illustration: Alixandriya Schafer
Like some clueless first-time parents, we had this idea that our son would potty train himself. There would be a natural progression, until one day, he’d tell us he was done with diapers. We’d cheer and go for ice cream, and it would be awesome.
It didn't happen that way. Obviously.
As he passed age two and a half, we occasionally convinced him to go outside his diaper, mostly in locations he found intriguing, like by the side of the road, in parks, on the grass and in the scuzziest restaurant bathrooms he could find. But usually there was no interest. We’d ask and get a firm, but polite, “No, thank you.”
His third birthday loomed, and our progress stalled. We started googling and discovered we’d missed a window around two and a half. Panic set in. We heard a horror story about a woman who had to keep her child out of junior kindergarten because he wasn’t potty trained. Our rational minds knew he wasn’t going to college in diapers, but we also felt like it was time to get to it.
After receiving several books from friends that all seemed to frustratingly downplay my husband’s involvement by centring on the mother’s role—and making jokes about dad staying out of the way except to fetch things—we settled on the three-day potty training boot camp–style method called 3 Day Potty Training by Lora Jensen. Jensen, the self-proclaimed Queen of Potty Training, doesn’t have a medical or professional child care background, but her experience starts with her own six children and several foster kids. The e-book is often mentioned in parenting groups and online and came with great reviews from friends. It promised stunningly fast results, even overnight.
The book requires you to stick your kid in underwear, helicopter them and constantly remind them to tell you when they have to go, so they can identify the feeling for themselves. This method means going cold turkey, which equates to no more diapers. No training pants. No nap or bedtime diapers. Underwear become the norm. While some instructions felt questionable, such as offering lots of juice (um, really?) and using negative language such as “yucky” and “pee-ew” to respond to accidents, we nonetheless decided to give it a shot.
I ran around, buying all the wee undies I could find. We also stocked up on our son’s favourite reward currency, Smarties, and a few little toys to reward progress, as friends suggested. We put him to bed and told him that tomorrow, there would be no more diapers. He laughed about this.
With our kiddo watching wide-eyed, we gathered up all the diapers and packed them up to give away. The morning was a blur of juice, Paw Patrol and accident after accident: on the couch, nearly on the bed, crouching on the bath mat inches from the toilet. We quietly questioned whether we were doing the right thing. By noon, he was burning through the underwear stash, and I had no idea how to salvage the sheepskin rug he’d soaked. When we got him to do a little pee in the toilet around lunchtime, we created a celebratory dance, complete with an adorable underwear-clad bum wiggle. This was a win, but tensions were high. My son was exclaiming, “I need space!” and my husband’s expression said the same. He dodged, bobbed and weaved to avoid us whisking him to the bathroom in the middle of a pee or poo, as the method suggested, and he didn’t show any signs of caring or awareness when he’d have an accident.
By bedtime, we’d had a couple of half-wins, in which we’d been notified mid-pee, and were exhausted. We lined his bed with garbage bags and hoped for the best.
We decided we would tweak the rules a bit the next day. We would offer less juice, because keeping him in close quarters with such high energy levels was challenging. We’d also tone down the icky bathroom talk suggested in the e-book because it felt unnatural, and we didn’t like the shaming element.
We all slept in until around 7:30. This meant we woke up to an enthusiastic announcement that his bed was wet. I did another load of laundry. We threw out underwear that were soiled beyond saving. By noon, my son declared he was tired of Smarties, and I went out for more trinkets to keep spirits up.
On this day, though, we started to see glimmers of progress and self-awareness, and by the evening, he’d kept a pair of underwear dry for three hours. We figured out he preferred the toilet to the potty, and we focused our attentions on getting him to go there.
He woke up dry (what?!) and we all did some dancing. Everything sort of fell into place from there. Less stress for parents, fewer accidents, more high-fives. When we put him to bed that night, we felt confident he’d do OK at daycare, with support from his teachers. And when I picked him up at the end of the day, he was pleased to show me how he used the kid-sized toilets and had only gone through one wardrobe change all day.
It’s been a few months since we potty trained, and my son has done well. We’ve had a handful of accidents, which usually happen when he’s overtired or raging about something because he’s hungry, but the three-day method, all in all, worked.
There are many ways to potty train. The three-day boot camp worked for us. It’s intense. You need to take it seriously and repeat “tell us if you have to go pee or poo” over and over again until you’re sick of your own voice. You will be tired of your family. It will be gross for a bit. But you will be diaper-free, which is worth every bit of short-term strain. Whatever method you use, stock up on underwear and work hard to stay positive, or at least push through it with a smile, because they’re watching you. Ensure you use the evening to recharge in whatever way you prefer and, most of all, acknowledge that using the toilet is a big life skill and you’re in this together.
This article was originally published online in July 2018.