The Key to Successful Potty Training

Disinfecting round the clock.

Disinfecting round the clock.

Did you think I was going to give you the secret of success in potty training? HAHAHAHAHAHA! (that was hysterical laughter) Yup, fooled you, this post is about my bungling, half-arsed attempt to potty train my nearly-3-year old over the past few weeks and the key to success is something I have yet to find. I’m kind of hoping you, dear reader, might have it about you – have you checked the pockets of your other jacket? How about on your bedside table? No?

I have been wondering and hesitating for many months: should I start potty training my son? Is he ready? For a while he seemed to recognise when he needed to go, but then that faded and he seemed to revert to being completely, happily oblivious. But as his third birthday approached and that magical season of summer finally arrived I started to feel the pressure. Other mothers around me were potty training their little boys and I was still having arguments with a rather tall, strong, kicking ex-toddler who refused to have his nappy changed. We had been stuck for a while in…


Incentive. Mickey Mouse pants. Some of them red.

Incentive. Mickey Mouse pants. Some of them red.

To introduce the idea of the toilet/potty, I did various things like putting the potty in view and encouraging him to sit on it for a bit (usually clothed as he’d refuse to take his trousers off). I’d announce that I needed the toilet, and he would eagerly follow me and watch intently what I was doing, sometimes even coming round and peering into the bowl to see what came out. Lovely.

I knew he usually needed to go at bath time, as he would often end up weeing in the bath, so I started suggesting he sit on the potty before getting in the bath. This was mostly met with a decided “No. Bath.”

We were stuck in this extremely low key phase for ages, with the Boy showing very little interest in taking things to the next stage. Then one day I tricked him into sitting on it at bath time and he did a wee and a little poo in the potty. He seemed very pleased that I was so impressed by his achievement, and this triggered a sudden leap in status for the poor old potty. He suddenly asked to go on it.

Finally, I thought. Time for…


I eyed the glorious sunshine in the garden with misgiving from behind my french windows. I knew it meant I should send the Boy out to play without any pants on, a potty placed nearby. I bit the bullet one morning and went for it. When he got up I took his nappy off and didn’t put a new one on.

“Come on, let’s go and have breakfast,” I said.

Over breakfast, the first accident happened. The next one followed soon after. I suggested he try sitting on the potty, and the success spurred him on. That first week, whenever he was mostly naked he weed on the potty or the big toilet, which he seemed to prefer. No more accidents.

However, for naps and if we went out anywhere I put him in pull-ups. As soon as they were on, he heaved a sigh of relief and forgot all about the potty. Was I just confusing him, I thought, by chopping and changing?

Rabbit. Doing a poo. His raison-d'être.

Rabbit. Doing a poo. His raison-d’être.

The other thing was that he would wait to do a poo until he had a nappy on. He just wasn’t staying on the toilet for long enough to sort that one out. In slight desperation, I introduced Rabbit. Rabbit sits on the potty while the Boy sits on the big toilet, and models how to do a poo. I think this may actually be the craziest parenting trick I have invented to date. Now, Rabbit even has a tiny, Rabbit-sized potty of his own, courtesy of Gran. Thanks to Rabbit the Boy did manage a tiny bit of success on this front, but not enough for him to stay clean.

Then two days ago, we entered…


I stumbled into this phase blind, unsure, second-guessing myself. One morning he woke up and did not want me to take his nappy off. He didn’t want to go on the toilet.

“Maybe he isn’t ready,” I thought. “Maybe I should just let him wear a nappy today if that is what he wants.”

“NO!” said Strict Judith. “You have been far too inconsistent already. Sometimes he wears nappies, sometimes he wears nothing, the poor boy doesn’t know where he’s at. Take the plunge. Commit. Put him in PANTS.”

The washing machine is on a tight schedule to make sure there are clean pants.

The washing machine is on a tight schedule to make sure there are clean pants.

I asked him, and he said yes, he would very much like to wear Thomas the Tank-engine pants today. Within 90 minutes he had soaked through the entire 5 pack and we were onto the Mickey Mouse pants.

Today, the same. Things hit an all-time low when I walked in the living room and stepped in something wet.

“What is this?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Wee,” the Boy told me, quite matter of fact.

He didn’t seem at all bothered. This annoyed me so much that I broke my own cardinal rule (the only one I came up with for potty training, and it wasn’t even mine but Penelope Leach’s) and got cross. I have been trying very hard not to let him see that I care one way or another, but I think he knows.

Ironically, he had weed onto my page with notes about this very post.


I am at a bit of a loss now. Do I back off and try again in a few weeks? Or do I persevere and hope he will come to find the wet pants unpleasant enough to go back to the potty? If you have any wisdom, please feel free to pass it on.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a side effect of potty training that I hadn’t anticipated.

Being naked all the time means the Boy has discovered his willy. He was fiddling with it while watching TV and suddenly said: “Oh! Is a bigger! Is really big!” He seemed slightly worried at first. I assured him it would go back to normal if he stopped fiddling with it.

Then a few days later we were going out and I asked him to come over so I could put his pull ups on. “No,” was the response, “No nappy. Want-a fiddle willy. Make-a bigger.”


10 responses

  1. There is no golden trick for potty training
    I cold turkied my two girls only days after their second birthday
    Within a few days they learned the trick, but i must add that before the bitrhdays they both enjoyed and filled the potty in the morning. My third is a boy, when he was 2, 5 and we were living in the carribean i thought this would be “een eitje” dutch for very easy
    How wrong i was, after a few weeks we gave up and tried again three months later in the cold climate of the Netherlands. And for some unexplicable reason “viel het kwartje toen wel” which is dutch for the managed the trick.
    In my experience the child will let you know when it is ready but soms encouragement and examples on other children might speeding up the process. Ik wens je (vanuit Berastagi in Indonesie eerbied aandacht en volharding/keep the faith!!)

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences, that’s very helpful. I have heard that boys find it harder and take longer than girls.
      Also, I hadn’t realised you were in Indonesia at the moment! Wow! That must be amazing. 🙂

  2. Oh I do feel your pain. I tried and failed miserably at the first attempt, left it a month (this time last year) first week, naked bottom – lots of wee all over the place, second week, started to use the potty, and I could work out when he needed to do a pooh as he would go and hide in a corner – had to have quick reaction time. I used books as a reward (lots from the charity shop). Every time we went all day without an accident he got a new little book. Then week 3, pants and we started leaving the house with his own potty in tow. We went to the toilet every half hour to start with and gradually his control improved and I was better at judging when he really might need a wee.
    If your little man is weeing 5 times in an hour and half, maybe you need to leave for a few weeks and try again.
    When I was in that limbo few weeks I bought a story book (again from the charity shop) that was a potty training lift the flap book so we could start talking about it in a really fun way. It helped. Monkey told me where he wanted us to put his potty. I’d be lying if I said that the second attempt was all plain sailing, but I was consistent, and just decided that if it took 5 loads of washing a day then so be it.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do 🙂

    • Thank you, that is all really good helpful stuff! I like the book idea, I might see if that helps! When he wees 5 times in an hour it’s because he really needs to do one big wee and he is letting it out in short bursts! After that he won’t need the loo for two or more hours.

  3. I’m sorry that I can’t help with the potty training, as we’re quite a way off that yet. But I had to comment as the last paragraph really made me laugh. Thomas is already a fiddler (we have to put him in vests to stop him reaching in to his nappy at night) so I feel like I’ve just had a glimpse of my future!

    • Yes, it;s rather special… He has become quite interested in willies now and remarked the other day while mixing cake batter that it looked like a willy. I can assure you it did not, other than in his very special imagination.

  4. Pingback: Wees and poos in | Secrets of the Sandpit

  5. Hi Judith, tried to leave a post on here earlier when I was on my phone but it didn’t work. I’m on the computer now, so here I am again! I love this post. It is a reminder of what a time it is, potty training. Persevere my dear! It has however, put me off and it will be a while before I even go there with Fia. Patience is a much needed virtue in this scenario and I wish you both jolly good luck! P.S. does the book apply to girls – it sounds fab?!

    • Very wise! I think I would have done better to wait even longer but patience has never been my chief virtue. There is also a girl version of the book called Princess Polly’s Potty! Have a look on Amazon.

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