Potty Training a Two-Year-Old


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Potty Training Two-Year-Olds: Everything You Need to Know

As many of you know, I was determined to try potty training Sally before the new baby came. I wanted to slash our diaper expenses as well as the number of diapers I had to change on any given day. Well, one weekend when I was 34 weeks pregnant, I went for it.

This has been a hard post to write, not because I don’t have plenty to say on the topic. Trust me… I have more than plenty. But it’s complicated. Potty training’s not as straightforward as everyone would have you believe, which I quickly learned. There’s no 3-day potty training magical method. There’s not even a week-long magical method, at least with a two-year-old. Potty training’s a process. And so I’ll share our process (which is still ongoing), and everything we’ve learned along the way.

The First Three Days

I decided I’d try the three-day method of potty training. I read all kinds of different perspectives and advice and compiled what I thought would work best for Sally at her age (which was 26 months). So this is how it went down:

The day prior to Sally being potty-trained, we talked about how the next day she would wake up and start going pee in the potty like a big girl. And then the morning of, she woke up, I took her diaper off, and let her be a free woman. She wore no pants or underpants of any sort, to help her be more aware of her bodily functions.

We set up shop in the living room, and I let her drink undiluted juice and we watched movies and played with toys. I rolled up the rug and laid washable blankets down on the hardwood floors so she could still have a somewhat soft place to play. Since our apartment is really small, I decided to just have her use the bathroom right from the start, rather than having a potty chair in the living room. I tried to get her to drink as much as possible, which wasn’t very hard when undiluted juice was being offered.

On the first day, I would have her try to go to the potty every 25 minutes or so. I told her she didn’t have to go, but she just needed to try. Right off the bat, Sally had two accidents in a row. I didn’t get upset at all (even though watching your child pee all over the floor is mortifying). I’d read that positive reinforcement is key, and this rang true for us. We just cleaned the accidents up together with Clorox wipes and paper towels, and I reminded her that pee goes in the potty.

And then she started to get the hang of it. She had a few successes going in the potty, which was wildly exciting, and I’d get over-the-top excited for her (Sally!!! You did it!!!! I’m so proud of you!!!!) and give her a jelly bean as a reward. And then she started resisting going. Or she’d try to go, do nothing, and then pee on the floor a few minutes later. The whole day switched off between success, semi-success, resisting, and failure. The entire day required that I watch her like a hawk, which was by far the most exhausting aspect of potty training — the mental focus it required from me. I couldn’t do anything but watch her every move for cues that she needed to go. I was completely worn out by the end of each day.

Day one was the hardest day by far, and each day got a little easier from there. On the second day, I extended the time between asking her if she needed to go to the bathroom. And by day three, I waited an hour between asking. Each of those days, she had two accidents and the rest were successes. After three days, she definitely had the concept down. So I guess that’s where the “three-day method” comes in. But she still had a long way to go. After day two, I started letting her wear big-girl panties (with Elsa, Anna, and Olaf on them), which she really loved. We also left the house for the first time, which went surprisingly well.

Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned

And now, seven weeks later, here are some tips and tricks we learned along the way, as well as some aspects of potty training I didn’t expect.

Stickers

The jelly beans soon lost their appeal. A friend suggested a sticker chart, and Sally was hooked. Each time she was successful, she got to add another sticker to her chart, which we taped to the bathroom wall, at her level. It was extremely effective, much more so than candy.

Pull-Ups for Long Outings

When we go out for more than an hour, I put Sally in a pull-up, just in case. Her pull-ups are Thomas the train, which is her favorite character ever, so she’s very intent on keeping him dry. We say, “Is Thomas dry?” or “You kept Thomas dry!! Good job!” Or on a few very rare occasions, “Uh oh. Sally, Thomas got wet!! That’s so sad! Poor Thomas.” And having her in pull-ups takes the stress off of me, especially in NYC where public restrooms are scarce.

Remembering It’s a Process

It took Sally a month before she would tell me she needed to go to the bathroom. I found this so frustrating! Even though she was great at not having an accident, I still had to prompt her to go to the bathroom. Like I said before, it’s a process. And this aspect of it came only after weeks and weeks.

Also, it took Sally a couple of weeks before she would poop in the potty. And even still, she only does it about 75% of the time. The other 25% is at night when she’s wearing a diaper. Once again, we’re just letting this work itself out. It’s kind of a traumatic experience for a little kid, so we’re letting her take her time with perfecting this.

Diapers at Night for Crib Babies

Since Sally’s still in a crib, we have her wear these Pampers Swaddlers diapers at night. Sometimes she keeps them dry, and other times she doesn’t. But we’ll figure this one out when she gets in a big-girl bed. However, per a recommendation of one of my older sisters, we refer to them as her “nighttime panties” to help completely separate her from diaper wearing.

Regressing

After a week, Sally was an all-star potty-goer. But everyone warned us that she’d backtrack a little bit. And she did about a week and a half into it. She had accidents all day long. I was so frustrated and exhausted by the end of that day! I think she was just testing her limits because she was great again after that day.

While Sally was really sick in the hospital, she wore a diaper. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less, but I kind of accepted that her potty training would be totally ruined after two days of being in a diaper again. Much to my surprise, she came home and picked up right where we left off! She told us she needed to go pee and didn’t have a single accident.

Using the Big Potty from the Start

Although I bought a little potty, I gave Sally the option of using the normal toilet, too. And I encouraged the normal toilet as well. As a result, that’s all Sally has ever used. Even at her young age, she’s learned to hold herself up on it all alone and to hop off of it onto a stool. We still have to help her get on it, but it’s been nice not having to worry about a small potty. I’d suggest giving your child the option and seeing if they’ll go for it!

So would I potty train a two-year-old again? Absolutely. I never once thought Sally was too young to understand. After the first day, she got the concept. She woke up that second day saying, “I not wear diapers anymore!” The first thing she said this morning was, “I peed my pants!” because she was alarmed that her diaper (aka, her nighttime panties) wasn’t dry. And we explained that sometimes when you sleep, it’s harder to keep your pants dry. She yells, “I need to go pee!” and “I need to go poop in the potty!!” over and over anytime the urge hits her, including at the pediatrician. So, yes, she gets it. The ability to communicate well has definitely been a key to success.

The most important thing I learned from this process was that it IS a process. And every kid is different. Find what makes your kid tick, and run with it. These are just my tips and tricks from a sample size of one. But hopefully some of it somewhere helps fellow parents in the throes of potty training.

Fellow parents of potty-trained kiddos, what tips and tricks would you add? Also, everyone who laments that potty training sucks isn’t exaggerating one bit. It sucked. But I’m sure glad I did it.

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34 Comments

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone April 17, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Way to go Sally! I knew you could do it!

  • Reply Racheal @ Running with Racheal April 17, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Yay Sally!

    My daughter is 2.5 years old and almost officially potty trained. I say almost because although she rarely has an accident with #1, #2 is a different story.

    We “naked” trained her, so if she isn’t wear any panties (thank God for dresses), then she will go #2 in the potty. BUT, if she is wearing pants/panties (even Olaf and Anna panties), she still finds them secure enough to use as a diaper.

    We too used candy (M&Ms), but I think I need another method, because I am 6 months pregnant and do not want to leave any room for regression when the new babe comes. I think I might make a sticker chart today.

    We also used the normal toilet, and diapers at night and nap time. I remember that first outing leaving the house – praying she didn’t pee all over the floor of Target. Ha! I guess we have come a long way, but you are right, it is a total process.

    Looking forward to seeing Sally as a big sis! :)

    • Reply LEILANI May 9, 2016 at 11:36 pm

      Hi. I’m naked potty training my daughter who just turned two at the end of April. She has been using the big girl/normal potty for about a month now and is really good on telling us if she needs to go potty, as long as she is Naked, even poops. But if she has big girl panties, or pants, or even pull up’s. She doesn’t tell us when she has to go and just goes, but immediately strips down, even after one pee. I need advice on how to transition her from pull up’s to panties, without accidents. Feel free to Email me if you have some advice you could give me. Please! [email protected]

  • Reply MomofTwoPreciousGirls April 17, 2015 at 8:11 am

    My 7 yo still has daytime issues with potty every so often. She gets so involved in her playing or gets scared she will miss something, that she will end up having an accident. Talk about frustrating!

    Sounds like Sally did a great job! Keep encouraging her through it, especially after her sister arrives. That will sometimes cause a little regression too. And knowing that stickers work may be a good time to start with chores too!!! Great job Sally AND Mom and Dad!!!

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks!! Every kid is different for sure. I’m sure your little one will grow out of the stage she’s in. Since Wynn has arrived, Sally hasn’t regressed, but she has had an accident on purpose to get negative attention. And she succeeded in getting just that!! Hopefully she doesn’t try that again anytime soon!

  • Reply Danny April 17, 2015 at 8:51 am

    This is so near and dear to every parent. First, I am so genuinely happy for you guys for getting her to a great point before baby number two. That relieves some added stress down the road. We found that our daughter caught on quick but both our boys took much longer. Our 2 year old is on month 11 or 12 since we started and he is still having accidents. So for us, all we know is that it seems highly individualized and not one method has been bullet proof. Off to make a sticker chart now…

  • Reply Halsy April 17, 2015 at 9:12 am

    That’s awesome! We did the same with our oldest at 24 months before our youngest came. Then we had a big regression after the new baby. I hear it’s common but I was totally caught off guard and frustrated! I really hope this doesn’t happen for you! But I guess if it does you won’t be caught off guard.

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 10:57 pm

      So far so good as far as Sally’s potty training goes with baby #2. However, other areas of her behavior have definitely regressed, which has been really hard! I’m hoping she comes around to Wynn sooner than later!

  • Reply Cate April 17, 2015 at 9:30 am

    That’s terrific! We started with our son last summer (he was about to turn 3). Our daycare provider went on vacation so my mother-in-law watched our kids and he was 90% potty trained for #1 by the end of that week. We sent him to daycare the following Monday in underwear and our daycare provider was less than enthused and after his first accident (30 minutes after getting to daycare) so she put the pull-up back on. He hadn’t had an accident during the day for the 4 days prior to going back to daycare.
    Needless to say- we are still working on it a year later and it is INCREDIBLY frustrating…not because of our son but because of our daycare. My husband and I work full-time so from 7:30-4:30 everyday M-F they are at daycare. She refuses to let him wear big boy underwear until he can tell her when he needs to use the bathroom. He can communicate and he tells us when he needs to go potty 50% of the time, the rest of the time we just remind him and he goes. He may fight it but we make him go and he does.
    By now he is 100% potty trained with #2 (YAY!) but it is beyond frustrating that I can’t be home with him to wrap up this potty training business. He wears big boy underwear everywhere but daycare. His school even requested that we send him in underwear because he is ready. If only we could convince our daycare provider to let him wear underwear since he is there more than he is anywhere else.
    Kind of ridiculous that it is taking over a year to potty train a 3 (almost 4) year old boy.

    So- just be glad that you can have control over your potty training :)

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      Super frustrating! It sounds like you’re doing the very best you can with what you have control over. Potty training is hard enough without someone thwarting your efforts along the way! Way to go on sticking to your guns and helping him figure it out, even if it has taken longer. You’re a good mom!

  • Reply Mrs SSC April 17, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Stickers were the key to our son, also. I printed out some cool (free) potty training sticker charts online, and he loved watching them fill up.
    Don’t be too worried about regressions – they are natural. I stressed out with my first kids, and then I thought about how hard it is for me to make a change (like sticking to a diet)!

  • Reply Tarynkay April 17, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    We tried the bare butt method around age two. But it was not happening. As a boy, he just thought peeing everywhere was the coolest thing ever. Seriously, he would stand there standing on a chair peeing on the floor and say, “Wow! Look Mommy! Look!”

    After a few more disastrous attempts, we have up. Then the week before his third birthday, he woke up and announced that he needed underpants. Then he used the toilet and told me he needed candy. I was like, “Um, ok. I guess you have designed your own program here.”

    He has been trained ever since. I guess he was just ready? Accidents are vanishingly rare and he does not need a diaper at night (though we do get him up to pee before we go to bed.) So I am a big fan of waiting till its easy! But every kid is different and especially boys are different from girls in this area.

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Oh man, boys will be boys. How awesome that he caught on so quickly! I have heard so many people who have waited until 3 and had similar experiences… that seems to be the magic age! I might try that with our second and save ourselves a few weeks of training.

  • Reply TT April 17, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    We went through a similar process with a few variances: instead of asking him if he had to go we would constantly remind him, “tell mommy or daddy if you have to go, ok?” and wait for the affirmative response. Supposedly the idea is to put the onus on them right away instead of them learning to rely on you prompting them. We did no diapers or pull-ups, day or night right from the get go; seems to have worked out pretty well. Being a boy he saw a friend or two go standing up, and he REALLY wanted to do that. It was great extra motivation. Also, if he is standing, I’ll throw a square of TP in the toilet and tell him to “sink the ship” –he loves it. Every kid is different, and we don’t have anything to compare it to, so who is to say that our way was superior…

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      Nice! It sounds like that worked out really well. I really like the idea of putting the pressure on them to let you know! I’ll be using that when it comes time to potty train our second!

  • Reply Tara @ Streets Ahead Living April 17, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    This is interesting to know. I’m not a parent yet, but it’s always good to hear about this beforehand.

    One interesting fact… I heard in China that the reason they’re able to potty train so early is the kids wear crotchless clothing, even in pants, as soon as they’re walking. Then, kids get into the habit of croutching down to go to the bathroom in spite of wearing clothes. The only problem is then kids potty train everywhere in public, which can be quite smelly. Here’s an interesting article: http://www.chinese-traditions-and-culture.com/chinese-toilet-training.html

  • Reply Wendy April 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Potty trained my son a year ago this weekend when he was 2 and 4 months old. His baby sister came along 3 months later. We saw regression this winter when he realized she was here permanently for a few months. But now has been doing well and we are working on night training. Good luck!

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:16 pm

      Thanks! It’s been super nice having only one kid who wears diapers, especially since newborns have to be changed almost every hour! Time will tell if Sally regresses, but so far so good! Hope night training has been going well!

  • Reply Suzanne April 17, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Yay!!! Go sally!! Great girl! Well done Joanna for having patience with sally even when she’s had accidents.. Great mom!

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks! You’re so sweet. Now if I can maintain that patience while Sally adjusts to being a big sister, it will be a miracle!

  • Reply Melissa April 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Curious to know how Sally does once the baby is born. Would love to hear she didn’t regress and prove all those wrong. Our pediatrician told us to wait Bc of that. Our daughter was also 2 when our son was born. Thanks for the post!

  • Reply catherine April 20, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    We also potty trained in 2-3 days. I was pretty happy with how fast she took to it. I never bothered with pullups or anything and it seems to work (though Maria loves Thomas too so would totally be game!). We’ve only had a handful of accidents (in last 10ish months) and they were all overnight (she’d wake-up mid pee). For the first few months we’d constantly ask her every 15-30 mins if she needed to go but now (she’ll be 3 in june) she just goes and yells ”mom come wipe me!’ from the bathroom- such a lady. Hope you’re enjoying your new addition- congrats to everyone!!

  • Reply Hannah February 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I am on day 2 of full time potty training and I was chuckling to myself reading this, it’s so true! I was convincing myself to give up tomorrow but now I have faith to keep going.
    Thanks for writing this!

    • Reply Sam July 3, 2016 at 10:44 am

      Im starting day three and thinking to give up too. But my 24 month old son does get joy out of the hype of going pee pee and poo poo. We are doing the sticker thing and it’s hit and miss if he’s excited for it. Mini marshmallows seem to be the trick. But I’m struggling like other parents, naked he tells us pee pee, but with underwear on he’s peed and pooped in them. When do I transition to those? I’m off one more day. So we’ll have had 4 days of this under our belt. Should I do naked today and then underwater tomorrow. Daycare is great with training so they will do what we ask. I hope I’m doing the right things. My husband thinks I’m crazy. But he’s going along with it thankfully

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    This is identical to what I’m going through right now my 2 year old! She refuses to tell me she needs to go, I’m getting really frustrated. But you’ve given me hope that maybe she won’t be going to kindergarten in diapers! :)

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  • Reply Eden May 14, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Potty training for boys seems the hardest. To all of those with little boys I would like to give you a tip. Don’t teach them sitting down. It’s not natural for them and in the long run, it’s easier! My daycare told me she had the boys lift both toilet seats and hold on to the seat as it was propped up on the back of the toilet, this makes sure that their pee is aimed directly into the toilet, no spills or splatters. I tried it put a little potty stool in front of the toilet and had him lift the lid – perfect every time. With pooping he just started saying mama poopie instead of pee so I told him to sit down and hold on, stood there to make sure he didn’t fall in and there you have it. He is 2 1/2 today and he is potty trained well before kids his age. Watching daddy helps, rewards are awesome, but give them encouragement and his favorite rewards are hugs and high fives. He’s my big boy now!

  • Reply Lisa May 24, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    For those of you that do not think it is gross, I always carried a potty chair in my van or the trunk of my car, during the early stages of potty training. It always worked out great, they could go on what they were use to and I did not have to worry about germs, accidents (too much) and pull-ups. The children usually thought it was fun to go in the trunk, it was normally very discreet.

  • Reply Landrie May 25, 2016 at 4:43 am

    Hi there,
    My son is in pre-school and I work full day. He is completely potty trained at school, even naps without a diaper.
    But at home, he refuses to use the potty or the toilet.
    He is quite strongly willed, so when he says “no” he means…no…and no one will change his mind.

    It is winter now – should I just wait until summer time to try again?

    He will be turning 3 in November.

  • Reply Jessica May 26, 2016 at 3:19 am

    This has been super helpful! I’ve read a lot of potty training articles and blogs, but none of them have been as detailed as yours. I’m a first time mom, and I think a lot of potty training articles are written with the assumption that you basically already know how to do it. My daughter will be two in July, but she doesn’t have much of a vocabulary yet. I’ve been putting off potty training only because I’m not sure she can actually tell me she needs to go potty. Do you think her lack of words will be a problem, or should I just go for it? I feel like she could probably at least say “pee pee” at this point.

  • Reply katy June 9, 2016 at 7:22 am

    thank you. I’ve read this article over and over. I’m on week 2 and this has encouraged me when I want to give in and go back to diapers. she’s great at #1 while we are home. but, I have lots of negative feedback from people chiming in to say I need to wait later…. the cost of pull ups is also motivating!

  • Reply Christina July 15, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Did you do anything in particular to get her to poop on the potty? We are 10 days into potty training and still no poop on the toilet! I’m not sure what to try.

    • Reply Joanna July 18, 2016 at 12:25 am

      Just give it time. I think it’s pretty normal for it to take even a month for them to try it out!

  • Reply Coi March 7, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    Lovely that I stumbled upon your blog!! I’m kind of frustrated on how to potty train my 2 year old as I’ve been seeing these “3 days potty training your toddler”… Will try the sticker chart as my daughter love stickers! :)

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