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Potty Training Realism

Potty Training Realism

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

Stumbled across your blog and I love all the advice and antidotes. Here is my problem:

My daughter, 20 months, is two weeks out from potty training ‘boot camp’ I’d say for the most part she is doing great. She can tell me when she needs to go and after the initial 3 days we have been fairly accident free. I say fairly because we might go 2-3 days accident free and then have 4-5 days in a row with an accident a day. Usually the accident is poop, but we have the occasional pee (with no signs of caring/noticing she had an accident) Also so far every accident has been at home and not while out. So, are we on the right track? Does it indeed take several weeks/months to ‘fine tune’ or did I train too early? I have tried googling and I have gotten many horror stories about regression, training too young leads to dysfunctional bladder and frequent accidents mean they just aren’t ready. If she is indeed not ready, do you just walk away from the toilet completely or do you put them back in diapers and still take them if they tell you too? As a first time mom surrounded by other first time moms I just don’t know what is a realistic expectation. Any advice is welcomed.

Thank you!

Every kid is different and every potty training story/situation is different, but yes, I think you are on the right track. This is all quite unremarkably normal. I’m sure there ARE toddlers out there who complete the “potty train in less than a day” or “potty train in three days” boot camps and absolutely never, ever have an accident again or any regression/backsliding/issues-with-poop-but-not-pee-or-vice-versa, but I really think most toddlers continue to need practice, and continue to have accidents due to forgetfulness/distraction/old diaper habits.

Real Mom Talk: I potty trained three boys using the three-day method. It usually ended up more like five days before we had a for-real “breakthrough,” and HOLY GOD YES, we dealt with the occasional accident for WEEKS and MONTHS afterwards. My last kid completely faked us out after the first week, then went a solid damn MONTH without a single success before snapping out of it. (And yet that still wasn’t the End of All Potty Accidents. Two and three year olds like to keep you on your toes, sometimes. Usually right when you’ve stopped carrying around a change of pants and underwear in your purse.)

Basically, the fact that your daughter is “fairly” accident free means that she’s “mostly” there, which is about all one can usually hope for two weeks out from the initial breakthrough day. Particularly when we’re talking about kids on the younger side, and kids who did not just magically wake up one morning determined to self train. So no, I don’t think you need to put her back in diapers or stress about training her too early. You just need to adjust your expectations about how independent she’ll be regarding the potty for a few more months. Probably three to six more months before you can really and truly backburner the potty issue, given her age.

(And for all the early potty training terror articles out there, the main concern is that we adults tend to forget how tiny a toddler’s bladder is, and hold them to an unrealistic toilet schedule. We tell them to “hold it” because it’s inconvenient for us to drag an 18-month-old to the potty every 20 minutes, even though an 18-month-old simply HAS to use the potty every 20 minutes because her bladder is small and her muscles aren’t fully developed yet. The problems develop when that 18-month-old learns to hold it past what her body is ready for, and then ends up with a urinary tract infection. I’m not a huge proponent of super-early training in general — mostly because it’s so much more about the parents being trained than the kid, and I’ve yet to read any real benefits of it, particularly for the child — but at 20 months I think your daughter can avoid any of the scary things you read about as long as you 1) don’t expect her to hold it, 2) don’t push for staying dry at night or long car trips, and 3) continue to praise her success while not shaming/losing patience over the occasional accident.)

Since she’s having accidents at home and not while she’s out, that suggests she’s simply forgetting or getting distracted. She’s remembering while she’s out because it’s important to her to NOT have an accident while she’s out, and/or it’s more important to YOU so you’re probably being more proactive about making sure she has frequent potty breaks and opportunities. So on days when she’s just chilling at home, have a potty timer. It goes off, you remind her, or if it has been awhile since she went, just insist she sit and try to go. I would probably set it for every hour or so, and if a couple hours go by without peeing, start setting it for every 30 minutes instead.

As for the poop, well. That’s one of those things. The Halfway There Kid, is what we usually call them around here, and it’s super duper common. Kids master the pee before the poop. Since she’s doing relatively well on the pee (and will likely only continue to improve with more time and practice), discontinue any rewards you’re giving her for that, and them implement an incentive program focused just on pooping on the potty. Watch for any sort of timing or schedule (and for those telltale Poop Faces, or anytime she suddenly runs behind furniture) and ABOVE ALL, make sure she isn’t holding it in or getting constipated. A constipated, potty-training kid will drag the Halfway There process out for AGES. So. You know. Make sure she’s getting lots of fiber.

Don’t worry! She’ll get there. Eventually. It’s a process. A very messy, damp process.

Published October 24, 2014. Last updated October 24, 2014.
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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  • Phyllis

    October 24, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Oh man this is encouraging too! My 23 month old FINALLY had his breakthrough day 3 days ago, after 2 weeks of my SUPER LAZY potty learning expedition. He was showing some signs of interest and we busted out the potty, stickers and treats. I kept him in undies for the first two weeks using the “Don’t Pee on Thomas” method but .. it was like the taking undies, off, sitting, and poke down the peepee was too many steps! He was always late to the potty every time and we never even got to a stage where I could consider going out diaper free! Then magically three days ago I got even lazier and skipped the undies. Voila! He’s pee/poop trained for 3 days.. NO ACCIDENTS. So I’m riding this train for the rest of the week then plan to baby step our way to undies and pants. And then maybe I’ll consider the undies out of the house possibility. For now he seems to be ok with switching from diapers out and potty at home. Which is good because we are travelling soon and I can’t bring a potty. Gosh. Anyway.. Thanks for all your articles and some guidelines and ideas. It’s nice to know every kid, process, parent is different and to hear all the different things that have “magically” worked for our kiddos!

    Quick question.. has anyone had any success with pullups? The last two times we tried them out he peed/pooped within like 2 minutes. Ugh. Are they better later on once they really get the difference? They are too expensive to waste as diapers.. I’m just wondering when they’ve been helpful?

  • Maggie

    October 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

    As for pull ups, we only found them useful for bedtime for an older day time trained kid. She wore undies all day but still needed a diaper for night, but her 3 year old dignity was affronted at real baby diapers. Pull ups were a good compromise, and then if she DID wake up and need to go she could pull them down/up all by herself. But for a halfway there kid they feel just like a diaper.

  • Stacy

    October 26, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Amy, so glad to read your response! My 23 month old has been mostly potty trained for a couple of months, but still has tiny accidents on many days. It’s been making me wonder if I trained him too early and it’s bad for him somehow. Very reassuring to hear this is normal!

  • Autumn

    October 27, 2014 at 12:53 am

    My 3 year old (of fear of auto flush fame, Thanks Amy for your response although we are willing to look at big potties, we are still scared to sit on them) is mostly trained, about one accident’week. We tried boot camp style at 28 months, she just didn’t get it.  So when a month before her 3rd birthday she got into peeing on the potty, we played along.  She would have great stretches, then a series of accidents.  Some daddy training was needed, as daddy kept forgetting to have her pee in the morning when getting up.  A dry diaper means a full bladder. . . 

    My point is:  potty training is a series of waves.  Some times its calm, and there are days when it’s choppy.