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How to potty train—four methods to try

So your toddler is ready to start toilet training, but you have no clue where to start. From the three-day potty training method to a potty training chart, we break down all the different techniques you can try.

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Training Day Chart

Print out this handy checklist to get your family ready for potty time. Download it here.

1. Three day method
How it works: You devote a long weekend to diaper-free training, with the goal of having your kid day-trained by the end.
How to prep: Stock up on fun underwear—and paper towels. There will be accidents.
What to expect: Lots of messes, and possibly some frustration, are highly likely. Hang in there!
How long will it take?: If all goes according to plan, she’ll be day-trained by the third evening.
Pros: You’ll likely be saying goodbye to diapers in no time.
Cons: You’re housebound for three days and totally focused on training.
Is it right for you?: Easily frustrated or distracted toddlers might not take to this method.

2. Slow and steady
How it works: Watch for signs of readiness and follow your child’s lead.
How to prep: Set up a potty in the bathroom or living room. Introduce the idea with potty-training books or videos.
What to expect: He may love sitting on a potty but not do much more, or he may pee once and then not again for a while.
How long will it take?: Some kids will be quick learners, but because this is a casual approach, his interest could come and go.
Pros: If your kid is ready, training is often quicker and easier, with less frustration for all.
Cons: This method can drag on for quite a while if your kid isn’t fully ready.
Is it right for you?: If neither of you is sweating him spending extra time in diapers, you’ll both do well with this approach.

3. Deadline
How it works: You’re focused on an end goal (e.g., first day of school) and use strategies consistently, all day, every day.
How to prep: Switch to cotton underwear and let her know she’ll be going to the potty regularly all day. Create a bathroom chart to track her triumphs.
What to expect: If your training efforts have been sporadic, she may rebel at first, so keep the tone light but firm and focus on the successes.
How long will it take?: A dedicated effort can help reluctant toddlers say goodbye to diapers within about two weeks.
Pros: With a target date looming, you’ll be incredibly motivated to help her learn.
Cons: If she knows there’s a deadline or you seem stressed, she might freak out.
Is it right for you?: Only if you can stay cool as D-day approaches, and ensure the training is a positive experience.

4. Rewards
How it works: This method relies on rewards to entice your little guy into training.
How to prep: Stock up on stuff that will motivate him. You may also want to make a reward chart to track his successes.
What to expect: You should see steady progress, as long as he’s sufficiently persuaded by his rewards. (Ask him to help you pick them out.)
How long will it take?: You should be diaper-free within a few weeks.
Pros: Since there’s no pressure for him to learn quickly, this is a low-stress approach.
Cons: He may demand a treat after every trip to the loo. You’ll have to wean him off.
Is it right for you?: Most kids get the hang of a bribery system; it’s just a matter of whether you’re comfortable with it.

Download and print out this easy-to-read guide: Training day printable

A version of this chart appeared in our Summer 2016 issue, titled “Training day,” pg. 63.

Read more:
6 potty training items to add to your shopping list
Potty training my toddler: A diary
How potty training a boy is different from potty training a girl