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I spent three days this weekend (took a day off work) potty training my 2.5 year old daughter. She has been showing signs of being ready for a while - telling me when she wets her diaper, talking about the potty etc.

I used a more relaxed version of the Nathan Azrin method, basically practicing with a doll first, and then giving her an m&m for "dry checks" (she checks to see if she's dry), and 2 m&ms and a "prize" from a prize box everytime she went in the potty. I didn't train for naptime or bedtime, and used a pullup for sleeping for now.

The first two days went really well, and she only had one accident the second day. She even pooped in the potty the first day. The second day, she seemed to be doing well with the pee, but was holding her poo in, and eventually ended up pooping in the bath in the evening of the second day :(

The third day, she was just unhappy and seemed to be regressing, not wanting to sit on the potty and holding her pee in. She didn't have any accidents the third day, but was holding her pee (she seems to have great bladder control!) and would go to pee only if i insisted she try sitting on the potty. She didn't poop at all the third day, and was way constipated by the evening. We gave her prune juice, which helped her poo in her diaper while in her bed the morning of the fourth day (which is today).

I'm trying not to be negative, or frustrated, but she just seems to be scared of the potty now, and I'm not sure what I did wrong, or what I can be doing to fix this problem. Help!

  • Our 2 1/2 year old is extremely smart and already saying 6 word sentences; we figured this would be somewhat of a breeze for her. I waited til she was showing signs, got the bathroom potty ready, etc. We are on day 4 & she won't tell "when u get that feeling". We are frustrated but your post has calmed me down. Thank you! – jenn Aug 7 '17 at 3:21
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    We did not use candy and such rewards, but just praised our kids with applause and big loud "Yeaaahhh! You go pee-pee and poo-poo in the party! Yeaaahhh!". A side effect, once when we were returning from a trip to the grandparents, we had stopped at a restaurant. When I was coming back from the restroom, my oldest stood up on her seat and yelled, at the top of her lungs, from way across the restaurant, "Daddy, you go pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty! Yeeaaaahh!!!" A few patrons joined her in the applause. I laughed so hard, I would have been in trouble if I had not just emptied by bladder. – user16557 Aug 7 '17 at 14:24
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First: In times of frustration about your child, always remember the parental mantra:

It's just a phase. It will pass. (And be replaced by the next "phase"...) :)

Don't despair, don't become impatient. You still have more than 80% of the time necessary for raising this child ahead of you. In a few years you will look back at the current phase and smile in the knowledge of the much bigger issues that are now still ahead of you.

I always find that a very helpful thing to remember.


From what you say, the most important thing to me seems to be

she just seems to be scared of the potty now

This, as you thought for yourself, hinders progress.

I'm not sure what I did wrong, or what I can be doing to fix this problem

I don't think you did anything wrong. The two of you tried, and it worked well initially. Then the child realized that this is hard work, and that it is now required to do this all the time, and so she withdrew. That is a very common pattern that I have seen a lot – with my own children and with friends' children. (A friend's son, after an incredibly well-going first week of kindergarten, plainly stated that this was all fun and nice for a week, but could they please go back to routine now.)

However, this is all empirics and statistics. It could also have been that what you did would have work out just fine and your child would be through with potty-training after two or three days. You never know. You will have to try and find out. And you will experience setbacks.

Now, the most important thing in my opinion would be to take away whatever pressure the child (or you – "I even took a day off!") might feel, and turn the potty back into something exciting that she wants to do. Remember: All children desperately want to grow up. They want to do things the way adults do. Material incentives (like your M&Ms) often work embarrassingly well with children, but, actually, underneath all this, is a much stronger and wholly immaterial incentive to grow up and be as cool as your own parents. The easiest way to raise a child is to find ways to tap into this urge.

Has your daughter noticed you're not using diapers? Nor anyone else older than she is? Have you talked about this? How important a part this is in growing up? Have you explained to her that being able to get along without a diaper is an important step for being (even more) welcome at her grandparent's and friends' houses? How your mother told you how you had to learn this, too?

As a practical hint: Many parents I know have found that getting rid of diapers worked best during a summer vacation, when there was no pressure "to get it over with" and when the child ran around naked and actually experienced what happens in the plumbing down there. And for some, it took two such summers.

Also: One of my sons never used a potty. He just refused, pointing out that all the other members of the family were using the toilet. So he used the toilet seat addition we had for his older siblings, rather than a potty. Of course, initially this was much harder for him (and, thus, for us as well), but in the end it all worked out well and of course simplified things for us, too. (He was also the one who never ate baby pap. He either wanted what we ate, or his mother's breast. That, too, worked out surprisingly well.) On the other end of the spectrum, one of my children would occasionally wet the bed at the age of seven. And there's nothing I could do about it except for being patient and fiercely loving the child.

To put it into one paragraph: Don't despair. Be patient. Keep trying to find a way. Relieve the pressure, from your child and from you. Instead employ your child's urge to grow up. Be patient. Remember how you love her.

And did I mention you need to be patient?

  • Thanks - you're so right! I definitely took the backseat and chilled out since yesterday, and she's more relaxed today as well. We're going to take it one day at a time. We have been talking a lot about mommy and daddy going poo poo and pee pee and she's seen us as well, and per your advice I'll start talking about all the advantages of being trained. Thanks for replying to my very first question on this forum! – Ellisa Sep 10 '14 at 17:27
  • @Ellisa: I am curious! What happened? :) – sbi Oct 4 '14 at 1:21
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I think every child is different and every home is different. Having a method to follow as a guide is good, but ultimately you need to adjust the method based on your child and your own busy life style. When I potty trained my daughter (who is now 3 and has been potty trained since ~2.5) I too read these "methods" online that promise you can train your kid in a few days of intense work. Don't believe it. Your child just spent their whole entire existence peeing and pooping in a diaper. Changing behavior like that and forming new habits and new mental and emotional connections takes time. I think many parents also claim that they trained their kids in a few days. Also, do not believe them. Their definition of a "successful" potty training may not be yours, and often those are parents with older kids who do not remember their kids timelines correctly. The only parent I know that trained in three days is a woman who was training a 4 year old! Most parents I know struggle with training their kids, and among my daughters classmates, several are still not fully trained at 3.

I can only relate to you what I have done with my daughter. Potty training at this age is one of the most important things you can teach your child. They cannot move on to many new things developmentally and socially until they are trained. It takes time for them to learn how to: 1) Be able to "hold it in" for periods of time instead of constant wetting 2) Be able to control releasing it 3) Release it into a potty and not a diaper

Even though potty training is a very important developmental step, you still should not push too hard on the child, since that will create anxiety about going potty and will actually make the whole process more complicated.

Since my daughter was ~2yo and showed signs of being able to hold it in, we practiced going to the potty. Every weekend and evening when I was home with her, we would work on this. I would let her drink lots of juice and milk, and when about 1.5 hours to 2 hours passed without her going pee in her diaper or in the potty I would then get her to sit on the potty and we would wait for it to come. I would read to her, watch TV with her, play a board game, or with a doll house. Usually after ~20 mins should would go. You know your child best; so if she cannot hold it in that long, or can hold it in longer, you can adjust (this is an art not a science). After she was successful with it, I would explain to her in toddler terms why what she did was great and healthy. Sometimes I would give her a treat, sometimes she would get a parade around the house. Sometimes because of our busy life or because she was stressed by it, we would take a break for a few days. In the end, this was fine and did not harm the process in my opinion.

After a few weeks of this she was able to develop the ability to go on her own most of the time. It was a slow process, with some regression, but mostly we always moved forward. Going #2 was much more difficult. She had many accidents and I was very exasperated, but her teacher at Nursery school told me that all kids have difficulty with potty training #2, and that I should take my time with her. So for awhile I just tried different methods I invented on my own till I felt we were making progress again. I did this: I watched my daughter very closely for signs of her having to go #2, and put her on the potty at the last possible moment. There were many accidents, but I did not get mad at her. I would just explain to her that that was not what we were aiming for. She eventually one day just seemed to connect all the dots in her head and stopped having accidents. Over time, your child will prefer the potty for everything and will tell you that "diapers are for babies."

Consider the behavioral change that must occur with potty training, the new brain connections that must be made as a new skill is learned. It is a new thing to go to the bathroom while seated on a chair, because in order to release the bowels easily, a person must feel comfortable. To put yourself in your child's shoes, imagine if you had to learn to go potty in a completely new stance (lying down for instance). It would take months before it felt natural. Think of these three days you just spent as a good big step in the right direction, but with all engrained human behaviors, this will take a lot more time to master.

  • This is SO what I needed to hear. Thank you thank you for talking me through this, Donna. I'm expecting too much, both from her and from me, based on online blogs and methods, etc. I'm going to lean back and go with the flow, and help her find what works for her. – Ellisa Sep 10 '14 at 17:39

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