Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Potty Training a child is a huge milestone but it is also a huge hurdle. 

Potty training my first child has always terrified me. I put it off because I had a feeling it would be really tricky with my stubborn boy.

We went through a lot of struggles through our potty training process but I managed to pick up some good tips and tricks. I even made several homemade potty charts to try to motivate my boy.

Potty Training Toddlers

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In this post I’ll cover topics like:

  • Determining potty training readiness
  • Potty training boys versus girls
  • Beginning to potty train
  • The poop struggle
  • Potty training regression
  • How I drastically resolved our regression issue
  • Potty training setbacks
  • Potty charts and reward systems
Here, I share with you my story of struggling to potty train my very independent three-year-old boy and my frustrations when we hit a stressful regression stage.

Potty Training Toddlers

Determining Readiness

From my research, a lot of parents wait for a child to be ready. Apparently some kids wake up one day and are convinced to get out of diapers for good (and sometimes its a false alarm and they change their minds). 

But in a lot of other cases, readiness is internalized and parents help push their children to be ready. 

Both cases have been successful.

Boys vs Girls

To a lot of people, hearing that a 3 year old isn’t potty trained yet is judged as a negative. But some understand that boys actually take longer than girls. I can’t ‘factually’ say whether that is or isn’t the case, but its extremely likely.

Think about this: boys have penises. Boys have to learn how to use a potty sitting down yet they see their dad’s standing to pee and their mom’s sitting to pee. They’re confused. As they grow, boys have to transition to learning to pee standing but still poop sitting. That’s confusing for a 2-4 year old!

And some boys refuse to pee sitting down, so you have to figure out how to teach them to pee standing from the start. 

Can you imagine trying to teach a toddler how to aim!? Teenagers can’t even figure that out, and adult men aren’t too much better. Self-cleaning floors please!!!

Our Family's potty training process

Potty training terrified me. So far its been VERY difficult, I envy those with easy experiences. 

Currently we have our 3 year old boy mostly potty trained, and we haven’t really begun with our 2 year old daughter. Here’s our “success” story so far with our son, although its mostly a failure story.

the idea of This Crazy Thing Called Potty Training

My boy started to make the “I’m trying to poop” faces at almost the exact same time of day at one point in his life. That was probably a great time to potty train him, or at least introduce him to the potty. But it just wasn’t possible for me at that time.

I had a baby to nurse every 2 hours or less, and she was feisty. 

My kids are 15 months apart, so although I could have introduced the potty to my son at this time, I knew I couldn’t commit with a nursing baby too. It was too much change for him, not being the baby anymore and learning to potty, and it was too much for me to handle as a  parent.

The few times I attempted to get him on the potty or the toilet he would freak out and refuse to stay. He was scared.

As my youngest started getting older, she started making the same poop faces. So I decided to attempt with her, hoping maybe I could possibly train them both at the same time. 

Sometimes I managed to get her to the potty and things worked out beautifully if perfectly timed. But even at that age, she was kind of scared of the potty. Once she was done pushing, she realized where she was and felt done and relieved but wanted to continue with her day. 

So it was too soon for her and I would have to come up with a decent method for my kids, or at least figure something out for my son first.

Potty Training Regression in Toddlers

Potty Training our 3 year old boy

My boy has always been very independent and stubborn. From the moment we put a potty in the bathroom, he was curious about it but hated the idea of having to be naked and sit on it. And I didn’t blame him. So I kept trying but I didn’t want to push it too much. 

As the months went by I started to realize that he was really growing up. He would pick out his own clothes every day, he learned how to remove his pjs and put them in the hamper every morning, and he would dress himself with an outfit he picked out himself. He was becoming more independent. 

Crazy how quickly they grow up!

By 3 years old he would tell us just after he had pooped that we needed to change him. He also figured out he could change his own diaper in the morning ritual- he surprised me with the news one morning. 

Thank goodness it was only for pee diapers.

That’s when things really clicked for me. I can’t keep waiting for a miracle to happen. If he can change his own diaper and knows that he’s just pooped or peed he’s clearly beyond ready!

I needed to help push him but nothing I tried worked.

First, I wanted to desensitize him. I noticed he’d pee every time we’d shower or bathe him. So I started a pattern of sitting him on the potty before his bath and he’d go without a problem.

Then I started getting him on the potty every morning during his clothing change. 

After a few days we added going before bed too. And little by little we got used to telling him to go every hour or so while we were home.

Creating pattern and routine is incredibly important for establishing regular use of the potty during potty training.

Getting him on wasn’t easy. He wasn’t at all excited, he would get frustrated that he wasn’t in control of making decisions. It was a constant stress for all of us despite congratulating him afterwards.

He had a lot of back and forth progress and setbacks. We even tried naked potty training for the hours where we were home playing and he had no accidents. But as soon as that diaper went back on, he regressed. And, at the time, underwear didn’t prevent him from peeing himself either.

It started to feel behavioral and intentional, which became very stressful. So, instead of progressing quickly, this went on for months and I felt like a complete failure.

The Poop Struggle

A few months into the potty training process he would go potty when we told him to while still wearing diapers. But it was only pee. 

On most days, he would take an afternoon nap, which happened to be the time when he would poop.

He would go in his room for nap time and, after a few minutes, try to convince me he didn’t want to sleep. I would send him back several times and he would often fall asleep. 

But sometimes, and later almost every time, he would poop- in the diaper! 

Again, this went on for months!  #stressed

Sometimes he did it on purpose because he was annoyed. But most times I think he was scared, it was the only time he wouldn’t get in trouble for peeing in the diaper so why not take advantage and poop too, the potty was too scary. 

Poop is scary for a toddler. I get it, but I was exhausted by the process and getting impatient.

He would either poop when he was supposed to fall asleep or he’d wake up from his nap and poop before getting out of bed. It was horrible because I couldn’t help him learn how to poop in the potty with the nap in the way. 

I tried adding to the pattern, sitting him down on the potty and begging him to poop before and after his nap but it didn’t change a thing. 

I even offered him rewards in the form of candy. They worked at getting him to “try” but backfired. 

He would try to force it because he wanted a reward so when it didn’t work he would get frustrated, force it even more, or ask for it anyway. I eventually had to cut out edible rewards entirely.

I hand made a couple of potty charts for him and he got to put stickers as rewards. It helped a lot at first but then he became less motivated by it because of all our struggles.

But the potty charts did excite him and after we managed these hurdles, he really enjoyed them. It’s also a really popular method amongst many children.

Potty Training Struggles and Tips

My Ah-Ha Moment in Potty Training

One week we hit a major hurdle. He was getting so stressed out by the entire potty training process that he went back to arguing with me every time I would sent him to the potty. 

We were both so frustrated all the time by this that I had to let him calm down for a few days and I didn’t mention the potty again. He regressed completely and went back to using the diaper all the time without using the potty for two days

I felt horrible but the stress was killing our family and that break really helped us all calm down. After those two days I went back to reminding him to potty again. 

The next day, after a playdate and quick lunch, we went to the potty and he would only agree to pee on the potty. So I made him nap in just a shirt and socks, totally bare, expecting he’d pee in the bed and hopefully get up to poop in the potty. He was mad and uncomfortable but was so tired from our busy morning that he fell asleep within 15 minutes.

Less than an hour later I heard him crying. I came over and he said he was all wet. 

I comforted him and told him he peed because he was naked and that’s why I want him to use the potty. I told him I knew it was going to happen and I wanted him to feel it to understand and really “listen to his body.” 

He calmed down but was scared to move because he felt “dirty.” This was the first time I think he showed any sign of really caring about any of this.

What I did felt cruel, not vicious, but damn did it work! It was a major game changer.

On a side note, it is crucial to handle accidents very carefully. We need to comfort our children while explaining that accidents happen to everyone and we learn from them.

Officially in Underwear!

Other than when he’s sleeping, he now wears underwear all day, including when we go out. He’s been doing great going in public too.

He goes to the potty completely on his own. When we’re home he often gets up suddenly and runs of to the bathroom. 

I still frequently remind him if it’s been a while (they get distracted easily at this age), and he poops in the potty!!!

Sometimes, when we’re out, he’ll even tell me when he needs to go, but most times he’s too busy having a good time and I have to be convincing. 

We’ve made so much progress and I’m super proud. I’m so glad I had the courage to make him nap naked that one time, it made such a difference! He even went back to using the potty charts and stickers.

My mom guilt is clear of now. VICTORY!

Overnight Potty Training

A few months after having our fully potty trained three-year-old, I realized that his diapers were dry so we decided to switch to full on underwear and it’s been going really well.

We regularly remind him to get up if he needs to potty in the middle of the night but he doesn’t tend to get up but also doesn’t have accidents while asleep.

Occasionally, he’ll wake up in the morning and before getting out of bed lose control and have an accident. Luckily for us it’s usually when we’re waking up too and it doesn’t interrupt our sleep.

Potty Training Struggles and Tips

Some of our setbacks through the process

Besides the major poop struggle and the potty training regression, we had our own set of issues that some kids and parents also go through. 

Here’s a breakdown of some of our biggest potty training struggles and setbacks along the way so far.

struggle: Younger Sibling in Diapers

Multiple kids make potty training very complicated because we cannot be in so many places at once. 

I was nursing a baby every 2 hours and dealing with spit up in between those hours or trying to get her to sleep.

I tried my best to be there for my son but when it came to potty training, I just knew I’d have to wait until I could physically be there to help him whenever he needed me. And that would have to be once my baby grew up a little more. 

Even when I stopped nursing and my daughter started walking I couldn’t handle the thought of having my son play naked around the house and cleaning up his pee and poop all over the house with a learning walker to slip and step on it, and hopefully not try to play with it. I already have a nervous dog that leaves us multiple surprises throughout the day.

With such a close age difference (15 months) it’s hard to teach one child to understand that using diapers are no longer okay. My son couldn’t understand why he had to start using the potty but not his younger sister. To him they’re the same. I’m not sure if either of them really understand that.

For any child with a younger sibling, why is it fair for us to punish one child for pooping in their diaper when we celebrate the baby’s pooped diaper? 

I sometimes forget that my youngest is not a baby and now I have to stop being as excited as she is for having pooped in her diaper, not only to break the positivity my son is picking up on but also to be able to potty train her soon too. 

Potty Training Toddlers

struggle: Going Out

I’ve made a habit of taking the kids out at least three days a week in the mornings, which is the same time my son and I have been most productive with the potty training process. 

But with two young kids it’s very hard to get to a bathroom when you’re out. It makes me anxious to hold one kid on top of a toilet with the other one is walking around and touching disgusting things- because it’s a freaking public bathroom covered in germs and unknown fluids! 

There are few bathrooms where you can fit a stroller inside to keep your other child contained during the wait. Even fewer that fit a double stroller. Some days, I just can’t process the stress and anxiety of dealing with my two littles when I don’t have either stroller with me.

Now that my son is finally in underwear and using public bathrooms, I have to carefully plan my trips out. 

Which bathrooms are decent? Out of all the stops we have to make on a morning of errands, where and when should we go to the bathroom? How to I manage the bathroom situation with my daughter waiting?

Even with playgrounds, I already had a personal restriction for an enclosed environment, now I have to be more restrictive on bathroom proximity! 

I avoided this for a long time. And rightfully so because public bathrooms are disgusting. But also because my daughter recently learned how to stand and walk so she’s a bit more independent. Before, I would have to find a way to get a stroller into a tiny stall, have her wait outside the stall (hell no!), or find a place for her to sit (there are none). 

I haven’t tried this yet, but some people carry a travel potty that folds up or have a second potty in their car. Both brilliant! 

Another brilliant thing I’ve seen is a wall seat with straps for an infant inside one of the family bathrooms at IKEA. Why aren’t these everywhere!?!

Tips and Tricks for Potty Training

  • Establish a pattern and frequency of using the potty (ex: when you wake up, before a bath, before/after a meal, before/after going out, etc.)
  • Setup a reward system that works for you and your child (potty charts and stickers helped us)
  • Continue to remind them to potty if its been too long
  • Plan when and where to take your child to a public restroom (if possible, before leaving the house)
  • Learn to read their body language for when they need to pee/poop (girls like to cross their legs, boys grab their penis)
  • Always have sanitizer and (flushable) wipes on hand
  • Pack backup clothes for your child (full outfit, socks, and underwear)
  • Set up a cleaning kit for your potty to make things easier for you (I like disinfectant wipes & gloves to keep my fingers off chemicals)
  • Set up a cleaning kit and backup outfit in your car
  • Have a good waterproof mattress protector to make accidents a little easier 


What kinds of struggles have you faced potty training?

what are your best tricks and tips?

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Brittany F.

Thanks for the tips. I’m a first time mom with a toddler and I could use all the advice I can get. Great post.

Rianna Galvez

This is so timely!! I am in the middle of potty training my son and I find it so difficult!! I am pressured because he is 2 1/2 and will be going to preschool this year…andddd I am expecting baby number 2 in a month! So I really want to… Read more »

Ari Salas

Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ll be there soon!

Mama Writes Reviews

UGH potty training. My oldest was well into 4 before he was trained, and we barely got him before starting Pre-K… It was AWFUL. AWFUL. My youngest pretty much potty trained himself which was SUCH A RELIEF.