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Potty Training Young Children

I get asked almost weekly how I potty trained Cole at such a young age. Whether it be a friend, a lady in the post office who notices Cole’s big boy undies hanging out the top of his shorts, family members, e-mails from readers, etc, I get asked a lot. So to the curious mom’s out there, this one’s for you!

Before I start getting on the goods of the post, let me clear the air with a few disclaimers. I know some people have passionate feelings about potty training and things may get crazy in the comment section, as sometimes they tend to do with hot topic issues on this blog.

1. Potty training is not easy.
2. I really do believe that every child is different in the way that they learn and pick up on things. Keep this in mind when reading this post. It may not be the way you want to go about it…that’s fine. I don’t care. Really.
3. No, I didn’t wait until I thought Cole was “ready”, was able to tell me he needed to go, or gave me signs. He was 18 months old when we started potty training, and I did it when I was ready. It was more of teaching Cole a new habit because he was so young. And it worked.

image via Baby Bjorn

Now on to the good stuff. To be honest, I didn’t read a single article or book on the topic. I wanted to, but just never got around to it. I asked for suggestions from moms, grandmas, etc. I took everyone’s advice, used some, didn’t use others, and did what I think Cole would react best to. Potty training a child that’s older may be a little different than my experience because they’re more independent, vocal, and strong-willed. Not that it’s a bad thing to potty train when they’re older, it’s just different from my experiences so my tactics may or may not work for you. Call me a mean mom, but these are reasons why I thought it was a good idea to start young, and because he couldn’t say no yet :)

Supplies needed:

Toilet Seat
- Invest in a good one! We went through a couple different seats before we found one that we loved. Keep in mind if it’s for a boy or girl. At first we got this Munchkin one because we liked that the seat was squishy, had handles, and was simple-looking. We ended up not liking it because it didn’t have a pee cup thing (for lack of a better term), so when Cole would pee, if he wasn’t pointing down it would just shoot straight out onto the floor. Sounds funny now, but it’s not when you’re cleaning it! It also had a hard plastic seam on the inside of the seat that pee would get caught in and go all around. It was hard to clean. Cole’s little butt was so small too that the seam scratched his back and butt and made it bleed! Ouch!

We ended up getting the Baby Bjorn seat and we LOVE it! It’s all one piece so it’s comfortable, easy to clean, and very light weight for Cole to put on and off of the toilet. It was one of the pricier ones, but SO worth it. We’ll use it for all of our kids.

I wouldn’t recommend the little seats that sit on the ground for a number of reasons. First of all, I wouldn’t want to clean it out every time Cole did his business. Gross. Secondly, I don’t want my child to be able to just get up and walk away from it. Third, I wanted Cole to get used to a real toilet, and not have to adjust to a big one later. You can’t carry those tiny floor ones around with you in public. But again, to each his own.

Flushable wipes
-These don’t have to be anything fancy. Pampers and Huggies sell them, but we usually just get the Target brand. You can also just use adult Cottonelle flushable wipes. Whatever!

Bribery in a jar
-M&M’s, skittles, stickers, toys, ANYTHING your kids like that are small and can be easily distributed through hard work is perfect for the jar. Cole preferred M&M’s and stickers. Put the jar on the back of the toilet. Let it be visible. Make it known that the ONLY way to get a treat is to sit on the toilet and go to the bathroom, or (in the beginning) at least give it a good try.

image source

-Keep a stack of books in the bathroom. One of Cole’s favorites (suggested by SIL Kindsay) was Everyone Poops. (funny side note story, my nieces and nephews who stayed at our house a few weeks ago found this book and were disgusted. I heard them in the other room discussing it for a couple days in a row, saying that it was a “bad” book, and “not to read it” because it was “really bad”. I walked in and asked what would happen if they couldn’t poop. It put them into deep thought and the subject changed).

Finger puppets were always a hit too. When your child is waiting for a few minutes to “go”, put on a little puppet show.

Step Stool
- Even if they’re still too little to get up on the toilet seat themselves (poor Cole!), it’s great for washing hands. We have these two Ikea ones.

-I would suggest about 10 pair. If you’re starting young, you may find it difficult to find small enough ones in the store. Trust me, they’re there, you’re just looking in the wrong place. They’re not in the little boy/girl underwear section. They’re actually in the baby section, by the cloth diaper covers and such. They sell size 2 there. We got Cole a variety. We bought some fun disney ones (so tiny and cute!) that he’d like. They are the more traditional underwear that you’d normally think of. We also got him Gerber Training Pants (found at Target). I liked these because they’re underwear, but they’re thicker so that when accidents happen, you don’t have a HUGE mess (just a little one) all over your floor or carpet. The child still knows that they had an accident, but it’s not as big of a mess for you. This is the reason I don’t recommend Pull-Ups. To me, Pull-Ups are just diapers that you can pull down. The mess pulls away from the child, and they don’t really know they had an accident because they feel just like diapers. Again, my two cents, but to each his own.

Now that we have supplies covered, it’s on to the action!

Dedicate at least 5-7 days of homebound-ness. Moms, it really is up to YOU. Here’s my philosophy (and here’s where I might get arguments, hate comments, and who know what else). 100% dedication and commitment is KEY to successful potty training. Mom, if you’re not consistent in a regular routine of putting your child on the toilet (especially for the first while of training), there’s no way that your young child will be able to stay consistent either. And the other way around. If you’re completely consistent and dedicated, you will start seeing results and consistency. You can do it! It’s hard, but SO worth it! Who really wants to spend ALL that money on diapers anyway, not me! Who really wants to wipe smelly poop all day long? Not me!

How I started:

1. Have a talk. Children understand more than we think. I remember sitting down with Cole and telling him that he’s a big boy now and he gets to wear big boy undies! I let him pick out the cool ones at the store, let him hold them, and really talked it up like it was something totally awesome (which it is!). I told him that poop and pee goes in the toilet now, and any time he needs to go all he has to do is tell me and we’ll run to the toilet. I reiterated ALL the time that poop and pee goes in the toilet, especially when he had accidents.

2. Put the undies on (not on you, on the child). Show him what he looks like in the mirror with them. Tell him how cool they are. Let him call his grandma and tell her that he’s wearing big boy undies now (am I taking this too far :) For those first 5-7 days, don’t even worry about putting pants on your child. There’s no point.

3. For the first couple days (again, this is what I did, adjust accordingly to your own child and what YOU think), put him on the toilet every 30-60 minutes. Yes, EVERY 30-60 minutes. Maybe even more frequently. Maybe for the first day, every 20 minutes until he goes. After you know he went, adjust your sitting times accordingly. For the most part, if you feed your child at the same times every day, he’ll poop around the same time every day. Be aware of his schedules. It makes life a whole lot easier. Now, obviously it won’t be super pleasant for either one of you after the first few times. Try to make it fun! When your child (accidentally or intentionally…usually the first few times they go on the toilet it’s accidentally), make SURE to point out that they’re PEEING or POOPING! Make sure they see that they’re going. Point and cheer! The second they’re done give them a treat. Make it a HUGE deal! When they’re done doing their business, I would say, “you’re all done! what a big boy” or something like that, and get them off the toilet. Let them look at it in the toilet and let them flush it. It’s fun and exciting for them (or at least it was for Cole).

Sometimes poop training can be harder than pee training. We would tell cole to try to “squeeeeze” it out. He would try SOOO hard, and it would usually work! Too graphic? Whatever works, right?


Cole- 21 months

4. Accidents happen. You will have many, MANY accidents. It’s okay. Don’t get mad at your child. You don’t want him to be scared to go to the bathroom. When Cole would have an accident, I would try my hardest to catch him mid-stream, say “Uh-Oh!” RUN him into the bathroom, and set him on the toilet. No treat was given, unless he held it while we were running and finished in the toilet. Again, I would tell him that peepee goes in the toilet. If I didn’t get to him mid stream and the act was already committed, the SECOND I would see it, I would run him into the bathroom and put him on the toilet, show him his mess, and say that it goes in the toilet. EVERY TIME he had any sort of an accident I’d take him to the toilet. I know of a friend who potty trained their two year old and the first time he had a poop accident they made him help clean it out of his undies. He never had an accident again. Haha! Whatever works!

5. After a while you obviously have to go out in public. Be prepared. Keep with you two sets of undies, wipes, change of pants, and a plastic bag. They sell these little bags at Babies R Us that are for messy diapers. They fit perfect in purses and if you carry a couple around all they time they will be life-savers in “messy” situations. They’re good for messy clothes and undies until you get home. Make sure you take your child to the bathroom right before you leave the house, and at first, try not to be out too long, maybe no more than an hour. You will have accidents in public, no doubt. If your child is anything like mine, it’s a little bit of a punishment to make him sit in his mess for a little bit till you can get somewhere to clean him up. It’s ok. If your child tells you he needs to go to the bathroom while out in public, take him and put him on the toilet facing backwards (if he can’t stand and pee yet). It works like a charm! Not sure what you do with girls…I guess just set them on? :)

6. After a few months, just when you think your child’s totally potty trained, accidents will happen. It’s ok. It’s a long haul, but well worth it!

7. THE ONLY time I use pull ups it at the nursery at church on Sundays. The only reason I use them is because sometimes the nursery workers don’t know Cole’s potty trained, and if he happens to have an accident it’s taken care of. I’m yet to find he’s had an accident, but it’s a “just in case” thing. Between the second and third hour of church I like to go take him to the bathroom.

8. For the first while, Cole was still too young to actually tell me he needed to go. After he was trained, he’s just know to hold it until I took him. He trusted that I would take him, and I trusted that he would hold it. It worked well. When we were first training though, I wouldn’t ask, I’d tell. “Cole, it’s time to go to the bathroom…”. Now that it’s been a while, I’ll ask him if he needs to go, and he knows if he does or not. He also tells me if he needs to go. Sometimes he does need a little reminder that he needs to go though, especially if he’s playing with friends or with really fun toys!

I know this is a lot if info, but I’ve been asked so many times that I thought I’d write it down. Here’s a little overview of the most important things to remember:

watermelon (8)

Cole- 2.5 yrs

1. It’s up to MOM to BE CONSISTENT
2. Praise, praise, praise
3. Bribe if necessary
4. After EVERY accident (even better mid-stream), put your child on the toilet
5. Don’t get mad. It’s okay to be a little firm though.
6. Be consistent
7. Be consistent
8. Be consistent

I’m happy to answer any questions you have! Again, I’m not an expert by any means, and I only had one child to focus on while potty training. This post is from my experience only and I do understand that every child is different and my tactics may not work for you.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

xoxo, Heather


  1. I have 4 children, 3 of which I have potty trained, all at different ages. This is my thought…you can either potty train your child early on 18mo-2years and it will take them six months to really learn how to do it, OR you can wait until they figure it out on their own, which they will, promise, and never actually have to train them. After having tried both ways I now lean toward the "letting my kid figure it out" one. Then, we can just go about our lives and they can take care of themselves.

  2. Thanks for the info Heather! My little guy is almost 2 so this has been on my mind a lot! It was good to see you at the dr.s the other day! Congrats on your 2nd little man!-jennie

  3. Heh. Those are my kids that had a problem with the "Everyone Poops" book. We try to teach them to avoid potty humor and to not be gross with their friends. I think they got a little carried away "judging a book by its cover." They certainly never mentioned it to me, though I mentioned that it wasn't a big deal to them when I heard them dissing the book in passing.Congratulations on taking the plunge, Heather! You are to be commended for the hard work it takes to be consistent and persistent until they learn. We have 7 children, and each of them has had their own time table and comfort level with potty training. Some took to it quite quickly and easily, others took a lot longer.

  4. Consider yourself lucky to have a child who did potty train early. I think the biggest thing that should be said is that every kid is different. I have three boys, one who is a baby and not old enough to train yet. My oldest has high functioning Autism and took 16 months to fully potty train. He was 4 when we started. My middle son was 2 when we started potty training him. He was/is very mature for his age, a people pleaser, and just about a mom's dream when it comes to being helpful. I figured he'd be a cinch to train and that he was ready because of his maturity. He is now 5 and we still have to tell him to poop every day. If we don't he will have an accident. It took 2 solid years to get him to the point where he would actual poop in the potty at all. We tried just about everything. Bribes, praise, and Six different trips to the pediatrician. Some children are just not going to do it no matter how we Mom's try.With my baby I plan to just wait until he wants to. I will never stress myself out with potty training again. Its just not worth it. I'd much rather change diapers then wash out poopy undies for 2 years.

  5. Thanks for the tips. I've got a 17 month old and I've been thinking about it, but I'm nervous because she is always constipated. I've tried so many things to help, but nothing seems to work. I'm afraid this is going to hurt the potty training process. I guess we'll see. Thanks though!

  6. I don't have kids but this is a fantastic post about potty training!

  7. I am in complete agreement with you on this one. I have two boys, both of whom were potty trained before the age of two. People were always surprised when they found out and tried to insist that they were not really potty trained, I was just trained to catch them. Completely untrue. I think todays society places too much emphasis on giving children the option of figuring thing out on their own time. I disagree with this because it is our role as a parent to train them and help them learn and, based on experience, to know what's best for them. Aside from that diapers are expensive and extremely harmful for the environment, not to mention annoying to have to change.I really loved your statement that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. All that being said, ifyou really want to change diapers on a 4 year old that is completely your choice.

  8. Aaron- your kids crack me up!Emily- Good luck! SO worth a try! It's hard potty training with a constipation problem! Cole, at one point, and a diarrhea problem in the middle of potty training! Huge setback! Keep at it though!Melissa- you've been my inspiration while potty training! I know how hard you work at being a totally amazing mom! You're the best! xoxo

  9. This is a great post! Thank you so much for writing this all down. I think a lot of your tips and ideas could work not just for children under 2 but for any potty training age. Especially the BE CONSISTENT!I plan to be potty training my daughter (21 mo.) in the next little while and she is starting to show interest. I am wondering though, did you take the toilet seat with you to public places? Like church and to the store? Or did you just put them on the big toilet?

  10. i had to go to the bathroom while I read this ENTIRE POST! i'm serious! luckily i'm potty trained. i want gigi to be like cole, but I just don't think I can stay at home. Joanns would miss me too much! Maybe Gigi and Hawk can train at the same time….eh eh???xoxo!

  11. I have three boys, one of whom is 20mths and not potty trained, one who trained at almost 3.5 and another that trained at 18mths. The little guy isn't ready yet, the big guy wasn't ready until he was over three and the middle guy did it all by himself at 18mths. For me it works to let the child guide me. I totally agree that young children can be taught to potty train early but it just doesn't work for me. To be honest part of it is sheer laziness, the thought of having to take my child to the loo every 2-30 mins and then deal with accidents in between is more than I can handle! In the end all of our kids will get there and what ever approoach works for each family/child is the one we should take! Thanks for sharing your experience, it was great to read.

  12. Thanks for all the great info! I am getting ready to potty train my son and needed this post. It took me forever to find the small size underwear. I only found them on the baby section by accident.

  13. Laura, This was a huge question for me too! I tried to find a "fold-up seat" that would fit in my big purse, but it didn't fit on ANY industrial toilet seats, like the ones on stores or at church. So I would just take off Cole's pants and undies and set him on the toilet backwards, with his legs straddling backwards. Does that make sense? For girls it may be different though. You might just be able to set her on and make sure to hold her there so she doesn't fall in:) Now Cole can pee standing up, so I just lift him up and hold him there till he's done. I still put him backwards on the public toilets if he needs to poop. He doesn't poop much in public though. Hope this helps!-Heather

  14. Thanks for the info on the toilet seats. We're about ready to potty-train our little girl and I've been trying to pick one out.

  15. Thanks so much for writing this! My son is only 13 months, but one day, this will be us (hopefully sooner rather than later).

  16. thank you so much for this! my sister allie recommended this to me and i am starting tomorrow to potty train my son. this was very helpful and i hope that it works out for me. my son is 3 and i think its long overdue, but i feel like i have been putting it off b/c i am not ready. now i am ready and excited to get started with all this great information!

  17. This post is so awesome, and so helpful! I will definitely be referring back to it when Iris is a bit older =)

  18. This is a VERY awesome post.

  19. Heather, what did you guys do at night? Diapers? I've got a 18 month old and I think she could pick up on this method, but not sure what to do for bedtime.Thanks!

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  21. you totally inspired me! we even copied your baby bjorn seat. we did this really gradually with elle- it's been a few months (i work part-time so it was a part-time battle:)- but i think she's just about there! the only "problems" we have are when she's sleeping (she pees tons during her slumber), and when we're in public. she HAAAAAAAAAATES public toilets. they're so big… and usually have terrifying automatic flushers! anyway, thanks for the motivation. people thought we were coo-coo for starting her at 20 months, but i'm so glad we did.

  22. I know I am so late on this post but it caught my eye because my son is getting to be 18 months soon and I was mostly curious about night-time. My son completely wets through a normal diaper every night so I know he goes ;) Did you wake him up during the night? Thanks! :)

  23. I remember you mentioning this a while ago on IG when you were getting ready to train Hawk. Do you feel that this method worked as well for him as it did for Cole?

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