interest and “signs” of being ready without actually DOING anything about it. Plus, with my older two, I was pregnant. I had a DEADLINE. And was therefore kind of deranged.

For the record, my third and youngest child, Ike, is still wearing diapers. (He’s 26 months as of this writing.) After starting school last winter we suddenly saw a ton of interest and lots of mimicry, but I didn’t commit to it and frankly, the window closed on us. We had a handful of isolated successes, but now he’s no longer interested. He yells “NO!” at the mere suggestion of using the potty and runs away. He returns to school next month, however, and I’m hoping that the potty peer pressure will start up again and we’ll get another shot at it. (Not to mention the toddler room teacher is known as the Potty Training Whisperer and manages to get all her charges trained after a few months.) But in the meantime I’m not pushing the issue.

I don’t mention that as a cautionary tale, by the way, so please don’t take it as OBEY MY ADVICE OR ALL WILL BE LOST. Early potty training is way overrated, in my book. It’s not a sign that your toddler (or you) is brilliant or advanced and it’s not even all that convenient to have a still-shaky-on-the-skills toddler out and about in public — ESPECIALLY once you have more than one child to shuttle around. So your kid just had an accident in the produce aisle. That’s…stressful enough without having to corral an older sibling away from the Oreo display and and crap, we were supposed to go to karate after this and I’m out of clean outfits and EVERYBODY JUST STOP WITH THE NATURAL BODILY FUNCTIONS GAAAAHHHHH.

But! I do think that if I’d approached Ike’s tentative “readiness” with the same dedication I approached his older brothers’, I’d be done with diapers right now. I don’t mind that I’m not done with diapers (since he’s still a pretty young two), but I suppose if you talk to me in a year and he’s still being just as stubborn…well, perhaps I’ll feel a twinge more regret about it.

ANYWAY. BACK TO YOU. MY GOD. Almost 2.5 is a really good age. That’s right when my older two trained, give or take a couple months. And my advice for kids who seem “ready” (i.e. a lot of interest, enthusiasm, good communication skills and the ability to stay dry for long periods) but who are also on the fence about it is to take a boot camp/immersion approach. Similar to what you might read in books like Potty Training in Less Than a Day. This can be really tough for working parents (since in my experience you really need about three days), but even just dedicating one weekend to Gettin’ This Done can work. Pick a couple days where you don’t have to leave the house, or can at least take turns with a partner/fellow caregiver. (Enlisting a favorite babysitter on the second/third night is also an excellent way to seal the deal: Once they realize ALLLLL the adults in their lives are onboard with the potty thing, they give up and roll with it.)

When your child wakes up tell them today is the day they get to learn to use the potty. It’s going to take a lot of practice but you are still going to have fun. Put them in underwear and a t-shirt. Take them to the potty and have them pull the underwear down and sit. Don’t make them sit there forever and don’t necessarily expect anything to happen…though if something does, start the rewards. Obviously candy/chocolate is a tried-and-true one but you can really use anything. Let them pick a prize from a box of dollar-store toys. Have them put a sticker on a chart to earn something bigger, like a trip for ice cream or a movie — tape a picture of the prize and make it clear that like, five stickers = that prize is earned. (That might be too much for younger toddlers, but every kid really responds to different rewards. Hell, my firstborn collected a Ziploc baggie of EXTRA BUTTONS.)

Set a timer. 20 minutes is good, maybe 15 if you load him up with juice or milk at breakfast. Back to the potty for another sit when it goes off. I personally prefer using the “real” toilet with an adapter seat, since I feel like it reinforces the idea that you do need to leave what you’re doing and GO to the bathroom — a really tough thing for kids who are absorbed in their play/TV/whatever and who will otherwise wait too long. (So if you do use a smaller, separate potty seat I’d still recommend keeping it in the bathroom. Let ’em know from the start that their bladder requires a little heads’ up. You’ll be grateful for this when you’re at Target later, in the aisle furthest away from the restroom.)

In between the “attempts,” ask him if his pants are dry. Have him touch and feel and celebrate the HECK out of those dry pants. High five, dry pants! Dry pants are awesome and everybody is happy, hooray!

If he has an accident, it’s “wet pants.” Don’t yell or scold. It’s just…aw man. Wet pants? Wet pants are no fun. Boo, wet pants! Have him take the wet underwear off and put it in the hamper himself. Then you start over with…DRY PANTS YAAAAYYYYY. (Noah was also required to turn in a button from his baggie collection, which he could then earn back “next time.” Ezra just wanted chocolate chocolate chocolate so there was nothing to return.)

Read him books about using the potty, or watch Elmo’s Potty Time or whatever. Just hammer in the concept as much as freaking possible.

Again, this approach worked in about three days for us. (Holiday weekend coming up??) Day two usually saw more accidents than day one for some reason, and then day three was the day things really clicked. (Naps are a personal call, by the way. The books that outline boot camp potty training approaches tend to take a hard line about no Pull-ups or diapers at ALL, buuuuuutttt. I dunno. I don’t think I was ever that brave. YMMV. See how your kid is doing. If they pee right before nap and it seems “substantial,” maybe add another waterproof pad to their bed and risk it.)

Anyway, that’s what I would try with your Baby. IF YOU WANT TO. If you want to wait and see if it eventually happens epiphany-style like your firstborn, hey, no judgment. I can’t be hassled with all this right now either. Just be warned that for SOME kids, what you’re currently seeing IS kind of as good as you might get for a long, long time: enthusiasm and interest with zero actual success and follow-through. I guess this is the breed of child for whom potty “TRAINING” got its name.

Spend a day or two singularly focused on it and see if you can rack up a few more actual pees in the potty. If you do, he’s more than likely definitely ready and you should stick with it. If by day two you’ve had NOTHING but wet pants and a ton of puddles, well, his brain might not yet have finished wiring up that particular, necessary connection and you can drop it for now.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Nancy

    August 6, 2013 at 9:49 am

    In regards to Amy’s last paragraph… our (then 2.75 year old) kiddo showed all the signs that yours did, we set aside our long weekend, we had a hot mess the first two days and decided exactly what she mentioned – he wasn’t ready yet and we should table potty training for a later date.

    So the third day, we sat kiddo down, explained very matter of factly that we were going to go back to diapers/pull ups for while because it just didn’t feel like he was ready. And just like that… he used the potty regularly and stayed dry ALL DAY LONG all on his own! And pretty much kept it up moving forward (a sticker chart helped too. :))

    He really was ready, but the pressure of training was too much. Once the pressure was off him, he did great! So keep this in mind too. Good luck!

  • Myriam

    August 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

    My daughter showed 1st signs of readiness arould 18 monthls old, and I tried it for a week-end. Nothing happened. So we went back to diapers for a while. Being from Montreal, with snow suits in the winter, I didn’t want to bother trying again before spring. However, in February, at 26 months, she seemed so ready that I had to try (dry for long period, including naps, interest, etc.). In the first day, she peed only 3 times, but it was on the floor. I tried to sit her on the potty but she would just sit there… The second morning, I had an epiphany : instead of asking her if she WANTED to pee, I asked her if she wanted to PUSH HER PEEPEE OUT. So she sat on the potty and went. And that was it. I think the concept was a little to abstract for her, and asking her to DO something, like PUSH it out, really helped. She can also pee on command if we are going out, or before naps. We’ve had a few accident, but I’d say less than once a week. She’s the only one day-trained at her in-home daycare, so I think sometimes everybody forgets she might need to go, including her. At home, she’s really good about telling us when it needs to happen. we got lucky, I think. I didn’t potty-train her, she did it pretty much on her own. I also do as Amy says, like I don’t say anything negative if she has an accident, just : better luck next time!

  • Marnie

    August 6, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Ugh, can I just say that potty training is the one aspect of parenting I wish I could outsource? Seriously, I find it so stressful and aggravating!! That said, what seemed to work with my older 2 was not putting a huge amount of focus on it. We followed the principles of the book Amalah mentioned but found, so much focus on it was stressing the kids (and me!!) out. So we just stopped making a big deal out of it after we taught them what potty training was all about. Put the ball back in their court. With my #2 child, this worked really well and she decided she was ready at 2.5 a few weeks before #3 was born. I was pessimistic about that because I thought she would regress but she didn’t at all! Our #1 child had more issues, he has always struggled with constipation so potty training became really traumatic for him because he would only remember the horrible times of trying to go #2. Putting a break on training in general for 6 months made all the difference and he was ready on his own when he was 3.

    Just remember, it will happen! They won’t go to high school or college in diapers, I swear!

  • Brends

    August 6, 2013 at 11:51 am

    This is actually the one aspect of parenting we did outsource, and it kind of ties into Amy’s advice of showing them that all the adults around them are on board.  At just shy of 2.5 for each, we were stuck in potty-training limbo with both of ours, who are exactly two years apart.  With both, we had taken them as far as we could without it turning into a power struggle.  We live very close to both sets of grandparents, and our kiddos were used to sleepovers, so we sent them to camp with one set over the long July 4 weekend, and they came back completely trained, with only a couple of accidents after that. I think the combination of a change of environment and a change in command helped with the final push.  I also think summer’s a great time to train, what with all the toddler nakedness 🙂 

    Hang in there! There are lots of options and advice, and you’ll figure out something that works for you!

  • Kim

    August 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Having made every mistake in the book with my firstborn, and being almostbutnotquite there with my second, I will second Amy’s “window” idea. For both my kids, we slid right past “interested” into “way too much work, not worth it.”  With both of them, it was an all out struggle to get them out of diapers. My youngest is 3 1/2, and she spent most of the weekend back in a pull-up (I had surgery, so DH was in charge. Not bashing him – there was a lot going on, and she certainly wasn’t complaining. I insist on panties, with a waterproof pad for naps.)
    They do get there, but if I had it to do over, I would’ve done the dedicated weekend approach, timers and all.

  • Melanie

    August 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Great column Amy! More questions for all… Am I crazy for thinking my 18 month old is ready? I’m really not trying to push her but she is very interested right now and loves to sit on the potty for 10+ minutes at a time reading and playing games. She’s gone a handful of times, but the last couple times it has freaked her out. I bought some treats to give her when she goes but now she hasn’t gone in a couple weeks (it almost seems like she’s trying to hold it in now but still loves sitting there).
    Just wanted some opinions on whether this approach would work for a younger child. I don’t want to push her too hard but I don’t want to miss the window either.
    Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? 🙂

    • Brooke

      August 6, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      My oldest was interested at 18 mos and took right to it. She was fully trained by 22 mos. She was in day care, and I think peer pressure and really great teachers get almost all the credit. She rarely had any accidents (only pee and never poop, thank goodness). My current 2.5 year old? Totally different story. Every kid is different, but I have living proof that 18 mos isn’t crazy. I say try it; if it doesn’t work out, don’t push it. Just wait a couple months and try again.

    • c

      August 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      My daughter basically trained herself at ~20 months. She’d undress herself (completely) and go and sit on the potty. We didn’t push it at all. What you’re describing (interested and sitting on the potty for long periods, and sometimes peeing) starting around 18 months.

  • sam

    August 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    What’s the secret to poop? My son Has stayed dry wearing underwear for 3 months now but won’t poop in the toilet despite awesome bribes.

    • Nancy

      August 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      Ugh. We must’ve gotten lucky, because after a bunch of stickers and poop on the bathroom floor (his window of timing was way too short for him to actually GET on the potty in time to do his business there even though he could tell when the poop was coming) he just sort of got it. One (gross) incentive that got him to do it more often and regularly was that if the poop was in the potty he got to inspect it (visually) and be the one to dump it in the big toilet (we didn’t let him empty pee because of sloshing and spillage.)

  • Olivia

    August 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    All good advice, but I’d like to offer my experience just in case other kids are like mine. My daughter showed all the signs of readiness at about 2.75 yrs. So we took the upcoming Christmas holiday break to go cold turkey on diapers. She actually peed in the potty only twice during TWO WEEKS. For some reason she had major difficulty in making the pee happen while sitting on the potty. She did not understand how to “let it go” at the right time. She was (and is still) not motivated by rewards at all, and using a timer ended up stressing her out so much that she began to resist even sitting on the potty. 

    So, we threw in the towel and started using pull-ups. We continued to talk about using the potty, but in the mean time she could at least take some responsibilty by changing her own wet pull-up. It was about 6 months later that we made a go of it again, and finally on the third day (in a port-a-potty of all places) she tinkled and she said, “Oh, <em<that's what you want me to do?” LOL. By the end of the week she was also pooping in the potty and she has has very few accidents since. 

    All that to say, if you are having trouble with your kid potty training and need to take a break, it’s okay. One day your kid will get it. 🙂

  • Hannah

    August 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    We tried boot camp right before our daughter turned 3. Our daughter is VERY independent and VERY smart. It took 8 days. She knew what was supposed to happen, we had a huge bowl of presents (wrapped) that she got to choose one of if she peed in the potty and she just continuously peed on the floor.

    On the last day, I subbed in for my husband (who is normally the stay at home parent) so that he could go to a funeral. She peed on the floor 5 times with me. At the end, I was so frustrated that I just told her that I knew she could pee in the potty and it made me very sad that she wasn’t. Dad came home, I left, she immediately ran to the potty and peed.

    It’s been about 5 months, and although she still wears a pull-up at night and has an accident or two each week, she’s pretty solid. The funny thing is that she never has accidents when we’re out – she’ll volunteer to go to the potty at the grocery store, rest stops, the mall, the zoo, etc., but sometimes misses at home. Guess she just wants variety!

  • Autumn

    August 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks for answering this Amy!  I was thinking about writing in the same question, only my daughter is only 23 months.  She’s wanting to sit on the potty, but nothing’s happened yet.  She’s dry after about half her naps.  I was going to boot camp over labor day weekend, but now we have to travel for some extended family bonding, so I’m thinking we will hold off a bit.  

    She moves up to the 2s classroom so I’m kinda wondering if letting day care and peer pressure take the lead.  The teacher is pretty proud of her track record.  If there is a kid in the 3 year old room in diapers, he/she wasn’t in her class at this school, so I can work with a record like that.  

    Besides, I said I wouldn’t consider having another one till this one was potty trained.  

  • Wendy

    August 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Like Sam above, I’m stumped with poop too. for a few months now, our almost three-year old is about 95% good to go for pee at home. Though he does have to be reminded to go about every thirty minutes. But if we try to leave the house in underwear, bam, he has an accident almost immediately. As for pooping, no dice. He’s gone a handful of times in the potty over the last several months, but nearly all have been a blessed coincidence of timing and aggressively “pushing” his pee out. Usually he holds in the poop until two minutes after you’ve put him back in a diaper either for bed or to leave the house.

    I’m not sure if going diaper free outside the house is something I can handle right now. We have a newborn. But. How long do I just skate along with undies at home, dipes out of the house? Am I doing him a disservice by not pressing the issue?

    Anyone have thoughts on this?

    • Kate

      August 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      I had this situation with my oldest. He “pee-trained” shortly after 3 with really no issue. But pooping? He was, I think, 3 yrs and 8 months! it was a nightmare! For him, it was fear — he was afraid it woudl hurt, so he waited for a diaper or undies. Two things helped 1) I finally threatened to take away his undies. He LOVED his undies (cartoon characters, etc…). So he had an incentive. (2) this was the bigger thing — he would have accidents in a diaper or underwear, but not on the floor (thank god). So he went pants-less until he was consistently going on the potty (I mean, at home, obviously 🙂 This post has got me thinking of doing pants-less boot camp soon for my almost 2 yr old!

  • Sandra

    August 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

    My son was just like your son.  DIdn’t want diapers, disliked wetting them but had a hard time figuring out how to get it in the toilet.  I just had my husband always take him and explain to him when he used the toilet and let him hang out in underwear until he finally got it.  It took a lot longer than three days for him to figure out, but if he was willing and wanting to try I wasn’t about telling him that just because he didn’t succeed at first meant he wasn’t ready.  I just always had a set of extra clothes and never made a big deal about it.  If you’re day care provider is willing to go with this method it worked for my son and I can tell you the day he finally figured out poop and the look in his eye when he whispered “Did it!” was worth picking up a billion spills of pee and poop. Best of luck to you!

  • B.

    August 7, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Look into the book “Oh Crap Potty Training.” I used it to train our 22 month old daughter. Super successful. She caught on in the first day. We still diaper her at night/nap and she is now 29 months. Much different advice than what is mentioned above so you’ll have to decide which type of potty trainer you will be. So glad I didn’t wait any longer than 22 months though.

  • groovymumma

    August 12, 2013 at 6:29 am

    I would definitely second the  “Oh Crap Potty Training”. My daughter was about two and half, seemed very ready, but almost never actually went in the potty. This method might not be for everyone, as you need about a three day window at the beginning, but she had no. 1’s down in the potty in one morning, no. 2’s within the week, and was nappy free overnight within the month. She had the odd accident, of course, but really not that many. For us, it was a great way to “seal the deal”.

  • liz

    August 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    In terms of fun videos, I recommend Potty Time with Bear in the Big Blue House.

    • Megan

      August 6, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      FYI – The Bear in the Big Blue House Potty Training video is on YouTube for free!

      I just played it for my son. 😀  I read through this post, as I’m having issues with my son actually doing anything in the potty. 

      I’m afraid he is actually having too much fun with toys & books, but maybe I’m wrong about that. 

      We’ve only had one success and he had sat on the potty for a LONG time. 

      I’m thinking I might try the underwear thing for a morning and see how he likes it. He is all about being a big boy right now, so it might be good incentive…I hope! 

      Thank you soooo much for all of these wonderful posts. It’s the first set of information I actually found informative and understanding of children being individuals. 

  • Going Potty. |

    May 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

    […] you could just read this link to Advice Smackdown, which I basically followed to the […]

  • christian

    January 29, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    PLEASE HELP!!!!!!
    I Have had 2 girls and 1 boy of my own. And now 20 years later 7 months ago we have become the legal parents of my husband’s oldest daughter’s daughter addi. She was in pull up when we got her. She would pee on the toilet and was not interested in the little potty chair. But will not poop at all in the toilet. (Has pooped a couple of times for me and everyone who has had her.) but we had to take her out of the pull ups cuz the pulls were giving her a rash. So we r working in pantys and plastic bloomers. Butt has totally cleared up. But still not pooping in toilet. Any ideas PLEASE!!!!

  • christian

    January 29, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    We even bought her a toilet for her babies and take them with us. Tried candy and stickers and everything we could think of. I also made a huge deal about when she pooped those two times. I am running out of hope!!!! She is 2 and a half. HELP!!!!!!!!