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How We Potty Trained Our Strong-Willed Son (Hint: NOT in 3 Days!)

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Here's how we potty trained our strong willed toddler. It took us a long longer than the "3 days" that many bloggers write about, but I feel like that is a totally unrealistic expectation for many toddlers.

Read on to see all our potty training tips and what method we used to potty train our son, who has not always been the easiest child!

how to potty train strong willed toddler graphic

I wrote a whole blog post about how the 3 day potty training method is just not realistic for many families. Give it a read if you're about to start potty training, or started potty training and it's not going as well as you hoped.

Here is how we potty trained our son, who can be quite stubborn and doesn't always listen to us.

I'll start with some general potty training tips, and then get into the actual method that we used, with a step-by-step summary of how we actually potty trained him.

RELATED: Tooth Brushing Reward Chart

Tips for potty training

  1. Try going without rewards first. We had no luck with rewards at all. I know a few families whose kids kept running to the potty just to get another piece of chocolate. ALL DAY LONG. And I know a few parents whose kids did great with rewards. You know your kid best. And even one kid might react totally different to rewards at one stage of their little toddler life vs a few months earlier, so you never know. But if you can do it without any rewards, gimmicks, or bribes, it will be much easier.
  2. Try going without distractions. Anytime we tried to get our son to sit on the potty by reading him books or letting him watch videos, he completely stopped focusing on the fact that he had to try to use the potty and would just ask for more books / videos over and over and over. "Again! Again!" We had to stop using any distractions in order for him to actually pee in the potty. So if you can do it without using any distractions, try it that way first. As you'll see below, when the potty training actually worked, we didn't have our son sit on the potty for a certain amount of time - that wasn't part of our potty training method... so we didn't even need the books or videos!
  3. Use a timer or a 1 minute sand timer / hour glass to get your toddler to sit just for a minute. This is the only little gimmick that worked for us. Since our son is so energetic, he would sometimes sit for 5 seconds, pee or poop a tiny bit, then run off to play. Using a cheap little toddler-safe (aka not glass) sand timer (such as this one) helped us explain to him that he has to sit and finish going to the potty before he runs off.
  4. Don't say "it's OK" when your child has an accident. We don't want our kids to think it's OK to have an accident. Don't even call in an accident - adding that word to your child's vocabulary might make them have more "accidents" on purpose just so they can proudly exclaim "I had an accident!!" Instead, try saying "Let's go finish peeing in the potty!" or "Pee goes in the potty! Next time you'll do better and we'll make sure you go in the potty." And make sure to remind them: "Pee goes in the potty! Poop goes in the potty!" to reinforce that idea and end the accident on a positive note.
  5. Don't get mad or upset about accidents. Even if it's for the 7th time that day and your child peed all over their bin of books (yes, that's happened). Showing a little disappointment is probably fine (it all depends on your kid, really!) but don't let them see that they have the power to make you mad or sad about it.
  6. It's OK to take a break! As I said above - if it's not working at all then it's OK to take a break for a week and start again then.
  7. Don't give up too soon and be consistent with expectations. This contradicts point #6 a bit, but you know your kid best. If your child is making slow progress but not getting upset about it or acting out in other ways, then stick with it, even if you have a ton of accidents every day.
  8. "Where does the pee go? Where does the poop go?" Similar to #2 above, you always want to reinforce where your child has to pee or poop and give them a positive association with the idea of using the potty. Every half hour or so, and after every accident, we would ask our son "Where does the pee go?" And he would excitedly say "In the potty!" And we would reply with "That's right!! Very good!!" and gave him a high five. This reminded him about it and really drilled the idea into his head and also turned each accident into a positive experience.
  9. Get lots and lots and lots of small towels and toddler underwear. We use these microfiber towels for all spills in the house, and we have 48(!!!) of them that we've used ever since our son was born. They are a life saver - they absorb spills really well... and you will have a lot of pee to clean up (unless of course your kid potty trains quickly without any issues - but then you wouldn't be here reading this long article if that was your kid). And you might be going through several pairs of underwear a day. Our loads of laundry are mostly microfiber towels and tiny underwear. I'm so glad we don't have to do laundry every day because we stocked up on these items.
  10. Drink lots of water, or juice, or milk. The more practice your child has to go pee, the faster they will understand when they have to go and get it right. We typically don't give out son juice, but while we were potty training we were diluting juice with water so he would drink more and letting him have more juice. (Make sure you brush their teeth well several times a day to keep their teeth from getting cavities from the sugar in juice, and also read my article about what to expect from the first dentist visit).

What kind of potty to use to potty train

It's totally a personal choice what kind of potty or step stool situation you want to use, but here's what we used and why:

We had two potties - one was a little potty we brought with us all over the house while we were in stage 1 of potty training (more on that below!). Any of these would be fine. Something like this is great because it's realistic and would make the transition to a real toilet easier.

I know people who bought a bunch of these - one for every room of the house they would hang out in and the backyard  - so they don't have to lug it around with them... smart!

The other potty we have is this folding portable potty training seat. We wanted to transition our son to the real toilet as quickly as we could because I hated cleaning out the kiddie potty (more on that below!), plus we wanted something ultra portable because we travel a lot. This thing is amazing and takes up so little space when folded. We take it with us when we go over to people's houses and when we travel.
The other option instead of a portable seat would be a little ladder that helps toddlers get up the the toilet, such as this one.

The Oh crap! method

There are many techniques and approaches to use for potty training. We've tried in the past to just sit him down on the potty for a few minutes and have him sit for 10-15 minutes, hoping to catch him at the right moment. But our son was stubborn and did not stop moving. We then tried to get him to sit for 10-15 minutes at a time by reading books or watching movies, but then he stopped focusing on sitting on the potty and just wanted us to keep playing videos to him or reading, so that didn't work either.

We had to try other methods of potty training, and we ended up loosely following the Oh Crap! Potty Training method (here's the book).

By the way, we were able to get our son to pee and poop on the toilet roughly around the same time. Keep reading below to see what helped us teach our soon how to poop in the toilet. 

Here's what we did:

Potty training stage 1 - the naked stage

We started by letting our son go naked and keeping a VERY CLOSE EYE ON HIM ALL DAY LONG. We brought our little potty with us to every room we were hanging out in. We did put a diaper on him during naps, meals, car rides, and at night - anytime it would not have been OK for him to have an accident.

There are two reasons to keep your toddler naked when we started potty training:

  1. It's the fastest way to get on the potty - no need to take off underwear, pants, legging, etc.
  2. Underwear on feels too much like wearing a diaper - we didn't want him to continue peeing and pooping in his underwear thinking he was wearing a diaper

While our son was naked, if there was any sign of him wanting to go to the potty, we would immediately have him sit on the potty (by the way, we have him sit down to pee - it is working out so much better for us - more on that later!). The most common sign of him having to pee was just pausing for a second in the middle of whatever he was doing and looking thoughtful. It was subtle. We really had to keep an eye on him. 

If he started to pee or poop on the floor, we immediately grabbed him and placed him on the potty. Afterwards, he would help us wipe and clean the floor if he peed (and the toys, the rug, the book, the cat.... so many things got peed on!)

We also asked him and reminded him to go on the potty every 15-30 minutes, depending on how much liquids he's drinking, how much he peed in the last few hours, etc. As I mentioned in my potty training tips section above, we did NOT make him sit on the potty for a certain amount of time. That would not have worked for our son because it would have made him resent sitting on the potty. Instead, we chose to constantly remind him to go on the potty and let him sit for just a minute or two - for as long as he needed to do his business, and then he was off to play.

We were on potty watching duty ALL THE TIME.

This was the LONGEST STAGE of the potty training process. It took us a few weeks. I was so tired of seeing my son's naked bottom everywhere all day every day.

Once our son was going on the potty on his own pretty consistently (meaning only 1-2 accidents per day), we moved on to step 2.

And remember, if your child is still consistently just having accidents and not getting when they have to go to the potty, it's OK to take a break from potty training for a few weeks. We had to take a few breaks a couple of times because we were getting absolutely nowhere. 

My friend said to me:

"If you always have to watch him and take him to the potty yourself, then you're not really potty training your son... you're training yourself to know when he has to pee."

... and that is so true! I had no desire to get really good at spotting when my son was going to pee. I wanted HIM to realize when he had to go. If your kid has no idea yet, that's OK. Give them a few weeks or a month.

Potty training stage 2 - move the potty to the bathroom 

Stage 2 was simply moving the potty closer and closer to the bathroom each day, teaching our son to anticipate that he will have to go to the bathroom. This stage took us a few days.

Potty training stage 3 - shorts or pants

Once our son could reliably run to the bathroom to use the potty (again - accidents happened, sometimes even every day... but he was getting better and better so we knew we were progressing), we dressed him in loose fitting shorts or pants. 

We helped him pull down the pants/shorts at first because we didn't want him to have an accident and feel bad about it, but then we encouraged him to pull down his pants on his own. We had him wear really loose pants so it would be easier for him to learn to pull them down (pulling them back up on again was much tougher! Our son is over 3 now and still can't do it on his own... again, don't be discouraged by parents whose kids magically dress themselves at the age of 2).

We didn't want our son to wear underwear at this stage yet for the same reasons as before: (1) we wanted him to spend more time without underwear so he forget what a diaper feels like and (2) we wanted to be able to pull down the pants as quickly as possible.

This stage took us a couple of weeks, surprisingly. Our son wet a LOT of wet shorts during this phase. But he wasn't refusing to go to the potty, and he even had days where he went without accidents, so we were encouraged to keep going.

Potty training stage 4 - underwear!

Finally we were able to dress our son in underwear AND pants! We kept a close eye on him during the first few days because we weren't sure if he would realize he had to pee - and sure enough, he had a few more accidents once he started wearing underwear. But we consistently reminded him that "pee goes in the potty!" after every accident and eventually the number of accidents decreased.

Potty training stage 5 - transition from the kiddie potty to the real toilet

You're going to want to transition your child from the small toddler potty to a real toilet as soon as you reasonably can.  TRUST ME.

It's going to get REALLY TIRING to clean out the kiddie potty several times a day. (Just for reference... changing poopy diapers never made me gag. Cleaning out poop from the little potty made me gag so hard I would start sweating and had to take breaks from it).

As I mentioned before, we started with a toddler potty like as this one because we wanted to have it right near us at all times for the first few days of potty training - there was no extra time to run to the bathroom during those first few days!

At the same time that our son was using his toddler potty, we always had this potty seat on our toilet so our son would get used to seeing it. He did choose to use it a few times, but most of the time he preferred going on his toddler potty. We didn't pressure him to switch over until we knew we had this potty training thing down - we didn't want to get him upset about switching potties halfway through the whole process.

But once we saw that he was finally doing great with telling us when we had to go to the potty, I just told him the other potty was dirty and we had to use this one just once. I showed him that the other potty was in the bathtub and we had to wash it later that day. Well, the other potty continued to be "dirty" for a few days... until he totally forgot about it. 

It was a super easy transition for us. If your child is resisting switching potties, don't push it. It's better for them to have a positive association with going to the bathroom and for you continue to clean out that stinky potty. They'll want to use a real toilet eventually once they continuously see their parents and other kids going to the bathroom to use a real toilet. 

Potty training stage 5 - keep on keeping on

At this point we were essentially "done" with potty training - our son knew what to do by now.

We still have some accidents here and there. We still have mini-accidents, where he starts to pee and then realizes he has to go and runs to the bathroom.

The next step is teaching him to tell us that he had to go if we are at someone's house, or if we are out somewhere.

How to teach toddlers to poop in the toilet

Many parents have trouble getting their toddlers to poop in the toilet. Many kids hold it in, either because they don't know how to poop, because they're scared to poop and think that they are losing a bit of themselves as they poop (yes, this is a real fear!). Or it might just feel wrong for them to poop in a potty after pooping in a diaper for so long.

Here are 2 simple ways we helped my son learn to poop in the toilet:

1. Froggies in the butt

This is such a silly technique but it really helped us.

As a joke, we start call burps "froggies in the throat" and farts "froggies in the butt." I don't even know how it started... maybe one of us burped and it sounded like a "ribbit?"

While we were potty training, every time our son passed gas we asked him "is that a froggy in your butt?? Let's go see if we can push the froggy out into the toilet!"

We would sit him down for a few minutes and ask him to see if he can make another froggy or to push the froggy out. This kind of gave him an understanding of what to do with his body to actually make pooping happen, and reminded him that if he is very gassy then it's probably time to try going #2 in the bathroom.

2. Yellow pee, brown poop

This is getting gross, I know. Sorry.

Once our son peed in the toilet, we showed him that pee is yellow and we would pretend to get really excited about yellow pee. Then we asked him if he thinks he can make brown poop on top of the yellow pee. This gave him a visual goal to strive for and made him excited to try to poop.

Hey, whatever works. He got really excited the first time he made "brown poop on top of yellow pee," and we were just as excited too.

Potty training boys - sit or stand to pee?

We decided to show our son how to pee standing up, but to focus on having him sit down while he pees. This worked out REALLY well for us. I don't know if you noticed yet, but toddler boys CANNOT AIM THEIR PEE while they stand. There is pee everywhere.

By having him sit to pee, we could easily tell him to point his penis down into the toilet so he could pee in there.

Also, sometimes he didn't really know if he was going to pee, poop, or both. But this wasn't a problem since he was sitting down already.

Potty training at night

We actually have not attempted to potty train our son at night. At all.

He still wears a diaper at night and we call it his "sleep time underwear" now (because he thinks diapers are for babies). The reason we didn't try to potty train at night is that our son sleeps SO WELL. We sleep trained him (read about that and what I say to my son every night to get him to fall asleep on his own without any drama). He still sleeps in his crib and does not climb out, so once he is in, he is in there for almost 12 hours. 

We did NOT want to mess with that and have him start asking to get out of bed to go use the potty. We'll take uninterrupted sleep for as long as we can get it.

I am OK with him wearing diapers or pull-ups at night until he is 4 or 5 or whatever. Society can judge all they want. Once we see that he is no longer wetting his diaper at night, then we will look into how to potty train him at night.

Until then, we all sleep peacefully. 

Other toddler parenting articles you might find helpful:

I would love to hear how you potty trained your kids! Please leave a comment below and let me know.

Please also share this with other parents if you think it might be helpful to them. And don't forget to save it for later on Pinterest!

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Monday 7th of August 2023


Mmmmh mommies for all the tips. Wow my son is 2 he is supper active he runs around all day and enjoy walking naked we just started pptty training and can i just say its not going well He cant sit on 1 place even for a second and now he had tendency of taking off his nappy with or without poop oh my god,im honestly thinking of giving up this potty training... what can i do to make him calm and concentrate i need help

Sara Ghanadan

Saturday 27th of May 2023

My grandson is most likely on the spectrum but his parents won't get him tested. He just turned 4 and can add and spell. He holds it in for hours only to soak through a diaper in one go. He knows when he has to go. He refuses to sit on the potty. If you take his diaper off he will have a meltdown and cry until he is hyperventilating. This can last past an hour if you don't put one back on. My daughter feels she has tried everything and doesn't know what to do. She thinks he will never be trained. We can't figure out what his hang up is. No past trauma. Nothing physically wrong.


Wednesday 7th of June 2023

That's tough. A lot of kids have hang ups about this and cry because they want their diaper on (because they don't feel safe going without it). Would it help to watch a tablet/video while on the potty, to help him relax and not melt down? I don't usually suggest screen time as the answer, but maybe it will help distract him enough to give potty training a try.


Wednesday 1st of March 2023

I love, love, love your article! Thank you for the honesty and for not being so Dan perfect! I have really found my tribe! I have started training my three year old boy and let’s just say today drove me to the Internet for help and I found you lol. I have been cleaning poop all day. I feel like a walking e.Coli. I’ve sat him on the toilet for 20 minutes, sat with him for 10 minutes, left him for five minutes, and it never fails: he poops in his underwear as soon as he gets up and is playing alone. So here I am. I will start your method tomorrow. I’ve bookmarked this page so I can come back and tell you how it’s going! Thank you so much for being so transparent.


Thursday 13th of April 2023

Good luck!! I hate to say this but I laughed at the "walking Ecoli" lol.. I hope things have gotten better since then! Potty training can take a looong time!


Friday 24th of February 2023

Oh my goodness. I am so tired... Our dauther was potty trainer at around 2.5 and it went quite well, bit our son is a totally different story ehh. He's about to be 3, and a few months ago we gave up and started wearing diapers for him. At nursery somehow he mostly gets it, he has worse days of course, but a lot of times he doesn't have any accidents, but at home... It's a nightmare. A lot of times were just wearing diapers for him, cause we don't have patience for this...


Monday 5th of December 2022

Hello! I read your article, I have 3 littles with all the same birthday just a year apart each. My teens were never this hard! But when I tried to potty train my 4 (boy) &3 (girl) year old (also have a 2 yo boy) all they do is hold it or refuse to drink for the day. We have tried everything! My 4 yo boy doesn’t like to hold private down or when you show him doesn’t like it either (he’s the same when getting diaper changes) I’ve become at a standstill and know it will be so hard to potty train them all at once. Also naked isn’t an option because of all of them being curious.


Monday 27th of February 2023

@Stacy, I have a couple of tips that might be useful. Potty training is a time when my family is willing to forgo certain healthy eating rules to make it work. You might let the kids drink something they aren't usually allowed to drink that isn't too bad, like juice or chocolate milk or even soda (if those are restricted in your house, they're pretty exciting for the kids to get for this special thing).

My son's preschool teacher told us about a great method for him to pee in the toilet without having to really aim. He puts the seat up, pulls his pants down, and leans forward to put his hands on the top of the seat. It puts his privates right over the bowl and he manages to get it in every time (he just needs to keep his back mostly straight to avoid the rim in front). It's been working really well since he can't seem to grasp aiming with his hands.

We've also come up with a whole range of ways to incentivize using the toilet: sticker charts, sticker charts where they get a prize once it's filled up (with the stickers going on dots in the shape of the thing they're working toward so they are reminded), escalating sticker charts where they can earn more than one sticker for certain things (example: 1 sticker just for sitting on the toilet for a couple of minutes, 2 for peeing, 3 for pooping), a sock puppet we use to tell silly jokes to them that will only talk when they're on the toilet, a sweet treat whenever they use the toilet (M&Ms, gummy bears, etc., and it helps to cut down on other treats you may regularly serve so they're really motivated). We've even made a jar with little rewards written on pieces of paper they can choose if they go a certain number of times. They really love rewards like choosing what's for dinner, a bit of screentime, "cocktail hour" before dinner with Shirley Temples, baking something with a parent, etc. We've got 2 very strong willed kids and have had to pull out all the stops.


Monday 5th of December 2022

Oh man... hang in there!! Even if it takes months, it'll still happen at SOME point and then you get to move on from this potty training stage!

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