Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Potty Training a child is a huge milestone but it is also a huge hurdle. This article covers all things Potty Training, including common struggles, our long journey with my son, and some of my best tips and lessons learned.

You’re welcome to scroll down to the bottom for the recap and additional tips. Make sure you subscribe to get the Potty Charts in the Downloads section.

The Potty Training Hurdle

Potty Training a child is a huge milestone but it is also a huge hurdle. Here you’ll learn about common potty training struggles, tips on determining readiness, methods of potty training, dealing with regression, and a  free potty charts printable.

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 Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

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Tips on 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.

Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

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 are potty trained in the seated position yet they see their dads standing to pee and their mom’s sitting to pee. They’re confused. As they grow, boys learn 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, even though they can’t reach the toilet yet. 

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

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Our Story: The First Stage Of Readiness

Potty training terrified me. It was a very difficult journey with our 3 year old son. Here’s our “success” story so far with our son, although it’s mostly a struggle story.

I’m sharing this to show you what did and didn’t for our family during this process.

Things went a lot more smoothly with our daughter, which proves how different each child adapts to potty training.

Determining Readiness With Our First Child

At about two year old, my son would make poop faces at almost the exact same time every day. Likely, it was a sign that he was ready to potty train, or at least that it was a good time to 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. 

With kids 15 months apart, I knew I couldn’t commit to potty training with a frequently nursing baby. I worried that it would be too much change for him, not being the baby anymore and learning to potty. Certainly, it was too much for me to handle as a  parent at that time.

Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Our First Attempts At Potty Training

I have to be honest, I procrastinated potty training as long as possible after that. But I did purchase a potty seat and attempted to situate him on the toilet. He freaked, got scared and refused to be near the toilet. We decided he wasn’t ready and more time passed.

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

You guys! I thought I was going to  get some sort of potty training award because I managed to get her on the potty just as she started making the faces and she’d poop in the toilet. I don’t think I’d ever been so exited about poop. But that was the only way she would let me get her near the toilet. 

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 Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Our Story: The Second Stage of Readiness

Determining Readiness... Again

Our son was very curious about the potty but hated the idea of having to be naked and sit on it. I didn’t blame him and I didn’t want to force the issue or traumatize him.

Sometimes we lose track of the time passing by and suddenly realize our kids are all grown up.

Ok, so he was only two and a half but he was becoming so independent. He would pick out his own clothes, was dressing and undressing himself and even putting dirty clothes in the hamper. Soon, he was telling us to change his poopy diaper. Wait, what just happened!?

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!

All the signs are there right!? You’d think it would be easy to go from there, but for whatever reasons it wasn’t.

Now We're Really Going To Start Potty Training

I guess I was hoping he would show interest in the potty by a certain age as his way of determining readiness. But it was obvious that he was at the right age and independence level to start. I just had to figure out how to convince him to not be scared.

First, I wanted to desensitize him. I studied his usual peeing patterns and would sit him on the potty at those times. Then, we gradually added more trips to the potty and established a routine.

  1. I noticed he’d pee every time we’d shower or bathe him. So I started taking him before his bath and he’d go without a problem.
  2. Then, we got him on the potty first thing every morning.
  3. After a few days, we added going before bed.
  4. Little by little we got used to telling him to go every hour or so while we were home.
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Creating pattern and routine is incredibly important for establishing regular use of the potty during potty training.

The Perfect Method Was Working... But

Getting our son on the potty was often a battle. We’d hoped that with previous success he would be excited or proud. But his strong personality kicked in at the wrong time. He wasn’t at all excited and would get frustrated that he wasn’t in control of making decisions.

It was a constant stress for all of us. I blame the terrible 2’s and 3’s. These struggles brought along a lot of back and forth progress and setbacks.

At that point, 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 for naps, he regressed. And, at the time, underwear didn’t prevent him from peeing himself either- which is the usual solution to regression.

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

Potty Training Struggles and Tips

Our Story: Potty Training Poop Struggles and Success Tips

The Common Potty Training Poop Struggle

By 2-3 years old, a child has developed common urinary and bowel patterns. One of the most annoying potty training struggles is poop. Oftentimes, a child is well into potty training but refuses to poop in the potty or toilet.

Our Poop Problems

Just as we thought we had a successful pattern going for potty training, we started to realize that our son was intentionally pooping during nap time because it was the only time he was diapered.

Since nap time was after lunch, I would have him sit on the potty and try to poop then, even if it  meant sitting in the bathroom for thirty minutes just waiting.

It was a tough time, those terrible 2’s and 3’s hit hard at the worst possible time.

Poop wouldn’t happen even if I waiting an hour in the bathroom but the second that diaper went back on, there is was! It ruined the calm and peace of nap time for both of us.

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

I tried methods that usually work for other parents: edible rewards (candy) and sticker potty charts. The candy excited him but backfired. He got mad when he couldn’t ‘earn’ it and it didn’t feel right. The potty charts worked at first but once we struggled with poop, it lost purpose.

Months went on this way before I decided to stop pressuring him altogether.

Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Quitting Potty Training

Tension for potty training became extreme one week. Every time I asked him to go potty he would have a tantrum and argue with me.

Honestly, we were all exhausted from all the tension. I called quits on potty training. Go ahead and regress, as long as it means less fighting with my child. 

For two whole days, I let him wear a diaper all day and didn’t say anything about soiled diapers. It gave us a needed refresh and restart.

My Ah-Ha Moment in Potty Training

On the third day, we had been out all morning so he was tired and ready for nap time. I took him to the potty for the first time since our break and decided to make him nap naked.

The intention was a take on naked potty training and a risk I was willing to take at that point. It felt a little cruel but I was desperate. He was happy and exhausted so I knew I had to take advantage, there would be less motivation to argue.

Within an hour he woke up crying, confused, and feeling guilty. He was all wet. Mommy came in for the rescue, ready to comfort him and explain that how pee happens and the importance of using the potty. I told him I knew it was going to happen and that he had to feel it to understand and really “listen to your body,” as I explained it to.

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. Unfortunately, it was the best way to get him to understand it. Feeling that accident was a major game changer. Every accident since then has only been a lesson forward.

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.

The decision to quit potty training, even if just for a few days, a few weeks, or even months can be an amazing refresh for everyone. For us, the refresh and the potty accident left my son more willing to potty train again for pee and poop.

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Our Story: Stage Four, The Final Steps of Potty Training

Potty Consciousness and Transitioning to Underwear

I highly recommend eliminating diapers and switching to underwear once your child gets the hang of going potty.

After all the hurdles, we were progressing well and it became time for the big switch – underwear! Finally, he had reached a stage of potty consciousness. He started sending himself to the bathroom and going all on his own. Sometimes, he even tells me he has to go when we’re out.

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 now, victory!

Side note: In this stage, kids still need potty routines and occasional reminders though. 

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.

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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. 

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

This was a long read, but a story that needed to be told because our experiences are all so different yet so similar and I hope that you can find solace and ideas within my struggles, failures, and successes with this potty training journey.

For those of you who chose to skip to this section, this is a little recap of some great potty training tips and tricks mentioned above, as well as some others not mentioned.

Potty Training Facts

  • Some kids show interest in wanting to potty train while others don’t.
  • The average potty training age ranges between 18 months to 3.5 years, everyone is different.
  • Your child may be ready to potty train before you are ready, or vice versa.
  • Boys can learn to potty train sitting down to pee and later learn by standing.
  • Being naked, sitting on a potty/toilet, pooping, and accidents may be scary concepts for a young child.
  • Naked Potty Training is a great method, but may not work for everyone.
  • Sometimes it takes at least 2-3 potty training attempts before it goes well.
Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Potty Training Tips

  • Study your child’s regular peeing patterns and sit them on the potty a little bit before that time to ‘get lucky.’ 
  • Establish a pattern and gradually increase frequency of trips the potty (ex: when you wake up, before a bath, before/after a meal, before/after going out, etc.).
  • Be patient, communicate clearly, and make it fun.
  • Setup a reward system that works for you and your child (potty charts and stickers helped us).
  • If things aren’t working, stop. You can start over in a few days, weeks, or months- it will likely go more smoothly.
  • Don’t expect them to know when it’s time to potty, continue to remind them frequently.
  • Plan your outings around decent restrooms. Always know where they are.
  • Always potty before leaving the house.
  • Have sanitizer and wipes on hand, flushable are a plus.
  • Pack backup clothes for your child (ex: full outfit, socks, and underwear).
  • Learn to read their body language for when they need to pee/poop. Girls like to cross their legs, boys grab their penis.
  • 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.
  • Have a cleaning kit and backup outfit in your car. You can even have a travel potty.
  • Get a good waterproof mattress protector to make accidents a little easier.

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Potty Training Struggles and Tips + Free Printable

Readers:

What kinds of struggles have you faced potty training?

what are your best tricks and tips?

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Brittany F.
April 3, 2019 6:59 pm

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
April 3, 2019 8:09 pm

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
April 4, 2019 8:23 am

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

Mama Writes Reviews
April 4, 2019 3:53 pm

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.