20 Best-Ever Potty Training Tips

Trust us -- we know these top tips work! We tapped the experts -- Parents.com readers, who swear by each and every one.

  • Timing Is Everything


    Are you counting down the days to the toilet transition? Or maybe you've already dabbled in a few less-than-successful attempts? Either way, we heard one thing again and again: Your kid has to be good and ready. And don't worry, he will be someday. "No child is going to graduate high school in diapers," says Carol Stevenson, a mom of three from Stevenson Ranch, California, who trained each one at a different age. "But it's so easy to get hung up and worried that your child's a certain age and not there yet, which adds so much pressure and turns it into a battle." Once you're convinced your kid's ready to ditch the diapers (watch for signs like showing an interest in the bathroom, telling you when she has to go, or wanting to be changed promptly after pooping), try any of these tricks to make it easier.

  • All About the Bribes


    Two words: Mini M&M's! Promise that each time your kid goes potty, she gets two or three, but if she wipes herself (a huge challenge for us) then she gets four or five. This makes a big difference since I think one of the reasons kids don't like to go is because the business of learning to wipe is kind of yucky.
    -- Donna Johnson; Charlotte, North Carolina


    I wholeheartedly recommend bribery as potty training motivation: We kept a small plastic piggy bank in the bathroom and rewarded every success (one penny for pee, two for poop). Our daughter was entranced -- she would shake the piggy with a gleam in her eye and remark how heavy it was getting. When she was all done, we took her potty windfall and turned it into quarters to spend on rides at the mall.
    -- Lisa Spicer; Los Angeles, California

  • Daddy Does It


    After a couple of failed attempts, I tried a new technique while Mom was away on a well-deserved weekend with her friends. We covered the couch and chairs with plastic and bought "manly-man" underwear -- just like Dad's. We spent the weekend in underwear and T-shirts, making a game every hour or so to see who could go to the restroom. There were very few accidents and just blocking out a weekend made for very little stress. It's still one of my favorite memories.
    -- Scott Smith; Mount Washington, Kentucky

  • How to Potty Train in 3 Days
    How to Potty Train in 3 Days

    Jen Singer, author of "You're a Good Mom," shares how to recognize the signs that your child is ready to start potty training.

  • Target Practice


    Getting my son to learn the standing-up thing was hard, so we turned it into a game. I put five Cheerios in the potty and told him to aim at them when he peed. Every time he did it right, he got to pick out a prize from a bag of goodies I picked up at the dollar store. -- Erika Cosentino; Lawrenceville, New Jersey

  • Heap on the Praise


    I've heard all the tricks -- stickers, bribing with toys, special underpants. But you have to pick something that's consistent with your parenting style. I didn't use rewards elsewhere, so I didn't want to start here. What did work: Lots of undivided attention, positive reinforcement, love, affection and pride when my kids were successful. Making a big deal about small steps of progress is key.
    -- Diane Hund; Elmhurst, Illinois

    I didn't use any special stuff -- no kiddie toilets, potty rings, or even pull-ups -- because the local YMCA where my daughters attended didn't believe in them. We even had to sign a contract stating that we'd follow their potty training policy at home. I was instructed to just put the kids (they were around 2 1/2) on our regular toilet throughout the day when I thought they had to go. After a week and lots of "Yeah! You did number two!" and "Good for you! You made a wee-wee!" they were done, with barely any accidents. All told, I think they were just developmentally ready.
    -- Sandra Gordon; Weston, Connecticut

  • Little White Lies

    My middle son was stubborn when it came to #2 on the potty -- absolutely refused, no matter the reward. So I finally told him that when we flush, the poop goes out to the sea to feed the fish -- so if he didn't go, then the poor little fish wouldn't have anything to eat. My son, being the compassionate, sensitive little do-gooder he is, felt it was his mission to poop to "save" the fish. (After all, Nemo and Dory were counting on him!)
    -- Liane Worthington; Simpson, Pennsylvania

  • Ocean Photography/Veer

    What's the Frequency?


    I wish I could take credit for his training, but the amazing teachers at his daycare did the hard stuff: Putting him on the toilet every 20 minutes, without fail. We just followed their lead at home. And I think the fact that he saw his classmates going on the potty made him want to also.
    -- Roberta Perry; Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

    We found that our son simply was not interested in remembering to go on his own, so we found the Potty Watch, which he loved. You program this wrist watch to play songs and light up at 30-, 60-, or 90-minute intervals; then it resets itself and starts the countdown all over again.
    -- Heather Ledeboer; Athol, Idaho

  • The Naked Truth


    Once my kids were interested in the potty concept -- around 2 to 2 1/2 -- we let them run around naked before bathtime and encouraged them to use the potty. Then I let them go sans pants at home for extended periods of time (they did really well remembering to go as long as they didn't have any clothes on). After they mastered naked-potty use, we worked our way up to clothes (first just underwear, then eventually pants). This method was extremely painless -- very few accidents or setbacks.
    -- Jennifer Walker; Cleveland, Ohio


  • Figuring Out the Fear


    Our first son began peeing on the potty at 18 months, but he was scared to do "the other." After offering many rewards and becoming very frustrated, we turned to the doctor, who explained that some children view bowel movements as a literal part of themselves and are afraid to watch them flush away. (This made so much sense because he was a very analytical child.) After showing him a children's anatomy book and explaining how the digestive system worked, he started going #2 the very next day!
    -- Ginny Graham; Collegeville, Pennsylvania

  • Sticker Shock

    Every time each of our toddlers used the potty, I decorated their outfits with stickers. At the end of the day they showed off their rows of stickers (which looked like an army general's stars) to their father. So they got double the praise for their potty training successes, and I got an inexpensive and easy way to reward them.
    -- Jen Singer; Kinnelon, New Jersey

  • Patience Is a Virtue


    When I thought my daughter was ready (around 26 months), we went to the toilet every 10 minutes -- even if we were out. We slowly worked up to 15 minutes, 20 minutes, etc., and after a day or two, she could pee on her own. Poop was a different story -- I had to goad her with M&M's!
    -- Elissa Murnick; Fairfield, Connecticut

    My son mastered peeing on the potty pretty quickly, but nailing #2 took some extra effort. At first we had to watch for his "cues" to tell he was trying to go poop and then bring him to the bathroom. Because it took a while (sometimes more than a half-hour) we started reading to him to make the wait more fun. But above all else, patience, patience, patience is the key!
    -- Karen J. Wright; Mankato, Minnesota



  • Find the Right Bribe


    We tried Cheerios, M&M's, potty charts, cheerleader rants and screams, but nothing worked. My son has always been obsessed with cars and trucks and luckily, the movie Cars had just come out. My husband scoured the local stores to collect all the figurines featured in the movie. We saw the movie, then we told my son that every time he went potty he'd get a car. It was magical. After 15 cars, he was totally potty trained. I'm sure Disney would be so proud.
    -- Darlene Fiske; Austin, Texas

  • Go for Broke


    Just go cold turkey. My 2-year-old seemed ready for potty training but none of the "tricks" were working. We picked a Saturday, put him in big-boy underwear and braced ourselves. He went in his pants four or five times within the first hour; we kept changing him and telling him that he needed to use the potty instead. After a really long day, he got the hang of it and was all potty trained by Monday. He still had the occasional accident, but making the switch once and for all really seemed to work.
    -- Pamela Scott; York, Pennsylvania

  • Location, Location, Location

    We found that the kiddie lids that go on top of the toilet were too intimidating to use right away. (Plus, since they usually need a step stool, it can take too long for children to reach the toilet in time.) So I started my 2-year-old daughter with a mini-Elmo potty seat, which we kept in the living room, since she spent the most time there. We gradually moved it closer and closer to the bathroom, and eventually worked our way up to a Dora seat that went right on top of the toilet.
    -- Tracy Burton; Grand Ledge, Michigan

  • On the Road

    My daughter was terrified of the automatic flushers in public restrooms, so I started doing this trick. Put a Post-It note over the sensor and it will prevent the toilet from auto-flushing. After she's all done, wiped, and left the stall, you can remove the paper to let the toilet flush.
    -- Tracy Marines; Lancaster, Pennsylvania

    We travel with a small toilet with a removable seat to help my daughter feel more comfortable on the "scary" big potties in public restrooms.
    -- Christine Louise Hohlbaum; Paunzhausen, Germany




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  • Potty Training Girls vs. Boys
    Potty Training Girls vs. Boys
  • Courtesy of Firefly Books