Why Three-Day Potty Training Is a Lie

It sounds nice: going from diapers to underwear, clean and dry, in less than a week. Nobody likes to clean up after accidents, and weeks or even months on end of it sounds like torture. While real potty training needn’t involve tons of accidents, there are going to be some from time to time, and for a lot longer than you think.

The thing is, potty training takes place in stages. There are several different skills that your child will develop along the way, and there is no possible way to develop all of the skills at the same time. Some are dependent on mastering others, for instance. Some are developed before your child can truly be called potty trained.

Skill 1: Desire

Okay, so desire may not be a skill exactly, but it certainly is a prerequisite for potty training. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that your child will not master potty training until they want to. So if your two-year-old still doesn’t like wearing underwear, or if your three-year-old is scared to sit on the big potty, don’t fight it. For the two-year-old, the time will come when they want to grow up and be like bigger people. When that happens, you’ll find that things go MUCH more smoothly. It might only be a month down the road, or it might be a year. Don’t panic yet.

For the three-year-old, don’t make them use a big potty. Make the process as safe and comfortable as possible, and your child may warm to it.

And for some kids, like one of mine, bribes might just be what you need to get the desire going.

Skill 2: Release

This skill involves letting go and allowing the urine or stool to exit the body. For some kids, this is almost effortless. They don’t like going in their diaper, or they notice no big difference between going in the diaper or on the potty. Some kids develop this skill as early as 12 months. I have heard some new parents get excited because their one-year-old peed or pooped on the potty, thinking they were going to get lucky and leave diapers behind forever much earlier than expected. But this is only a step on the way. Now, for some kids, release is a very hard skill to get down, and by the time they figure it out, they may have also developed the next skill as well and may actually be ready after all.

Skill 3: Recognition

Sometime along the way, your child must learn what it feels like to need to go pee or poop. This is a different knowledge than identifying when they are going. It’s a really good sign when your child says, “I’m peeing!” while wearing their diaper, but it isn’t the same. You need to teach this one, usually. Explain the place where the bladder feels full, and explain that it feels heavy or full, like it’s wanting to push the pee out. Explain that needing to go poop feels like gas is about to come out, except it’s a little easier to hold it. It may feel awkward having these conversations with your child, but if you don’t, they may take much longer to figure these things out themselves.

Skill 4: Control

Your child needs to learn not only to go on the potty, but to only go on the potty. That means holding it until they sit down. Failure to master this skill will mean lots and lots of accidents for you, the parent, to clean up. Some potty training methods have the parent schedule times (every half hour or so) to tell the child to use the potty. This is great in that the child probably won’t have as many accidents, but the child also will never learn how to control the urge to go.

Many parents try potty training with their children, failing after a few days, and then one day, it just takes off. The element that finally snapped into place was the development of control. Once these four skills are mastered, many parents will say their child is fully potty trained, and maybe they’re right. But there are a few more skills to develop, and accidents may still occur until this happens.

Skill 5: Delay

When you’re in a situation where using the restroom is inappropriate or impossible, you hold it. Your newly potty-trained child will eventually learn that they can hold it too, long enough to get to the store restroom or to drive home. And then they will want to test the limits of this ability. Sometimes they’ll be playing and try to hold it just because playing is more fun than using the bathroom. But they don’t know yet how long it’s possible to hold it, so they’ll do it just a little too long. Oops, an accident! You, the parent, may be surprised or angry. Your child has been dry for weeks. Why an accident now?

Realize that this is an important stage. By having that accident, your child learned where the too-long point is and will probably avoid it in the future. It may take a few more accidents to get the skill mastered, but it’s not usually too many.

If you find that a child who has been potty trained for a while is still having accidents from time to time (more than a few), you may want to look into whether they are constipated. Yes, even wetting pants can be a sign of chronic constipation, which can make it difficult to feel the urge to go.

Skill 6: Endurance

This isn’t really a skill either, but if your child doesn’t have the desire to go the distance, you may find that your child reverts back to having accidents every time over and over and over. You’ll potty train, then a few weeks later have them back in diapers, then potty train again, then back in diapers. This can be SO frustrating for parents who think the hard work is done, only to go back to square one!

What’s happening is that your child is realizing that using the toilet is a lot more work than diapers. Meanwhile, your praise and bribery is probably waning a little, as it should. It’s not like most kindergartners get stickers for using the bathroom! Maybe your child decides it’s not worth it to keep going, or maybe misses their diapers.

How do you encourage endurance? For my kids, it’s a matter of having a good conversation with them. Ask them what they like about using the bathroom, and share what you like about it. Ask them what they like about diapers, and really listen. Maybe their answer will tell you that they’re not really as ready as you think they are. Maybe you’ll learn what you need to do to get them to commit to underwear for good.

And if you do? You’re done!


So while teaching release may happen in a day, and teaching control might happen in three, learning delay and endurance takes much, much longer. Don’t lose hope if you have some setbacks after your three-day potty-training boot camp! It’s all part of the process, and it’s perfectly normal.

Also? If your child is a special snowflake who doesn’t develop these skills in order, or who waits a really long time on one and then rushes through the rest in a day? Yep, that happens too. It can be normal to potty train for urine but not stool, or vice versa. Kids are all different, but you and your child will find a way to potty train.

Just probably not in three days.

Introducing Robo

Our fourth son, Rhys Benjamin (pronounced “Reese”), was born last Friday. He was 7 lbs. 12 oz. at birth and 21 inches long. That’s almost exactly the size Lego was at birth (one ounce lighter). He was born at 5:13 a.m. two days after his due date, which was similar to Lego as well. And whereas Lego was born on 4/4, Robo was born on 6/6. Funny how things work out.

He’s a bit of an intense little soul with a STRONG desire to suck/eat that I had a hard time keeping up with for the first few days of his life. I actually had to supplement with formula after each nursing session in order for him to be satisfied enough to go to sleep. There were a couple nights where he’d be up for three hours straight in the middle of the night and nurse twice on both sides, then eat 4 oz of formula before going back to sleep. He seems to be doing much better now, though, and I haven’t had to make a bottle in two days. Hooray!

The other three boys fight over whose turn it is to hold Robo, and Lego in particular has really stepped up his responsibility game. He even asked to change a diaper yesterday, and he did a great job.

We are all smitten with little Robo and happy to have him in our family.


1. It’s the season for moving, I guess. My dear sister, Kenneren, just moved out of our parents’ house on Thursday. My grandparents are moving to a smaller place that’s much easier to maintain, Jonathon’s brother’s family just bought a house, his parents are househunting with varying degrees of success, and his sister is seriously planning to move to another state. And here we are, staying in the same place for another year or more. In the past ten years, the longest I have stayed in one place without moving is two years. The three (at least) we’re planning on staying here feel so long, in both a really nice, settled (three years? Ha!) way, and in a grating way. The longer you live in a place, the more friends you make, the more connections you have, and the more it feels like home. But the longer you live in a place, the more irritating its flaws seem. Still, this has been a good home for us so far, and I’m glad we’re not joining the mad rush to go live somewhere else right now.

2. I find it interesting that my boys have no shame about lauding themselves when they do a good job. When Lego learned to walk, he’d clap for himself while walking. Yesterday he was playing his harmonica and whispered in my ear that he wanted me to clap for him when he finished each “song.” If I forgot once or twice, he’d remind me, “Clap, Mommy!” Duplo will say, “Good job!” and “Did it!” when he successfully does something. Even my piano students, aged 8–10, will tell me stuff like, “I know I’m going to pass off all my songs today!” and “I did awesome!” As adults, though, we’re so afraid of bragging that we don’t praise ourselves. At least, I don’t, not even silently to myself. No matter what I do, I think I should have done it a bit better, or maybe think that others do that sort of thing all the time, that it’s no big deal. Instead, I should learn from my little boys the joy that comes from doing something that’s hard for you, and knowing you nailed it. Good job! You did it!

Pictures from the last few months

 boys 163

The boys and their friends from playgroup in their costumes

Liam and Grandma

Lego and Grandma

A hike we went on during that same visit

A hike we went on during that same visit

Sleeping under the Christmas tree Dec. 23rd

Sleeping under the Christmas tree Dec. 23rd

What's a pajama party without some good, old-fashioned wrestling in sleeping bags?

What's a pajama party without some good, old-fashioned wrestling in sleeping bags?

Love the cheesy grin and the Christmas pj's!

Love the cheesy grin and the Christmas pj's!

Trying out Lego's new sled from Santa

Trying out Lego's new sled from Santa

They are becoming such good friends. :)

They are becoming such good friends. 🙂

Language explosion

In the past few weeks, Duplo has had a major breakthrough in terms of speech. He had made almost no noticeable progress since he turned one—and he’s now eighteen months old. I wasn’t really worried because he seemed fine developmentally in other ways, and because he did have a “vocabulary” of about twenty words or so if I was generous and included words he used once a week or more (and to be fair, a lot of them fell into that category). I was more concerned that for a long time, he wouldn’t point to objects, or even people, when we named them; he seemed to understand about as much as he said, which wasn’t much. Again, he seemed to fit the textbook definition of how a toddler should be progressing, but Lego had been such a talkative little guy that Duplo’s development was surprising.

About two or three weeks ago, though, Duplo started learning about ten words a day, and using the words he already knew much more often. After about a week of that, he started stringing words together—all done, there (you) go, uh oh car, etc.—something Lego didn’t do until he was about four months older than Duplo is now. He talks often now and tries to learn the words we are using if he doesn’t already know them. His pronunciation isn’t perfect, naturally, but it’s good enough that we’re not usually struggling to understand him. Anyway, I guess it’s proof that every child develops differently. They gotta keep their parents guessing, I suppose.