How to potty train your 3 year old

I’ve put off potty training long enough, so with having the next 4 days off and Mila being 3 & a half, I knew this was the perfect moment to train her. It was a humbling experience (AJ was so much easier) and I have learned that each child is very different and no methods work the same.

Day 1

I gave Mila a pep talk days before, telling her she was no longer going to have diapers, and that she was a big girl and she would have to go in the toilet. She had gone in the past a few times but was never consistent. At first, she was hesitant, but I made a big deal of her first one, jumping up and down like a super happy crazy person! I kept asking her if she needed to go every 20-mins to half an hour, and at the end of the day, she had 5 successful pees, 2 poops, and 2 accidents. I thought she was doing rather well for the first day, especially since one of the accidents was simply because she couldn’t pull off her underwear quick enough, and I couldn’t help her because I was feeding Keira.

Day 2

Day 2 was a COMPLETE mess. It was the exact opposite of day 1 and couldn’t have gone more horrible. She had about 5 full blow meltdowns (screaming and crying) because she was over it. She didn’t want to wear underwear and screamed to have a pull up / diaper. It seems like she would hold it and not going for a couple hours (which freaked me out). She peed in the toilet only twice. It seemed like she hated me for what I was putting her through. I felt terrible for “forcing” her & am not proud of losing my patience with her multiple times. Her crying out of pure frustration (no matter how much I tried hard to remain positive for her) nearly broke me. Towards the end of the day, I remembered a book that my coworker had given to me for her, Princess Potty. It comes with a reward system of a paper crown and stickers. I told her she could be a Princess too, and that every time she used the potty, we would put a sticker on her crown.

Day 3

Unfortunately, day 3 was Christmas Eve, and we weren’t home for most of the day. She was in her pull up, and she went there because I wasn’t making her go to the bathroom every 20-30 minutes. I felt like a failure for not sticking to it when we were out, but at the same time I reminded myself that it was a process, she was just a kid, and she needed a little break from the stress she went through the day before. 

Day 4

Christmas Day. As soon as she woke up, I put underwear on her. She was a little distracted with the opening of presents, so I tried a different tactic: I didn’t force her to go every 30 mins. I wanted to see what would happen, even if it meant another accident. Sure enough, towards lunchtime, she told me “Mommy, I gotta go”, sat on the toilet, and went. She did that again after lunch. I think she did better not feeling the pressure of constantly going in the toilet but rather taking it upon herself to go when she needed to.

Day 5

Today was the real test. It was our first day back to work and the first day of her in underwear not at home. I warned my in-laws that she wasn’t in pull-ups. To my awe and surprise, my brother in law texted me shortly after I got to work that she had already gone once all on her own. I know she’s getting it.

I’m so proud of her (and me) for getting through it these past few days. She may not be 100% and we still have to work on nap times and nighttime, but she’s this much closer to being fully potty trained. Here’s some advice I can give to you other mamas:

  • Not every child is the same. Some can do it magically in 3 days, while others may take a couple weeks. You know what will suit your child best. Do not set a time limit based on someone else’s experience.
  • Do it when you can be home for a few days straight. Having them in their comfort (where they can have as many accidents as necessary) makes all the difference in the world.
  • It takes a lot (and I mean a lot) of patience. You’re gonna really need some caffeine and support. I felt an all-time low when I was sitting on the bathroom floor, trying to comfort my crying toddler, thinking to myself “what am I putting her through?”
  • Have a reward system. My child is very strong-willed and curious (like most children) so everything has to have a purpose. Indicating that she was a big girl wasn’t enough for her, but getting stickers on her crown to get her to be a real princess was plenty of motivation for her. There are lots of reward charts I found on Pinterest that you can just print at home; these are some of my favorites:

What about you other mamas? Any suggestions for naptime + nighttime training? Comment below if you do! 


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