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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.

Published August 6, 2013. Last updated August 6, 2013.
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.

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