Did you know it’s possible to potty train your toddler over a long weekend? Get the facts on the three-day potty training method, with tips for easing the transition from diapers to toilets.

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Toddler on potty
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Every parent wants to move past the diaper phase as soon as humanly possible. Thankfully, transitioning to the toilet doesn't need to be a drawn-out process, thanks to a method known as three-day potty training. "Toilet training takes a weekend. You just have to pick the right weekend," says Ari Brown, M.D., a Parents advisor and co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice For Your Baby's First Year.

Indeed, in days of yore, parents trained kids over weeks or months, nudging them toward toilet use with sticker charts and candy while allowing pull-on diapers. "However, it can get confusing for kids to switch back and forth, and I prefer a method where you start as you intend to go on," says Michelle Swaney, CEO of The Potty School, a potty-training consulting company. "If the point is to get pee and poop in the toilet, then why wouldn't we start having them do that as soon as possible?"

Proponents of the three-day potty training method say it's more doable for kids than gradual approaches, which can confuse them, and that the crash course helps kids to better grasp what it feels like to have to go. Keep reading to learn how to potty train in three days, with tips for making the method work for your family.

Is Your Child Ready for Potty Training?

Vana Melkonian, M.D., a pediatrician in Weston, Massachusetts, recommends starting potty training as early as 18 to 21 months if the child is showing readiness, while some experts say the sweet spot is between 30 and 33 months. All agree that after 36 months, the going gets tougher (3-year-olds are known for their intense stubbornness!)

So how do you know if your little one is ready to ditch the diapers? Look out for the following signs.

  • Body awareness. Your child senses the urge to have a bowel movement and often hides behind the couch or waits until they're alone to do their business.
  • A desire for cleanliness. Your child dislikes sitting in a wet or soiled diaper, and they might alert you when they need a diaper change.
  • Muscle mastery. They can walk to the bathroom independently, pull down their pants, and sit on the potty unassisted.
  • Development of a routine. Experts agree that kids are ready when they wet or soil their diaper at roughly the same times each day.
  • Curiosity about the potty. Another indicator is curiosity about what happens on the potty, which can manifest as a keen interest in your bathroom habits.

Once your child shows these signs, you can begin the three-day potty training method, says Dr. Brown.

3-Day Potty Training: How It Works

Parents can choose any three days for this potty training method. However, since it requires lots of time and effort, moms and dads usually prefer doing it on the weekend. (Bonus points if it's a three-day weekend!)

Prepare to spend most of the time at home focused on your child. "You have to pay constant attention to them so you can learn the cues that show they're about to go," says Brandi Brucks, an in-home potty-training consultant and author of Potty Training in 3 Days:The Step-by-Step Plan for a Clean Break From Dirty Diapers.

Follow this step-by-step guide to potty train your boy or girl in three days. 

Step 1: Preparing for Potty Training

To begin this so-called "potty training boot camp," all you really need is easy access to the toilet. While some three-day methods suggest purchasing a child-size potty, Brucks counsels against this, since ultimately your child must get used to using a standard toilet. (You can use a kid-size potty-seat insert on your household toilet, though.)

Brucks coaches parents to start prepping their child two weeks in advance by talking frequently about the coming change. "Kids need time to process," she says. "So telling them in advance is much more effective than just one day saying, 'No more diapers, you're going to go on the potty,' which is too much all at once." She suggests using this two-week period to introduce the vocabulary of potty going-such as what it means to be wet and dry, for example-and how you'll be getting rid of the changing table so diaper changes can take place in the bathroom.

Step 2: Ditching the Diapers

Put those diapers aside! Many parents and experts recommend that your child stay naked-or at least without bottoms-during the three-day potty training method. That's because underwear might feel similar to diapers, which could lead to accidents. It's also easier to place your child on the toilet ASAP if they're already naked on the bottom.

What's more, nudity forces them to pay more attention to their body. "Children get immediate feedback that they're voiding or stooling," says Parents advisor and Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D., the medical editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' website, HealthyChildren.org. "If they're wearing underwear, training pants, or pull-on diapers, the sensation of being wet or dirty may not be as noticeable."

That said, some parents do prefer to use pants with elastic waistbands, dresses, or training pants (reusable, specially designed cotton underpants with extra layers of fabric between the legs.) Decide what option will work best for your child.

Step 3: Giving Excess Fluids

Give your child slightly more fluids than normal, in the form of water, juice, popsicles, watermelon, etc. They'll have to use the bathroom often, which helps them practice potty training.

Step 4: Sitting on the Toilet

Coax your child to listen to their body, and sit on the toilet when they know that pee or poop is coming, says Dr. Brown. You'll probably have to watch your child for signs they need to use the restroom. These can be subtle and can vary depending on whether your child has to pee or poop, but they often include a pause in play, a panicked or vacant expression, sounds (such as grunting), going red in the face, or passing gas. However, every kid is different, so watch closely. 

Step 5: Visiting the Bathroom

Direct your child to the bathroom first thing in the morning, before and after naps, after meals, and before bedtime. Also ask your child if they need to pee or poop regularly. Some parents like to set a timer and put their child on the potty every 20 or 30 minutes. Brucks, however, doesn't recommend this. "Transitions are difficult for toddlers, and if every 30 minutes you're making them stop what they're doing and get up to use the potty, they'll melt down," she says. Instead, she advises watching for those all-important signs that they have to go.

Step 6: Managing Naps and Bedtime

You may be wondering how you'll manage naptime and overnights. Brucks suggests using pull-on diapers for sleeping-but with underwear worn over the diaper. "You're teaching them not to go in their underwear, and often if they see underwear, it seems to trick them into not going," she says.

Brucks also says that within a month of potty training, many kids will begin to stay dry for naps and overnight, provided parents remain vigilant-putting on the pull-on diaper just before bed and removing it as soon as they wake up so they don't use it instead of the potty. But for some kids, overnight training is a separate process altogether, and many aren't ready to sleep without protection against bedwetting until years later. (In fact, it's normal for kids to wet the bed through age 7.)

Step 7: Expecting Accidents

Unfortunately, into every potty-training journey, a little tinkle must fall: Almost no kids make it through this process without at least a few wet pairs of pants. But, counterintuitively, during the initial three days, accidents are a good thing, since they're key to the learning process. "You want your child to have accidents because they need to know what that feels like," Brucks says, "and you need accidents in order to learn those signs that they're about to go." Brucks stresses that you'll need to prepare yourself for a potentially long road ahead: "They're still toddlers-of course they'll have accidents," she says.

Determining the Success of 3-Day Potty Training

If you're hoping one weekend of potty practice will instantly buy you and your child a future free of accidents, you may want to temper your expectations. It's likely, say experts and parents, that the three days will be merely a strong start to your child's potty journey. So how can you gauge success?

If your child still leaves puddles on the floor at the end of the three-day period, or if they couldn't care less about having numerous accidents in their training pants, they aren't ready for potty training. Go back to diapers and try again another weekend, recommends Dr. Brown.

If they wear training pants for the weekend and regret having an accident or two, mission accomplished! Your child can wear training pants every day and graduate to big-kid underwear once they regularly use the potty.

It's helpful to know that for all the glee that comes with dropping your diaper budget down to zero, it can be hard to watch your child morph from little one to big kid-and that a twinge of grief is a common, if unexpected, reaction to the potty-training process. But it also offers you a chance to be proud of your child's adaptability, says Amy Palanjian, a mom of three in Pella, Iowa, who founded YummyToddlerFood.com.

"It's amazing to realize just how capable our kids are," she explains."As you help them potty train, you see them connect the dots and start to understand that they actually can do this new and very foreign thing. It's so cool to watch your child become more independent in real time.

Parents Magazine