illustration: Alixandriya Schafer
The promise of being diaper-free in just a few days is like a siren song to parents of toddlers—it’s hard to resist. Just imagine, after only one long weekend: no more spending money on diapers and wipes! No more changes in the middle of dinner! No more lugging that enormous diaper bag everywhere you go! It sounds too good to be true, but according to proponents of the three-day method (which has various approaches, depending on who you ask), it really is as easy as that. They credit the speedy results to the very clear messaging, uninterrupted repetition and concentrated effort (hello, it’s three solid days of just potty training!). We say if it works, at least you get training over with quickly.
There are several popular books that teach the three-day method, and their approaches vary slightly, but here’s how the strategy generally breaks down:
According to most advocates of the three-day method, you’ll have the most success with kids between 18 and 30 months (some say waiting too long can make it more difficult to train kids this way). It’s also important to note that many experts argue that toddlers aren’t at all ready to grasp the concept till they’re at least two. Signs of readiness outlined in most manuals include being able to communicate wants and needs well through a combination of gestures, signs and words; an interest in the toilet; a desire to be changed out of soiled diapers; the ability to stay dry for at least two hours at a time; and showing that they are aware of pooping or peeing when it’s happening (like studied silence, grunting or stealth-pooping in a corner).
You’ll need to dedicate all of your time and attention to training. That means no playdates or running errands. Most methods recommend staying in the house and/or yard for three solid days, while other approaches, like the one outlined in Lisa Karr’s The Incredible Potty Training Guide to De-Stress Results in Just 3 Days, schedule a quick one- or two-hour outing as part of the training. Either way, you and your child will need to focus solely on potty training. Many plans suggest doing it over a long weekend, when you can be away from work and free of commitments. (It won’t work if your little one goes to daycare one day, for example.)
Pinpoint tasks that might take your focus off your little one, like cooking, doing laundry or taking an older child to a birthday party or swimming lesson. Come up with a game plan to manage these distractions. Prepping meals and catching up on the washing ahead of time, taking turns with your partner to run errands or asking a friend to help out with your to-do list will make “potty weekend” a bit easier.
You can prep your toddler for training by introducing aspects of self-care and toileting in advance. Potty Training in 3 Days by Mina Long suggests talking about using the bathroom or modelling using a doll or stuffed animal, as well as by allowing your child to be present when you or their siblings use the toilet.
All versions of the three-day method we reviewed advocate that kids be rewarded every time they make it to the potty on time or use the potty when taken there. Stickers, treats and small toys are all options, depending on what you think will motivate your child. You may want to keep these stashed in the bathroom, or near the potty, so the association between reward and action is clear. (Note: Not all paediatricians are big on bribery.) Lots of praise is also strongly encouraged.
Some preachers of the three-day methodology recommend having your child go bare-bottomed, while others advise they wear just underwear. If you go the underwear route, you will likely need a few dozen pairs, since your child will need a change every time they have an accident. It’s a good idea to have lots of wet wipes and cleaning supplies on hand to take care of messes. You may also want to purchase a potty chair—or three. Long’s book recommends having a few scattered around the house if you are training all over your home as opposed to in one dedicated room, like other training books suggest.
To get the pee process going, stock up on plenty of your child’s favourite ice pops, drinks and even colourful straws, if they’ll entice your little one to drink more (and therefore pee more, for maximum practice opportunities). A few of the books also recommend offering a slightly saltier diet during “potty weekend” to keep kids drinking more fluids.
Some methods, including 3 Day Potty Training by Lora Jensen (a self-published e-book widely circulated in online mom groups), advocate training kids for day and night at the same time, “to keep the child from getting confused,” Jensen writes. She says by eliminating the crutch of diapers—even nighttime training pants—kids will better master the use of the potty. Medical experts strongly disagree with this approach, and not all three-day training advocates agree, either. Karr and Long both acknowledge that nighttime training should be treated differently and that it might not happen at the same time as daytime training. (Read a pediatrician's take on why kids' mastery of nighttime bladder control often takes longer, and why it can be damaging to push nighttime training sooner.)
On day one, here’s the typically proposed plan, according to various accelerated potty training guides: Get yourself up, dressed and ready before your toddler starts their day, so you are all set for training. Begin with your child in a shirt and a new pair of “big kid” underwear (or just a shirt, if you’re going the bottomless route). Karr’s book recommends introducing training as a “potty party” and turning one room in your home, like the living room, into “potty central,” complete with decorations, games and anything else to up the fun factor. Have your little one help you get the room ready for their big weekend.
From here, you basically spend 72 hours of plying your kid with drinks and making many inquiries about, and trips to, the potty. Karr’s book recommends taking them at regular intervals, starting at every five minutes and then progressing to every 10 minutes, working up to every 20 minutes by day three.
By the end of day three, after much trial and error, and many hours of focused pee and poo talk, your child is supposed to be proficient in using the potty.
A lot of parents swear by the three-day method. It is definitely effective for some families, but many paediatricians recommend using caution with accelerated approaches to potty training and suggest tweaking the programs with a gentler, more child-led approach.
“I like more gradual, less stressful strategies,” says Dina Kulik, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, and the founder and director of Kidcrew. “I find some kids get turned off toilet training with these aggressive methods.”
Daniel Flanders, a paediatrician with Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto, says it’s fine to try things out and see what works for your family, as long as the method is safe and reasonable. “I’m all for parents feeling empowered to try stuff, and there certainly are more dangerous things than potty training boot camp,” he says. But, he warns, these methods aren’t backed by science or the medical community, and could be harmful to a child’s self-esteem and their parent’s confidence if they don’t work.
So keep a relaxed attitude and give yourself permission to abort the potty training mission if it’s too much, too soon.